Category: first vision

A Gospel of Christ

Joseph Smith wrote or spoke on different occasions describing the First Vision. This has become a source of criticism from some and doubt for others. The question at hand is why he would tell the story differently, using different words on two or more occasions?

I think the criticism is unwarranted. But I have taken note of it and intend to make different mistakes.  I have written only one account of my testimony, witness and gospel (announcement of “good news”) of Christ, and published it in the book Come, Let Us Adore Him. To avoid the inevitable criticism I would receive if I were to use a different pronoun, adverb or adjective by giving a second account, I intend to leave the account in that book to stand as the only statement I will make about those visits from the Lord.

He took some patience over a number of visits to help me understand His suffering in the atonement. Then He showed me His resurrection. The account of Gethsemane and the resurrection in Come, Let us Adore Him are consolidated into one narrative, although it required a number of visits for me to understand. It is written in the third person, imitating the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 12:2-5.

The Lord wanted my testimony of what He suffered to be public. The book has not been widely read, and I do not think that it needs to be. Those who are interested in His great condescension for our sake can seek it out. It was meant for them. For that reason I have never repeated it.

There have been other encounters between the Lord and me, including a first one that conveyed interesting information about His return in glory. I believe He will want that one to be made public at some point, but He will have to determine whether and when that will happen. I have no intention to go beyond the specific direction He gives.

Lehi’s Priesthood

There is a key verse which passes by quickly. It establishes an important identity for Lehi. The verse confirms that Lehi saw God the Father sitting on His throne. (1 Ne. 1: 8.) In other words, Lehi beheld the face of God, the Father. This key verse identifies Lehi’s authority.

Following immediately after this view of the Father, sitting on His throne, Christ descended in His glory and ministered to him. His glory was above the brightness of the sun. (1 Ne. 1: 11-13.)

After Christ ministered to him, Lehi put the Father’s activities into perspective, declaring “unto the Lord: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty!” (1 Ne. 1: 13.)

He saw the face of the Father. He was ministered to by the Son. This cannot occur unless Lehi had the highest form of priesthood. This is required for a man to see the face of the Father and live. (D&C 84: 19-22.)

Lehi required priesthood: “without… the authority of the priesthood, and the power of godliness…no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84: 21-22.) Lehi saw Him. Therefore part of the ministry of Christ to him necessarily included conferring priesthood.

Joseph Smith explained it like this: “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” (TPJS, pp. 180–81.)

In Lehi we have an instance of an Old Testament era prophet being “ordained by God himself” in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon.

The phrasing in verse 8 (“he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne”) is an art form, or a formula. Alma would later use the same phrasing. (Alma 36: 22.) The best way to understand this formulation is found in Paul’s writings: “whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth.” (2 Cor. 12: 2.) Similarly, Joseph Smith’s encounter in the First Vision was either in the body or not, and during the vision he became physically incapacitated. (JS-H 1: 20: “When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven.”) Daniel also physically collapsed when the Lord visited with him. (Dan. 10: 5-19.)

How much that book teaches us! It is only our neglect which renders it unable to teach us the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is only the first chapter of the book (1 Ne. 1) and it has an example of a vision of God the Father sitting on His throne, and the Lord Jehovah ministering to and strengthening a prophet of God! What great promise this book holds indeed if that is only the first chapter! Perhaps we should take it more seriously. (D&C 84: 54-57.) No wonder President Packer can lament in General Conference about the absence of priesthood power in the church. (The Power of the Priesthood.)

Joseph Smith History

The Joseph Smith-History found in the Pearl of Great Price was composed shortly after John Whitmer left the church and took what history existed then with him. He was the church’s Historian at the time. The bitter Missouri conflict left a lot of former top level church leaders disaffected and no longer followers of Joseph or the church. David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and several members of the twelve were among them. Some signed affidavits supporting the Missouri citizens’ campaign against the church, and were responsible for persuading the legal authorities that there was reason to justify arresting and holding Joseph. This series of events resulted in Joseph beginning again to write the history of himself and his church.

Given the fact he was starting over in 1838, I think the account in the Pearl of Great Price is remarkable. I think Joseph, like Nephi, could measure the importance of events he had lived from the distance of some years’ reflection about them than he ever could have as he lived them. What we get in the JS-H is the benefit of Joseph’s considered hindsight. He also could write better the meaning, or intent, of the message he received. He could interpret the visits, and make much more sense of them than he could when they happened. Nephi did the same thing. His Small Plates of Nephi were a production of his history begun some 40 years after the departure into the wilderness from Jerusalem. He wrote with all the insight and understanding of how the early events led in turn to the later results. He could see the preliminary disputes in the wilderness against the backdrop of the rebellion and rejection of Nephi following the death of their father, Lehi. He could align his visions with his father’s, and show how the elder brothers rejected both.

