“Did Brigham Young confirm or expound on Joseph Smith’s first vision?” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 59–60
Milton V. Backman, professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University and region welfare agent in the Provo area. Brigham Young maintained a strong conviction of the divine calling of Joseph Smith. In his autobiography and in his sermons, he bore a powerful testimony that Joseph Smith restored the fulness of the everlasting gospel. Referring to his initial meeting with Joseph in September 1832, Brigham Young declared that he “received the sure testimony, by the spirit of prophecy, that he was all that any man could believe him to be, as a true Prophet.”1 And Brigham Young never deviated from that testimony.
On 22 December 1838, Brigham Young, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, fled from Kirtland “in consequence of the fury of the mob … who threatened to destroy” him because he proclaimed publicly and privately, “by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Most High God, and had not transgressed and fallen as apostates declared.”2
President Young’s conviction of the divine calling of Joseph Smith included an unwavering acceptance of Joseph’s testimony regarding the First Vision. In 1842, Joseph Smith published two accounts of his 1820 theophany in the Times and Seasons—one he had written and included earlier in the Wentworth Letter, and the other a more extended history that appeared in serial form. This latter account (the account which appears in the current edition of the Pearl of Great Price) was reprinted in the Deseret News, the Millennial Star, and the first editions of the Pearl of Great Price during the presidency of Brigham Young. That President Young was well acquainted with this history is evident by the fact that he periodically cited the work in his sermons and writings.
In his remarks, Brigham Young emphasized that “God called Joseph to be a prophet.”3 Describing this call, he asserted, “The Lord chose Joseph Smith, called upon him at fourteen years of age, gave him vision, and led him along, guided and directed him in his obscurity.”4
In addition to confirming that the First Vision occurred when Joseph Smith was fourteen, President Young substantiated other details relating to the historical setting of that event. Since he lived in western New York (at Auburn) in 1820, he observed some of the same religious developments that influenced young Joseph.
“I very well recollect,” he asserted, “the reformation which took place in the country among the various denominations of Christians—the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and others—when Joseph was a boy. … In the midst of these revivals among the religious bodies,” he continued, invitations to join the respective churches were often extended to Joseph.5
Brigham Young not only identified Joseph Smith’s mother and some of the Prophet’s siblings as members of the Presbyterian persuasion, he added that the invitation to Joseph to join a church was “more particularly from” members of that faith.
Citing from Joseph Smith’s history, President Young described young Joseph’s confusion as he examined the conflicting religious views. “Joseph Smith was naturally inclined to be religious,” he declared, “and being young, and surrounded with this excitement, no wonder that he became seriously impressed with the necessity of serving the Lord. But as the cry on every hand was, ‘Lo, here is Christ,’ and ‘Lo, there!’ Said he, ‘Lord, teach me, that I may know for myself, who among these are right.’”6
While discussing what the Prophet learned during his first vision, Brigham Young emphasized that Joseph was informed that “he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus.”7 Joseph was further told, Elder Young commented, to “refrain from the wickedness he saw in the churches.”8
In the Wentworth letter the Prophet noted that it was during the First Vision that he learned that the fulness of the gospel would be made known to him. Brigham Young expounded on this by describing Joseph’s call to prophetic leadership and explaining that during that initial vision, the Prophet learned that God “had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before Him.”9
Brigham Young not only certified that Joseph was persecuted after he informed others of his divine call, but he also explained why.10 Many hated Joseph because of his influence, observed Elder Young. “He possessed a righteous influence over the spirits, feelings, passions, and dispositions of all who delighted in truth and goodness.”11
Although Brigham Young did not cite the First Vision to vindicate his belief regarding the Godhead, he emphasized that what he received from the Lord, he received from Joseph.12
“I love his doctrine,” Brigham Young commented. “I never saw any one, until I met Joseph Smith, who could tell me anything about the character, personality, and dwelling-place of God, or anything satisfactory about angels, or the relationship of man to his Maker.”13
President Young constantly bore witness that he knew “by revelation” that “Joseph Smith was called of God to establish his Kingdom upon the earth.”14 When explaining why the Lord chose Joseph while but a boy, President Young said, “Because he was disposed to do it. Was Joseph Smith the only person on earth who could have done this work? No doubt there were many others who, under the direction of the Lord, could have done that work; but the Lord selected the one that pleased him, and that is sufficient.”15