Once Joseph had an encounter with God through the veil, he hesitated to discuss the matter fully. Even at the end he remained reluctant, even forbidden, to share all he knew from the encounter. (JS-H 1: 20.) The first attempt to tell someone about the encounter happened only a few days afterwards. He records that it was to a Methodist minister, the sect he had been most impressed with as he investigated the various religions. (JS-H 1: 8.) This fulfills one of the laws ordained before the foundation of the world (D&C 130: 20-21) because it is necessary for the Lord’s servants, and even the Lord Himself, to first make an offering of the truth to the existing religious authorities before either Christ, or Joseph, or any of His servants could then move forward independent of them. (See John 1: 11; D&C 10: 57.) Query in your own mind what would have happened if the Methodist minister had accepted Joseph’s experience as authentic.
Joseph explains this encounter as follows: “Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.” (JS-H 1: 21.) This theme of the false minister opposing new revelation found its way into the endowment ceremony Joseph later restored. That portion of the ceremony was eliminated in the 1990 temple changes. Before then the endowment taught how professional ministers were men in Satan’s employ, but true messengers were angels, sent from God’s presence with a message from God. This endowment teaching came from the actual experiences of Joseph’s life, as shown above. It is repeated, of course, in the experiences of all those who follow God, are taught by angels, and opposed by professional’s making their living from religion. Ultimately there must be a choice between those who come bearing a message from God and those who oppose it, and claim there can’t be any such revelation, and that the organized faith they advocate (i.e., Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, etc.) is the guardian and possessor of the right to teach all truth. They claim to be the spokesmen for heaven and heaven does not really send any messengers apart from themselves. Of course it follows that those like Joseph Smith were “all of the devil” and not to be trusted.
Joseph lived this. As did Christ. The temple rites, until 1990, fortified the endowed against this particular deception of Satan’s.
Joseph’s history includes an observation about the reactions the religious critics had toward him. It is always the false, pseudo-religious who are offended by the truth; not the atheists or agnostics. The athiests and agnostics allow others the liberty of believing as they wish. The religious are another story. They were the ones who, throughout Joseph’s life, worked against him. Ultimately it was the disaffected within the church, and the ministers outside the church, who were directly responsible for killing him.
There is a passing comment in Joseph’s history which is so undeniably authentic it leaps off the page. He writes that he was “persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me.” (JS-H 1: 28.) Joseph is absolutely correct. The right way to proceed, if those who claimed Joseph was wrong and they were followers of God, would have been to have treated Joseph kindly, and endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed him from error. But they didn’t! This is a great key to understanding how the plan of God works. It conforms to a law irrevocably ordained in heaven. The false ministers cannot help themselves.
Why was it that the people claiming to be religious were persecuting Joseph rather than trying to persuade him with affectionate persuasion? It is because when men think that they have God on their side, and they do not, then they become abusive. They seek to have control, dominion and power over others in order to force the true disciples of the Lord to change and surrender faith. They abuse their position by claiming to follow God, while actually doing the opposite.
They had to follow the law of their master, Satan, who deceived them. This was because only in this manner could Joseph also obey the law ordained by God upon which blessings were predicated. For Joseph to grow, it was required for the men inspired by Satan to be revealed in their true light. They had to supress, oppose, persecute and defame Joseph because they could not “in a proper and affectionate manner” have ever reclaimed him while serving Satan. He had the truth and they did not.
Joseph “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; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, 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, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” (JS-H 1: 25.) Joseph was following the law ordained before the foundation of the world, and so were his critics. This is the same battle fought endlessly when God intervenes in the affairs of men.
We see the same thing when King Noah feared that Abinadi may have actually been sent by God. Noah was about to release him, but the priestly committee he surrounded himself with interfered. They aroused the vanity and pride of the king to make him angry. As a result, King Noah did not repent, and instead followed the law of the persecutor. (Mosiah 17: 11-12.) Joseph Smith lived according to law, and according to law he was persecuted. According to a higher law he was vindicated by God, though like Abinadi it required his life. We are the beneficiaries of Joseph’s death. Through it the latter-day work is sealed, and will ultimately triumph. Temporary set-backs will not prevent the final return of natural fruit, and at last Zion itself.
Joseph’s history is the story of how one individual obtained salvation by following the laws ordained for saving any of us. It is authentic. He shares details that conform to the same pattern all disciples of the Lord must follow. He is saved, while his persecutors who followed the law of their master, Satan, opposed the truth and were damned. It is always the case. Joseph explained: “The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets….and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men.” (DHC 4: 574.)
Joseph was not just a source of new scripture, but his life conformed to the pattern of it. To study his history is to see the hand of God acting again to offer mankind the opportunity to repent and come to Him. The way never changes. The pattern never varies. Occasionally men who are initially following the law of persecuting the Lord’s chosen will repent. Mostly they do not. Instead they reject what is offered, and incur the wrath of God. Joseph’s life and death are testimony to this ancient, yet still intact, system of law by which men choose to be saved or damned.