Joseph Smith used the First Vision and his account of Moroni’s first visit to foreshadow in the narrative all of his later prophetic work. It was an inspired explanation, using both scriptural and doctrinal coordinates to establish the Divine and angelic origin of his history and ministry. The JS-H is all the more valuable because of this inspired approach. We are better informed about what was really going on in Joseph’s ministry because he told the account by using language of scripture to testify of what he experienced.

I want to comment on the process of Divine or angelic communication and how that makes its way into the written record of a prophet. It is more complex and subtle than most readers can conceive. For the most part, we read the scriptures as a completed work, and think the words give us everything we need to understand doctrine. That is not at all the case. We must arrive at the same place as the ones who wrote the scriptures in order to be able to understand what they mean. Until we share the same view, take in the same Spirit, and have similarly been exposed to the direct influence of heaven, the words are incomplete and can be very misleading.

The angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in his bedroom, and took hours to communicate understanding to young Joseph. The version of that visit we have in the JS-H was written about a decade and a half afterwards. It reflects Moroni’s meaning and intent, but accomplishes it by supplying direct quotes from scripture. The account we have looks like a doctrine class, with Moroni as gospel doctrine teacher and Joseph as student. It is doubtful, however, there were any “words” exchanged between Moroni and Joseph. It is also unlikely there were “scriptures” used. Instead, the encounter likely consisted of Moroni conveying directly into the mind of Joseph the thoughts of Moroni’s own mind. Joseph would later attempt to explain this using these words: “All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all.” (TPJS p. 355.) This makes it seem as if it were less “real” than if it involved normal faculties, but it is in fact far more real, far more precise, and far more communicative to the mind, heart and spirit. It “imbeds” the information within the person. As a result, the impression becomes more clear with time.

As Joseph worked to reconvey the information to us, writing in 1838, he resorts to using scripture to make the meaning clear to us. Moroni is quoting various passages of scripture to Joseph, as described in these words:

He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus:

For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus:
Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
He also quoted the next verse differently:
And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.
In addition to these, he quoted the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, saying that it was about to be fulfilled. He quoted also the third chapter of Acts, twenty-second and twenty-third verses, precisely as they stand in our New Testament. He said that that prophet was Christ; but the day had not yet come when “they who would not hear his voice should be cut off from among the people,” but soon would come.
He also quoted the second chapter of Joel, from the twenty-eighth verse to the last. He also said that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be. And he further stated that the fulness of the Gentiles was soon to come in. He quoted many other passages of scripture, and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here.” (JS-H 1: 36-41.)
You have two options to explain this retelling of the visit. 1) Moroni said these exact things and a decade and a half later Joseph could remember and quote it exactly as it was spoken, or 2) Joseph could remember exactly the impressions, and drew from scriptures known to him in order to convey to the reader the information Moroni passed into his mind on that evening.
I believe the second is the accurate way to comprehend the interview. Moroni visited with Joseph, conveyed the information precisely as if Joseph had no body at all, and did not rely upon the eardrums, or the vibration of atmospheric pressure, in order to clearly and accurately enlighten Joseph’s understanding. Then, when it came time for Joseph to inform us of the event, he resorted to familiar words of scripture to recount the event.
It begs us to ask: “Why?” That is where we turn next.

2 Nephi 31: 17

2 Nephi 31: 17: 

“Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” 

You must “do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do.” You must “follow Him.” There is no other way nor name given under heaven to obtain salvation. (Mosiah 5: 8.)

It was for this reason Nephi was “shown” these things. The Lord and His Father taught Nephi so he could in turn teach others, including us.  The message was intended to save many, not just Nephi. But we must give heed to the message when we hear it.

The “gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water.” You must repent first. Then, having repented, receive baptism by water. When this is done, “then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.”

Without the “fire” to purge the sacrifice upon the altar, it is not cleansed. It cannot become holy unless exposed to that fire.

But note – this is automatic. It is not by the laying on of hands. The laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost is not required in this teaching. Nephi, with elaboration from the Father and the Son, is teaching that this is an event that follows the process of “repentance and baptism by water.”  That is, the ordinance of baptism, when accompanied by repentance and done right, is the reason for this event. 

Laying on of hands is for “the gift of the Holy Ghost” so there may be a companion and guide for a person. This is an ordinance. It is also the moment one is confirmed a member of the church. But it is not necessarily co-equal with receiving “fire and the Holy Ghost” as described here. There is nothing that excludes it from being coincidental in time, however. They may happen at the same moment. That is, after baptism, and while receiving the laying on of hands, one may receive both the gift of the Holy Ghost, and also fire and the Holy Ghost. As a result one is renewed in the manner described in this chapter. They are not co-equal.

