False Traditions: Joseph & The First Vision (Part 2/2)

2020 is the Bicentennial Anniversary of the First Vision. I would like to celebrate young Joseph Smith and the First Vision by making sure each person has a correct and firm understanding of what Joseph’s true intentions were in seeking divine intervention.

Previously, in part one, we noted that there are known to be ten contemporary accounts of Joseph Smith’s FirstVision, written and/or published from 1832 to 1844. Also in part one post, we discussed only three of those accounts. Each account correctly clarified that, contrary to the false traditions of some, Joseph Smith did not seek for divine intervention in the sacred grove to simply join a church. Instead, it was shown that Joseph was earnestly seeking for personal redemption through the correct doctrine of Christ. [See also False Traditions: Joseph & The First Vision (Part 1/2)]

Today, we will uncover more accounts that also illustrate this invaluable truth and overcome this false tradition.

Additional First Vision Accounts

Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840

When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence [of his soul]: but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind: he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. He saw, that if he understood not the [p. [3]] way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance; and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance, or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying—“This is the way, walk ye in it;”2 while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were, in many respects, in direct opposition to one another. It, also, occurred to his mind, that God was not the author of but one doctrine, and therefore could not acknowledge but one denomination as his church; and that such denomination must be a people, who believe, and teach, that one doctrine, (whatever it may be,) and build upon the same. He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines, now, in the world, which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind, was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it? Until he could become satisfied, in relation to this question, he could not rest contented. To trust to the decisions of fallible man, and build his hopes upon the same, without any certainty, and knowledge, of his own, would not satisfy the anxious desires that pervaded his breast. To decide, without any positive and definite evidence, on which he could rely, upon a subject involving the future welfare of his soul, was revolting to his feelings. The only alternative, that seemed to be left him, was to read the Scriptures, and endeavour to follow their directions. He, accordingly, commenced perusing the sacred pages of the Bible, with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage:—“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.”—James i. 5. From this promise he learned, that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving, liberally; without being upbraided for so doing. This was cheering information to him: tidings that gave him great joy. It was like a light shining forth in a dark place, to guide him to the path in which he should walk. He, now, saw that if he inquired of God, there was, not only, a possibility, but a probability; yea, more, a certainty, that he should [p. 4] obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ; and, which, of all the churches, was the church of Christ. He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind; and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, as it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees 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. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine—the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.3 Some time after having received this glorious [p. 5] manifestation, being young, he was again entangled in the vanities of the world, of which he afterwards sincerely and truly repented.

And it pleased God, on the evening of the 21st of September, a.d. 1823, to again hear his prayers. For he had retired to rest, as usual, only that his mind was drawn out, in fervent prayer, and his soul was filled with the most earnest desire, “to commune with some kind messenger, who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God,”4 and also unfold the principles of the doctrine of Christ, according to the promise which he had received in the former vision. While he thus continued to pour out his desires before the Father of all good; endeavouring to exercise faith in his precious promises; “on a sudden, a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room. Indeed, the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire. This sudden appearance of a light so bright, as must naturally be expected, occasioned a shock or sensation visible to the extremities of the body. It was, however, followed with a calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy, that surpassed understanding, and, in a moment, a personage stood before him.”

… This glorious being declared himself to be an Angel of God,5 sent forth, by commandment, to communicate to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard; and also, to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel, concerning their [p. 6] posterity, was at hand to be fulfilled; that the great preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah, was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in its fulness, to be preached in power unto all nations; that a people might be prepared with faith and righteousness, for the Millennial reign of universal peace and joy.

“Appendix: Orson Pratt, A[n] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, 1840,” p. [1], The Joseph Smith Papers; A full account of this record is available here (Joseph Smith Papers)

Orson Hyde Account, 1842

In 1842, Orson Hyde adds an account in his 1842 German pamphlet Ein Ruf aus der Wüste (A Cry from the Wilderness). I will not quote this account here because Orson Hyde admits that he borrowed much of his words from Orson Pratt’s 1840 account and Hyde’s words do not differ enough to quote here. However the link source to Orson Hyde’s account can be found here: “Orson Hyde, Ein Ruf aus der Wüste (A Cry out of the Wilderness), 1842, extract, English translation,” The Joseph Smith Papers

1842 Account to John Wentworth

I was born in the town of Sharon Windsor co., Vermont, on the 23d of December, A. D. 1805. When ten years old my parents removed to Palmyra New York,1 where we resided about four years, and from thence we removed to the town of Manchester.

My father was a farmer and taught me the art of husbandry.2 When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I determined to investigate the subject more fully, believing that if God had a church it would not be split up into factions, and that if he taught one society to worship one way, and administer in one set of ordinances, he would not teach another principles which were diametrically opposed. Believing the word of God I had confidence in the declaration of James; “If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him,”3 I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a [p. 706] heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.4 They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,”5 at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

On the evening of the 21st of September, A. D. 1823, while I was praying unto God, and endeavoring to exercise faith in the precious promises of scripture on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded.6 This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign… [p. 707]

““Church History,” 1 March 1842,” p. 706, The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/1

Levi Richards Journal Entry, 11 June 1843

This account will be included in a forthcoming post about what Joseph Smith really restored.

