Praise to the Man: Joseph Smith

LDS-hymnbooksThe September issue of the Ensign magazine includes an article celebrating the 30th “birthday” of the LDS hymnbook, Hymns (74-75). Even though the Ensign clearly states “there are no plans at this time for a new edition,” rumors are circulating to the contrary. Why the Mormon community would think a new edition is in the works despite such a clear “official” statement is interesting food for thought, but that’s not the topic of this blog post.

This rumor suggesting a new LDS hymnbook prompted Mormon blogger Jana Riess to think about what she would like to see changed in the current hymnal. Topping her list of hopeful changes is getting rid of the beloved Mormon hymn dedicated to Joseph Smith, “Praise to the Man.” Dr. Riess wrote,

“If I could jettison just one song from our repertoire, by God it would be this one—and it’s a shame, because the tune is fabulous and the tempo brisk, unlike the more snail-like LDS hymns. But this theology is simply awful. How is it that Mormons can insist up and down and until Tuesday that we don’t worship the prophet and yet continue to sing this hymn? Here the recently deceased Joseph Smith is communing with Jehovah, mingling with gods, and making plans on our behalf from heaven . . . kind of like God makes plans for us from heaven. Even worse, the song is all about how we need to glorify Joseph Smith, not God: ‘Kings shall extol him, and nations revere.’ I realize this hymn has already been made slightly less vengeful and bloody from a 1927 revision, but that’s not enough: the whole concept of this song is about worshiping a human being. Only God deserves our worship. End of story.”

I remember the first time I saw “Praise to the Man.” I was flipping through a Mormon hymnal while visiting the home of a friend who had recently joined the LDS Church. The lyrics stopped me cold. “Long shall his blood…plead unto heaven…, Great is his glory…, Earth must atone for the blood of that man…, Mingling with Gods he can plan for his brethren,… Millions shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again.” I was…shocked. I knew a fair bit about Mormonism at this point, but this. This struck me as unabashed blasphemy, and it shook me deeply.

Perhaps it is Dr. Riess’ protestant background that helps her recognize worship of Joseph Smith inherent in “Praise to the Man.” Many Mormons don’t seem to get that. They seem entirely comfortable with the hymnal including “Praise to the Man” just two pages ahead of the hymn, “Praise to the Lord” (as published in my 1948 edition, hymn numbers 147 and 150 respectively).

keyboardI wonder if Dr. Riess is familiar with some of the other LDS hymns written to honor Joseph Smith. In 1909 the Deseret Sunday School Union published a book of songs “suitable for Primary associations, religion classes, quorum meetings, social gatherings and the home.” Hymn number 260 in this collection is “Joseph the Blest.” Winner of a contest held in 1905 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth, this song is to be sung “majestically and with fervor.” It begins by praising God “Who didst on earth bestow, One hundred years ago, Joseph, the Prophet, Joseph, the mighty seer.” The second verse recounts Joseph’s First Vision, his receipt of many revelations, and his death: “Whose blood for truth was shed.” The final verse calls for the Mormon restored gospel to spread, and looks ahead to what Joseph Smith once called the “great winding up scene”:

Bid doubt and error cease,
Bring in Thy reign of peace;
Let the pure, as reward,
Meet with their Savior Lord,
Meet with their Savior Lord—Joseph, the blest!

This hymn is not in my 1948 hymnal; I’m guessing it’s not in the current LDS hymnbook either.

Another hymn praising Joseph Smith is included in my 1948 edition of Hymns, but I don’t know if it is in the current edition. This one, hymn number 296, is titled “The Seer, Joseph, The Seer.” Third Mormon President John Taylor wrote the lyrics. Leaving out some repeated lines, the song goes like this:

The Seer, the Seer, Joseph, the Seer!
I’ll sing of the Prophet ever dear;
His equal cannot be found
By searching the wide world around.
With Gods he soared in the realms of day,
And men he taught the heavenly way.
The earthly Seer! the heavenly Seer!
I love to dwell on his memory dear;
The chosen of God and the friend of man,
He brought the priesthood back again;
He gazed on the past and the future, too,
And opened The heavenly world to view.