Laying on of hands does not appear to be an ordinance in the Book of Mormon until the coming of Christ in 3 Nephi. The only potential exception is found in Alma 31: 36, where Alma “clapped his hands upon them who were with him” and they received the Holy Ghost. This is similar to the Lord “breathing” the Holy Ghost upon His disciples. (John 20: 22.) They were instructed to lay on hands, and would perform that act rather than breathing upon those who were to receive the Holy Ghost. The ordinance is different from “clapping” or from “breathing” and involves the process we follow in the church today. (D&C 33: 15.)

The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost promised here is given without man’s involvement, comes from heaven, is promised by both the Father and the Son. It is a signal of redemption, purification and holiness. It is included in the “gate” for entering into God’s presence.  For God is a “consuming fire” and those who enter into that presence must be able to endure that fire. (Heb. 12: 29; see also Deu. 4: 24.)  Without the capacity to do so, a person would be consumed by the flames. (Lev. 10: 1-2.) The fire and the Holy Ghost are also given as a sign to the recipient that they may know it is safe for them to enter into God’s presence and not be consumed. In earlier versions of the First Vision, Joseph described the “pillar of light” as a “pillar of fire” which gradually descended. He wondered if the trees would be consumed as it descended, but seeing they were not he thought it safe for him to be exposed to it as well. When it fell upon him, the vision opened up and he saw the Father and the Son.

Christ also entered into this glorious light on the Mount of Transfiguration. (Matt. 17: 1-2.)

We are to do as Nephi instructs, “do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.”

We live below the standard Christ set for us.  We needn’t. Have faith. Press forward feasting on His words. You can and will find Him there.

2 Nephi 28: 18-19

“But behold, that great and abominable church, the whore of all the earth, must tumble to the earth, and great must be the fall thereof. For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;”
Remember that this comes at the end of Nephi’s ministry. He saw the vision of the great and abominable church at the beginning of his journey into the wilderness. There has been over forty years between the time of the earlier visions and the time of this summary of his great teachings. (See 2 Ne. 5: 34.)
Between the time Nephi saw the visions (set out beginning in 1 Nephi 11) and the time of this final instruction, Nephi has had decades to ponder on the things he was shown in vision. He has, in fact, spent those years reflecting constantly upon the visions he received. (2 Ne. 4: 16.) It is foolish to believe that Nephi, Joseph Smith or any prophet understood what they saw the day they saw it. Only time, careful, solemn and ponderous thought can unravel what a person is shown in vision by the Lord. The understanding of a prophet is not static. It unfolds. Joseph’s first impression of the first vision was personal. He thought it was a message to him about himself. By the time he had finished translating the Book of Mormon, organizing the church, and collecting a following, Joseph realized the first vision was not his, but it belonged at a minimum to a larger community of believers. Eventually he would come to see it belonged to the world. The version we have in the Pearl of Great Price reflects that changing understanding. In it he gives the first understanding in what he told his mother the day it happened: He learned that Presbyterianism was not true.  (JS-H 1: 20.)
So this statement goes back forty years earlier and Nephi’s vision of the fall of the great whore. This universal false religion will fail. It will “fall.” The “fall” will be “great.” It will “tumble to the earth”– meaning that it will no longer stand on its own, but will altogether collapse.
The purpose of this great calamity is to bring about repentance. The purposes of God, even in punishment, are to elevate and save others.
Notice the devil’s tool that will be used in opposition to repentance: they will “be stirred up to anger, and perish.” That is, to harden hearts and to blind eyes, anger will be the most effective tool. Rather than being humbled by the fall of the great whore, those who will continue to resist repentance will be angry for the losses. They will lament the loss of what they held so dearly.
This, then, is how the groups break down – For those who repent, the difficulties they encounter bring humility and contrition. For those who refuse to repent, they respond with anger at their trials.

This is the great watershed test. If your set backs in life humble you, then your heart is soft and you are a candidate for repentance.  If you become angry, accuse God of causing evil, and refuse to be comforted, you are not a candidate for repentance. Your anger is a tool used to blind you. The one employing the tool is the enemy to your soul.

The trials and difficulties are gifts to stir you up to repentance. That is how you ought to respond. The only way to approach the Lord is through humility. Anything that aids you in becoming humble is good, merciful and just.  You should view it as a gift. No matter the difficulty. Christ descended below it all; and none of us are greater than He.  (D&C 122: 8.)

2 Nephi 28: 5

“And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men;” 

The defect Nephi terms “deny the power of God” is an interesting matter to ponder. What do you suppose denying that power involves? How would it manifest itself in the way religious people go about their lives? Is praying without seeking an answer “denying” God’s power? Is presuming you have an answer when your own desires are all you are considering perhaps also “denying” God’s power?

