Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
“I Had Seen a Vision”
After the Apostasy, God prepared the way for the Restoration.
God prepared Joseph Smith to be the prophet of the Restoration.
The First Vision ushered in the restoration of the gospel.
Many truths were revealed in the First Vision.
A study of this lesson will help us strengthen our testimonies of the First
Vision and of Joseph Smith’s calling as the prophet through whom God restored
the fulness of the gospel to the earth.
Scripture references for study:
Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26,
Our Heritage, pages 1–4
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 3 Handout (PDF)
Apostasy & Preparation For A Restoration
Christianity and Apostasy.
The Great Apostasy began in the days of the Apostles.
The Apostle Paul said: "For I know this, that after
my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the
flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things,
to draw away disciples after them." (Acts 20:29-30)
Paul also said that "the mystery of iniquity doth already
work." (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
John A. Tvedtnes: "In view of the evidence from
the ancient texts ... it seems clear that the general apostasy in the early
Church was the result of individual apostasy by dissident Christians who not
only rejected the Lord's chosen servants, but sometimes set themselves up in
their place. With the passing of the apostles and other recognized authorities
of the early Church, these rebellious individuals filled the void and brought
their own opinions, rather than the Lord's revealed truth, into the Church."
(Rejection of Priesthood Leaders as a Cause of the Great Apostasy,
Apologetic Information & Research)
After the departure of the apostles, spiritual gifts ceased to exist in
Revelation and heavenly communication came to an end.
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "This condition
also led to the universal belief, which the world holds even now, that
the canon of scripture is full and there is to be no more scripture, notwithstanding
the Lord has revealed through his servants that revelation is to continue."
(Essentials In Church History, p8)
There were changes in church government and in the offices of the Church.
In the 4th Century, the Church as it had evolved, became the state religion
of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine.
Over time the simple principles of the Christian faith were embellished
almost beyond recognition with pomp and mystic rites borrowed from pagan
Doctrines of the gospel were changed:
The doctrine of the Godhead became one of mystery.
The ordinance of baptism was changed to sprinkling.
Infant baptism was instituted.
Changes in the administration of the Sacrament were instituted.
Those entering the ministry were forbidden to marry.
The Protestant Revolution.
As the centuries passed there were many who recognized that the Church
had fallen from that taught by the scriptures and instituted by Jesus Christ
and the apostles. Martin Luther was the foremost of those reformers.
Another reformer, John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism said:
"It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts
of the Holy Spirit were common in the Church for more than two or three
centuries.... From this time they almost totally ceased.... The Christians
had no more of the spirit of Christ than the other heathens." (quoted
in The Great Apostasy, p161-162)
President Hugh B. Brown: "The Church of
England and other Protestant churches frankly admit the fact of the Apostasy.
Our question is, if the 'Mother Church' was without divine authority or
spiritual power, how could her children derive from her the right to officiate
in the things of God?" (The Abundant Life, p97)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "Beginning in the
14th century, the Lord began to prepare those social, educational, religious,
economic, and governmental conditions under which he could more easily
restore the gospel for the last time." (Mormon Doctrine, p717)
Elder James E. Talmage said that the Renaissance was not a chance occurrence,
but rather "a development predetermined in the
Mind of God to illumine the benighted minds of men in preparation for the
restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was appointed to be accomplished
some centuries later." (Jesus the Christ, p749)
See the article
Protestant Reformation for additional discussion on its importance to the
A Land Prepared.
In addition to spiritual preparation, it was necessary for the Lord to
prepare a land that allowed for freedom of religion and thought. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that "the Protestant
churches of Europe freed themselves from the yoke of Rome, only to create
their own state churches, which in turn compelled all nationals to worship
as decreed by the particular brand of Protestantism that prevailed in their
nation. There was no religious freedom as such, nor could there be as long
as the civil law dictated forms and systems of worship" (Millennial
Elder Russell M. Ballard: "God inspired
the earlier explorers and colonizers of America and the framers of the
Constitution of the United States to develop a land and governing principles
to which the gospel could be restored." (Ensign, Nov 1994, p66)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie: "America was discovered,
colonized, and made into a great nation so that the Lord would have a proper
place both to restore the gospel and from which to send it forth to all
other nations. As a prelude to his coming, and so the promised work of
restoration would roll forward, the foundations of the American nation
were laid in the days of the Renaissance and the Reformation."
