By Zachary Collier
Over the course of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there have been hundreds and hundreds of complaints against the Prophet Joseph Smith by non-Mormon or disaffected members of the Church. Many of these complaints attempt to prove the Church a falsehood by either defaming his character or discrediting his story. One of the ways they try to do this is by examining the various accounts of what most Mormons refer to as his “First Vision,” or in other words, the story he told of Jesus Christ and God the Father appearing to him in Palmyra, NY in the spring of 1820. If you are interested in this issue, or would like to see the accounts for yourself, there is a wonderful article full of resources here.
The purpose of this article is not to combat arguments or to prove Joseph Smith’s story correct. Rather, it is an attempt to show that all accounts of the First Vision can and do fit together, and that it is possible that all of the events described could have happened at once.
The following is a succinct, composite description of events and dialogue between the Lord and Joseph Smith. This is according to the details we have. It is taken from all accounts, firsthand and second hand, with chronology falling where accounts agree. If you would like to see the original documents or read the accounts for yourself, I suggest reading the article above or visiting josephsmithpapers.org. Hopefully this account will shed some more light on what happened there in the woods that day, and will show to the world that we still do not know all that we could, and to look forward with an eye of faith and belief until that knowledge comes to light.
“It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made an attempt to pray, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
“I retired to a secret place in a grove. After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to call upon the Lord under a realizing sense that he had said (if the bible be true), ‘Ask and you shall receive,’ ‘knock and it shall be opened unto you,’ ‘seek and you shall find,’ and again, ‘if any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not.’ Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called upon the Lord for the first time.
“I made a fruitless attempt to pray. My tongue seemed to be swollen 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 seemed to draw nearer. I sprung up on my feet and looked around, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again.
“Immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me and had such astonishing influence over me as to deprive me of my power of speech. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when 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 from the unseen world who had such a marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being.
“Just at this moment of great alarm, the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness. 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. I saw a pillar of light, or fire, exactly over my head, which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.
“As it drew nearer, it increased in brightness, and magnitude, so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner. I expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, I was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued, descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and I was enveloped in the midst of it – far more bright and dazzling than than the sun in his meridian splendor. When it first came upon me, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout my whole system, and filled me with joy unspeakable. I was filled with the Spirit of God. I saw many angels in this vision.
“A personage appeared (light complexion, blue eyes, a piece of white cloth drawn over his shoulders, his right arm bare) in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing was consumed. Another personage soon appeared, like unto the first: two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day. He spake unto me, calling me by name, and said (pointing to the other): ‘Thy sins are forgiven thee. This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!’
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to ascertain which of the sects were right, that I might join it. No sooner therefore did I get possession of myself so as to be able to speak, that I asked the personages who stood in the light which of the sects were right, (for I supposed that one of them were so; at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong) and which I should join.
“I was answered: ‘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 crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. But behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no, not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments, and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness, and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles. Join none of them; they all are wrong – their creeds are an abomination in my sight – those professors are all corrupt. They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrine the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness, but they deny the power thereof. Go not after them. The fullness of the gospel, in due time, shall be made known unto you. Behold and lo, I come quickly as it is written of me: in the cloud, clothed in the glory of my Father.’
“Many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back looking up into Heaven. And my soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy, and the Lord was with me. Nevertheless, I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision, nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart.”