I reflect on how many times I’ve learned something surprising, unanticipated, or which had never before entered into my mind. I think, too, about Joseph’s comment before his First Vision that “it had never entered into [his] heart that all were wrong” (JS-H 1: 18), but the answer from God informed him otherwise. God’s answers are quite often:
-never something you would have considered;
-requiring of you something you would prefer not to give or do;
-clear and unequivocal;
-enough to make your frame shake as it penetrates to your soul.
When prayer gets through to God and provokes an answer from Him, it is offered with a sincere heart, having real intent. (Moroni 10: 4; James 1: 5.)  If a prayer is offered without a sincere heart, and while lacking real intent, is this “denying” the power of God?
If a minister lacks real intent, and does not go to God in mighty prayer, has never become acquainted with the “power of God,” but proceeds to teach with their own learning anyway, do they deny the power of God?
In place of preaching what the Lord reveals, men will claim they teach correct “precepts.” They have all the revelation they need, and they are now proceeding with the authority given them by God. But they don’t hear from Him, don’t have new revelation to deliver from Him, and do not expect God to be involved any longer.

In effect, God has become so distant that “there is no God today.” He finished His work. He’s given His authority to men.

Whether the claim is based on Protestant claims that authority is derived from the New Testament, and all men who believe have authority from God, or it is a Catholic claim to have a line of authority back to Jesus Christ, it is the same. Without some involvement from God in the church itself, the teachings end in the same conclusion:  “God has given His power unto men.” The institution has taken over. The claim is always that “the church is true” without regard to whether the Lord remains involved, revealing Himself to the church. This is what the Catholic Church has claimed for centuries  God has finished His work and surrendered the “keys of authority” to the church. Now God has transmuted into a church, a Holy Roman Church, to which you may confess your sins, obtain absolution for your sins, and have entry into heaven provided to you.
With such a claim, why ask God for help? Why turn to a priesthood advancing such claims?  Why make the difficult, inner changes that bring about real intent and faith in Christ?  Why seek for and come into contact with “the power of God” if a church can be an adequate substitute?
How like the Catholics have we become?
Was Nephi only warning about Catholic error?  Do his warnings apply equally to all?

Joseph’s First Vision

I was asked if Joseph Smith saw more than two personages in his First Vision.  In the account written in 1835 Joseph stated:  “I saw many angels in this vision.” 

The account in the Pearl of Great Price (written in 1838) omits any mention of this detail.

Popularity or Persecution?

A recent trend with Latter-day Saint scholars has been the publishing of several books that try to make Mormonism seem like Protestant Evangelicalism.  I do not believe the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is much akin to anything in Historic Christianity, and thankfully very different from Protestant Evangelicals.  It is instead a return of Primitive Christianity as found in the New Testament.  That is quite a different thing than what Historic Christianity has become, and almost altogether alien to Evangelicalism.  

I believe the Church will advance only by acknowledging the differences, explaining them and showing what great things Historic Christianity has lost.  Unless we have something different and important to offer, there is no reason for anyone to become a Latter-day Saint. 

The opening statement of Christ to Joseph Smith in the First Vision ought to be the point we most emphasize.  It was the many defects with Historic Christianity and its creeds which provoked the Lord to open the heavens again and start this great, final work.  When we neglect that message, and try to seem like another brand of Protestantism we are neglecting the only reason for our Church’s existence.

I know it is not up to me.  And I do not challenge the right of the leaders, whom I sustain, to make decisions.  But, if I could make a scourge of ropes and drive the social scientists out of the Church Office Building, I would.  I think opinion polling and focus group results are worse than meaningless, they are misleading.  It is an exercise in followship, not in leadership.  If you see a trend through polling, and jump in front of it, that does not make you a leader.  It makes you a clever follower.  

I suppose this post is nothing more than proof of my tendency to err in judgment.  But it is an honest and well meaning error which isn’t being tried by the Church at present.  When it was tried, in the early years, the newspapers railed against us, editorial cartoons mocked us, mobs persecuted us, and in turn the Church grew in numbers so dramatic that a single set of missionaries sent to England baptized nearly 7,000 converts.  The distinction caused by the persecution was valuable. Certainly not in a public relations sense, but very much in a “harvesting of souls” sense.

Sharp distinctions give the disinterested a reason to consider our message.  Persecution attracts the honest who want to know why the persecution is happening.  Joseph believed, and history has proven that persecution is the heritage of the righteous.  Its absence may not really be a good thing.  The cost of trying to avoid it is at the expense of forward progress. This is evidenced by the decrease in convert baptisms we see at present.

I have never seen any statement in scripture affirming that becoming popular in the eyes of the world was good or desirable.  On the contrary, I see the Book of Mormon listing that as one of the great evils.  (See e.g., 1 Ne. 22: 23.)