“Joseph Smith—History 1:21–54,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (2017)
“Joseph Smith—History 1:21–54,” The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual
Early spring 1820
Joseph told others besides his family about his vision, but many did not believe him.
Bitter persecution from “professors of religion” and neighbors caused Joseph great sorrow.
Joseph told the story of his vision to his family. His brother William affirmed: “We all had the most implicit confidence in what he said. He was a truthful boy. Father and Mother believed him, why should not the children?” (J. W. Peterson, “Another Testimony: Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet,” Deseret Evening News, Jan. 20, 1894, 11; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 34.)
Given the tender feelings of this fourteen-year-old boy, it is little wonder that he should wish to tell his experience to his friends and acquaintances outside the family. One can sense his profound disappointment when, as was recorded by Elders Orson Pratt (1811–81) and Orson Hyde (1805–78) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he “could find none that would believe the heavenly vision” (in James B. Allen, “Eight Contemporary Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision: What Do We Learn from Them?” Improvement Era, Apr. 1970, 11). William Smith later reflected: “We never knew we were bad folks until Joseph told his vision. We were considered respectable till then, but at once people began to circulate falsehoods and stories in a wonderful way” (Deseret Evening News, Jan. 20, 1894, 11; see also Church History in the Fulness of Times, 35).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote:
“Why should so many religionists unite against an unknown youth of no renown or standing in the community? Would the whole sectarian world shiver and shake and call for a sword if some other unknown fourteen-year-old youth in an obscure frontier village should claim that he was visited by angels and that he saw the Lord? The problem when Joseph Smith announced such a claim was that it was true and that Lucifer knew of its verity.
“… Is not the persecution itself a witness of the reality of the First Vision? Or if it were not true, would the worldly wise and the intellectual religionists today devote their talents and means to defaming Joseph Smith and the work that bears his imprint? What is it to anyone else what we believe unless they in their unbelief fear lest our doctrines are true and our practices may have divine approval?” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 8–10).
When the Old Testament prophet Samuel was young, “there was no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1). But as Samuel grew, “the Lord was with him … and all Israel … knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the Lord” (verses 19–20). But, while all of ancient Israel accepted Samuel as a prophet, many people in Joseph Smith’s day and today have difficulty accepting the fact that God would speak again to a prophet on earth (see Amos 3:7).
President Hugh B. Brown (1883–1975) of the First Presidency related the following conversation he had with a noted judge, before the outbreak of World War II, illustrating this point:
“I began by asking, ‘May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?’
“‘I assume you believe in the Bible—the Old and New Testaments?’
“‘Do you believe in prayer?’
“‘You say that my belief that God spoke to a man in this age is fantastic and absurd?’
“‘To me it is.’
“‘Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?’
“‘Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that.’ …
“‘Then … I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to man.’
“‘I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era.’
“‘Why do you think it stopped?’
“‘I can’t say.’ …
“‘May I suggest some possible reasons: Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because he cannot. He has lost the power.’
“He said, ‘Of course that would be blasphemous.’
“‘Well, then if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because he doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.’
“‘No,’ he said, ‘God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.’
“‘Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.’
“And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war—‘Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.’
“My answer was, ‘He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear him’” (“The Profile of a Prophet” [Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 4, 1955], 2–3, speeches.byu.edu).
Young Joseph matured while suffering persecution and waiting for further instructions from the Lord.
September 21–22, 1823
Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith.
November 19, 1823
Joseph Smith’s eldest brother, Alvin, died.
Joseph Smith made four annual visits to the hill where the golden plates were buried.
Concerning Joseph Smith’s life between the time of the First Vision and the appearance of the angel Moroni, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) wrote: “His manner of living was not greatly different from that of the ordinary farm boy of his day, except that he was often referred to as a dreamer and was made an object of ridicule. But he continued to work on his father’s farm, to work for others in the area, and to associate with companions of his own age. Those acquainted with him describe him as a strong, active boy of cheerful disposition, who enjoyed wrestling and other sports” (Truth Restored , 7).
Like all people, Joseph faced the challenges of mortality. Because of his weaknesses, he questioned his personal worthiness before the Lord. Other prophets expressed similar concerns about their personal worthiness and their weaknesses (for example, see 2 Nephi 4:17–19; Moses 6:31). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Just as God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance (D&C 1:31), as we become more like Him, neither can we. The best people have a heightened awareness of what little of the worst is still in them!” (Notwithstanding My Weakness , 16–17).
