The year 1820 forever changed human perception on the nature of the Godhead, and became the starting point of the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That was the year Joseph Smith had what members of the Mormon Church refer to as “The First Vision”.
When Joseph Smith was twelve years old he began to feel the need for redemption and investigated different religions. At the time there was a great religious fervor in the Manchester New York area, where his family now lived. Each religion professed to be true yet each taught different doctrine. They often argued with each other and Joseph Smith observed that the members, who professed to be of Christ, were lost in “strife of words and a contest about opinions.” 1 His mother and father belonged to different congregations and he felt pressured to choose.
Joseph Smith often asked himself, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?”2
After two years of searching Joseph Smith decided that, “no society taught New Testament Christianity,” 3 but felt most inclined to join the Methodist sect, which his mother belonged to. But he wasn’t sure that it was the right choice.
So young Joseph Smith went to the Bible searching for answers. One night he read, “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.” 4
Recognizing that he needed wisdom from God he decided to go to the woods near Palmyra, New York and pray about which church he should join. As Joseph Smith knelt down he was seized upon my some dark power, which was Satan attempting to thwart his prayer. Darkness surrounded Joseph Smith and just as he thought that he would be consumed a light shone down.
“When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other – ‘This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!'”5
When Joseph Smith asked which church he should join Christ told Joseph that he should join none of them for they were all wrong. Christ said, “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” 6 Joseph Smith was told that the fullness of the gospel would be made known to him at a later date.
Joseph Smith’s family believed his account of the vision and supported him, but they were the only ones. The persecution and opposition of Joseph Smith began soon after as others riled him, “with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days.” 7
But as Joseph Smith stated, “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.” 8
“When Joseph left the grove, he possessed the knowledge that God and his Son were actual personages, that the Godhead was composed of separate individuals, that God hears and answers prayers,” 9 and that no church on earth was true. These facts became the base of the doctrine of the Mormon Church and the beliefs that set them apart from most other Christian religions.
For more information about Joseph Smith follow the links below:
Joseph Smith: Prophet, Revelator, Human; Interview with Richard Lyman
(1) Joseph Smith History 1:6
(2) JS-H 1:10
(3) Backman, Milton V., Jr. Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Salt Lake City, 1980. pg 156.
(4) James 1:5
(5) JS-H 1:17
(6) JS-H 1:19
(7) Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, First Vision
(8) JS-H 1:21
(9) JS-H 1:25