Come Follow Me /w Casey Paul Griffiths (Joseph Smith—History 1:1–26, Jan 4–10) – powered by Happy Scribe
If I were to ask you what you did last weekend, would you be able to remember what if that weekend was 12 years ago or 15 years ago or 18 years ago or twenty two years ago, would you always tell the story exactly the same way? Or would you maybe mix up and remember any other details? It’s possible to the depending on who you’re talking to, you might tell the story different ways you tell the story differently to your mom. Then you went to your best friend or to a complete stranger.
Now, that way that memory works might be one of the explanations for why there are different accounts of Joseph Smith. First vision. Joseph Smith gives several accounts within his own lifetime, and every one of them tells a consistent story that he prayed and received a revelation from God. But they do have slightly different details. So let’s take a minute and talk a little bit about the first vision and how it was recorded and written down by Joseph Smith. The earliest account of the first vision was written in eighteen thirty to the eighteen thirty two account of the first vision is the most unique account produced by Joseph Smith within his own lifetime.
And even though it’s the earliest account written, it’s the last one that we actually find out about. The eighteen thirty two account was discovered in the 20th century in the church archives and it was never published publicly within Joseph Smith’s own lifetime. From internal evidence, it seems like it was probably written within the summer of eighteen thirty two around the time the DNA eighty five was received, which told Joseph Smith to record a record. But there might be other things that led Joseph Smith to write down this account of the first fishing, for instance.
Eighteen thirty two was a rough time for Joseph Smith. There were dissentions within the church. There were some people that were persecuting him. You might even recall that at the John Johnson farm, he was attacked by a mob and brutally tarred and feathered. Well, during this time, too, he was also asked to travel all the way to Missouri and meet with the saints there. And unfortunately, these meetings were very discouraging on the way back. He had something else happen, which was the stagecoach he was writing in, had a runaway and he had to jump out of it to escape.
One of his friends knew Whitney when he was jumping out of the stagecoach, had his pant leg caught on the door, and he fell and broke his leg in several places. This was near a little town called Greenville, Indiana. And though most of the people in the party elected to continue on to home, Joseph Smith decided to stay behind with no Whitney and make sure that he was OK and stay there until he was well enough to travel. Well, unfortunately, Joseph Smith didn’t have a pleasant experience while he was staying in Greenville either.
A lot of people there have heard of him and had heard of the things that he had revealed and mocked him for it. There may have even been an attempt on his life. Joseph Smith said that while he was eating his porridge for breakfast one morning, he felt sick suddenly and ran out of the yard, vomited violently. He later on believed that someone had placed poison in the porters that was there. So everything’s going wrong in his life and he’s trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.
In the middle of this, he wrote a letter to his wife, Emma Smith, where he described to her some of the feelings he was having at this time. He said, my situation is a very unpleasant one, although I will endeavor to be contented. The Lord assisting me. I visited a grove which is just in the back of town almost every day where I can be secluded from any mortal and their give vent to all the feelings of my heart and meditation and prayer.
I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and left to mourn and shed tears of sorrow for my folly and suffering the adversary of my soul, to have had so much power as he had in times past. So Joseph is visiting this grove near Greenville and thinking about the past times in his life when he’s given in to temptation. But as the letter continues, it brightens. And Joseph Smith said, But God is merciful. He has forgiven my sins, and I rejoice that he sends forth the comforter and to as many believe in humblest themselves before him.
I will try to be contented with my lot. Knowing that God is my friend in him, I shall find comfort. I’ve given my life into His hands and I’m prepared to go with his call. I desire to be with Christ. Well, it’s possible that during this time that he was staying in Greenville, Indiana, to bear up his own testimony, he decided to write down his past experience with God. It doesn’t appear that this was intended for any audience other than maybe just Joseph Smith himself.
When he got back to Cleveland, Ohio, he sat down with his friend Frederick D. Williams and recorded the eighteen thirty two account of the first vision. Now, if you read the eighteen thirty two account, you’re going to notice a couple of things. First of all, Joseph Smith mentions that he was searching for the right church from about the age of 12 years. He said at the age of 12 years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures.
Thus, from the age of 12 years to 15, I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world of mankind. In other words, Joseph Smith just didn’t walk into a church when he was fourteen and then go home, read the Bible and pray. He spent two to three years studying and searching and trying to find the right church before he came upon that scripture in the epistle of James when Joseph Smith did go into the woods and had.
His experience, he records, is a little bit differently here than he does in the other accounts of the first vision, he had a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun. A noonday came down from above and rest upon me. I was filled with the spirit of God, and the Lord opened the heavens upon me. And I saw the Lord. He spoke to me saying, Joseph, my son, my sins are forgiven me now because Joseph Smith only refers to the Lord here.
Some people have said that at this point he might have believed the God and Jesus Christ were the same person.
It’s clear that he didn’t. In a revelation that was received several months before he wrote down the eighteen thirty two account of the first vision, he specifically talks about the father and the son being separate individuals in Section seventy six of the doctrine covenants, which are received in February of eighteen thirty two. Joseph said the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened in the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we behold the glory of the sun on the right hand of the father, and received us as fullness and saw the Holy Angels.
