John Taylor, the third called prophet of these modern times, has a unique testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr., the prophet of the restoration. President Taylor was in Carthage Jail with Joseph and Hyrum Smith when the mob, faces painted black, charged the jail and assassinated the prophet and patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.
Before the mob attacked, Joseph asked John Taylor to sing his favorite hymn, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” As his beautiful tenor voice rose in song, the prophet listened with heavy heart, knowing he would not return from this imprisonment.
The words of this song I will share with you now, imagine the words sung to the haunting notes of the melody, if you can:
A poor wayfaring man of grief
Had often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer, Nay.
I had not power to ask his name;
Whither he went of whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love, I knew not why.
Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered—not a word he spake!
Just perishing for want of bread;
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again;
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.
I spied him where a fountain burst,
Clear from the rock—his strength was gone,
The heedless water mock’d his thirst,
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drain’d my cup,
Dipp’d, and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.
‘Twas night, the floods were out, it blew
A winter hurricane aloof;
I heard his voice, abroad, and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed, I clothed, I cheered my guest,
I laid him on my couch to rest;
Then made the earth my bed, and seem’d
In Eden’s garden while I dream’d.
Stripp’d, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side;
I rous’d his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was heal’d;
I had myself a wound conceal’d;
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart,
In pris’n I saw him next—condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn;
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed.
And honored him ‘mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked, if I for him would die;
The flesh was weak, my blood ran chill,
But the free spirit cried, “I will!”
Then in a moment to my view,
The stranger started from disguise:
The tokens in his hand I knew,
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake—and my poor name be named—
“Of me thou hast not been asham’d;
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not thou didst them unto me.”
Source: Joseph Smith, B. H. Roberts, ed, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974) 6:614-615.
To this day, this song, although not a favorite of President Taylor’s, rips at my heart. Would I have recognized my Savior? Would I have helped this man in need, regardless of who he was? Would I have died for him?
I know that Joseph Smith would have recognized Jesus Christ in those circumstances, more importantly, I know that he recognized the lesson to be learned for the listener of the song. And Joseph Smith did die for his testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and gospel of Christ restored through this chosen prophet of the restoration.
Of Joseph Smith, President Taylor said, “If there is no other man under the heavens that knows that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God I do, and I bear testimony of it to God, angels and men.” (“Chapter 9: Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 77)
There was nothing particular about [Joseph Smith], he was a man like the balance of us. But the Lord, for certain reasons of his own, I suppose, selected him to be his mouthpiece to the nations in this age of the world. Perhaps Joseph, as well as many others, was set apart to a certain office before the world was. Christ was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Abraham was set apart to his office, and a great many others in the same way; and Joseph Smith came to do his work.
We all look upon Joseph Smith as being a prophet of God. God called him to occupy the position that he did. How long ago? Thousands of years ago before this world was formed. The prophets prophesied about his coming, that a man should arise whose name should be Joseph, and that his father’s name should be Joseph, and also that he should be a descendant of that Joseph who was sold into Egypt. This prophecy you will find recorded in the Book of Mormon [see 2 Nephi 3:15]. He had very great and precious promises made to him by the Lord. (Ibid)
John Taylor took bullets for his testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr. as a prophet of God on that fateful day the 27th of June in 1844. He, along with the rest of the Mormons, left Nauvoo, Illinois, even the United States, and found peace in the mountains of the Utah Territory. Until his dying day, let me leave with you with this one last thought by President Taylor:
What could the Lord do with such a pack of ignorant fools as we were? There was one man that had a little good sense, and a spark of faith in the promises of God, and that was Joseph Smith—a backwoods man. He believed a certain portion of Scripture which said—“If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.” [See James 1:5] He was fool enough in the eyes of the world, and wise enough in the eyes of God and angels, and all true intelligence, to go into a secret place to ask God for wisdom, believing that God would hear him. The Lord did hear him, and told him what to do. (Ibid)
Yes, Joseph did ask in 1820. The Lord did hear and He answered. Through Joseph Smith, Jr. the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ begin to roll forth and before he was assassinated, he had, through revelations from God, restored every principle, practice and precept the Lord needed him to. The testimony of one prophet of God, John Taylor, of another, Joseph Smith, remains strong and inviolate. Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, so testifies President John Taylor.