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Restoration: A Study in Prophecy

By Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith

Chapter 2—Functions of the Prophet

"God set in the church prophets."—From I Corinthians 12: 28.
"Doubt not through the ages one increasing purpose runs."—Tennyson

Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith
Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith
Presiding Patriarch Elbert A. Smith
Elbert A. Smith

WHAT DO YOU expect from the prophet? What do you ask of him? Most people when they speak of a prophet think of one who predicts future events. That is one of his functions, but not the only one, and not the most important. A man may be a prophet and never predict the future.

When the prophet does prophesy concerning the future in the name of the Lord and in due time we see his prophecy fulfilled, there is a distinct benefit. Our faith is strengthened. We see that God is working by a plan—a long-time plan. He has a purpose in the universe, and therefore one in us. The pattern by which he works may seem obscure as yet, but we have caught a glimpse of its unfolding. We are inspired to do his will, to seek his guidance, that we, too, may fit into that pattern.

Important as all that may be, the prophet serves humanity in other and even more important ways. Someone has said that he is a forth-teller more than a fore-teller. The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible says:

Prediction was an important part of the prophet's work, but more important still the prophet had to deal with the present and the past, and to instruct men in God's ways.... The use of the English word prophet must not be permitted to emphasize unduly the predictive side of prophecy.

The Prophet Answers Questions of Eternal Importance

Prognostication is by no means the chief mission of the prophet. He comes also with a revelation of God and the will of God. He comes with a message concerning the reality of things, true meanings and values of life, moral standards; man's origin, his duty, and his relation to God and eternity. In all these things the prophet's message awaits the vindication of time. Ofttimes rejected by his own generation and his own people, presently the passing years uncover the eternal truth of his message.

A little grade school girl went to a crystal-gazer to have her fortune told. Being forthright in thinking and statement, she said to the crystal-gazer: "I don't care to hear anything about my future husband. What I want to know is the answers to the questions in next week's examination."

There are certain questions to which humanity desires an answer with a most desperate desire. Neither crystal-gazer nor astrologer has the answers for sale cheap, or at any price. One of these questions has to do with man's origin. He can evaluate himself and determine his duty and direct his conduct wisely only as he first gets the answer to that question.

A Book Sealed with Seven Seals

Science has wrestled with that problem of origin. Marconi addressed a congress of scientists in Venice in 1934. Eight Nobel prize winners were present. Concerning the mystery of life and the failure of science to solve it, Marconi said:

The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent problem ever placed before the mind of man. There is no doubt but what from the time humanity began to think, it has occupied itself with the problem of its origin and its future—which is undoubtedly the problem of life. The inability of science to solve it is absolute. This would be truly frightening if it were not for faith.... The spectre of death places man, who wishes to explain the tormenting mystery, before a book sealed with seven seals.

No one present at that congress of scientists arose to challenge Marconi's statement. No one has challenged it since then. The mystery of life and death remains to science and philosophy a book sealed with seven seals.

A Book Open for All to Read

There is a Book not sealed at all, open for all to read. Its very first words give us the key to man's origin: "In the beginning God created." Thus the voice of prophecy is pitched to a tremendous, reverberating keynote. There we have the assurance of design, of purpose. Absurd theories of origin by chance, without purpose or hope or incentive to find worthwhile standards of life and adhere to them, are brushed away by that one opening declaration from the prophets, and the way is open for them to unfold the divine purposes and plans of life.

There are only two possible theories concerning the origin of the universe and life as we observe it. No one has been wise enough to think of a third possibility. Either things came by blind chance, or else they came by design; and if by design, then there is one who designed. After the passage of thousands of years, thoughtful men find it impossible to accept the theory of blind chance and are left absolutely no theory to fall back upon that does not recognize in substance the existence of intelligent creative power functioning in the origin of things. As Lord Kelvin said, "God has reserved a place for his own appearing in the beginning of all things."

So thoughtful a man as Michael Pupin, at the time president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, declared:

Wherever science has explored the universe, it has found it to be a manifestation of a co-ordinating principle. It leaves us no escape from the conclusion that back of everything there is a definite guiding principle. We are faced with two alternatives: either the law and order of the universe is the result of haphazard happenings; or it is the result of a definite intelligence. Now which are you, as an intelligent being, going to choose?