(Millennial Messiah, p93)
See the article
Preparing for the Restoration for further discussion on the events that led
up to the Restoration.
A Prophet Is Raised Up
President Joseph Fielding Smith: "It was necessary,
therefore, that one should be chosen and clothed with power from the Father
to re-establish the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. In choosing a
representative to stand at the head of this 'great and marvelous work about
to come forth unto the children of men,' the Lord did not select one who
was versed in the learning and traditions of the world." (Essentials
In Church History, p20)
The preparation of one so chosen began many generations before. Consider the ancestors and family of Joseph Smith. We see in the
background of Joseph's ancestors, traits and attitudes that were so important
in the development of the Prophet.
An early ancestor on his mother's line, the Macks.
A minister in the Church of England in the early 17th century.
His thinking evolved to where he came to disapprove of the ritual of government
within the Church. John eventually withdrew from the Church.
He allied himself with the "Independents" and met secretly with them in
London for eight years.
The bishop of London discovered their meeting place and sent officers who
arrested Lathrop and 42 followers.
They were fettered and confined in an old prison. After 2 years all were
released except Lathrop.
Lathrop was released from prison for a short time and allowed to visit
his dying wife. After her death he was returned to prison.
His children became destitute orphans and when the bishop heard this he
finally released Lathrop from prison.
Shortly after his release from prison, Lathrop took his children to America.
In America he became a noted leader in church affairs.
- For more on John Lathrop see
Wikipedia: John Lathropp.*
A 5th great-great grandfather on the Mack line.
One of seven of Joseph's progenitors that sailed on the Mayflower.
While crossing the Atlantic, John narrowly escaped death during a violent
He survived the crossing and the early trials in Plymouth to become "a
profitable member, both in Church and Commonwealth."
- As well as Joseph Smith, John Howland is an ancestor to many other people,
including Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and George Bush, and actor Humphrey
- For more on John Howland see
Wikipedia: John Howland.*
The Prophet's grandfather.
Fought in the French and Indian War evidently having many narrow escapes.
He, along with two of his sons, enlisted for service during the Revolution.
Jason Mack, Solomon's son and Lucy's brother, became a Seeker.
Believed by prayer and faith he could attain the gifts of the gospel enjoyed
by the ancient apostles.
Believed that at some future time God would manifest his power, as done
anciently, in signs and wonders.
Continued as a preacher the remainder of his life.
The Prophet's grandfather on his father's side.
A pewholder in the Congregational Church in Topsfield, Massachusetts and
Participated with two of his sons in the formulation of a Universalist
society at Tunbridge.
Due to having been burnt as a child, the cords on one side of his neck
shrank, causing his head to tilt slightly.
Asael did not agree with the religious views of many of his neighbors.
They often said that his religious ideas were as distorted as his neck.
Asael once prophesied the following: "It has been
borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work
to revolutionize the world of religious faith." (Essentials
In Church History, p25)
The Prophet's mother.
Like her ancestors, she was also concerned with religion.
Luck Mack Smith wrote: "In the midst of this anxiety
of mind, I determined to obtain that which I had heard spoken so much of
from the pulpit--a change of heart.
"To accomplish this
I spent much of my time reading the Bible and praying, but notwithstanding
my great anxiety to experience a change of heart, another matter would
always interpose in all my meditations--if I remain a member of no church,
all religious people will say I am of the world, and if I join some one
of the different denominations, all the rest will say I am in error. No
church will admit I am right except the one with which I am associated.
This makes them witnesses against each other, and how can I decide in such
a case as this, seeing they are all unlike the Church of Christ, as it
existed in former days." (History of Joseph Smith, p31)
Joseph Smith, Sr.:
The Prophet's father.
