JS—H 1:1-2 “In Truth and Righteousness”
As stated in the Introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History contains “excerpts from Joseph Smith’s official testimony and history, which he and his scribes prepared in 1838-39.” The fundamental messages of Joseph Smith—History teach us that God has again appeared to mankind; there was an apostasy of the true church; Joseph Smith was a prophet of God; the Book of Mormon is the word of God; and the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to earth.
According to verse 1, what are the reasons Joseph gave for writing this history? What are some ways we can help in the great work to “disabuse the public mind and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts”?
Another reality that comes out of verse 1 is that Satan circulates false reports through “evil-disposed and designing persons,” in order to distort the true nature of the Church and its leaders (see also Helaman 16:22; 3 Nephi 1:22; D&C 10:22-27; Moses 4:4). Note that in verse 2 Joseph assured us that he would write “in truth and righteousness.”
JS—H 1:4-9 “No Small Stir and Division”
There was an “unusual excitement on the subject of religion” and disputes among different sects in the area (verse 5), and even Joseph’s own family was not entirely united regarding faith (verse 7). This condition continues in our world today, often characterized by the same terms Joseph used:
- A “division amongst the people” who were “contending” for different faiths (verse 5).
- A “scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued [with] a strife of words and a contest about opinions” (verse 6).
- “So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations” (verse 8).
- “The cry and tumult were so great and incessant” (verse 9).
- The combatting faiths “used all the powers of both reason and sophistry [and were] zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others” (verse 9).
- There was a “war of words and tumult of opinions” (verse 10).
Why so much confusion and contention between Christian religions? Read 1 Nephi 13:24-29 to see what Nephi said would happen as a result of unauthorized changes in the Bible.
JS—H 1:10-16 “Ask of God”
What does verse 10 say were the five questions Joseph Smith had? Note his process as he sought an answer from God, which is a pattern for us as we seek answers and solutions:
- Search the scriptures (verse 11)
- Ponder and reflect (verse 12)
- Have faith in God (verse 13)
- Pray (verses 14-15)
- Resist opposition and doubt (verses 15-16)
- Determine to act upon the answer (verse 18; see also verse 50)
Joseph Smith said of James 1:5, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart” (verse 12). Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve stated, “This single verse of scripture has had a greater impact and a more far-reaching effect upon mankind than any other single sentence ever recorded by any prophet in any age” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:246-47). Think about James 1:5 and consider the ultimate impact that it has led to—and will lead to—in your life.
JS—H 1:15-20 “I Saw Two Personages”
Before Joseph Smith’s experience with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, Satan came and “seized upon” him. What other key words and phrases did Joseph use in verses 15-16 to describe his experience with the adversary? Then came the glorious manifestation that we call the First Vision. What words did Joseph use in verses 16-17 to describe his experience? (See also the experience of Moses in Moses 1:11-26.)
We may experience opposition as we make our own efforts to commune with God, but we must follow the example of Joseph Smith, “exerting all [our] powers to call upon God to deliver [us]” (verse 16).
Joseph wanted God to tell him which church to join (verse 18). It appears that Joseph did not anticipate the Lord’s answer. Read verse 19 and re-write or re-state it in your own words. What did the Lord say about the other “sects”?
Some of the things the First Vision teaches us are:
- Satan and his power are real.
- The heavens are open; prayer is real and revelation is real.
- The Godhead is real; They are separate Beings, and we are created in Their image.
- There had been an apostasy and there was no true church on earth.
President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency taught, “The First Vision is the most significant event in the world since the resurrection of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The First Vision is the very foundation of this Church, and it is my conviction that each member of the Church performs his duty in direct ratio to his personal testimony and faith in the First Vision” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 81).
Surely this quote identifies why Joseph Smith recognized and wrote, “It seems as though the adversary was aware … 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?” (verse 20). Let us all be “disturbers” of the work of the adversary and promoters of the work of the Lord! Have you shared the story of the First Vision with people who are not members of the Church?
JS—H 1:21-26 “Why Persecute Me For Telling the Truth?”
There is a great contrast between the expressions in verses 21-23 and those in verses 24-26. First, the things Joseph experienced after sharing the account of his First Vision:
- “[A preacher] treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil” (verse 21).
- “My telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me … and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me” (verse 22).
- There was “a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling” (verse 23).
Yet Joseph remained entirely true to the testimony of his experience with Deity:
- “I felt much like Paul [who] was ridiculed and reviled…. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise” (verse 24).
- “I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted … yet it was true … I had seen a vision … and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it” (verse 25).
- “I had now got my mind satisfied … I had found the testimony of James to be true” (verse 26).
Is your mind “satisfied”? Do you know deep in your heart and soul that Joseph Smith truly did see and speak with the Father and the Son? In his final general conference talk, President Gordon B. Hinckley testified of the First Vision and called this testimony “the stark question.” He said, “You and I are faced with the stark question of accepting the truth of the First Vision and that which followed it. On the question of its reality lies the very validity of this Church. If it is the truth . . . then the work in which we are engaged is the most important work on the earth” (Ensign, Nov. 2007, p. 86).