1. After the Apostasy, God prepared the way for the Restoration.
‘In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principles of Greek philosophy. The received language of the Bible remained, but the so-called “hidden meanings” of scriptural words were now explained in the vocabulary of a philosophy alien to their origins. In the language of that philosophy, God the Father ceased to be a Father in any but an allegorical sense. He ceased to exist as a comprehensible and compassionate being. And the separate identity of his Only Begotten Son was swallowed up in a philosophical abstraction that attempted to define a common substance and an incomprehensible relationship.
These descriptions of a religious philosophy are surely undiplomatic, but I hasten to add that Latter-day Saints do not apply such criticism to the men and women who profess these beliefs. We believe that most religious leaders and followers are sincere believers who love God and understand and serve him to the best of their abilities. We are indebted to the men and women who kept the light of faith and learning alive through the centuries to the present day. We have only to contrast the lesser light that exists among peoples unfamiliar with the names of God and Jesus Christ to realize the great contribution made by Christian teachers through the ages. We honor them as servants of God.
Then came the First Vision. An unschooled boy, seeking knowledge from the ultimate source, saw two personages of indescribable brightness and glory and heard one of them say, while pointing to the other, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:17). The divine teaching in that vision began the restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God the Son told the boy prophet that all the “creeds” of the churches of that day “were an abomination in his sight” ( JS—H 1:19). We affirm that this divine declaration was a condemnation of the creeds, not of the faithful seekers who believed in them. Joseph Smith’s first vision showed that the prevailing concepts of the nature of God and the Godhead were untrue and could not lead their adherents to the destiny God desired for them.’ (Dallin H Oaks, General Conference, April 1995)
JS-History 1:21-24 Bitter persecution
“Why should so many religionists unite against an unknown youth of no renown or standing in the community? Would the whole sectarian world shiver and shake and call for a sword if some other unknown fourteen-year-old youth in an obscure frontier village should claim that he was visited by angels and that he saw the Lord? The problem when Joseph Smith announced such a claim was that it was true and that Lucifer knew of its verity.
“… Is not the persecution itself a witness of the reality of the First Vision? Or if it were not true, would the worldly wise and the intellectual religionists today devote their talents and means to defaming Joseph Smith and the work that bears his imprint? What is it to anyone else what we believe unless they in their unbelief fear lest our doctrines are true and our practices may have divine approval?” (Bruce R McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 8–10).
2. God prepared Joseph Smith to be the prophet of the Restoration.
JS-History 1:7 In my fifteenth year
‘I have wondered at times why the Lord would have him go in as a 14-year-old boy. Why didn’t He wait until [Joseph] was 20 or 30 or 40, when he would have had the weight of authority that comes with age? He went in—the Lord permitted it—and responded to his inquiry because he came in perfect trust as a boy. There was no doubt in his mind. He said that if anyone needed wisdom, he needed wisdom, and he asked for it, with full confidence that something would happen as a result of his prayer.’ (Gordon B Hinckley Ensign, Aug. 1997, 3)
JS-History 1:11-12 I was one day reading the Epistle of James
‘Let me tell you of a wonderful mother whose life was an example of faith. When the Prophet Joseph Smith was a very young boy, he watched and learned about faith in God from his mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy sought answers by searching the scriptures, [See Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, ed. Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor (1996), 50.] and Joseph too employed the practice, turning to the Bible for guidance as his mother had.
Lucy also solved family problems by privately seeking the Lord’s help through prayer. One day, experiencing discord in her family regarding the subject of religion, Lucy said she “retired to a grove of handsome wild cherry trees not far distant and prayed to the Lord.” [Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 58.]
Lucy also prayed with great faith when faced with personal health issues, when Joseph nearly lost his leg to osteomyelitis, and when Joseph’s sister Sophronia almost died from typhoid fever. Regarding Sophronia’s illness, Lucy wrote: “I gazed upon my child. … My husband and I clasped our hands together and fell upon our knees by the bedside and poured our grief and supplications into his ears.” [Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 69.] Sophronia lived. I am confident that Lucy’s children often witnessed her praying with faith and receiving answers to those prayers.
Lucy prayed in faith for guidance, and Joseph too retired to a grove of trees, where he prayed with faith, seeking an answer from the Lord as his mother had.
