Joseph Smith-History (Part 1)

This portion of The Pearl of Great Price is part of the History of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was the first modern day prophet, and the instrument through which the church and gospel were restored to the earth. I am so glad to have the opportunity to study this history, because it is one of the most important things that has ever occurred in the history of the world. These things can be found also in the History of the Church (Volume 1, Chapters 1 through 5). I believe that these are the words of the prophet, but they may have been partially recorded by some others who were there to assist him in his work. The record starts with the following:

1 Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession.
2 In this history I shall present the various events in relation to this Church, in truth and righteousness, as they have transpired, or as they at present exist, being now [1838] the eighth year since the organization of the said Church.

The prophet begins this record, by giving an explanation for it. Apparently there were people who were putting out false statements or reports to make the church look bad. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Whenever good things are happening, Satan does his best to persuade people to bring it down. There were so many things pushing against the church and its members. Joseph Smith took on this project to help to get rid of some of the wild stories and rumors that were going around. This record was written and I think reviewed and edited a number of times before it came to be a part of The Pearl of Great Price pamphlet, and eventually part of The Pearl of Great Price we have now. This record stands as a witness and a testimony of how the restoration of the church began.

3 I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont … My father, Joseph Smith, Sen., left the State of Vermont, and moved to Palmyra, Ontario (now Wayne) county, in the State of New York, when I was in my tenth year, or thereabouts. In about four years after my father’s arrival in Palmyra, he moved with his family into Manchester in the same county of Ontario—
4 His family consisting of eleven souls, namely, my father, Joseph Smith; my mother, Lucy Smith (whose name, previous to her marriage, was Mack, daughter of Solomon Mack); my brothers, Alvin (who died November 19th, 1823, in the 26th year of his age), Hyrum, myself, Samuel Harrison, William, Don Carlos; and my sisters, Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy.

Joseph Smith Jr., and his family (parents, 5 brothers, 3 sisters, and himself) had relocated from Sharon, Vermont, to Palmyra, New York. I’ve learned over the years, that Joseph Smith Jr. was a good young man. He was raised to care for his family and with a good religious background. His parents were God-fearing people, who read the bible with their family. He was raised working on the family farm and helping to provide for those he loved. He had high standards from pretty young. I remember hearing the story of when he was in need of leg surgery and he refused any alcohol to take away or dull the pain. He was not able to have much in the way of schooling because of his circumstances, so he was not an extremely knowledgable young man.

5 Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
6 For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
7 I was at this time in my fifteenth year. My father’s family was proselyted to the Presbyterian faith, and four of them joined that church, namely, my mother, Lucy; my brothers Hyrum and Samuel Harrison; and my sister Sophronia.
8 During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

The different churches were experiences what is now called the second great awakening. There were camp meetings and revivals which were full of excitement and emotions. All the churches in the area were trying to persuade those who had not found religion, to join their sect. The young Joseph Smith, noticed that there was a lot of confusion and contention between the different churches and their leaders. Some of his family members had decided to join one of the churches. Joseph went to several different meetings, but he could not decide who he thought had the true gospel. When he says that they were “more pretended than real”, I think that the churches members and leaders were not living as they preached, and so there was a lot of confusion about what they truly believed. This goes to show the character that Joseph had even as a teenage boy. He did not want to join a church unless he could believe the teachings to be true.

9 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
10 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

The question that was on Joseph’s mind had to do with the fact that all the churches were claiming to be right, while saying that the others were wrong. Joseph wanted to know which was the right church, or which one was teaching the truth. I think that a key to what was to follow for him, was that he had a sincere desire to know. Sometimes, I am a little interested in knowing something, but I don’t think that the desire is quite so great. Answers will not come if we are only mildly interested in understanding them. The Lord knows the intentions of our hearts, and this was a sincere and great desire for Joseph.

11 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which 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.
12 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.
13 At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

Joseph had been raised with the Bible as scripture, in his life. When he had a question, he turned to what he trusted to be the word of God. In searching the scriptures, he found James 1:5, which after much pondering, taught him that he should ask God. He was touched powerfully by the spirit of God, as he read this verse. This inspiration led him to decide to ask God to get his answer. Joseph was truly an example of how answers to prayers may come to us as well. If we are struggling with understanding, we too can find inspiration in the scriptures. We have plenty of men willing to teach us what the scriptures mean, and it can still be rather confusing. Only the spirit can testify to us of the truth of the gospel. It is important for us to search, ponder and pray about our own questions. If we do these things in faith, our answers will come. Our faith is an important factor in this understanding. If we do not believe the answers will come, there is no promise that the Lord will answer us. Or rather, the answer may come still, but we will not be in the right frame of mind to receive it.

14 So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
15 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.

He picked a quiet place to be alone for this prayer. I imagine that he knew he wanted to devote all his attention to this prayer and the answer he would receive, so he did not want to be in a place where he might be interrupted. I think that Joseph was probably also following the example from the scriptures. Throughout the Bible, there are examples of prophets, and even the Savior, going away to the mountains to pray where they could be alone. It would be wise for us to find a quiet place where we can offer up the concerns of our own hearts. This was his first time praying out loud. In my own experience of personal prayers, I find that when I do not pray vocally, my mind wanders and I loose focus. Sometimes, depending on the time of day, I find myself drifting off into sleep. This always results in my apologizing to my Father in Heaven and trying again to pray. However, when I pray vocally, even in a quiet whisper, I am more focused on what I say and I can often feel the spirit stronger.

