“Unit 2: Day 1, Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2017)
“Unit 2: Day 1,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide
In 1838 Joseph Smith began work on his official history. In it he described his family and the places they had lived. He also told about the “unusual excitement” about religion that prevailed in western New York in 1820 (Joseph Smith—History 1:5). This religious fervor led him to “serious reflection and great uneasiness” because of “the confusion and strife among the different denominations” (Joseph Smith—History 1:8).
While searching the scriptures, Joseph read James 1:5 (see Joseph Smith—History 1:11), which exhorts those who need wisdom to “ask of God.” Joseph recorded: “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” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12). He decided to ask God in prayer for answers to his questions. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him.
President Thomas S. Monson, who served as a mission president in Canada, shared the following experience of two of his missionaries:
“The two [missionaries] called at the home of Mr. Elmer Pollard, and he, feeling sympathy for the almost frozen missionaries, invited them in. They presented their message and asked if he would join in prayer. He agreed, on the provision that he could offer the prayer.
“The prayer he offered astonished the missionaries. He said, ‘Heavenly Father, bless these two unfortunate, misguided missionaries, that they may return to their homes and not waste their time telling the people of Canada about a message which is so fantastic and about which they know so little.’
“As they arose from their knees, Mr. Pollard asked the missionaries never to return to his home. As they left, he said mockingly to them, ‘You can’t tell me you really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, anyway!’ and he slammed the door” (“The Prophet Joseph Smith: Teacher by Example,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 69).
If you were one of the missionaries, what would you have said to Mr. Pollard about the Prophet Joseph Smith?
The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote the account of his life that is found in Joseph Smith—History in 1838 for the purpose of publishing an official history of the Church. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:1–2, and look for the reasons Joseph Smith gave for writing this official history.
Joseph Smith—History includes the Prophet’s firsthand account of the First Vision. There are several known accounts of the First Vision—four of which were written or dictated by Joseph Smith, and others were written by those who retold Joseph’s experience in their own words. These accounts were prepared at different times, for different audiences, and for different purposes. All of these accounts agree in the essential truth that Joseph Smith did indeed have the heavens opened to him and see divine messengers, including God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the 1838 account was part of Joseph Smith’s official history and testimony to the world, it was included in the Pearl of Great Price.
Joseph Smith lived during a time of great interest and excitement about religion. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:5–7, and look for words or phrases that describe the situation Joseph faced. You may want to mark these words in your scriptures. When you have finished, read Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10, looking for Joseph Smith’s descriptions of how he felt during this time.
- In your scripture study journal, summarize Joseph Smith—History 1:5–7 by imagining you had to explain Joseph’s situation and predicament to someone who had never heard of Joseph Smith. Include at least three ideas you feel you should emphasize about Joseph Smith.
Think back to a situation that caused you to ask several questions, and ponder what you did to resolve your concerns. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:11, and look for the place Joseph Smith found answers to his questions. Take a moment and repeat aloud or memorize James 1:5 as quoted in verse 11.
One principle contained in James 1:5 that helped Joseph Smith find answers to his questions is that if we ask God in faith, He will answer our prayers. Mark the words or phrases that teach this principle in Joseph Smith—History 1:11. Understanding that God will answer our prayers in His own time and way, ponder how you have found this principle to be true in your own life.
Joseph described how this passage of scripture affected him. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:12–13, and identify phrases describing Joseph’s experience and response after reading James 1:5. Has a scripture ever touched your heart with power? According to Joseph Smith—History 1:13, what did Joseph Smith want to overcome? What did he conclude he must do?
Joseph Smith—History 1:15–20 is a scripture mastery passage. You may want to mark it in a distinctive way.
If you have access to an LDS hymnbook, read the words to “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (Hymns, no. 26). Then read Joseph Smith—History 1:14–15.
Why do you think Satan tried to stop Joseph Smith from praying? To find out what Joseph Smith did when faced with this “astonishing influence,” read Joseph Smith—History 1:16. What do you think the Prophet meant when he said he exerted “all [his] powers to call upon God”? Ponder what Joseph Smith’s example can teach you about how to respond when you are confronted with a difficult situation or Satan’s temptations.
One of the most important events in human history is recorded in Joseph Smith—History 1:17. As you read this verse, try to visualize this sacred event. One important truth we learn from this verse is that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. He also spoke with Them and received instruction from Them. Joseph Smith’s First Vision is the foundational event of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days.
- In your scripture study journal, write why you think it is important for you and every member of the Church to have a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Review Joseph Smith—History 1:15–17, and identify additional truths we can learn from the account of the Father and the Son appearing to Joseph Smith.
A temptation or trial may come sometimes before or after a spiritual experience. Joseph Smith experienced a trial right before the First Vision. For Moses, the trial came right after he had spoken with God (see Moses 1:9–12). Joseph Smith learned that if we earnestly seek God’s help when Satan tries to discourage us, God can deliver us.
- In your scripture study journal, answer the following questions:
How does knowing that we can receive God’s help to overcome difficulties and discouragement help you?
What other principles can you learn from Joseph’s experience in Joseph Smith—History 1:15–16 that can help you overcome temptation?
- What can we learn about the Godhead from Joseph Smith—History 1:15–17? Write your answer in your scripture study journal.
Some of the doctrines concerning the Godhead found in Joseph Smith—History 1:15–17 are: God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, live. Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate and distinct beings.
Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord to learn which of all the churches he should join. Read Joseph Smith—History 1:18–20, and mark the answer Joseph received to this question.
Remember the account of the missionaries shared at the beginning of the lesson? President Monson told what the missionaries did after the man slammed the door on them:
“The missionaries had walked but a short distance when the junior companion said timidly, ‘Elder, we didn’t answer Mr. Pollard.’
“The senior companion responded: ‘We’ve been rejected. Let’s move on.’
“The young missionary persisted, however, and the two returned to Mr. Pollard’s door. Mr. Pollard answered the knock and angrily said, ‘I thought I told you young men never to return!’
“The junior companion then said, with all the courage he could muster, ‘Mr. Pollard, when we left your door, you said that we didn’t really believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I want to testify to you, Mr. Pollard, that I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that by inspiration he translated the sacred record known as the Book of Mormon, that he did see God the Father and Jesus the Son.’ The missionaries then departed the doorstep.
“[Mr. Pollard later testified:] ‘That evening, sleep would not come. I tossed and turned. Over and over in my mind I heard the words, “Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know it. … I know it. … I know it.” I could scarcely wait for morning to come. I telephoned the missionaries, using their number which was printed on the small card containing the Articles of Faith. They returned, and this time my wife, my family, and I joined in the discussion as earnest seekers of truth. As a result, we have all embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ’” (“The Prophet Joseph Smith,” 69).
If you have not done so, read Joseph Smith—History on your own and ask Heavenly Father to help you know that Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision is true or to deepen your conviction that it is true. You may also want to look for opportunities to share the message of the First Vision with someone else.
- Write your feelings about or testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in your scripture study journal.
Take time to try and memorize this scripture mastery passage. If you feel like you cannot memorize all of the verses, you may want to divide the passage into smaller parts or memorize verses 16–17 or an abbreviated portion of the verses only. Here is one method to help you memorize these verses: Repeat a phrase until you can say it memorized. Add a second phrase, and repeat the phrases until you can recite them both. Add a third phrase, and so on. Speed up as you recite the phrases you have already learned, and slow down as you recite new ones.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: