An address delivered at the funeral of Joseph Smith Sen. Late Patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by R. B. Thompson, September 15, 1840.
The occasion which has brought us together this day, is one of no ordinary importance, for not only has a single family to mourn and sorrow on account of the death of the individual, whose funeral obsequies, we this day celebrate; but a whole society; yes, thousands will this day have to say, a Father in Israel is gone. The man whom we have been accustomed to look up to as a Patriarch, a Father and a Counselor, is no more an inhabitant of mortality; he has dropped his clay tenement, bid adieu to terrestrial scenes, and his spirit now free and unencumbered, roams, and expiates in that world, where the spirits of just men made perfect dwell, and where pain and sickness, tribulation and death cannot come.
The friends we have lost prior to our late venerable, and lamented father, were such as rendered life sweet, and in whose society we took great pleasure, and who shed a luster in the several walks of life in which they moved, and to whom we feel endeared by friendship’s sacred ties: Their virtues and kindnesses will long be remembered by the sorrowing widow, the disconsolate husband, the weeping children, the almost distracted and heart-broken parents, and by a large circle of acquaintances and friends. These like the stars in yonder, firmament, shine in their several spheres, and filled that station in which they had been called by the providence of God, with honor to themselves and to the church: and we feel to mingle our tears with their surviving relatives. But on this occasion, we realize that we have suffered more than an ordinary bereavement, and consequently we feel the more interested. If ever there was a man who had claims on the affections of community; it was our beloved, but now deceased patriarch—if ever there was an event calculated to raise the feelings of sorrow in the human breast and cause us to drop the sympathetic tear? It certainly is the present; for truly we can say with the King of Israel, “A Prince and a great man has fallen in Israel.” A man endeared to us by every feeling calculated to entwine around, and adhere to the human heart, by almost indissoluble bonds. A man faithful to his God and to the church in every situation, and under all circumstances through which he was called to pass. Whither in prosperity, surrounded by the comforts of life, a smiling progeny, and all the enjoyments of the domestic circle; or, when called upon, like the Patriarchs of old, to have the land of his nativity, to journey in strange lands, and become subject to all the trials and persecutions which have been heaped upon the Saints with a liberal hand, by characters destitute of every principle of morality or religion, alike regardless of the tender offspring, and the aged sire whom silvery locks, and furrowed cheeks ought to have been a sufficient shield from their cruelty: But like the apostle Paul he could exclaim, (and his life and conduct have fully borne out the sentiment,) “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear, so that I may finish my course with joy.” The principles of the gospel were too well established in that breast, and had got too sure a footing there, ever to be torn down, or prostrated by the fierce winds of persecution, the blasts of poverty, or the swollen waves of distress and tribulation. No, thank God, his house was built upon a rock; consequently it stood amid the contending elements, firm, and unshaken.
The life of our departed Father has indeed been an eventful one, having to take a conspicuous part in the great work of the last days; being designated by the ancient prophets, who once dwelt on this continent, as the Father of him, whom the Lord had promised to raise up in the last days; to lead his people Israel; and by a uniform, consistent, and virtuous course, for a long series of years, he has proved himself worthy of such a Son, and such a family, by whom he had the happiness of being surrounded in his dying moments; most of whom had the satisfaction of receiving his dying benediction.
He was already in the wane of life, when the light of truth broke in upon the world, and with pleasure he hailed its benign and enlightening rays, and was chosen by the Almighty to be one of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. From that time his only aim was the promotion of truth, his soul was taken up with the things of the kingdom, his bowels yearned over the children of men; and it was
“more than his mean and drink to do the will of his Father which was in heaven. By unceasing industry, of himself and family, he had secured a home in the state of New York, where he, no doubt expected, with every honest and industrious citizen, to enjoy the blessings of peace and liberty. But when the principles of truth were introduced, and the gospel of Jesus Christ was promulgated by himself and family, friends forsook, enemies raged, and persecution was resorted to by wicked and ungodly men, insomuch so, that he was obliged to flee from that place and seek a home in a more hospitable land. While the house of the Lord was building, he took great interest in its erection, and daily watched its progress, and had the pleasure of taking a part at the opening, and seeing it crowded by hundreds of pious worshipers. As the King of Israel longed for and desired to see the completion of the house of the Lord, so did he; and with him he could exclaim, “O Lord, I love the habitation of thin house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth.”
