Thursday, July 28, 2016

Some interesting ancillary material gathered while preparing my talk on the First Vision

When preparing my talk on the First Vision of Joseph Smith, I went searching all over the place. I looked on LDS.org for conference talks. I also used the Citation Index app to look at what had been said in the Journal of Discourses about the First Vision as well.  I gathered a lot of interesting quotes that in some way touched on Joseph Smith's experience, and I used hardly any of them in my talk, but they are so interesting that I felt they were worth sharing here.  So I will put them here and discuss.

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Conditions of camp meeting revivals

Elder Daniel H. Wells JD 12:71  (an apostle)
“The days of my youth were days of religious excitement—the days of revivals…—and I can well apprehend the effect these things must have had on the mind of Joseph; he was a young man, I was but a boy, and I know how those revivals affected young minds…. Some of those preachers would hold their protracted meetings for days and weeks, and sometimes for a month, one meeting after another, every day and every evening, getting around the young with their influences, and concentrating their prayers, perhaps, on a single individual, and praying for no other, until he would say he had got religion and was converted. Suffice it to say, that I was disgusted with it, and did not believe in any of it, and rested my chance, so far as religion was concerned, on trying to do that which was right as near as I could, and running the risk.”

 No wonder it was such religious excitement. Elder Wells eventually joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, so he found what he was looking for, and it didn't involve emotional manipulation or social pressure tactics.
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Sterling W. Sill:  (1956)
[Christendom] is divided into some 250 contending sects, all claiming to accept the Bible as the inspired word of God and the only authoritative rule of faith and doctrine. Their confusion on even the most simple points of doctrine is indicated by the report that some seventy-eight of these baptize by immersion, many sprinkle, sixty-eight have optional forms, sixty-seven practice infant baptism, many have no baptism. Thirty-nine require no adherent to creed or doctrine of any kind.
Almost every Protestant church came into existence because of “a protest” or an “argument.” The division of opinion caused by the Civil War was responsible for the formation of many new churches. The Church of England was organized because the Pope refused to give Henry VIII a divorce. There are many “state churches.” It was Emperor Constantine, not the servants of the Lord, that made Christianity the church of the Roman Empire.(Conference Report, April 1956, First Day—Morning Meeting 16)

The Bible says there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. 

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Brigham Young (JD 14:109)
“I read the Bible, diligently and faithfully, and if I could have found a church and people organized according to the pattern contained in its pages I should have been satisfied that that was God’s Church and people, and that would have been witness enough for me. But I will give you a little of my experience in my early days with regard to the religious sects. From my youth up their cry was, “Lo, here is Christ; lo, there is Christ;” no, “Yonder is Christ,” “Christ is not there, he is here,” and so on, each claiming that it had the Savior, and that others were wrong. I used to think to myself, “Some one of you may be right, but hold on, wait awhile! When I reach the years of judgment and discretion I can judge for myself; and in the meanwhile take no course either with one party or the other.” When I would make known my views and feelings with regard to their confused state they would call me an infidel. I would say to them, “All right, I am an infidel in a great many things.” I read the Bible, and especially the New Testament, which was given as a pattern for the life of Christians, whether as a church or individuals, and this was my inward inquiry, "Is there a church on the earth organized according to the pattern Jesus left?” No. Is there an Apostle left on the earth? Not one. Is there a prophet, which the Scriptures inform us were placed in the Church for its edification? Not one. Is there an evangelist? No. Is there the gift of healing? We cannot find any such thing, with all their cries of “Lo here, lo there, and lo yonder.” “Are there any who speak with tongues?” No. Any that prophesy? No, we do not believe in prophecy. Any one who has received the Holy Ghost, and speaks and preaches by its influence? “Why the Holy Ghost is not given in these days,” say all those who say, “Lo, here is Christ,” and “Lo, there is Christ!” Well, I used to say, “I am an infidel, for I do not believe anything of this; when you bring me a people built up and believing according to the New Testament I will believe that they are right. When you find such a people you will find the people and the Church of God, with all the gifts and graces of the Gospel in their midst; and you will find the kingdom of God on the earth.” They labored with me, but finally declared that I was an infidel, for I could not believe in their doctrines and principles. Yet I have been at many of their meetings and seen their modes of conversion.”
 Brigham Young and others, by reading the Bible could compare its teachings and practices with that practiced by churches in their day and see plainly that the true church was not on the earth at that time.  And yet, they had to wait for the truth to appear.  Joseph, did not read hardly any of the Bible, and he was confused by the things people said.  So he took the extraordinary step of asking God to tell him which church was true.   