Lucy wrote that in 1811, in Tunbridge, Vermont, that "my
husband's mind became much excited upon the subject of religion; yet he
would not subscribe to any particular system of faith, but contended for
the ancient order, as established by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and
His Apostles." (History of Joseph Smith, p46)
Lucy wrote that about this time her husband had a dream or vision and then said, "From this
time forward, my husband seemed more
confirmed than ever in the opinion that there was no order or class of
religionists that knew any more concerning the Kingdom of God than those
of the world, or such as made no profession of religion whatever."
(History of Joseph Smith, p48)
Is there any question that the heart and mind of Joseph Smith was prepared
for that which we hear described in his own account.
A brief historical note about this period:
There were several periods of religious excitement following the establishment
of the American republic. The Smith family was part of this religious excitement. There was a new wave of revivalism that followed the War of 1812 and subsided
somewhat after 1820. It was with this background and into this setting
we find Joseph Smith being molded as a young boy.
An Unusual Excitement on the Subject of Religion
This is an incredible and remarkable story. From this small, humble
beginning grows a story of epic proportions:
Joseph Smith's Own Story.
The translation and coming forth of ancient scripture unknown to the modern
The restoration of priesthood powers and keys reaching back to the beginning of man.
A gathering that begins with the mission of one man and has now grown into
an army of over 70,000 missionaries.
A people are driven from city to city, state to state, before finding a
This people becomes part of the making of America by blazing trails, settling
the mountain valleys of the West, participating in the Mexican-American
War, and being part of the discovery of gold in California.
This people continue their impact on the West, America, and the world because
of the kind of individuals that are developed through their faith in Jesus Christ and the
In the year 2000, a U.S.
News & World Report published a front page article about the Church. The article included a notable quote from Rodney Stark,
co-director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University.. Stark said that Mormonism
"stands on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on
Earth since the prophet Muhammed rode out of the desert." (U.S.
News & World Report, Nov 13, 2000)
The whole story has yet to be told.
It should be noted that this version of Joseph's first vision, as recorded
in the Pearl of Great Price, is only one of several accounts. See
Accounts at LDS.org for information and discussion on these other accounts.
"When Joseph was about 10 years old, three years
of crop failures in Vermont left the Smith family in serious financial
difficulty. After much deliberation, the family moved to the area of Palmyra,
New York, where there was a prospect of better farming conditions. At the
time, there was great religious excitement and confusion in western New
York, with many churches contending for converts." (Gospel Doctrine
Teacher's Manual, p13-14)
As we read and review Joseph's account, consider the eloquent language
of this "uneducated" man.
JOSEPH SMITH-HISTORY 1:1-4. Introduction
and family background.
JOSEPH SMITH-HISTORY 1:5-10. A period of great
HOW DO THESE CONDITIONS SHOW THAT THERE HAD BEEN AN APOSTASY FROM THE GOSPEL
AS TAUGHT BY JESUS?
JOSEPH SMITH-HISTORY 1:11-14. Joseph reads from
WHAT PROCESS DID JOSEPH FOLLOW IN HIS SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH?
His mind was active and he pondered these important issues.
He read and pondered the scriptures.
Elder L. Tom Perry: "The scriptures that are never read will never help
us." (Ensign, May 1985)
He prayed in simple faith.
JOSEPH SMITH-HISTORY 1:15-20. Joseph's vision.
- This is a remarkable event, a vision almost without parallel in scriptural
history. President Ezra Taft Benson:
"The appearance of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ to the boy
prophet is the greatest event that has occurred in this world since the
resurrection of the Master." (Ensign, Jun 1971, p34)
WHAT OTHER EVENTS MIGHT COMPARE?
The voice of the Father at the Lord's baptism.
The voice of the Father at the Mount of Transfiguration.
When Stephen was stoned he looked up into heaven and "saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55-56).
WHAT IMPORTANT TRUTHS WERE LEARNED FROM THIS FIRST VISION?
The person and personality of God.