Of noble seed, of heavenly birth,
He came to bless the sons of earth;
With keys by the Almighty given,
He opened the full rich stores of heaven;
O’er the world that was wrapped in sable night,
Like the sun he spread his golden light.
He strove, O how he strove to stay
The stream of crime in its reckless way!
With a mighty hand and a noble aim,
He urged the wayward to reclaim:
‘Mid foaming billows of angry strife,
He stood at The helm of the ship of life.

The Saints, the Saints, his only pride!
For them he lived, for them he died;
Their joys were his, their sorrows too.
He loved the Saints; he loved Nauvoo.
Unchanged in death with a Savior’s love,
He pleads their cause in the courts above.
The Seer, the Seer! Joseph, the Seer!
O how I love his memory dear!
The just and wise, the pure and free,
A father he was and is to me.
Let fiends now rage, in their dark hour–
No matter, He is beyond their power.

He’s free! he’s free! The Prophet’s free!
He is where he will ever be,
Beyond the reach of mobs and strife,
He rests unharmed in endless life.

His home’s in the sky; he dwells with the Gods
Far from the furious rage of mobs.
He died, he died for those he loved.
He reigns; he reigns in the realms above.
He waits with the just who have gone before
To welcome the Saints to Zion’s shore.
Shout, shout, ye Saints! This boon is given;
We’ll meet him, Our martyred Seer, in heaven.

Dr. Riess has reason to hope that when the LDS Church does put out a new edition of Hymns, the offensive “Praise to the Man” could very well be left out of the repertoire – just as some past, similar Mormon hymns have been excluded from newer editions of the hymnbook. She should not make the mistake in thinking, however, that such an omission would signal a new attitude within the Church toward Joseph Smith. Even though some songs praising the Prophet may not be in the current hymnal, note, for example, that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang “The Seer, Joseph, The Seer” at an event not too long ago (though the choir did not sing all the verses). And a recent Mormon Church manual (used for study in 2012) includes George Albert Smith’s praise of that man:

“Many of the benefits and blessings that have come to me have come through that man who gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been some who have belittled him, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever.”

Joseph Smith’s glory, honor and majesty…forever? No. That is over-the-top praise (worship?) of a man.

Here is where such praise should be directed:

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)

And amen.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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13 Responses to Praise to the Man: Joseph Smith

  1. Mike R says:

    Joseph Smith does’nt deserve the adulation that Mormons give him . The glorious truth that hopefully the Mormon people will discover is that they simply do need him nor his successors in order to have a right relationship with God and receive eternal life . That’s the bottom line .

  2. falcon says:

    This is why LDS are not considered Christians. They have no idea who Jesus is because if they did they wouldn’t be singing praises to Joseph Smith. I won’t do my riff why Joseph Smith wasn’t a prophet or his behavioral misdeeds which should bring him to be condemned not given kudos. Consider this:

    “I urge you all that you all to agree and be united in cause. Have completely the same mind as each other. I’ve heard that you are arguing amongst each other, saying, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Peter,” “I follow Apollos,” or even “I follow Christ.” Did I go onto a cross for you? Shall we baptize in my name? Is Christ in that many parts? Thank Goodness that I only baptized two of you, and a household. Had I done otherwise, many of you could claim that you were baptized in my name, rather than in Christ. I didn’t come to baptize, only to spread the word of Christ Jesus.”

    I would ask the LDS to give consideration to who Jesus is and what He did for us on the Cross.

  3. Mike R says:

    falcon,

    I agree. If Mormons really knew who Jesus is they would know where to relegate any apostle or prophet in their daily speech and thinking process , and that is summed up by John the Baptist in Jn 3:30 : All prophets / apostles must fade into a very minimal place in one’s life . To a sinner redeemer by the grace of God through faith in a loving Savior , no man is the focus in their thought life but Jesus , and rightly so . Worshiping Jesus is reality , adoring Him is their spiritual and emotional sustenance . For those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb , they also gain a personal relationship with the risen Savior , daily telling Him of their thanks and giving Him adoration .

    The Mormon people give Joseph Smith , Brigham Young etc way to much space in their minds and hearts . That is a red flag , and those thinking about joining the Mormon church should consider that.

