“Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (2017)
“Joseph Smith—History 1:1–20,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual
December 23, 1805
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon township, Windsor County, Vermont.
The Smith family moved from Norwich, Vermont, to Palmyra, New York (near where the Book of Mormon plates were buried).
An unusual excitement on the subject of religion led young Joseph to wonder which church to join.
“From the outset the Church had an unpopular public image that was added to by apostates and nurtured by the circulation of negative stories and articles in the press. People gave many reasons for apostatizing. For example, Norman Brown left the Church because his horse died on the trip to Zion. Joseph Wakefield withdrew after he saw Joseph Smith playing with children upon coming down from his translating room. Simonds Ryder denied Joseph’s inspiration when Ryder’s name was misspelled in his commission to preach. Others left the Church because they experienced economic difficulties.
“Ezra Booth, a former Methodist minister, was an influential apostate during this period [the early 1830s]. …
“… He published nine letters in the Ohio Star in Ravenna, from October 13 to December 8, 1831, detailing his objections to the Church.
“These letters … later became a major section of the first anti-Mormon book, … published in 1834” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 113–14).
Many members of the Church apostatized following a period of economic stress in 1837. Backbiting against the Prophet Joseph Smith was common in Kirtland, particularly when he was away on business or on missions. Some men who held positions of trust in the Church rejected his leadership and declared that he was no longer a true prophet. “As a result of this apostasy fifty leading members of the Church were excommunicated under the direction of Joseph Smith, but the problems continued to fester. Several apostates tormented the faithful members with lawsuits and threatened loss of property. Anti-Mormons added their part by boycotting, ostracizing, and denying employment to those who were true to the Prophet and the Church” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 177).
After settling with his family in Far West, Missouri, Joseph, “with the assistance of Sidney Rigdon … embarked on the ambitious project of writing the history of the Church from its beginning. … The history of Joseph Smith and the early events of the Restoration now found in the Pearl of Great Price were a product of this project begun in April 1838” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 187).
“Joseph Smith grew up on the family farm and was almost exclusively under his family’s influence. … During his formative years, Joseph Smith began to incorporate and manifest qualities that would help him fulfill his foreordained mission.
“… He developed strong family bonds, learned to work hard, to think for himself, to serve others, and to love liberty” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 15).
His parents, Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr., were married on January 24, 1796 and settled on a family farm in Tunbridge, Vermont. Joseph and Lucy rented a farm from Solomon Mack, Lucy’s father, in the summer of 1805 and Joseph also taught school in the winter. It was there that their fifth child, Joseph Smith Jr., was born on December 23, 1805. Lucy and Joseph taught their children religious precepts and Lucy especially encouraged the study of the Bible. Joseph Sr. was suspicious of traditional churches but always retained a strong belief in God.
“During Joseph Smith’s earliest years, his family moved frequently, looking for fertile soil or some other way to earn a livelihood. … In 1811 the Smiths moved to the small community of West Lebanon, New Hampshire. …
“Seven-year-old Joseph, Jr., recovered from … [typhoid] after two weeks but suffered complications that eventually required four surgeries. The most serious complication involved a swelling and infection in the tibia of his left leg.” An operation on his leg to remove the infection was endured by Joseph “without being bound or drinking brandy wine to dull his senses” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 22–23).
In 1816, Joseph Sr. went to Palmyra, New York, to investigate the report of good land at low cost. Joseph Jr., at the time a boy of ten, remembered that even though he was not yet fully recovered from his leg operation, the teamster engaged to assist the Smiths in their journey made him walk through snow, forty miles per day for several days, during which time he suffered the most excruciating weariness and pain.
“Joseph Smith, Sr., the father of a family of ten—eleven by 1821—worked hard for a living. After two years in Palmyra, he accumulated enough money for a down payment on one hundred acres of wooded land in the nearby township of Farmington. During the first year he and his sons cleared thirty acres of heavy timber, prepared the ground for cultivation, and planted wheat. … Young Joseph later recalled that ‘it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family’ [“History of Joseph Smith by Himself,” 1]. …
“At this time Joseph’s opportunities for schooling were limited. He attributed this to the ‘indigent circumstances’ he was raised under. ‘We were deprived of the benefit of an education. Suffice it to say, I was merely instructed in reading, writing, and the ground rules of arithmetic which constituted my whole literary acquirements’ [“History of Joseph Smith by Himself,” 1]” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 29–30).
Elder Carlos E. Asay (1926–99) of the Presidency of the Seventy said that the Prophet Joseph Smith “was the product of a God-fearing family—a family that thirsted after righteousness and exercised a simple but deep faith in the Lord. His school was the home, his teachers were loving parents, and his textbook was the Holy Bible” (“One Small Step for a Man; One Giant Leap for Mankind,” Ensign, May 1990, 63).
