Saturday, December 19, 2009

The First Vision

In the previous posts I have attempted to explain the circumstances and condition of the human family as a whole that led to the need for a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I have referenced the restoration as a singular thing, indeed as the knowledge of God being returned to the earth. However, the fact is that the restoration is not a singular event, but a collection of countless revelations, visions, visitations and teachings that when combined restore the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We are in actuality still in the midst of the restoration.

What I will write about in this post is not the restoration, but merely the first part in the myriad important truths that had long been lost but were beginning to be restored. This post will help explain how the restoration began and that there was much, much more to come. The fact that not all things were restored at once and that it has been a process accords with the scriptures. Isaiah and later Paul each spoke of the necessity to have the appropriate amount of truth be revealed at the proper time.
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breast. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little. Isaiah 28:9-10

But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned...And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 1 Corinthians 2:10-14, 3:1-2
The principle or nugget of divine knowledge taught in these scriptures is that God will teach us a little more and a little more as we are prepared to understand. The analogy used is of a baby being fed milk for a time and being weaned to more complex foods like meat. Everyone can understand this. It's not that God couldn't give us everything at once, He is the Almighty. But in His wisdom and love He gives us what we can handle before He gives us more. You can't understand algebra and calculus before you understand basic numbers.

It is my hope that you have understood that God's knowledge comes from Him directly through revelation to authorized servants called prophets. I hope that you have recognized that due to wickedness periods of apostasy have occurred throughout time. And I hope that you have seen that new periods of time when prophets have been authorized and revelation has been given have constituted a dispensation, or a restoration of the true gospel of Jesus Christ being taught again on the earth. And it is my hope to share with you today knowledge of a new dispensation and a restoration of the true gospel that has and is occurring in our modern day.

On December 23, 1805 in the state of Vermont in the United States of America an ordinary boy was born to ordinary parents Joseph Smith Senior and Lucy Mack Smith. The boy was Joseph Smith Junior, their third son and third of nine total children. There is nothing especially noteworthy of this family or this boy as he was growing up. The Smiths were a hard-working, honest and God-fearing family. The Smiths, like most people of that day, made their living through farming. After successive crop failures in Vermont, the Smiths moved to Palmyra in upstate New York. After four years in the Palmyra Village, the Smiths saved enough to move to their own farm on the outskirts of Palmyra, in the township of Manchester. It is at this point that I will quote from the history written by Joseph Smith Jr.
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. Joseph Smith History 1:5-8
Joseph writes that the denominations, from Presbyterian to Baptist to Methodist, were decidedly against one another. He said that each church sought to point out the errors of the other and with zeal try to establish their own tenets as correct. Joseph continued as follows:
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. Joseph Smith History 1:10-13
As I said before, what follows is but the first of countless revelations and miracles that have been poured out upon the human family since the early 1800's. As you read, I would encourage you to pay attention to the feelings of your heart. As Paul admonished, the things of God cannot be understood through the words that man speaks, but only through the Holy Ghost. It is the Holy Ghost's function to testify or confirm to us of the truthfulness of things, primarily and especially the things of God. The Holy Ghost does this through the feelings that we feel. These feelings are positive and uplifting. Paul described some of the fruits of the Spirit or Holy Ghost to the Galatians.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance...Galatians 5:22-23
If, as you continue reading, you feel these types of positive feelings or if you have been feeling them as you have been reading these posts, know that it is the Holy Ghost teaching you that these things are true. I have felt the Holy Ghost while reading these words from Joseph Smith. I have felt unspeakable joy and peace. It is through these feelings that I can write and say without hesitation that I know, not just believe, but know what you are about to read really happened. Remarkable as it will sound, and as seemingly unbelievable it may be to imagine, because of the Holy Ghost and the testimony it has borne within me I can only picture the things you are about to read unfolding exactly as Joseph Smith describes. Here are his words.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy? Joseph Smith History 1:14-20
Joseph Smith saw and spoke with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. It wasn't through this experience that Joseph suddenly became a prophet. This experience is known as the First Vision because it was just that, the first of several experiences that followed. It was through this and the experiences that followed that Joseph became a prophet. Although it wasn't through this experience alone that Joseph became a prophet, nevertheless Joseph Smith did become a prophet. And the only reason why that is even important is because all Joseph Smith and any other prophet of God ever did was teach people of Jesus Christ and His gospel. That's what prophets do. They testify of Jesus Christ and His divinity.

Finally, at long last, after over a thousand years of darkness once again a chosen prophet of God has been called to teach the human family of the divine plan of salvation through the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

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