  4. falcon says:

    I suppose most LDS and other Mormons really never look into who Joseph Smith really was. Why should they? The LDS church has white washed its history and founder to a point that a compliant faithful won’t dream of questioning Smith. But just to show how far out in left field this organization is regarding Smith, consider the following:

    Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the LDS Church, is quoted as saying:

    “The day will come—and it is not far distant, either—when the name of the Prophet Joseph Smith will be coupled with the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God, as his representative, as his agent whom he chose, ordained and set apart to lay anew the foundations of the Church of God in the world, which is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ, possessing all the powers of the gospel, all the rites and privileges, the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and every principle necessary to fit and qualify both the living and the dead to inherit eternal life, and to attain to exaltation in the kingdom of God.”

    Harold B. Lee, eleventh president of the LDS Church:

    “No man can accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, no man can accept this as His church, the Church of Jesus Christ, unless he can accept Joseph Smith as God’s mouthpiece and the restorer of His work in these latter days.”

    http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/importanceofjosephsmithinmormonism.htm

    Let’s not forget LDS leader Bruce McConkie who warned BYU students about seeking a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Those who have left the LDS church talk about how little Jesus is emphasized within the sect. Praise Joseph Smith and ignore Jesus. That’s a formula for spiritual disaster.

  5. Mike R says:

    falcon,
    I don’t think it can be said that Mormons ignore Jesus . They would say that His name is in the title of their church and that their leaders do talk about Him a lot . Aside from the fact that the Mormon Jesus is ” another Jesus ” ( 2Cor 11:4 ) , Mormons truly believe they are His true fold . That being said , there is still some things off kilter within Mormonism and one of those has to do with their prophets especially Joseph Smith .It seems he shares the Marquee as it were with Jesus when it comes to their testimony , at least that is what we have heard from ex-LDS telling of their experiences in a Mormon fast and testimony meeting — it’s usually about “the church” , ” the prophet( J.S. ) ” , but Jesus is not mentioned every time by the majority of those testifying . Perhaps our ex LDS friends here could elaborate on this .

    At any rate , I remember reading where Mike Tea ( former LDS ) showed the hymn ” Praise to the Man ” to people he met and asking them who they thought it was talking about . They said it was talking about Jesus .

    It’s sad that decent people can be so detoured into a religious system where a man is elevated so high in their minds . Joseph Smith does’nt deserve the kind of homage his followers give him .

  6. falcon says:

    I thought that this is really good and reflects what happens when Christians aren’t well grounded in the Word but center on subjective experience. This is not a new phenomenon. It goes back to the early Church. It takes maturity and discernment to sort out the real from the counterfeit. Unfortunately, many raised in the LDS religious sect for example, have never experienced anything but a counterfeit so it’s the norm for them. Christians seeking spiritual experiences instead of Jesus can easily be manipulated when driven by their emotions.

    Consider this:

    Christianity is undergoing a paradigm shift of major proportions — a shift from faith to feelings; from fact to fantasy; and from reason to esoteric revelation. Leaders of this Counterfeit Revival, have peppered their preaching and practice with fabrications, fantasies, and frauds, seemingly unaware of the profound consequences. Many of the followers who at first flooded into Counterfeit Revival “power centers” have become disillusioned and have now slipped through the cracks into the kingdom of the cults.

    I’ve noticed that there seems to be two extremes within religious practice, both of which need to be avoided. On-the-one-hand, we have the hyper-emotional groups, on the other we have those that are dry and dead and devoid of the Spirit of God. This is where mature leadership is important. Interestingly enough, the LDS have a culture of feeling the Spirit which comes out of the 19th century evangelical Christian revivals. But to those who have gone to LDS worship services, they report that they are dead, dry, boring and take on the ambiance of a funeral.
    I guess you can’t worship and praise Jesus if you don’t know Him personally and see Him as a valiant older brother rather than the eternal God who gave Himself that we might partake in the Blessings the Father has for us.

  7. macville says:

    I can’t think of any song we’ve ever sung in church that has talked about any praise to any of the apostles or any other figure in church history. The very name of the song itself should be a warning to any true Christian.

