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Joseph Smith's First Vision Accounts Richkelsey.org

(A compilation of Joseph Smith's first vision accounts with Rich Kelsey's observations; his article on the first vision is found here)

Kolob

 

(1834-35) Joseph Smith's Bedroom vision — first published vision — which contains several key elements also found in the 1838 LDS "Official" First Vision story: (see complete account)

With the help of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery published this account:

"You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J. Smith JR. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life.

It is necessary to premise this account by relating the situation of the public mind relative to religion, at this time: One Mr. Lane, a presiding Elder of the Methodist church, visited Palmyra, and vicinity… There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion, and much enquiry for the word of life. Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. …Then strife seemed to take the place of that apparent union and harmony which had previously characterized the moves and exhortations of the old professors, and a cry — I am right — your are wrong — was introduced in their stead.  In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians.

...

After strong solicitations to unite with one of those different societies, and seeing the apparent proselyting [proselytizing] disposition manifested with equal warmth from each, his [Joseph Smith's] mind was led to more seriously contemplate the importance of a move of this kind. ...  To say he was right, and still be wrong, could not profit; and amid so many, some must be built upon the sand.

In this situation where could he go? If he went to one [church] he was told they were right, and all others were wrong-If to another, the same was heard from those: All professed to be the true church..."

(Messenger and Advocate, December, 1834, pp. 42-43)

 

Oliver Cowdery continues this narrative in the next issue of the Messenger and Advocate:

"... You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr.’s age — that was an error in the type — it should have been in the 17th.

...

But if others were not benefited, our brother [Joseph Smith] was urged forward and strengthened in the determination to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.-And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. ...

On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother's mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind-his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost its claims, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.

At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames 'locked fast in sleep's embrace;' but repose had fled,


...

While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.-Indeed, to use his own description, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire. This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occasioned a shock or sensation, visible to the extremities of the body. It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy that surpassed nnderstanding [understanding], and in a moment a personage stood before him.

Notwithstanding the room was previously filled with light above the brightness of the sun, as I have before described, yet there seemed to be an additional glory surrounding or accompanying this personage, which shone with an increased degree of briliancy [brilliancy], of which he was in the midst; and though his countenanc [countenance] was as lightening, yet it was of a pleasing, innocent and glorious appearance, so much so, that every fear was banished from the heart, and nothing but calmness pervaded the soul.

It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies- indeed, I doubt there being an individual clothed with perishable clay, who is capable to do this work....

But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given-The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam.

Though fear was banished form his heart, yet his surprise was no less when he heard him declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard...

He [the Lord] has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall; perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice,"

(Messenger and Advocate, 1835, pp. 78-79)

Vision location: Bedroom
Year vision took place: 1823
Smith discovered that: "a Supreme being did exist"
Vision given by: "a messenger from the skies" [also called] "a personage"
Smith's age: [corrected to read] " ... 17th year"
Religious excitement mentioned: Yes
Four family members had just joined the Presbyterian Church: Yes
Smith wanted to know to which denomination / church he should go: Yes
Year Published: 1834-35 in the Messenger and Advocate
Well-known: by the Church and media in the 1820s — 1840s ◄ 18 written works on the dream / vision

 

 

Summary:

Oliver Cowdery was a distant relative of Joseph Smith, he became the primary scribe for The Book of Mormon, and, one of its Three Witness.  Oliver became an LDS Apostle, Second Elder of the Church, Smith picked him as editor of the Messenger and Advocate; it was Oliver's job to put forth an accurate history of the rise of Mormonism.  When Oliver wrote the "full history of the rise of the church of Latter Day Saints," as a series of articles in the church's magazine, his history reflected what he had knowledge of at that time.  Evidently, in 1834-35, Oliver knew of only one first vision which led to the rise of Mormonism; it was the bedroom vision Smith claimed he experienced in 1823.  And, according to Smith's mother, the only first vision that Joseph told her and the other family members about was that same 1823 bedroom vision:

“One evening we were sitting till quite late conversing upon the subject of the diversity of churches that had risen up in the world and the many thousand opinions in existence as to the truths contained in scripture. …After we ceased conversation he (Joseph) went to bed and was pondering in his mind which of the churches were the true one… he had not laid there long till he saw a bright light entered the room… an angel of the Lord stood by him.  The angel spoke I perceive that you are enquiring in your mind which is the true church there is not a true church on Earth No not one  (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46, LDS Church Archives/Early Mormon Documents, Vol. 1, p. 289-290).