Interview with David Nye White, 21 August 1843

“[…] The Lord does reveal himself to me. I know it. He revealed himself to me first when I was about fourteen years old, a mere boy. I will tell you about it. There was a reformation among the different religious denominations in the neighborhood where I lived, and I became serious, and was desirous to know what Church to join. While thinking of this matter, I opened the Testament promiscuously on these words, in James, ‘Ask of the Lord who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.’ I just determined I’d ask him. I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump where I had stuck my axe when I had quit work, and I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘O Lord, what Church shall I join.’ Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said to the second, “Behold my beloved Son, hear him.” I then, addressed this second person, saying, “O Lord, what Church shall I join.” He replied, “don’t join any of them, they are all corrupt.” The vision then vanished, and when I come to myself, I was sprawling on my back; and it was sometime before my strength returned. When I went home and told the people that I had a revelation, and that all the churches were corrupt, they persecuted me, and they have persecuted me ever since. They thought to put me down, but they hav’nt succeeded, and they can’t do it. When I have proved that I am right, and get all the world subdued under me, I think I shall deserve something. […]” [p. [3]]

“Interview, 21 August 1843, extract,” p. [3], The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/interview-21-august-1843-extract/1

Alexander Neibaur, Journal, 24 May 1844

24 called at Br J= S met Mr Bonnie= Br Joseph tolt us the first call he had a Revival Meeting his Mother & Br & Sister got Religion, he wanted to get Religion too wanted to feel & shout like the Rest but could feel nothing, opened his Bible the first Passage that struck him was if any man lack Wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all Men liberallity & upbraidet not went into the Wood to pray kneelt himself down his tongue was closet cleavet to his roof— could utter not a word, felt easier after a while= saw a fire towards heaven came near & nearer saw a personage in the fire light complexion blue eyes a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders his right arm bear after a w[h]ile a other person came to the side of the first Mr Smith then asked must I join the Methodist Church= No= they are not my People, th all have gone astray there is none that doeth good no not one, but this is my Beloved son harken ye him, the fire drew nigher Rested upon the tree enveloped him [p. [23]] [illegible] comforted Indeavoured to arise but felt uncomen feeble= got into the house told the Methodist priest, said this was not a age for God to Reveal himself in Vision Revelation has ◊ ceased with the New Testament [p. [24]]

“Alexander Neibaur, Journal, 24 May 1844, extract,” p. [23], The Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/alexander-neibaur-journal-24-may-1844-extract/1

Notable Points From These Additional Accounts

  • Orson Pratt’s account is very clear in explaining that Joseph was truly seeking for “the doctrine of Christ.” He also clarifies that the varying religionists were differing in their doctrines of salvation. If Joseph was to encounter the correct doctrine of personal salvation he (Joseph) could then follow it and receive what he so much longed for. Pratt also affirms that Joseph did receive what he had sought for—a remission of his sins.
  • Pratt illustrates the great faith that young Joseph had in his own conclusions of Christ’s doctrine. Pratt makes it clear that Joseph “saw that if he inquired of God, there was, not only, a possibility, but a probability; yea, more, a certainty, that he should obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ; and, which, of all the churches, was the church of Christ.
  • The letter to John Wentworth also makes it clear that for Joseph it was about find the correct doctrine of Christ and that the Lord even responded to Joseph in kind responding that “all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines” and that these incorrect doctrines were not the doctrines that would be found “acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom.”
  • The accounts from David Nye White and Alexander Neibaur each affirm what was explained in other accounts that no doctrine taught by any church or religion at that time was the correct doctrine (the doctrine of Christ)—making these groups “corrupt” and “none doeth good.”

Your Turn

Ok, so why go to so much effort to overcome this false tradition while at the same time making such a strong distinction between Joseph seeking for Christ’s true “doctrine” and not necessarily “a church?” Because, like the Book of Mormon so profoundly makes clear, “a church” or “a religion” itself does not have power to save (offer personal salvation.) And salvation was, in fact, what Joseph sought so earnestly for. Instead, the Book of Mormon makes it clear that it is the doctrine of Christ that leads a person to Christ personally where “in and through” a personal relationship with Him, a person can receive personal salvation/redemption. (See also, Do You Really Believe? The Right and Wrong of the Book of Mormon) This clarification is so very important. It even empowers an individual to ensure they are correctly pointed to the Lord personal redemption and that they know how to eliminate any idols that may stand in their way.

Now that you know the true, proper context for Joseph’s intentions in seeking divine intervention, this should enhance your appreciation for Joseph Smith, his mission, and his relationship with the Lord. This was all part of Joseph’s spiritual awakening in mortality. Joseph is a model for each of us and with the proper context we should have an increased hope in our own relationship with the Lord. We should have increased hope in the divine nature of God, a new willingness to exercise faith. We should have a desire to seek for personal remission of our sins through a baptism of fire and Holy Ghost and even to rediscover our individual potential to know the Lord.

In your own sacred grove, I know the Lord will manifest himself to you. He will forgive you of your sins. He will give you the greatest desires of your heart, because He is just that amazing. I know that, because He has done the same for me. Seek Him. Ask Him. Believe Him. Become perfect in Christ Jesus.


JourneyDoctrineOfChrist.org is based on complimentary, online Study Guides to help you learnbelievelive and teach the Doctrine of Christ. The Study Guides invite any and all to see and know this truth for themselves that the Savior, Jesus Christ, has in fact introduced His doctrine and He personally invites all to literally receive Him while in the flesh (mortality).

Blog posts are intended to supplement the Study Guides.  Per all blog posts, seek the understanding and confirmations from the Lord in your own personal revelation.  Study guides are intended to point you to both the Lord’s written word and His voice (personal revelation). These study guides will help you uncover what the Doctrine of Christ is and other essential topics that will help you in your journey to come into His presence while in mortality. All study guides are available at JourneyDoctrineOfChrist.org

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