So he believes that God and Jesus Christ are separate beings at this point. But the important thing to him was that the Lord had appeared to him and had forgiven of his sins. In that moment of discouragement, it was important for Joseph to know that the Lord knew who he was and that he had been forgiven of sins. Now, the next major account that comes from Joseph Smith was received in eighteen thirty five and is recorded in Joseph Smith’s journal.
It was given to a man who claimed to be named Joshua and was a Jewish minister. Joshua actually turned out to be a man named Robert Mathews, also known as Joshua with the Jewish prophet, also known as Matthias the Prophet, Joshua, Robert or Matthias. Whatever name he was going by, visited Joseph Smith in his home in Kerlin and spoke with them several days about his religious views. As he spoke, it became clear to Joseph Smith that he wasn’t who he claimed he was and that he could be Robert Matthews, this dangerous person that had been accused of murder in New York State.
Joseph Smith eventually asked Matthias and Robert Matthews to leave his house, but before he did, he related to him the story of the first vision, as if to say, I know that you’re not a true prophet of God because I know and have met God. And not surprisingly, this is the first time that Joseph Smith mentions that before the Powers of Light came and spoke to him, there was an encounter with the powers of darkness. In the eighteen thirty five account.
Joseph writes, I called upon the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray. My tongue seemed to be swollen in my mouth so that I could not utter. I heard a noise behind me like some person walking towards me. I strove again to pray, but could not. The noise of walking seemed to draw nearer and I sprung up on my feet. So before God and Jesus Christ appeared of Joseph Smith, he acknowledges that Satan appeared to him and tried to stop him.
Then when he describes the appearance of God, the Father and Jesus Christ, he said a personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was soon spread all around, and yet nothing consumed another person and soon appeared like under the first. He said to me, my sins are forgiven. And he testified and to me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. He also added, I saw many angels in this vision. Joseph Smith not only saw God and Jesus Christ, but many angels.
And sometimes artists have tried to capture this. Like this is a painting by Anthony Swed, where he depicts Satan, the father, the son, and also the angels that appeared in the first vision. Now, the version of the first vision that most people are familiar with is the eighteen thirty eight account. This is the version that was placed into the scriptural canon and is found in the pearl of great price today. This is usually the first account the people read and that’s the way it was supposed to be.
This account was written specifically for the public, so the first account was written for Joseph Smith privately. The second is given to Robert Mathews and this one is given to everybody. When Joseph Smith starts this account, he specifically says that he wrote it to disabuse the public mind and put all inquires after truth into possession of the facts as they have transpired in relation to both myself and the church. And Joseph goes out of his way to make sure that, you know, what the public implications of the first vision are.
So he doesn’t mention that his sins were forgiven, but he does mention that the Lord told him to join none of the churches where they were all wrong. The Lord also told them that the creeds were an abomination in the sight and that Joseph would be called to do higher and holier things and many other things were given to him, which cannot be written at this time. This is the canonized account of the first vision and the version that Joseph Smith really intended for every single person to read and know and understand.
When Joseph Smith wrote this account of the first vision he had you in mind and the searching you would make to try and find God Jesus Christ and the correct organization of the followers that existed on Earth. Well, Joseph Smith recorded several more accounts within his lifetime, but the last one that he was in charge of writing was the Eighteen Forty to account, better known as the Wentworth Letter. The Wentworth letter told basically the same story as the earlier accounts, including God and Jesus Christ appearing Joseph Smith being told that none of the churches were true.
There were a few minor details added. For instance, Joseph Smith said that his mind was taken away from the objects with which he was surrounded. He writes, I. Was wrapped in a heavenly vision and two personages who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness surrounded me and with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon day. There are other accounts of the first vision, some of which come from Joseph Smith’s close friends, people that interviewed Joseph Smith, the phenomenal and some people that were new converts to the church.
And these and some interesting details to the story. For instance, the apostle Orson Brandt said that Joseph, when he saw the pillar of light, expected to have seen the leaves and the bowels of the tree consumed as soon as the light came in contact with them. But perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. The Apostle Orson hydatid. Some interesting details to the demonic attack on Joseph Smith.
He said that during that moment of darkness, Joseph’s mind was filled with doubts and it brought to mind all manner of inappropriate images to prevent him from obtaining the object of his endeavors. Now, which of these is most important? It’s clear that the eighteen thirty eight account is the one Joseph Smith wanted everyone to read. And yet each account of the first vision is important to understand, to know what was going on at that face in Joseph Smith’s life.
Each one of them can have different meanings for you. When I was younger and a missionary and teaching people the gospel, the eighteen thirty eight account mattered the most to me because I wanted people to know that our church was the true church. As I’ve grown a little bit older, the eighteen thirty to account has become more meaningful to me because it’s so important for every single person to know that God knows who they are, that he knows their name, and that he’s willing to forgive them of their sins.
In fact, one of the things that the eighteen thirty to account and other accounts of the first vision help us to know was that Joseph wasn’t just concerned with finding the true church. He was concerned with saving his own soul and receiving forgiveness from God, that the very first thing that was restored in the restoration before we had priesthood or ordinances was the power of God to forgive people for their sins, the atonement of Jesus Christ and his ability to allow us to overcome the things that we’ve done wrong and return back into his presence.