In 1822, Joseph began helping his older brother Alvin build a new frame house for the family. By September 1823, it was two stories high but without a roof. The family, therefore, continued to live in a small log house a short distance from the frame house. It is to the log house, not the frame house, that Moroni went. Joseph would have undoubtedly slept in the same room with some of his brothers, because the log house was very small for the family of nine.
The Church has excavated the foundation of the log house and built a replica of it on the site. The Church also maintains the frame house in order to help today’s visitors to the Smith family farm envision the scenes and sense the significance of the events that took place there.
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated that the angel Moroni was a resurrected being (see Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 60).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Young Joseph was told that his name would be ‘both good and evil spoken of’ throughout the world (Joseph Smith—History 1:33). Except from a divine source, how audacious a statement! Yet his contemporary religious leaders, then much better known than Joseph, have faded into the footnotes of history, while the work of Joseph Smith grows constantly and globally” (“Joseph, the Seer,” Ensign, Nov. 1983, 54).
Revelation 14:6–7 says that an angel would fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel. President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982) of the First Presidency, after quoting Revelation 14:6–7, explained: “This revelation was fulfilled and clearly understood when the Angel Moroni did fly in the midst of heaven and appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the plates which contained the gospel in its fullness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1964, 62).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the meaning of “the fulness of the everlasting gospel”: “According to the revealed word, the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel; so also does the Bible, and so do both the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Each of them contains the word of the gospel; each of them is a record of God’s dealings with a people who had the fulness of the gospel; each of them is a scriptural record that summarizes the plan of salvation and sets forth what men must do to gain the fulness of reward in the mansions that are prepared. The gospel itself is the power of God by which salvation comes; it is the power that saves a human soul; and the fulness of the gospel is all of the truths and powers needed to enable men to gain a fulness of reward in the highest heaven of the celestial world” (A New Witness, 399).
In the stone box were a book and the Urim and Thummim. The book was written on golden plates and included the book of Lehi, the small plates of Nephi, the plates of Mormon, and the sealed plates that Joseph was commanded not to translate (see “A Brief Explanation about the Book of Mormon” in the introductory pages of the Book of Mormon). The Urim and Thummim was a divine instrument prepared by the Lord for the purpose of translation. It consisted of two stones in silver bows and a breastplate onto which it was attached.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that Moroni quoted many passages of scriptures to him (see Joseph Smith—History 1:41). Following are the Old Testament prophecies that the Prophet specifically identified:
Joseph Smith also added that Moroni said “the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in” (verse 41). We do not know which verses Moroni quoted from Malachi 3, but verses 1–4 and 16–18 are appropriate to the themes of the other scripture references. Isaiah 11 is also quoted in 2 Nephi 21, and an explanation of parts of Isaiah 11 is in Doctrine and Covenants 113:1–6. The prophecy about Jesus Christ in Acts 3:22–23 is one of the most frequently mentioned prophecies in the scriptures (see Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 7:37; 1 Nephi 10:4; 22:20; 3 Nephi 20:23; 21:11; D&C 133:63; Joseph Smith—History 1:40).
The Lord taught the Nephites that prior to the Second Coming there would be a sign given in the last days that would signal the beginning of the gathering of Israel in power (see 3 Nephi 21:1–7). That sign is the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.
All of the passages Moroni quoted point to the same theme: The coming forth of the Book of Mormon will initiate a progression of events that will lead to the Second Coming, when the wicked will be destroyed and the righteous will reign on earth with Jesus Christ. In essence, Joseph Smith was being told that the work he was to do would help usher in Christ’s millennial reign and that the Savior’s coming would be “soon.”
We gain additional insights on this matter from a letter Oliver Cowdery wrote to W. W. Phelps, which contains an account of Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith: “Though fear was banished from 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; and that the scriptures might be fulfilled, which say—‘God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh should glory in his presence’ [1 Corinthians 1:27–28]” (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Feb. 1835, 79).