Obviously, there are conflicts between the official 1820 first vision account and the well-known 1823 bedroom vision account which cannot easily be harmonized: they both share similar storylines yet they supposedly occurred in different locations three years apart from each other.  Also, it doesn't help matters that in the 1823 vision story Smith found out that

"a Supreme being did exist."

It only stands to reason: Joseph Smith would have known God existed by 1823, if Heavenly Father and his Son, had appeared to him in 1820, as maintained in the 1838 History; which is now the official LDS first vision account.  One thing to consider:

“It appears that prior to this time [September, 1823] Joseph had not related to his family his initial visionary experience of some three and one half years earlier in which he saw both God the Father, and Jesus Christ. It would also appear from the published text of an interview by Rev. Murdock that [Joseph’s brother] William was unaware of Joseph's first vision as distinct from his visitation by the angel Moroni, as late as 1841.” (THE WILLIAM SMITH ACCOUNTS of JOSEPH SMITH'S FIRST VISION by Elden J. Watson © copyright 1999 Elden J. Watson)

In the 1830s and beyond, Joseph Smith's associate Oliver Cowdery, his mother, and his brother, were of the understanding that Joseph had only one foundational first vision, which was the bedroom vision involving an angel.  It was not until 1832 that a story of an earlier vision began to emerge; yet, as we shall soon see, that first vision story is different than the LDS official vision story maintained today.

Note: An 1823 Bedroom vision is mentioned in Joseph Smith's 1838 history; (see Moroni's visit) yet, the part about Joseph Smith wanting to know which church is true is no longer part of the story.  In the 1838 history that question was answered in an earlier vision by Jesus Christ himself; as documented in the following account:    

 


 

(1842) Joseph Smith's Sacred Grove Account — "Official LDS First Vision Account" — also found in Smith's 1838 History: (see complete account)

Joseph Smith History Chapter 1:

...

5 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.

...

7 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.

8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness... 

10 ... 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?

11 ... 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.

...

14 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.

15 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.

16 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.

17 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!

18 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.

19 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 ...

20 He again forbade me to join with any of them...

 

Vision location: Sacred Grove
Year vision took place: 1820
Smith discovered that: All the sects are wrong and he must join none of them
Vision given by: The Father and the Son
Smith's age: 14
Religious excitement mentioned: Yes
Four family members had just joined the Presbyterian Church: Yes
Smith wanted to know which church he should join: Yes
Year Published: 1842 in the Times and Seasons
Unknown: by the Church and media in the 1820s — 1830s  see LDS statements on this subject 

Summary:

In verse 7 it is recorded:

 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.

As previously noted: Oliver Cowdery gave the same exact account of religious excitement leading four of Smith's family members to join the Presbyterian church in his 1834 magizine article; yet, Oliver claimed this happened in 1823 when Joseph Smith was in his 17 year of age.  Not in 1820 when Joseph Smith was 14 years old.  And, just like Oliver, Lucy Smith claimed the vision occured in Smith's bedroom at night.  Lucy Smith also speaks about herself and other family members joining the Presbyterian Church, and this took place in 1823, right after Alvin Smith's death; as documented in her history of the account

Therefore, when LDS leaders maintain:

"Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fullness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life."  ("What Are People Asking about Us?" Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, November 1998)

They may be setting themselves up for a fall

 

One thing is certain: The 1838 first vision account was penned during a time when the initial LDS Church and Joseph Smith's authority were both in a state of crisis:

 

"After a mass exodus of high-ranking church leaders including several apostles, all three special witnesses of the BOM and three of the eight witnesses to the BOM, Joseph took to reestablishing his authority. He made many changes to the church including changing the name of the church. He began by attacking those who were circulating unsavory 'reports' regarding 'the rise and progress of the Church', then told a revised and more impressive version of his epiphany." (An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, Grant Palmer)

 

Also, see documentation on when the Priesthood was introduced.

 

 


 

(1832) Joseph Smith's hand written account of the First Vision Handwriting of Joseph Smith and Frederick G. Williams; [The story itself is in the handwriting of Joseph Smith] Published for the first time in the 1960s. (see an image of the original document) / (see complete account) Original spelling:

... I became convicted of my Sins and by Searching the Scriptures I found that {mand} [mankind] did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own Sins and for the Sins of the world...