Like Lucy, we must show our children and youth how to strengthen their faith and testimony of Jesus Christ by strengthening our own through studying the scriptures and through prayer, personally as well as with them.’ (Mary N Cook, General Conference, October 2010)
3. The First Vision ushered in the restoration of the gospel.
JS-History 1:14 I retired to the woods
‘Amid the war of words and feelings that surrounded the boy Joseph, his mind was drawn to the scriptures. He reflected upon the message of James 1:5 again and again and decided for the first time in his life to pray vocally about the matter. After months of mental and spiritual struggle, he finally knew what he must do. Sometime in the early spring of 1820 he went to a familiar spot in the woods near his home to make the attempt. Joseph told an editor of the New York Spectator: “I immediately went out into the woods where my father had a clearing, and went to the stump where I had struck my axe when I had quit work, and I kneeled down, and prayed” (in Allen, Improvement Era, Apr. 1970, 13).
Joseph’s “months of anguish had resulted in obvious spiritual maturity, and he had at least three serious questions on his mind: (1) He was concerned for his own salvation and sought forgiveness of his sins; (2) he was concerned for the welfare of mankind in general, for, he said, ‘I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world’; (3) he wanted to know which, if any, of the churches was right, and which he should join” ‘ (Allen, Improvement Era, Apr. 1970, 9). (Pearl of Great Price Institute Manual)
JS-History 1:15 I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me
“Satan… knew who this young boy was—he knew Joseph was a spiritual redwood; he knew Joseph was destined to be a ‘disturber… of his kingdom’ (Joseph Smith-History 1:20). Satan could see the plane in its landing pattern, and he knew Joseph Smith was the anointed pilot. But before the advent of something good and great, Satan always works the hardest. It happened at the birth of the Savior with the slaying of the innocents. It occurred again when the Savior commenced his mission and was confronted with the three temptations… And so it would be with the Prophet Joseph before the advent of this great and glorious contributions—Satan would be there in all his diabolic opposition. At all costs, Satan knew he must stop this young boy from proceeding to carry out his destined work. Satan was poised to make his preemptive strike. He was ‘as a roaring lion… seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Peter 5:8).” (Tad Callister, The Inevitable Apostasy, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2006], 339)
JS-History 1:16-17 I saw two Personages
‘Joseph Smith saw God, the Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. This was Joseph’s First Vision. In the years that followed, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. Numerous other heavenly beings visited him, restoring truths and authority that had been lost for centuries. These divine communications to Joseph Smith opened the windows of heaven and the glories of eternity to our view. Joseph’s life stands as a testimony that if any of us lack wisdom, we can ask God in faith and receive answers—sometimes from heavenly beings but more often by the power of the Holy Ghost, who speaks to us through inspired thoughts and feelings. [See Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 It is through the Holy Ghost that we can “know the truth of all things.”’ (Craig C Christensen, General Conference, October 2016)
4. Many truths were revealed in the First Vision.
Significance of the First Vision
‘The First Vision was a pivotal event in the rise of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. Joseph Smith, although only an unlettered youth, learned profound truths that have become the foundation of the faith of the Latter-day Saints. He had actually seen and spoken with God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, he learned that the promise in James is true. God will answer sincere prayer of inquiry and not chastise. To Joseph, God became an approachable reality, a vital source of truth, and a loving Heavenly Father. Joseph Smith’s belief in the reality of God was no longer a matter of faith; it was based on personal experience. Thus, he was qualified, as was the Apostle Peter, to be a witness who was chosen of God and commanded to preach and testify of Jesus Christ (see Acts 10:39–43). He could also testify that the Father and Son were separate and distinct glorious beings in whose literal image man is made.
Joseph Smith now also knew of the reality of Satan, a being who possessed formidable power and a foe determined to destroy the work of God. Satan failed in the Sacred Grove, but the conflict had just begun. Joseph would fight many battles with this adversary of righteousness before his work was done. Moreover, the Lord’s answer to his question about which church was true, was a sweeping indictment of nineteenth century Christianity, for no church then on earth had divine approval. Just as the Savior warned his disciples against the doctrinal “leaven” of the Pharisees and Sadducees (see Matthew 16:6–12), he taught Joseph Smith that the existing churches taught the “commandments of men” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Therefore, he was to join none of them.’ (Church History in the Fulness of Times Institute Manual)