First visit (see Joseph Smith—History 1:30–43):
Called Joseph Smith by name
Introduced himself to Joseph
Told Joseph that God had a work for him to do
Told Joseph that his name would be known for good and evil among all people
Told Joseph about the Book of Mormon
Quoted Old and New Testament prophecies regarding the last days
Quoted many other passages of scripture
Offered many scriptural explanations
Warned Joseph not to show the plates to anyone unless commanded, or he would be destroyed
Joseph saw in vision the place where the plates were deposited
Second visit (see verses 44–45):
Repeated what he said during the first visit “without the least variation”
Told Joseph that great judgments were coming upon the earth, including desolations such as famine, sword, and pestilence
Third visit (see verses 46–47):
Repeated what he had said before
Added a caution concerning Satan’s temptation to use the golden plates to obtain wealth
Said Joseph must have no other motive than to glorify God and build the kingdom of God
Fourth visit (see verses 48–49):
Called Joseph by name
Related all that he had said the night before
Commanded Joseph to tell his father of the vision and the commandments he had received
A significant point in comparing the four visits of Moroni to the Prophet Joseph Smith is the repetition of instruction. Furthermore, Moroni seems to have discerned the thoughts and feelings Joseph was having between each visit. For example, Moroni added instructions on the impending end of the world during the second visit, a subject Joseph seems most concerned about after the first visit. Then Moroni added a warning during the third visit about Joseph’s motives in getting the plates, a temptation Joseph could have easily experienced after the second visit. Finally, Moroni added the commandment for Joseph to tell his father of the visitation, a command that Joseph might have felt impractical, or at least inconvenient, in the middle of the night.
Lucy Mack Smith’s history of this event adds the following information: “The personage whom he saw the night before came to him again and said, ‘Why did you not tell your father what I told you?’ Joseph said he was afraid his father would not believe him. ‘He will,’ said the angel, ‘believe every word you say to him’” (“Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845,” book 3, page 11, josephsmithpapers.org; capitalization, punctuation, and spelling standardized).
“As Joseph approached the Hill Cumorah, he had thoughts about the poverty of his family and the possibility that the plates or the popularity of the translation would produce enough wealth to ‘raise him above a level with the common earthly fortunes of his fellow men, and relieve his family from want’ [Oliver Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, 157]. When he reached down for the plates he received a shock and was thus prevented from taking them out of the box. Twice more he tried and was thrown back. In frustration he cried out, ‘Why can I not obtain this book?’ Moroni appeared and told him it was because he had not kept the commandments but had yielded to the temptations of Satan to obtain the plates for riches instead of having his eye single to the glory of God as he had been commanded [Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 198].
“Repentant, Joseph humbly sought the Lord in prayer and was filled with the Spirit. A vision was opened to him, and the ‘glory of the Lord shone round about and rested upon him. … He beheld the prince of darkness. … The heavenly messenger [Moroni] said, “All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.” … You now see why you could not obtain this record; that the commandment was strict, and that if ever these sacred things are obtained they must be by prayer and faithfulness in obeying the Lord. They are not deposited here for the sake of accumulating gain and wealth for the glory of this world: they were sealed by the prayer of faith, and because of the knowledge which they contain they are of no worth among the children of men, only for their knowledge’ [Cowdery, in Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 198]. Moroni concluded by warning Joseph that he would not be allowed to obtain the plates ‘until he had learned to keep the commandments of God—not only till he was willing but able to do it’ [in Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 81; italics added]” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 40–41).
Between 1823, when Joseph first saw the plates, and 1827, when he was allowed to take them from the hill, Joseph received additional heavenly instruction. Lucy Mack Smith’s history says that during this time, Joseph “continued to receive instructions from the Lord” (“Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845” 86, josephsmithpapers.org). President John Taylor (1808–87) said: “When Joseph Smith was raised up as a prophet of God, Mormon, Moroni, Nephi and others of the ancient prophets who formerly lived on this Continent, and Peter and John and others who lived on the Asiatic Continent, came to him and communicated to him certain principles pertaining to the gospel of the Son of God” (“Discourse,” Deseret News, June 2, 1875, 276).
Joseph Smith’s mother also wrote: “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined: he would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent; their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, and their buildings, with every particular; he would describe their mode of warfare, as also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them” (“Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845,” 87, josephsmithpapers.org; spelling standardized).