To dwell on the house of the Lord, and to enquire in his Temple, was his daily delight; and in it he enjoyed many blessings, and spent many hours in sweet communion with his Heavenly Father. He has trod its secret alleys, solitary and alone from mankind, long before the King of day has gilded the eastern horizon; and he has uttered his aspirations within the walls, when nature has been asleep. In its holy enclosures have the visions of heaven been opened to his mind, and his soul has feasted on the riches of eternity; and there, under his teachings have the meek and humble been instructed, while the widow and the orphan have received his Patriarchal blessing. There he saw this work spreading far and wide, –saw the elders of Israel go forth under his blessing, born them up by the prayer of faith, and failed them welcome when they again returned bringing their sheaves with them.—
There with his aged partner, he spent many happy days, in the bosom of his family, whom he loved with all the tenderness of parental affection. Here I might enlarge and expatiate on the “Scenes of joy, and scenes of gladness” which were enjoyed by our beloved Patriarch, but shall pass on to an event which was truly painful and trying,– The delightful scene soon vanished, the calm was succeeded by a storm, and the frail bark was driven by the tempest and foaming ocean, for many who had once been proud to acknowledge him a Father and friend, and who sought council at his hands, joined with the enemies of truth, and sought his destruction; and would have rejoiced into see his aged and venerable form immured in a dungeon: but thank God, this they were not suffered to do; he providentially made his escape, and after evading his enemies for some time, he undertook, and accomplished a journey of a thousand miles, and bore up under the fatigue and suffering necessarily attendant on such a journey, with patient resignation. After a journey of several weeks, he arrived in safety at Far West, in the bosom of the church, and was cordially welcomed by the Saints; who had found an asylum in the rich and fertile county of Caldwell. There he in common with the rest of the Saints hoped to enjoy, the privileges and blessings of peace—
There, from the fertile soil and flowery meads, which well repaid the labor of the husbandman, and poured forth abundance for the support of the numerous herds which decked those lovely, and wide spread prairies, he hoped to enjoy uninterrupted, the comforts of domestic life. But he had not long indulged those pleasing anticipations, before the delightful prospect again vanished, the cup of blessing which he began again to enjoy, was dashed from his aged lips; and the cup of sorrow filled to overflowing was given him instead; and surely he drank it to the very dregs: for, not only did he see the Saints in bondage, treated with cruelty, and some of the murdered; but the kind and affectionate parent, saw; and ah! how painful was the sight, two of his Sons, to whom he looked up to for protection, torn away from their domestic circles, from their weeping and distracted families, by monsters in the shape of men, who swore and threatened to kill them, and who had every disposition to imbrue their hands in their blood. This circumstance was too much for his agitated and now sinking frame to bear up under; and although his confidence in his God was great, and his conduct was that of a Christian and a saint; yet he felt like a man and a parent. At that time his constitution received a shock from which it never recovered. Ah! Yes, there were feelings agitated in the bosom of our deceased friend at that time, of no ordinary kind, feelings of painful anxiety and emotion, too great for his earthly tabernacle to contain without suffering a great and a sensible injury; and which from that time began to manifest itself.
It would be unnecessary to trace him and his aged partner, (who shared in all his sorrows and afflictions,) from such a scene, as many of the Saints are knowing to the privations and sufferings, which they in common with the church, suffered while moving from that land of oppression; suffice it to say he arrived in safety in Illinois, broken down in constitution, and in health, and since then he has labored under severe affliction and pain, while disease has been slowly, but surely undermining his system.
Whenever he had a short respite from pain, he felt a pleasure to attending to his Patriarchal duties, and with cheerfulness he performed them; and then his strength would admit t but loving great zeal for the cause of truth, he felt willing to be spent in the service of his God.
For some time past he has been confined to his bed, and the time of his departure was near at hand. On Saturday evening last, an eruption of a blood vessel too place, when he vomited a large portion of blood. His family were summoned to his bed side, it being now evident that he could not long survive. On Sunday he called his children and grandchildren around him, and like the ancient Patriarchs, gave them his final benediction. Although his strength was far gone, and he was obliged to rest at intervals, yet his mind was clear, perfectly collected, and calm as the gentle zephyrs. The love of God rested upon him, and his soul was full of compassion and blessing. —All the circumstances connected with his death, were calculated to lead the mind back to the time, when an Abraham, an Isaac, and a Jacob bid adieu to mortality, and entered into rest.— His death like theirs was sweet, and it certainly was a privilege indeed, to witness such a scene; and I was forcibly reminded of the sentiment of the Poet.
“The chamber where the good man
Meets his fate,
Is privileged beyond the common
Walk of virtuous life.”
There were no reflections of misspent life—no fearful forebodings of a gloomy nature in relation to the future, the realities of eternity were dawning, the shades of time were lowering; but there was nothing to terrify, to alarm, or disturb his mind, no, the principles of the gospel, which “bring life and immortality to light,” nobly triumphed in nature’s final hour. Those principles so long taught and cherished by our lamented friend, were honorably maintained to the last; which is not only a consolation to the immediate relatives; but to the church at large.
The instructions imparted by him, will long be remembered by his numerous progeny, who will undoubtedly profit by the same, and strive to render themselves worthy of such a Sire: and that the whole church will copy his examples, walk in his footsteps and emulate his faith, and virtuous actions, and commend themselves to his God and their God.
Notwithstanding his enemies frequently “shot at him, yet his bow abode in its strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob;” and his courage and resolution never forsook him. His anxiety for the spread of truth was great, and he lived to see great and important things accomplished. He saw the commencement of the work, small as a mustard see, and with attention and deep interest he watched its progress; and he had the satisfaction of beholding thousands on this Continent, rejoicing in its truths, and heard the glorious tidings, that other lands were becoming heirs to its richest blessings. Under those circumstances he could exclaim, like pious Simeon of old, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”
Although his spirit has taken its flight, and his remains will soon mingle with their mother earth, yet his memory will long be cherished by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance, and will be fresh and blooming, when those of his enemies shall be blotted out from under heaven. May we, beloved friends, who survive our venerable Patriarch, study to prosecute those things, which were so dear to his aged heart, and pray that a double portion of his spirit may be bestowed on us, that we may be the humble instruments in aiding the consummation of the great work, which he saw so happily begun; that when we have to stand before the bar of Christ, we may with our departed friend, hear the welcome plaudit, “Come up hither ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”—Amen.