 

... I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and {to} obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in [the] attitude of calling upon the Lord [in the 16th year* of my age] a pillar of {fire} light above the brightness of the Sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filld with the Spirit of God and the [Lord] opened the heavens upon me and I Saw the Lord and he Spake unto me Saying Joseph [my son] thy Sins are forgiven thee. go thy [way] walk in my Statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life...

 

... and for many days I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the hevenly vision.....

*possibly the 15th year.  Words enclosed by {} indicate deletion by cross out-- words enclosed by [] indicate insertion with ^ mark.

Vision location: apparently outside
Year vision took place: apparently 1821 or 1822
Smith had discovered beforehand that: no society or denomination [was] built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ
Vision given by: "the Lord"
Smith's age: "16th year" 15 or 16 years old
Year Published: 1960s

 

Summary:

Dean Cornell Jessee, is a historian of the early Latter Day Saint movement and leading expert on the writings of Joseph Smith, Jr., his work on the subject maintains,

"The 1831–32 history ... contains the earliest known account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision." (The Early Accounts of
Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Dean C. Jessee, BYU Studies, 1969)

So, let's contrast Smith's earliest known account:

"... by Searching the Scriptures I found that ... [mankind] did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament."

With his final account:

"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" (Joseph Smith History Chapter 1:18-19)

In the 1838 history, it was Smith reading from the Bible's Book of James which caused him to seek God and ask which church is true, with the Son of God appearing and telling Smith that,

 "they were all wrong."

Yet, in this handwritten account, Joseph Smith claims he found out from the Bible alone that none of those denominations were built upon the Gospel of Christ; and, the Lord's message to him was:

 "thy Sins are forgiven thee."     

Apparently, over the years, Joseph Smith's first vision story went through some changes:

 

 


 

 First Vision Accounts: Details leading up to
and
the purpose of the visitation:
Who appeared, the message
which was imparted,
and, what was learned:
Year the vision took place
and
 Smith's age at the time:
The Bedroom Vision — First known vision, published in the 1834-35 Messenger and Advocate; and, well-known in the 1830s and 1840s by the Church and the media. The vision which named Joseph Smith as a chosen instrument to bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. The primary vision which gave rise to the LDS Church in the 1830s.  Religious excitement / strife for followers led Smith family members to join the Presbyterians.  Smith wanted to ask: "where could he go" and to know if a Supreme being did exist, to know if he was accepted... "a messenger from the skies" [also called] "a personage" said: "He has chosen [Smith] to perform his strange act." Smith learned that "a Supreme being did exist" and that "Thy sins were forgiven thee."   "1823"
(page 42) "15th year of his life"
(page 78) "that was an error... it should have been in the 17th"
The Sacred Grove Vision — "Official LDS First Vision Account."  Unknown until about 1840 / 1842; yet, found to have been written in 1838 and published in the Times and Seasons in 1842. Now considered the vision which opened up the dispensation to the fullness of times.   Religious excitement led to Smith's family members being proselyted to the Presbyterian faith.
"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"
The Father and the Son
 
"I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong"
"all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt."
1820
14 years old
Joseph Smith's hand written account from his Letterbook - written in 1832 and first published in the 1960s.  BYU Studies, Deseret Book Company 1989. And Early Mormon Documents, v 1, p. 27-29, Dan Vogel, Signature Books, 1996 "by Searching the Scriptures I found ... there was no ... denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ."
"the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness"
"I saw the Lord and he spake unto me"
"thy sins are forgiven thee"
"none doeth good .. they have turned asside (sic) from the Gospel"
[in the 16th year of my age]
* possibly the 15th year

 

 


 

Other Accounts:

 

Wentworth letter "It is an original account by Joseph Smith testifying of his sacred call from God, his visions, and his ministry and teachings" (LDS.org):  

At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, Editor, and Proprietor of the "Chicago Democrat," I [Joseph Smith] have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-Day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says, that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow [George Barstow], a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information all that I shall ask at his hands, is, that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation. I was born in the town of Sharon Windsor co., Vermont, on the 23d of December, A. D. 1805. When ten years old my parents removed to Palmyra New York, where we resided about four years, and from thence we removed to the town of Manchester. My father was a fanner and taught me the art of husbandry. When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James; "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him," I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to "go not after them," at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.  (Times and SeasonsMarch 1, 1842)

 


 

(1835) account of the First Vision — written by Warren A. Cowdery on Monday Nov. 9th:

While sitting in his house this morning between the hours of ten an eleven a man came in and introduced himself to him calling himself Joshua the Jewish Minister. His appearance was something singular, having a beard about three inches in length which is quite grey, his hair was also long and considerably silvered with age. He had the appearance of a man about 50 or 55 years old. He was tall and straight, slender frame, blue eyes, thin visage, and fair complexion. He wore a green frock coat and pantaloons of the same color. He had on a black fur hat with a narrow brim. When speaking he frequently shuts his eyes and exhibits a kind of scowl upon his countenance. He (Joseph) made some inquiry after his name, but received no definite answer. The conversation soon turned upon the subject of Religion, and after the subject of this narrative had made some remarks concerning the bible, he commenced giving him a relation of the circumstances, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which were nearly as follows. Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of Religion, and looking at the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong, but considered it of the first importance to me that I should be right, in matters of so much moment, matter involving eternal consequences. Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing sense (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find, and again, if any man lack wisdom, let of God who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray My tongue seemed to be swoolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me. I strove again to pray, but could not; the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed; I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un-speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication. . .

 


 

(1840) Orson Pratt account — first published first vision account. Published in Edinburgh, Scotland in a pamphlet entitled: "AN INTERESTING ACCOUNT OF SEVERAL REMARKABLE VISIONS".

Mr. Joseph Smith, jun. who made the following important discovery, was born in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, Vermont, on the 23d December, A.D. 1805. When ten years old, his parents, with their family, moved to Palmyra, New York; in the vicinity of which he resided for about eleven years, the latter part in the town of Manchester. Cultivating the earth for a livelihood was his occupation, in which he employed the most of his time. His advantages for acquiring literary knowledge, were exceedingly small; hence, his education was limited to a slight acquaintance, with two or three of the common branches of learning. He could read without much difficulty, and write a very imperfect hand; and had a very limited understanding of the ground rules of arithmetic. These were his highest and only attainments; while the rest of those branches, so universally taught in the common schools, throughout the United States, were entirely unknown to him. When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind. He perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. He saw, that if he understood not the way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance; and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance, or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying--"This is the way, walk ye in it;" while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were in many respects, in direct opposition to one another. It also occurred to his mind that God was the author of but one doctrine, and therefore could acknowledg~ but one denomination as his church, and that such denomination must be a people who believe and teach that one doctrine, (whatever it may be,) and build upon the same. He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines, now in the world, which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind, was--if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it? Until he could become satisfied in relations to this question, he could not rest contented. "o trust to the decisions of fallible man, and build his hopes upon the same, without any certainty, and knowledge of his own, would not satisfy the anxious desires that pervaded his breast. To decide, without any positive and definite evidence, on which he could rely, upon a subject involving the future welfare of his soul, was revolting to his feelings. The only alternative, that seemed to be left him was to read the Scriptures, and endeavor to follow their directions. He, accordingly commenced persuing the sacred pages of i;he Bible, with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage:--"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."-James 1:5. From this promise he learned, that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving liberally; without being upbraided for so doing. This was cheering information to him; tidings that gave him great joy. It was like a light shinning forth in a dark place, to guide him to the path in which he should walk. He now saw that if he inquired of God, there was not only a possibility, but a probability; yea, more, a certainty, that he should obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ; and, which of all the churches, was the church of Christ. He therefore, retired to a secret place in a grove, but a short distance from his father's house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavored to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind, and he was enabled to pray in feverency of the spirit, and in faith. And while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hope of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed that his sins were forgiven. He was also infonned upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.--that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine--the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.

 

 


 

(1842) Orson Hyde account — orginally published in Frankfurt, Germany, in a pamphlet in the German language; then, translated into English in 1960:

Joseph Smith, Jr., to whom the angel of the Lord was sent first, was born in the town of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, on the 23rd of December, 1805. When ten years old, his parents with their family, moved to Palmyra, New York, in the vicinity of which he resided for about eleven years, the latter part in the town of Manchester. His only activity was to plow and cultivate the fields. As his parents were poor and had to take care of a large family, his education was very limited. He could read without much difficulty, and write a very imperfect hand; and had a very limited understanding of the elementary rules of arithmetic. These were his highest and only attainments; while the rest of those branches, so universally taught in the common schools throughout the United States, were entirely unknown to him. When some where about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence; but how, or in what way to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetennined in his own mind; he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance. He saw, that if he understood not the way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance; and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. He discovered a religious world working under numerous errors, which through their contradicting nature and principles, gave cause to the organization of so many different sects and parties, and whose feelings against each other were poisoned through hate, envy, malice and rage. He felt that there should be only one truth, and that those who would understand it correctly, would understand it in the same manner. Nature had gifted him with a strong, discerning mind and so he looked through the glass of soberness and good sense upon these religious systems which all were so different; but nevertheless all drawn from the scripture of truth. After he had sufficiently assured himself to his own satisfaction that darkness was covering the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, he gave up hope ever to find a sect or party that was in the possession of the pure and unadulterated truth. He accordingly commenced persuing the sacred pages of the Bible with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage--"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."--James I:5. From this promise he learned that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving liberally, without being upbraided for so doing. And thus he started to send the burning desires of his soul with a faithful determination. He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father's house, and knelt down and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him. The adversary benighted his mind with doubts, and brought to his soul all kinds of improper pictures and tried to hinder him in his efforts and the accomplishment of his goal. However, the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up, and gave new impulse and momentum to his dwindling strength. Soon the dark clouds disappeared, and light and peace filled his troubled heart. And again he called upon the Lord with renewed faith and spiritual strength. At this sacred moment his mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded, and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. They told him that his prayers had been answered, and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing. He was told not to join any of the religious sects or any party, as they were all wrong in their doctrines and none of them was recognized by God as His Church and kingdom. He received a promise that the true doctrine--the fulness of the gospel--should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace indescribable.

 


 

(1843) account in non-Mormon newspaper The New York Spectator - September 23.

According to the editor of the Pittsburg Gazette, Joseph Smith said:

The Lord does reveal himself to me. I know it. He revealed himself first to me when I was about fourteen years old, a mere boy. I will tell you about it. There was a reformation among the different religious denominations in the neighborhood where I lived, and I became serious, and was desirous to know what Church to join.

While thinking of this matter, I opened the Testament prom- iscuously on these words, in James, Ask of the Lord who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not. I just determined I'd ask him. I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump where I had stuck my axe when I had quit work, and I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, O Lord, what Church shall I join? Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said to the second, Behold my beloved Son, hear him.--I then addressed this second person, saying, O Lord, what Church shall I join? He replied, "don't join any of them, they are all corrupt." The vision then vanished, and when I came to myself, I was sprawling on my back and it was sometime before my strength returned.

When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since.

 


 

(1844) account  —  Alexander Neibaur, German immigrant:

After Dinner . . . called at BR. J.S. met Mr. Bonnie. Br. Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival Meeting, his Mother, Br. and Sisters got Religion. He wanted to get Religion too, wanted to feel and shout like the rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible of the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberallity & upbraideth not. Went into the Wood to pray, kneels himself Down, his tongue was closet cleaveh to his roof--could utter not a word, felt easier after awhile--saw a fire toward heaven came near and nearer; saw a personage in the fire, light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth Drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a while a other person came to the side of the first. Mr. Smith then asked, must I join the Methodist Church. No, they are not my People, have gone astray There is none that Doeth good, not one, but this is my Beloved Son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher, Rested upon the tree, enveloped him comforted I endeavored to arise but felt uncomen feeble got into the house told the Methodist priest, said this was not a age for God to Reveal himself in Vision Revelation has ceased with the New Testament. [May 24, 1844]

(See account of Joseph Smith joining the Methodist Church in 1828)


 

Journal of Discourses:

"He sought the Lord by day and by night and was enlightened by the vision of an holy angel. When this personage appeared to him, one of his first inquiries was, which of the denominations of christians in the vicinity was right? He was told they had all gone astray, they had wandered into darkness, and that God was about to restore the Gospel in its simplicity and purity to the earth; he was, consequently, directed not to join any one of them, but to be humble and seek the Lord with all his heart, and that from time to time he should be taught and instructed in relation to the right way to serve the Lord." (President George A. Smith, delivered in the tabernacle SLC June 20, 1869, Journal of Discourses Vol.13, p.78)

"... when the prophet Joseph asked the angel which of the sects was right that he might join it. The answer was that none of them are right. What, none of them? No. We will not stop to argue that question; the angel merely told him to join none of them that none of them were right." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 20, p. 167, John Taylor delivered in Kaysville, March 2, 1879)

 

 

 


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