This entry is based on an Ensign article in the August 2009 edition, given by Elder Anthony D. Perkins.
A martyr is defined as an individual who goes through persecution, suffering and even death for their belief or religion. Joseph Smith was definitely an example of this, along with others in scriptural history who have suffered and died for their witness and testimony of Jesus Christ. In every account of these dedicated witnesses, we see a pattern emerging – a pattern which can help us see how strong their faith in Christ is.
Step 1: Persecuted for bearing testimony of the Song of God
When Stephen rebuked the Sanhedrin concerning the apostasy of Israel, the “were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.” (Acts 7:54). As the persecution continued he cried out “I see…the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) As a result of this blessed witness, Stephen was stoned to death. However, it is important to note that Stephen was persecuted for his faith initially. Throughout the history of mankind, people have often suffered more when they testified of Christ. Jesus Christ has warned that those who do His work and testify of Him will be persecuted. He said “Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you…and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake,” (Luke 6:22). Joseph Smith indeed went through persecution for his testimony of Christ and His Gospel. Elder Perkins said “As with ancient prophets, the Prophet of the Restoration taught truths regarding the nature of God that ran counter to the inherited traditions of religious sects. During the next 24 years, nearly 20 attempts were made on Joseph’s life.”
Step 2. Forewarned of death
The martyrs who defend the faith of Christ have always been warned of what lies in wait for them. For example, when speaking to Peter, the scriptures depict Christ forewarning him. “This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.” (John 21:19). Many times in his life – the Prophet Joseph was warned – the angel Moroni said his name “should be had for good and evil among nations…” (JSH 1:33) and also he was told “…there are many that lie in wait to destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (D&C 5:33). Even as he went to his eventual death at Carthage, the prophet Joseph knew he was going ‘as a lamb to the slaughter’, and before his departure he ensured the keys of the kingdom were distributed to the Quorum of the Twelve – this was no coincidence. Joseph Smith knew the danger that came with his calling – but that did not deter him from the cause of Christ.
Step 3: Remained confident in finishing work
We find examples of prophets in the scriptures who did not fear opposition and death because they knew their work had not yet finished – as King Noah ordered his priests to take Abinadi to his death, he stated “Touch me not, for God shall smite you if he lay hands upon me, for I have not delivered the message which the Lord sent me to deliver…” (Mosiah 13:3). When Amulek has concerned that he and Alma would be burned along with the believers in Ammonihah, Alma remarked “Be it according to the will of the Lord. But, behold, our work is not finished; therefore they burn us not.” (Alma 4:13). Similarly, Joseph Smith was given the assurance of the Lord “…Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less, therefore, fear not what man can do.” (D&C 122:9) so he was able to complete the work given to him by the Lord. This led up to him conferring all the priesthood keys and authority necessary to lead the Church under Christ’s direction to the Twelve in 1844. His work was then complete.
Step 4: Executed while imprisoned
Paul and Peter were executed in Rome, being accused of subversion, starting a fire in Rome and not being willing to sacrifice to Roman gods. Abinadi also was put to death, being accused of treason, and also because “he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.” (Mosiah 17:20). Joseph Smith was falsely charged with treason against the state of Illinois and imprisoned in Carthage Jail. And as Elder John Taylor said “Like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, [Joseph Smith] has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.” (D&C 135:3).
Joseph Smith sealed his testimony of Christ with his blood and, whilst we may not be expected to be martyrs, we can learn lessons from his (and others from scriptural history) dedication and faith in Christ. Will we stand up and be accounted as a disciple of Christ? Or will our testimony waver when we are asked about our faith?