Personally, I believe in the Divine Intelligence, because it is simpler and more intelligible. It harmonizes with my whole experience. When you see the stars, each moving along its own prescribed path with a precision impossible to attain in any mechanism constructed by man, when you see a seed grow after a definite plan into a tree, or a baby develop into a self-directing human individuality, can you believe that it is the result of haphazard happenings? Such a belief is beyond my understanding.1

Time has vindicated the message of the prophet couched in the very opening words of the Bible, and the Scriptures stand approved as worthy of our respect. "In the beginning God created." That message will stand the test of time as long as men shall think things through to a logical conclusion.

The Prophet Reveals God

To a world that had a god for every hill and valley and village, Moses came with the message of monotheism—one God, the Great I AM. Just one God everywhere!

Thousands of years later science makes the great discovery that law is eternal and universal, the same law always and everywhere. Time vindicates the prophet. Behind the shadows, Moses laughs and says, "That was what I said, One Universal, Unchangeable Lawgiver."

Paul spoke as a prophet on Mars' Hill. There he found altars to all the many Greek gods. And what gods they were! Rene Kraus says of them: "The Greek gods were amorous, corrupt, quarrelsome.... Their days were haggling and their nights were adultery."

Among the many altars to these corrupt gods of man's devising, Paul found one erected to "The Unknown God." This was the God the Greeks, by that confession, had never known. Paul declared, "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."2 It is the work of the prophet to reveal a better vision of God than the people have known.

The Prophet Interprets the Character of God

You believe in God? Yes. But what kind of a God? It is the function of the prophets to testify of God and to interpret his character.

Because the prophets are human and are limited in comprehension, and because we are limited and can understand their message only in part, the revelation has been progressive. God is not progressive, but our limitations of necessity prescribe that his revelation shall be progressive. "Here a little and there a little, line upon line and precept upon precept." God himself to one prophet said: "Unto what shall I liken these things that ye may understand?"

The early prophets saw a God of omnipotent power, and they were afraid. John saw a God of love, "God is Love." Jesus came with a vision of God as a father: "Our Father which art in heaven."

Revelation of God's Will

In like manner there has been an unfolding revelation of God's will. The prophets have seen beyond the then prevailing conceptions of justice and equity in human relations. The law of Moses with its eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was a "schoolmaster" to bring us to something better—that is, "to Christ," and his better law.3

Socrates said that a certain madness rests on the prophets. The prophet may seem mad to his generation, his plan impractical. He sees things incredible, denounces old superstitions, proclaims new truths, or rediscovers old truths. Generally he gets himself persecuted, sometimes killed. Jeremiah in a dungeon, Daniel in the lion's den, John beheaded: "Which of the prophets have your fathers not slain?" Can the prophet foresee his own death? Perhaps so, but like Paul he is "not disobedient unto the heavenly vision."4

At a time when the Hebrews were seeing no further than the blood and smoke of their burnt offerings, the Prophet Isaiah had a vision of the essence of religion:

To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.... Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.5

Isaiah's message was not warmly received by his own people. The masses were trusting ceremonies and offerings and were not concerned with justice and personal righteousness. Their teachers, the priests, were quite content. Today we know that time has vindicated the prophet.

Forms and ceremonies and doctrines have neither service nor significance excepting as they help to interpret and are associated helpfully with righteous living—right living—clean living—justice, mercy, social service to the poor and the oppressed.

To Testify of Christ

Since "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,"6 an important work of the prophets has been to testify of him. They foretold his coming. They announced his appearing. John the Baptist as a prophet declared, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."

They proclaim his second advent. They testify of him, even today, as did a modern prophet: "And, now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father."7


  1. Pupin in an interview with Albert Edward Wiggam, American Magazine, September, 1927; reprint in Reader's Digest, December, 1928.
  2. Acts 17: 23.
  3. Galatians 3: 24.
  4. Acts 26: 19.
  5. Isaiah 1: 11, 16, 17.
  6. Revelation 19: 10.
  7. Doctrine and Covenants 76: 3.

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