As a member of the LDS faith, I believe that Joseph was foreordained to bring about the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The prophets of old knew about him, and some had prophesied of what he would do, going so far as to know his name. Satan has known the plan, because he was there in that grand council in heaven. He would do anything in his power to stop the work of God from moving forward. Here, Satan tried to stop Joseph from his prayer, with darkness and stopping him from being able to speak. Had his hold been successful, Satan would have been able to keep the light of the gospel from the world for a time, but this was not the case.

16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 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 actually felt himself physically being destroyed by the powers of Satan. I cannot say that I recall feeling anything quite like that, but I know how it feels to have a dark feeling around you, which to me felt like something I could not get myself out from under it. Just like Joseph, I had to rely on God to release me from that dark feeling. When Joseph felt like all was lost, he saw a glorious vision.

A great light came down upon him and that light took away the darkness. Darkness cannot continue when there is light. Satan’s powers cannot continue in the presence of the light of the Lord. Joseph was freed from the powers of Satan. It makes perfect sense that the light of heaven would be brighter than the sun. In studying Abraham, I have learned that things become greater, more glorious and brighter when they are nearer to God. Therefore, God is in the brightest light that exists.

I believe that at this point, as soon as the light was upon Joseph, he was transfigured to be able to have this vision. Joseph saw God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, in the air above him. This is a testimony to me that God and Jesus Christ are two separate beings, one in purpose, but not in physical body. God called Joseph by name, which teaches us that God knows us individually and personally. God introduced the Savior to Joseph as His Beloved Son. This is a testimony of the divinity of the Savior, by God himself, and that the Savior has been chosen since the beginning for the greatest purposes. Finally, Joseph was told to listen to Him, the Son of God. I think that this teaches me that God knew His Son would deliver the message just as He had intended it to be. It shows that God is one who delegates His work and allows others to grow from doing things themselves. God would have been able to bring His message to Joseph Himself, but just as all things in the gospel, there is a witness of two or three to establish all things. God and His Son were both there to witness to the young Joseph of the divinity of the Savior, and of the truth of His gospel.

18 My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” It seems as though the adversary was aware, at a very early period of my life, that I was destined to prove a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom; else why should the powers of darkness combine against me? Why the opposition and persecution that arose against me, almost in my infancy?

As soon as he was able, Joseph got right to asking the question on his mind. The answer he received was that he should not join any of the existing churches, because they were all wrong. The leaders of those churches preached some of the gospel, but they did not live the gospel. They may have had the word of the gospel, but they did not have the power of the gospel, which I think is the priesthood power and authority of God. The churches of this time had been in an apostasy from the true church of God. This is because they had lost the rights to the priesthood and precious truths had been lost or altered to fit the ways of the world. This is not to say that all people were bad. There were many who were living as righteously as they knew how, and they would and will be blessed for their own choices. We can only be judged according to our own individual knowledge. But there were people who had chosen to corrupt righteous things, and they had done a very good job of leading many people astray with false doctrine.

After receiving this vision, Joseph was left drained of energy, lying on the ground. I know that things of the spirit can drain us emotionally, mentally and physically. I am most tired after attending the temple and going to specially conferences where I can feel the spirit very strong. I think that this is a lesson to me that I need to have my body physically prepared with rest and good food when I want to be spiritually fed. Otherwise, I may wear myself down and be unable to function properly, which does not promote acting on the things we learn. After he got his energy back, Joseph returned home and told his mother that he learned her church was not true. I love that he had the kind of relationship with his mother, where he could openly tell her things that touched him spiritually. We do not all have that kind of relationship. I love coming home from church and being able to share the things I have learned with my own husband and children. It has been such a blessing to me and has strengthened my testimony even more. Joseph also came to the realization that he knew he was going to do work for the Lord, because that would explain why Satan and other things in opposition would fight against him so hard. When we are trying to do what is right, life does not get easier. There will be great opposition and trials when we are standing up for truth and righteousness, but at the same time, the Lord can give us strength to endure all of it.

I am so grateful for Joseph Smith. I believe that he truly did see God and Jesus Christ, and that they told him not to join any church at the time. I believe that Joseph was called to be a prophet of God, and that he restored the gospel of Christ to the earth once more. I am so grateful for his righteous service, and that he had the desire to know what was true, because it led eventually to me having this truth in my own life. I am so grateful that the gospel has been restored to the earth, and that I have the privilege of being a member of the true church of God. I encourage anyone who is not sure if this is true, to sincerely ponder over these scriptures, and to ask God for themselves. I have received my own witness of the spirit and I know that anyone else can as well.

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About My Scripture Study Buddy

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I love the scriptures, but I am not a scriptorian. I've been told that I'm too "deep" for some, but if you are willing, I'd love to have others join me in my quest for a greater understanding of the gospel. Please feel free to leave me comments and hopefully we can help each other to learn.
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