In 1830, a young New York farmer announced to the world that God, our Heavenly Father, had called him to initiate a restoration of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that the world was entering into a final period of evangelization, fulfillment of prophecy, and judgment. There was no apparent reason why Joseph Smith could have expected any greater success than possibly thousands of reformers that preceded him, but 180 years later, the restored Church of Jesus Christ has grown to 14 million members, is established in most corners of the world, and is predicted by some sociologists of religion to become the next major world religion.
Unlike most other reformers, Joseph Smith claimed the guidance of angels sent from the presence of God in the work he had undertaken. And he had been given a concrete public evidence of the veracity of his message. The Book of Mormon contained a prophetic record of a previously unknown Christian people that had been destroyed 1400 years previously, and was given to this young prophet through divine means both to provide guidance to him and his converts, and to witness to the world that Jesus Christ was the moving and guiding power behind his work. Multiple independent witnesses were invited to handle the ancient record in broad daylight as a voice from heaven commanded them to bear witness to the world of its veracity. Though later trials would lead many of these to part ways with Joseph Smith and the church he had organized, none ever retracted or qualified that original witness; but all maintained it to their deaths.
But the nature of this message and the relationship it depicted between men and their Father in heaven would present all men with an opportunity to choose in the absence of compelling physical evidences whether to trust in Jesus Christ and the life of obedience he offered, or to continue in their own ways, trusting in themselves and in the ways of men in the conduct of their lives. Unlike the Book of Mormon witnesses who saw and handled the metal plates and heard a voice from heaven, we are only provided with private spiritual evidence as the Holy Ghost responds to the honest inquirer and witnesses to our spirits that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that its promise of spiritual guidance in this life and eternal life with God in the next will be fulfilled for all who will submit to the requirements of repentance and life-long obedience to the commandments of Christ. Joseph Smith taught that this spiritual witness would be given to all men in this life or hereafter and would constitute a testing of their innermost character that would determine the circumstances of their immortal lives for eternity. The eternal blessings the Father invites all his children to receive are beyond mortal comprehension.
I bear witness that the promises of the Father are true, both on the basis of my own personal experience and from the experience of now thousands of others with whom I have been involved as they have responded (or not) to this invitation in their lives. The forgiveness of sins which is offered liberally to all who will sincerely repent is a very real experience that changes one’s life and one’s desires fundamentally. The promise of spiritual guidance and support is fulfilled each day for all who will stay true to their commitment to obey his commandments. And for all those who will be faithful to this commitment, their lives are blessed with continual peace, with hope for the future, and with love in their hearts for all the Father’s children. For all who truly desire to forsake evil and pursue the good in every aspect of their lives, I know this promise will be fulfilled as they embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been restored in its fullness.
Posted May 2010 on FairMormon.org
Noel B. Reynolds is a professor of political science at Brigham Young University, where he has also taught in and chaired the Department of Philosophy, been selected as Honors Program Professor of the Year, served twice as associate academic vice president, and been both the director of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and the executive director of what is now the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He has been a Liberal Arts Fellow at Harvard Law School, a Visitor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Edinburgh, and Scholar-in-Residence at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.
Professor Reynolds earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Government at Harvard University. His interests range widely, from legal and political philosophy (with a special interest in Plato’s political theory), constitutionalism, and the rule of law, to authorship (wordprint) studies, early Christian theology and history, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Book of Mormon.
Dr. Reynolds is the author of Interpreting Plato’s Meno and Euthyphro: A Defense of the Literary Approach, Charles E. Merrill Monographs No. 9 (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1988). He has published numerous book chapters, as well as articles in journals such as Constitutional Political Economy, Ratio Juris, Persona y Derecho, Social Science Journal, Georgia Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Western Ontario Law Review, History of Political Thought, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon History, and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. He edited Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (Provo: FARMS and Brigham Young University Press, 2005); Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo: FARMS, 1997); (with Arlene W. Saxenhouse) Thomas Hobbes, Three Discourses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995 ); and Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1982); and served on the board of editors of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1997). He was director of script writing and research for the award-winning feature length 1989 PBS film A More Perfect Union: America Becomes a Nation, as well as producer of the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library (Leiden: Brill, 2006), which was selected as a Choice Academic Title for 2007.
In the Church, he has served, among other positions, as a missionary to Uruguay, a bishop, a stake president, and a mission president. He is married to the former Sydney Smith, who served from 1999 to 2005 as first counselor in the general Primary presidency of the Church, and they are the parents of eleven children.
See, additionally, Dr. Reynolds’ preface in Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars.