Sunday, December 29, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1842 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1842 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

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,” 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 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. 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,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.

The 1842 account is part of the Wentworth letter.  From the Wentworth letter we get our Articles of Faith as well as a well-known quote about missionary work ("no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing ...").  The letter is quite lengthy and gives a "sketch" of the rise of Mormonism.  As such, the account of the First Vision is quite brief and to the point.

- the questioning of "right or wrong" of all the religions
- the seeking in the bible
- James 1:5
- he was 14
- went to a secret place in a grove
- two personages
- the light eclipsed the brightness of the noon-day sun
- the personages tell him all the religions believe in incorrect doctrines

- does not mention his tongue was bound; nor the part about the darkness
- how the two personages appear to him seems different.  In all the previous versions, a pillar of light or fire appears above his head.  In this version, however, he says "my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded."  When I read this, to me it seems the vision occurred in his mind (like a dream) as opposed to a physical visitation (via a pillar of light / fire).
- in the scriptural account, Joseph does not ask for forgiveness of his sins.  In the previous accounts he does ask for forgiveness.  In this 1842 account, he does not mention he asked for forgiveness.

The Wentworth version from 1842 is brief and to the point.  To me, the purpose of this account was to describe the history of the church at a high-level.  Therefore the account of the First Vision was fairly direct.  Other than the part about how the personages visited him, this account is not too different than our scriptural version.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1838 Account

The 1838 version is the the official, canonized version of the the First Vision.  This is the version I was taught as a child as well as the version I taught investigators of the Church for two years.

I won't discuss much about this version - this is the version by which I've compared the previous two versions.

The one thing I will comment on is the 'thick darkness' Joseph refers to in this version.  It was not mentioned in the 1832 or 1835 versions.  Although his tongue was bound in the 1835 version, he did not mention the darkness.  In this 1838 version, he talks of an "enemy" which "seized upon" him and "entirely overcame" him.  This influence has such a profound effect on him, that it binds his tongue.  Then "thick darkness gathered around" him and he feared that he would be destroyed.  His fear is so great he says, "I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction - not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being sent from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being."

Let me back up a bit.  I mentioned I was taught this version of the First Vision when I was a child.  But, for the most part, this bit about the "darkness" was usually left out or not discussed.  And if it was included in the lesson, it was quickly covered, so as not to dwell on the "enemy" so much.  Personally speaking, I was left with the impression that if we focused on this part too much, the same thing would happen to me.

Then, while as a missionary, whenever we taught the First Vision, we almost always left the "thick darkness" part out.  Or, if we did include it, we would not go into much detail about it - such as only mentioned his tongue was bound.

In Rough Stone Rolling, Bushman describes Joseph's "reluctance" in sharing the First Vision and that as he got more confident, he shared more details.

The 1838 version is very detailed and colorful when compared to the other versions.  I can see why this version would be the preferred version to include in the scriptures.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1835 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1835 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

being wrought up in my mind, respecting the subject of religion and looking upon (at) the different systems taught the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and concidering it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involved eternal consequences; being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and bowd down before the Lord, under a realising sense that he had said (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive knock and it shall be opened seek and you shall find and again, if any man lack wisdom let him ask of God who giveth to all men libar ally and upbradeth not; information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination I to obtain it, 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 toung seemed to be swolen 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 seem ed to draw nearer, I sprung up on my feet, and and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of wal king, I kneeled again my mouth was opened and my toung liberated, and I called on the Lord in mighty prayer, a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon my (me) head, and filled me with joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst, of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first, he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testifyed unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God; (and I saw many angels in this vision) I was about 14. years old when I received this first communication;

This version is very similar to the one found in the PoGP.  It has all the main points:
- the questioning of "right or wrong" of all the religions
- the seeking of the bible
- James 1:5
- the bound tongue
- he was 14

- the biggest difference is that he states he "saw many angels in this vision".  He doesn't elaborate, but in other versions he only sees either 1 person (Jesus Christ), or 2 persons (Christ and God).  But only in this version does he mention seeing many angels.
- this version mentions an unseen presence in the form of binding his tongue as well as a noise of a person walking.  In at least one church video I've seen, it includes this aspect - of a noise of someone walking and Joseph jumping up to his feet.  But in this 1835 written version, there is no mention of a power of darkness - just noise.
- again, in this version, the Lord forgives him his sins.

The 1835 version seems to be a "cliff-notes" version of the official version of the First Vision.  It has all the main points of the official version.

The part about the many angels is very curious.  It sounds a lot like Lehi's vision where he sees, through a "pillar of fire", "God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God" (see 1 Nephi 1:8-9).

One other thought and comment about where he went to pray.  In the official version, he "retired to the woods", and in the 1832 version he calls it "the wilderness" and in the 1842 he calls it "a secret place in a grove."  In this version he calls the woods "the silent grove."  Of all the different descriptions he uses, I like this one the best.  I wish we (in the Church today) would call it "The Silent Grove" instead of what we usually call it today - The Sacred Grove.

Just this past Thanksgiving, I took my son camping up to one of the forests near where we live.  We endured a cold Wednesday night, but then on Thanksgiving morning, it was gorgeous, perfect weather and we went on a long hike.  When were were deep in the forest, we stopped and sat down.  The silence was profound - and I know we were not far from "civilization."  I can only attempt to imagine the "silent grove" Joseph mentions.  Silence is something we do not heed enough in our hyped-up and "connected" world.  Even if we are not producing noise, our minds still do not assume a silent state.  I often lament and feel bad for people who cannot assume a silent state, much less who seek a "silent grove."  I don't think even I get enough silence in my life and I make an effort to seek it.

Another part of this version that caused me to ponder a bit was where he said, "concidering it of the first importance that I should be right, in matters that involved eternal consequences"  Do people today still consider the eternal state of their soul to be of "first importance?"  Joseph is not referring to the fate of, say thieves and murderers, rather he's referring to the fate of Catholics and Methodists.  He's looking at all the "good" people where some religions say their congregants will be saved, while the non-congregants will go to hell.  To state his dilemma a bit differently, let me cast it in a different light.

A member of the Church and I had a conversation several weeks about about some friends of ours.  Our friends are really good people - meaning they are nice, they serve, they are kind, they are good parents - they are "the salt of the earth."  But they are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.  I asked this member if they believe our friends would be able to be together as a family if they never are baptized in the Church and sealed in the Temple.  We both agree that if they are not baptized and sealed in the Church, they would still have opportunities (even after they die) to do whatever they needed to do in order to be together for the eternities.  We believe, that even despite being offered the teachings of the Church, they would have multiple opportunities - that God would be merciful.

I think this is a common belief in many people - in the mercy of God.  And since most people believe that, I don't think there are many who have the urgency that Joseph had.  He believed in a "one-chance life" at that point of his life.  I think he believed he had to find the truth, whereas today, we believe "everything will eventually work out" and that we just need to focus on "being good" (see Put Your Trust in God).

But the all-or-nothing question still remains: do we just 'have faith' that it all works out and that we just need to be 'good' or do we truly need to find out what the truth is - that this life is our one chance to find out the truth (concerning the religions) and if we don't find it here, that's it - too bad if you made the wrong choice in religions?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The First Vision Series - The 1832 Account

I've copied below the text of the 1832 account in order to more easily reference it and apply highlights.

At about the age of twelve years my mind become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns of for the well fare of my immortal Soul which led me to search ing the scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly for I discovered that (they did not adorn) instead of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divi[si]ons the wicke[d]ness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the of the minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins and by searching the scriptures I found that mand (mankind) did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world for I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons for he was God for I looked upon the sun the glorious luminary of the earth and also the moon rolling in their magesty through the heavens and also the stars shining in their courses and the earth also upon which I stood and the beast of the field and the fowls of heaven and the fish of the waters and also man walking forth upon the face of the earth in magesty and in the strength of beauty whose power and intiligence in governing the things which are so exceding great and marvilous even in the likeness of him who created him (them) and when I considered upon these things my heart exclaimed well hath the wise man said the (it is a) fool (that) saith in his heart there is no God my heart exclaimed all all these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotant and omnipreasant power a being who makith Laws and decreeeth and bindeth all things in their bounds who filleth Eternity who was and is and will be from all Eternity to Eternity and when (I) considered all these things and that (that) being seeketh such to worshep him as wors hip him in spirit and in truth therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and to obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderne ss and while in (the) attitude of calling upon the Lord (in the 16th year of my age) a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the (Lord) opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph (my son) thy sins are forgiven thee. go thy (way) walk in my statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life (behold) the world lieth in sin and at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not (my) commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to thir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which (hath) been spoken by the mouth of the prophe ts and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] wr itten of me in the cloud (clothed) in the glory of my Father and my soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the hevnly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart.

This version has many similar points as the canonized version in the Pearl of Great Price:
- Joseph searched the scriptures
- He was convinced the religions of the day had apostatized from the church of the New Testament
- He went to someplace quiet to pray
- He was told none of the religions of the day keep the commandments
- No one believes him when he tells them of the vision

However, there are also a number of differences in this version:
- Joseph does not mention James 1:5
- No mention of an "enemy" seizing upon him
- There is no mention that God the Father was present; it seems to be only the Lord Jesus Christ that visits Joseph.
- No specific mention of persecution or prejudice for telling the vision
- The Lord speaks much more in this version than in the PoGP.
- It seems the primary reason Joseph seeks the Lord in prayer is to seek forgiveness
- The Lord forgives Joseph
- While Joseph wrote this account himself, Frederick G. Williams inserted "in the 16th year of my age".  So, according to Joseph/Frederick in this version, Joseph was slightly older than the PoGP version where he was fourteen.

To me, the two main points of this version of the vision are:
1) Joseph really desires forgiveness of his sins and subsequently receives that forgiveness
2) Joseph arrives at the conclusion that God is unchangeable and therefore people have fallen away from Him and not the other way around.

I remember Bushman indicating that other people in Joseph's day and even before him, experienced similar visions.  After reading of several of those visions received by other people, the 1832 version of Joseph's vision seems on par when compared to those other visions.

People want to see God and/or Jesus Christ.  People saw Christ before Joseph; Joseph saw Christ; people after Joseph saw Christ.  I was always impressed with the many Kekchi who would often tell us they saw Jesus in a dream.  I don't doubt people still see Him today.

Joseph's first account version seems to be similar to many of these other visions.

Monday, December 02, 2013

The First Vision Series - Introduction

The Vision - JSB at BYU
During the month of December, I will be studying the First Vision and all the various accounts.  The Church has recently published a new essay on various accounts of the First VisionThe Joseph Smith Papers project has allowed every member to directly access each of these accounts and now, we can see first-hand, the full picture of that first vision.

The first time I had heard that there was more than one account of the First Vision was when Elder Eyring made reference to the fact when the sculpture The Vision was unveiled on October 17, 1997.  At the time, his reference to "studying the various accounts of the First Vision" piqued my interest, but I never had a chance to investigate further.  So this month, I decided to do a bit more studying and comparing the various versions.

My study won't be rigorous; rather it will include simply reading the accounts, comparing them to the Joseph Smith-History version in our scriptures and then I'll add my personal impressions.

Each account will have it's own post and I'll begin with the 1832 account and then proceed to the 1835 account, then on to the 1838 account and then the 1842 account.  Lastly, I'll review the five secondhand accounts.