  8. falcon says:

    Coming from a Catholic background, in the era I group up in following WWII, we were very much into the saints and of course the Virgin Mary. I can remember one song that we sang in mass, which I attended every week day during school and Sunday, titled “On This Day Oh Beautiful Mother”. In the Catholic program Mary and the saints were “intercessors”. We’d pray to the saints and Mary and then they’d go to Jesus with our request. They had their place in the system.
    The whole program was pointed to Jesus. Having not been a practicing Catholic for nearly 50 years, I don’t know if any of this is emphasized any more.
    The Bible tells us that there is one intercessor between us and the Father and that’s Jesus.

  9. Brian says:

    Thank you Sharon for a fine post. The title of this hymn, “Praise to the Man,” is sadly most fitting given the hymn’s content. Praise man? So wrong.

  10. pould says:

    I listened to the talk Elder Ballard gave in the past week or so in some kind of conference in the Provo/Orem area. The most telling thing of all was that after he finished and bore his testimony all about Jesus (or at least the LDS Jesus), the choir hymn was, yes you guessed it, “Praise to the Man”. Tells you everything you need to know.

  11. falcon says:

    One question I find of interest to address to former Mormons is, “What was your initial “ah-ha” moment that told you that something wasn’t quite right with Mormonism. Interestingly enough, I was watching one video of a woman who said that she was never all that enamored with Joseph Smith while a member. I had thought that all LDS were all in for Joseph Smith. He’s suppose to be the “prophet” who had all these spirit visitations, visions and restoration revelations. I would guess she was humming the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” or something while everyone else was praising Joseph Smith.
    But think about it. There is at least one sect of Mormonism that view Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet. The claim is that he received the BoM and then went into apostasy.

    “We do not indorse [sic] the teachings of any of the so-called Mormons or Latter Day Saints, which are in conflict with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. They have departed a great measure from the faith of the CHURCH of CHRIST as it was first established, by heeding revelations given through Joseph Smith, who, after being called of God to translate his sacred word–the Book of Mormon–drifted into many errors and gave many revelations to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings. They also changed the name of the Church…On account of God giving to Joseph Smith the gift to translate the plates on which was engraven the Nephite scriptures, the people of the Church put too much trust in him–in the man–and believed his words as if they were from God’s own mouth. They have trusted in the arm of flesh…They looked to Joseph Smith as lawgiver, we look to Christ alone, and believe only in the religion of Jesus Christ and not in the religion of any man.”
    http://juvenileinstructor.org/from-the-archives-david-whitmer-on-joseph-smith-and-his-legacy/

  12. Mike R says:

    falcon,

    Mormonism’s claim of an alleged great apostasy , what caused it and what transpired because of it , is
    something that is interesting to note because something very similar happened with Mormonism by Joseph Smith a few years after he stated his church in 1830 .

    In short , according to Mormon leaders , soon after the death of Jesus’ apostles certain men arose who corrupted the gospel of salvation which the apostles had taught . Many important truths were altered , even re definded . The truth of the gospel had become mixed with the new made teachings of men and the resulting amalgamation became effectively ” another gospel ” , just what Paul had warned to watch out for (Gal 1:8 ) . Thus salvation became unavailable for 1700 years until Joseph Smith appeared on the scene and supposedly restored it .

    This scenario is similar to what happened in Mormonism , and it was commenced by Joseph Smith .
    The evidence points to Mormon leadership as men who succumbed to personal apostasy and influenced their flock to follow them . Sad but true .

    The Mormon people deserve to be free from following false prophets arising in the latter days , their leaders are such prophets . All the church activity , good deeds , striving to live godly principles, can not make up for following false prophets . Matt 15:14 .

  13. falcon says:

    It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that the LDS should sing praises to Joseph Smith. It’s just an extension of LDS doctrine that reduces God to a former man who became a god. In their thinking, Joseph Smith is now a god, just like millions and billions of other men before and just like the men sitting in the pew singing the song.
    It should be pointed out, that the original “restored gospel” had no such notions. Smith also came up with the idea of “progressive revelation” which gave him license to go in any direction he wanted to go. So he decided that in order to get to the highest level of his Celestial Kingdom, men had to marry many women.
    It’s a difficult thing for a man who thinks he has priesthood authority, power and the potential to become a god, to give it up.

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