I also note that Brigham Young didn't let the label "infidel" intimidate him; he would not bow to social pressure to join a church he didn't believe in. He had the courage of his convictions.

This also gives me a sense of how socially alienating it might have been to join no church in those days. 

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Men would try to excite the public mind against Joseph Smith

Mrs. Palmer:


"I remember the excitement stirred up among some of the people over Joseph's First Vision, and of hearing my father contend that it was only the sweet dream of a pure minded boy. One of our church leaders came to my father to remonstrate against his allowing such close friendship between his family and the "Smith Boy," as he called him. My father defended his own position by saying that Joseph was the best help he had ever found. He told the churchman that he always fixed the time of hoeing his large field to that when he could secure the services of Joseph Smith, because of the influence that boy had over the wild boys of the neighborhood, and explained that when these boys, or young men, worked by themselves much time would be spent in arguing and quarreling, which often ended in a ring fight. But when Joseph Smith worked with them, the work went steadily forward, and he got the full worth of the wages he paid.
I remember the churchman saying, in a very solemn and impressive tone, that the very influence the boy carried was the danger they feared for the coming generation, that not only the young men, but all who came in contact with him, would follow him, and he must be put down." (Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, comps., They Knew the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974], 2)
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Priesthood authority needed

John Taylor:
“Supposing a man was to come here as Governor or Secretary, or holding any other office under the government of the United States; he comes in the name of the United States, or by the power or authority of the United States, does he not? Yes. But supposing some of you were to set up here as Governor, they would want to see your credentials and know by what authority you came here and whether you were appointed by the legitimate authorities of the United States or not. If not, they would pay no attention to you; they would look upon you as a very commonplace, foolish individual, and moreover, they would also look upon you as a fraud. Well, then, if God does not send men, of course they cannot act under the authority of God; if they do, they act fraudulently. Now, how can men go in the name of God when they tell you that God has never spoken for the last eighteen hundred years, and that he does not now reveal himself? That being the case, how then can they go forth in the name of God? I do not know; it is a mystery to me.” (JD 21:155)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has priesthood authority. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ordained by John the Baptist, and by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, who appeared to him as resurrected beings. 

Fear of revelation and priesthood?

George Q. Cannon:


“…if a man comes forward claiming that he has this authority he is met with the accusations: “You are deluded, you are an imposter, you preach false doctrine, we will have none of your teaching. Men who believe in prophecy and revelation are liable to be deceived, and we are afraid of you, we do not know but you will deceive us. Jesus said there should be false prophets, we believe you are one of them.”
And thus they fortify and encase themselves in their unbelief and reject the word of God, and if Paul or Peter were to rise from the dead, and go amongst them and proclaim the principles they taught anciently, they would close their churches and chapels, and would say, “We will have none of you, you will deceive us, you are one of the false prophets spoken of,” forgetting that, if there are false prophets, there will, in all probability, also be true ones;” (JD 14:163)
I have also noticed this even today. When I share the story of the First Vision with people of other faiths or talk to them about how we can receive personal revelation, they invariably ask me questions like, "How do you know you won't be deceived?"  Easy answer from the Bible: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself." The question then becomes whether someone is willing to try the experiment to do God's will or not. 

