Sunday, January 11, 2009

Joseph Smith & the First Vision

Joseph Smith. Why is he important to us? Is it merely that he was the first Prophet in this dispensation? No, I fail to believe that it is so simple. I think that as we spend the next few weeks studying his life and as we study the Doctrine and Covenants this year in our Sunday Schools that we will gain a much greater appreciation of the man that he was. We have spent the last year studying many of his teachings in our Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. But now we will take the time to strengthen our testimonies of his divine call and sacred duty.

We know that Joseph was a young man of the age of 14 when he had the vision known to us as the First Vision. He was not well educated. At this time Joseph's opportunities for schooling were extremely 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." (Joseph Smith History)

He grew up in an area that was on fire with religious revivals. This was a young man who was surrounded by religion. He wrote in his personal history that "at about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul." (Personal Writings of Joseph Smith p. 4-5). He attended many of the revivals during his day and found himself confused by conflicting doctrine and practices. Many of us have also felt that same confusion at one point or another in our lives. I know that I have. That is why I have spent many days in the scriptures studying certain topics, likewise, young Joseph turned to the scriptures. It was there that he found an answer. In James 1:5 it 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." Ask and you will receive. It seems as though a very simple answer to his question of which church to join. "Never had 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" (Joseph Smith-History 1:12).

It was at this time that a 14 year old boy decided to ask God. We too can ask God. We can ask if Joseph Smith really saw the vision that transpired during that life-changing prayer. We can ask if the Book of Mormon is true. We can ask God for help while at work or within our own homes. We can ask for help in raising our children. And He will not turn us away. He will not condemn us for asking. In fact, He will bless us for seeking His guiding hand in our lives. He will bless us if we seek Him with the intent to follow His counsel. He will answer.

On a clear day, early in the spring of 1820, Joseph went into a grove to pray. There is was privy to a miraculous vision that has changed the course of so many of our lives in these days. He wrote the event as follows:
"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.
"At the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction..., I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
"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!" (Joseph Smith-History 1:15-17).

Persecutions arose from his vision. But his family believed him. According to his brother William, "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?" (In J. W. Peterson, "Another Testimony, Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph the Prophet," Deseret Evening News, 20 Jan. 1894, p. 11.)

Though many didn't believe and still many others refuse to believe, Joseph did see a vision. He considered himself to be like unto Paul the Apostle. "The reality of what Joseph Smith experienced enabled him to endure the increasing persecution. He compared himself to Paul the Apostle who saw the risen Lord and heard his voice. Very few people believed Paul, and some even claimed he was dishonest or mentally deranged. Yet this did not destroy the reality of what Paul knew he had experienced. Joseph declared, 'So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true" (Church History IN the Fullness of Times, Religion 341-43 manual, p.35). Joseph said, "I was led to say in my heart: why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what  I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it" (Joseph Smith-History 1: 25).

I have learned much from the First Vision. We all, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have learned much from it. We have learned that the Heavens are not closed. In Malachi 3:6 the Lord says, "For I am the Lord, I change not...", in Hebrews 13:8 it states: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." The Lord is unchanging, His methods are perfect even though we are not. He revealed His will through revelation as early as Adam, down through Moses and Abraham. He continued following the death of our Savour in revealing His word to Peter, John, until the truth was taken from us during a long apostasy. The heavens are open, the Lord reveals His will now. We are just as important to Him as those during Biblical times. He is approachable in prayer. He will not condemn us. He loves us and wants for us to know the truth of all things. We have learned that He and the Son have perfect, glorious bodies of flesh and bone. They are one in purpose, not being.

I testify that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. He was called to restore His gospel to the earth again in these days that the fullness of the gospel might be made available again to the reclaiming of His children. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the true church of God on the earth today. It is His church, led by Prophets and Apostles through continuing revelation from the heavens themselves. I am grateful to be a part of this church and that I have this opportunity to study His commandments to us as found in the scriptures, including those found in the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the Book of Mormon and Bible. They are the word of God. We will be better men and women for studying these precepts than we could be without them.  I so testify in the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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