President Brigham Young (1801–77) said that the Lord had watched over Joseph Smith’s ancestors for generations: “It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon him, and upon his father, and upon his father’s father, and upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 96; see also 2 Nephi 3:7–15).
“As more and more Americans crossed the Catskill and Adirondack mountains to settle in the Finger Lakes area of western New York, they tended to lose contact with established churches in their former homes. These ‘unchurched’ settlers worried religious leaders of the main denominations, principally the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, who established proselyting programs for their disadvantaged brothers in the West.
“The Methodists and Baptists were particularly zealous in their efforts to bring religion to those without its benefits. The Methodists employed circuit riders. These were traveling ministers who rode horseback from town to town throughout a given region, or circuit, ministering to the religious needs of the people. The Baptists used the farmer-preacher system. In this system a local man earned his living by farming but occupied a nearby pulpit on the Sabbath.
“These efforts were bolstered by the enthusiasm of the Second Great Awakening which was then sweeping the United States. Nearly all churches in upstate New York conducted revivals. These were evangelistic gatherings designed to awaken the religiously inert. Revivals were often in the form of camp meetings held on the edge of a grove of trees or in a small clearing in the forest. Participants often traveled many miles over dusty or rut-filled roads to pitch their tents or park their wagons on the outskirts of the encampment. Camp meetings frequently lasted several days with some sessions lasting nearly all day and into the night. Ministers rotated, but it was not uncommon to find two or three ministers exhorting their listeners simultaneously. So fervent and enthusiastic was the religious zeal in western New York in the early 1800s that the region came to be known as the Burned-Over District. Because the Finger Lakes area was set figuratively ablaze with evangelistic fire, it is not surprising that young Joseph Smith and his family were caught up in the fervor” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 30).
Early spring 1820
Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in a grove near the family’s log home.
Early spring 1820
Joseph Smith told his family about his vision and they believed him.
Amid the war of words and feelings that surrounded the boy Joseph, his mind was drawn to the scriptures. He reflected upon the message of James 1:5 again and again and decided for the first time in his life to pray vocally about the matter. After months of mental and spiritual struggle, he finally knew what he must do. Sometime in the early spring of 1820 he went to a familiar spot in the woods near his home to make the attempt. The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) told an editor of the New York Spectator: “I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump where I had struck my axe when I had quit work, and I kneeled down, and prayed” (in James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision: What Do We Learn from Them?” Improvement Era, Apr. 1970, 13, footnote 31).
Joseph’s “months of anguish had resulted in obvious spiritual maturity, and he had at least three serious questions on his mind: (1) He was concerned for his own salvation and sought forgiveness of his sins; (2) he was concerned for the welfare of mankind in general, for, he said, ‘I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world’; (3) he wanted to know which, if any, of the churches was right, and which he should join” (Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts,” 9).
Speaking of Joseph Smith’s experience with Satan, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught: “The powers of darkness preceded the light. When [Joseph Smith] knelt in solitude in the silent forest, his earnest prayer brought on a battle royal which threatened his destruction. For centuries, Lucifer with unlimited dominion had fettered men’s minds. He could ill-afford to lose his satanic hold. This threatened his unlimited dominion” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 98).
Elder Orson Pratt (1811–81) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote that the pillar of light young Joseph saw descended gradually, increasing in brightness so that “by the time 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. … 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 enwrapped in a heavenly vision” (in Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts,” 10).
The Father introduced the Son who then spoke to Joseph Smith. Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote: “A general consideration of scriptural evidence leads to the conclusion that God the Eternal Father has manifested Himself to earthly prophets or revelators on very few occasions, and then principally to attest the divine authority of His Son, Jesus Christ” (Jesus the Christ , 39; see also Matthew 3:17; 17:5; 3 Nephi 11:7).
Speaking of the Lord’s statement about other churches in Joseph Smith—History 1:19, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Now this is not to say that the churches, all of them, are without some truth. They have some truth—some of them very much of it. They have a form of godliness. Often the clergy and adherents are not without dedication, and many of them practice remarkably well the virtues of Christianity. They are nonetheless, incomplete” (“The Only True and Living Church,” Ensign, Dec. 1971, 40).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) said that “at no time did Joseph reveal everything he learned in the First Vision” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson , 112). We do, however, learn from the Prophet Joseph Smith that during the First Vision he was told that “the fullness of the Gospel should at some future time be made known unto me” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 438). In addition, he was told “many other things” that he was unable to write, and in the 1835 account he said that he saw many angels in his vision.