In the end, Joseph Smith and his elder brother Hyrum gave their lives as a testimony. In mid-1844, opposition to the Latter-day Saints caused the two men to flee their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, and cross the Mississippi River to the west. Their flight was a precursor to the great western trek of the Saints led years later by Brigham Young.
Because their opponents had focused attention principally on them, Joseph and Hyrum left, believing that their flight would protect the Saints who remained in Nauvoo. Some of their followers, however, called their escape cowardice—leaving the people when they needed them most.
Stung by the accusations, Joseph returned to Nauvoo with Hyrum, exclaiming, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of no value to me.”
Electing to face their accusers, on the morning of June 24 Joseph and Hyrum left for Carthage, Illinois, the county seat. There they were thrown into jail, charged with treason because Joseph had called out the city’s state-sanctioned militia to defend the people against threats of violence.
Knowing his enemies intended to kill him, Joseph said as he went to Carthage, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”
The morning they left for Carthage, Hyrum felt troubled and went to the Book of Mormon for comfort. He and Joseph were about to turn themselves over to “gentiles”—people not of their faith. Hyrum hoped they would have compassion on the Church leaders, in spite of the mob spirit that raged in the region.
Hyrum opened the book to a passage that had great meaning to him. Under the circumstances, it became a prayer. The verse began: “And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity.”
But they did not have charity. On June 27, 1844, a little after 5:00 p.m., a mob of between 150 and 200 men stormed the jail and shot Joseph and Hyrum multiple times, brutally killing both.
John Taylor, a friend and fellow Church leader, was in the jail at the time and sustained severe gunshot wounds himself. After returning to Nauvoo, he returned also to a printing project he had nearly finished before leaving with Joseph and Hyrum for Carthage. It was the second edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, a book containing revelations of Joseph Smith. Before binding the printed pages into book form, John Taylor added a tribute to the murdered leaders.
“Henceforward,” he wrote, “their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world.”
Like the Book of Mormon itself, the introduction to the 1981 edition includes a challenge and a promise to everyone throughout the world:
We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3–5.)
Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is his revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the second coming of the Messiah.
Today, millions of Latter-day Saints, speaking more than 150 languages around the world, stand as witnesses that the book is true and invite all mankind to “come unto Christ” and enjoy the peace and happiness that follow.