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Prejudice of the people

George A. Smith:


“Elder Parley P. Pratt, before receiving the Gospel, was a minister of the Reformed Baptist, or Campbelite, Church in Ohio. This sect had a brick meetinghouse in Mentor, Geauga, now Lake Co. The people who owned this house had prided themselves on their great liberality, they would give everybody a chance to preach. Bro. Pratt, wishing to preach to them went there but found the door shut against him, and the congregation assembled outside. He preached on the door step. Quite a number of his former Christian brethren had gone to a neighboring grocery and qualified the inner man with something stimulating, and having supplied themselves with eggs, and procured a drum and fife they marched backwards and forwards in front of the speaker, throwing their eggs at him until their supply—five dozen—was exhausted. Elder Pratt kept on preaching and bearing testimony of the truth of the Gospel. Among those present who seemed to enjoy the scene was a Campbellite, a grave looking deacon, to whom a young man, a stranger, who happened to be present said, “Is this the way you worship God in this country?” “Oh, no Sir!” answered the deacon, “that man is a ‘Mormon.’”  The stranger then remarked, “his talk is very reasonable.” “Yes,” said the old gentleman, “but he is a ‘Mormon,’ and we do not intend that he shall preach here.” “He appears very cool,” remarked the stranger. “Yes,” said the deacon, “he is used to it, he has been in such scrapes before.”
This circumstance illustrates the manner in which the Elders were received when they went forth to preach the Gospel, and it required the testimony of the Holy Spirit, a strong sense of duty, and revelation from the Almighty to stir them up to go forth under such circumstances. Not only did this persecution extend to those who preached the Gospel, but to all believers, for, although the Saints were industrious, peaceable, and virtuous, every kind of falsehood was told against them, their houses were torn down, their property destroyed and every species of injustice and cruelty was heaped upon them.” (JD 12:332)

Daniel H. Wells:    (back in 1882)
“When a person embraces the everlasting Gospel—which, by the way, seems to be very unpopular now, as in other ages; whether it will continue to be so I do not know—it requires a good deal of moral courage to sacrifice his associations in life, his property, social standing and good name, and everything that pertains to this life that is considered worth having. Still there are those spirits in the flesh that have the courage to do it; those that have the honesty of heart to receive this testimony and to stand up and bear it in the face of every opposing obstacle and every opposing foe.” (JD 23:303)


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BY had to overcome fear to preach

Brigham Young:
“About the time I was preparing myself to embrace the gospel, there were great reformation meetings, and many professed to be converted. Those were very stirring times. The cause of religion was the great topic and theme of conversation, and preachers were full of zeal to bring souls to Christ through repentance and faith in his name. I recollect very distinctly that if I permitted myself to speak in any of their meetings, the spirit forbade me mentioning or referring to the testimony of Jesus, only in a superficial way. A few who believed in the everlasting gospel which had been revealed through Joseph, the prophet, testified in their meetings that they knew by the spirit of revelation that God had done thus and so, and they were hooted at immediately by those reformers. If I spoke at all in their meetings, I had to guard every word I uttered, lest I should offend those who professed to understand the gospel of life and salvation, but who did not. Gradually we broke through this fear, and ventured to utter the sentiments of our hearts, in faith before God, delivering that to the people which the Lord had revealed to us….Unless we are willing to be guided by the revelations of the spirit of the Almighty, by obeying and living up to the principles of His gospel, we are as apt to believe one thing as another, and to be influenced by, and follow the dictations of a bad spirit as a good one.” (JD 12:99)
Need for personal revelation

Elder L. Aldin Porter :
“Some years ago I enjoyed a stake conference assignment as a junior companion to Elder LeGrand Richards, who had, under the influence of this directing Spirit, reorganized a stake presidency. We were driving home; he was very pensive. After a rather long period of silence, I asked him if there was something he would like to teach me. Quietly he said, “We have too many in the Church who deny the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.” That was it—he said no more about it. As I reminisced about the calling of the new stake president that day, it occurred to me then that this Church could not function for even one day without the spirit of prophecy and revelation.
But ours is a day of dwindling faith and increasing skepticism about sacred things. Our time reminds me of the period just prior to the coming of the resurrected Savior to this continent. They were very dark days.
Mormon recorded the roots of the problems that beset the Nephite society when he said, “And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.”
Later Mormon continues: “And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.”….
When the appointed servants of this Church speak under the influence of the Holy Ghost as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, their words are carried by the power of the spirit to those whose hearts are open to revelation.
When, with heavenly power, that witness comes to a person, he or she will soon understand that personal sacrifice is its constant companion. The spiritual witness of these sacred things and the demands of sacrifice inevitably walk the road together. In time, one comes to understand the necessity of this and is filled with gratitude that it is so.” (1996 October conference)