- President Gordon B. Hinckley: "I submit
that in the few minutes that Joseph Smith was with the Father and the Son,
he learned more of the nature of God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord
than all the learned minds in all their discussions through all centuries
of time." (Church News, 24 Oct 1998, p6)
The heavens are not closed and God answers prayers.
None of the churches then on earth were correct.
Notice Joseph's question: "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" (v18).
It did not occur to Joseph that none of the churches were correct. This
thought seems not to have crossed his mind. What a revelation!
The great power of the adversary.
"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?" (v20).
Unlike us, the adversary (Lucifer) did not have the veil cast across his
memory. He knew of the great pre-mortal calling of Joseph Smith. He knew the work that would
be Joseph's. The battle had begun. This is a battle, a war, that
we will see surface time after time in our studies during this year.
AS WE CONSIDER SATAN'S ATTEMPT TO DESTROY JOSEPH, WHAT CAN WE LEARN ABOUT
HOW TO DEAL WITH DISCOURAGEMENT, ADVERSITY, AND FEAR?
In the opening days of the British mission, Elder Heber C. Kimball and
his companions had a difficult encounter with the adversary.
Years later Heber asked the Prophet what this vision had meant and if anything
was wrong with him to have such a manifestation.
Joseph responded: "No, Brother Heber, at that
time you were nigh unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and
Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy,
for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was
this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you."
(Life of Heber C. Kimball, p131)
The Prophet continued: "The nearer a person approaches
the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent
the accomplishment of His purposes." (Life of Heber C. Kimball,
Consider the sensitivity of Joseph's mother when he returns home after
Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "We should be grateful
. . . for model families in the past, such as that of Joseph Smith Sr.,
who, along with his wife, Luck Mack Smith, gave a boy prophet love, leadership,
example, and support. Suppose, after walking back from that theophany at
Palmyra, young Joseph Smith had encountered task oriented ("Get the chores
done!"), non listening parents? Or a jealous older brother? With all else
he had to meet in the way of ridicule and persecution, could that lad have
done his special work without the love and courage of a family that quietly,
uncomplainingly agreed to share in his work and in his fate?"
(That My Family Should Partake, p2)
JOSEPH SMITH-HISTORY 1:21-26. Observations
on the vision.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PERSECUTED FOR YOUR TESTIMONY?
HOW CAN WE BE SENSITIVE TO NON-MEMBERS WHO TAKE OFFENSE AT THE STATEMENT
THAT "ALL THEIR CREEDS WERE AN ABOMINATION" WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE CHURCH'S
POSITION AS "THE ONLY TRUE AND LIVING CHURCH UPON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE
James E. Talmage: "When we say that the Lord is
not pleased with those churches, we do not mean that he is not pleased
with the members thereof . . . .
". . . the Church as such may be wholly corrupt
because of the false claims that are being made for it, and yet there may
be people who are doing their best." (CR, Oct 1928)
President Ezra Taft Benson: "This message constitutes
the heart and the foundation of the Church. If Joseph Smith's testimony
of seeing God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, is not true, then Mormonism
represents a false system of belief. But if this vision was reality
and there are thousands who attest that it is by the verifying witness
of God's Holy Spirit then the Church of Jesus Christ was and is restored
on earth again." (Come Unto Christ, p74)
Photographs of the Sacred Grove from my visit in October 2010.
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on the events leading up to Joseph's first vision?
How has this discussion inspired you? What can you do to share this message
Resources Used In This Lesson
Come Unto Christ by Ezra Taft Taft.
Conference Reports (CR).
Essentials In Church History by Joseph Fielding Smith.
History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith.
Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage.
Joseph Smith and the Restoration by Ivan J. Barrett.
Life of Heber C. Kimball by Orson F. Whitney.
Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie.
That My Family Should Partake by Neal A. Maxwell.
The Abundant Life by Hugh B. Brown.
The Great Apostasy by James E. Talmage.
The Millennial Messiah by Bruce R. McConkie.
U.S. News & World Report.
Utah Society of Mayflower Descendants
Gospel Doctrine Class
Page created by: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please E-Mail comments.
Changes last made on:
30 December 2016