Sunday, January 6, 2013

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #3 "I Had Seen a Vision"

Download the church video, "A Search For Truth."  This video is nearly 16 minutes long, but every bit is excellent. 

Write the following names on the board (so class members can more easily remember them: 
     Azmon & Wilford Woodruff
     Robert Mason
     Zera Pulsipher


Among the many varieties of bamboo grown in China is the beautiful black bamboo.  Black bamboo will spread very quickly from a grown plant, but to grow and harvest black bamboo from seed is another matter.  The seed comes in a very, very hard shell, which a hobby gardener can crack and then follow the very tricky and exacting process to germinate it, but a farmer who wants to harvest acres of bamboo must be patient.  He must carefully plant the bamboo seeds at the correct distance, and then nurture them carefully and patiently for a long time.

Quoting from the travelogue of a motivational speaker who witnessed the farming of black bamboo:

"Extending as far as the eye could see was an empty field of rich, black, tilled earth.  Not a single bamboo plant was in sight, not even a tree.  Peter [our guide] explained to us that the field had been sown a few weeks prior.  Each of over a thousand farmers carried a heavy satchel of seeds, water and fertilizer on their backs.  He explained the great care need necessary at this step in the process... 

"Once placed in the ground, each seed is individually fertilized with a deep drink of water and a handful of fertilizer from the farmer’s heavy satchel.  The process of watering and fertilizing is ritually carried out weekly on a seed by seed basis for nearly five years.  No heavy machines, no modern irrigation equipment--just individual farmers carefully tending the individual needs of each seedling in the field.

"About a mile down the dusty road was a field that Peter told us had been sown two years prior.  When we reached our destination we were surprised to see what looked to us like thousands of farmers working in an empty field.

"Our big surprise was when Peter told us that every week, up until the 11th month of the 5th year the bamboo fields appeared visually barren.  In the 12th month of the 5th year the black bamboo would suddenly sprout and very rapidly grow up to 60 feet in just under 30 days.  (Jim Cecil, "A Life Dedicated to Nurturing")

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:  And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it."  (Amos 8:11-12)

For nearly 2,000 years this famine persisted.  The true church was missing from the earth.  During this time period, however, hundreds of years before the gospel was restored, the Lord planted seeds and began to water and feed them.  Long before Joseph Smith was born, world events helped to prepare the soil for the sprouting of the Restoration.  

What were some of these preparations?  (Answers could include the Renaissance, the invention of the printing press, the translation of the Bible into everyday language, the Reformers, the discovery and colonization of America, the Constitution of the United States, and the preparation of individuals such as the Smith family.)


Generations before Joseph Smith was born, the Lord began to prepare the Smith family to nourish the prophet of the Restoration.  Joseph Smith's grandfather, before Joseph was even born, said, "It has been borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith."  (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History, 27th ed., p. 25)

Lucy Smith, Joseph's mother, also well before he was born, prayed to the Lord that her husband would become more religiously inclined.  Indeed he did, and in fact, he received a vision just like Father Lehi's of the Tree of Life.  (Lucy Mack Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, p. 64-66)  Lucy and Joseph Smith Sr. both witnessed several personal visions, making it easy for them to believe Joseph when he reported seeing a vision.

 Joseph Smith's father and grandfather were not Calvinists, as were most people of the time in America, whose basic tenets include believing in original sin, the unconditional election of a few, and a limited atonement, under the rule of a harsh God.  The Smith men believed in the much more liberal and kindly Universalist doctrine, in which God is viewed as a loving being who will save all of mankind,.  The founder of Universalism in America, John Murray, preached for many years just 15 miles from where Joseph's grandfather, Asael Smith, lived.  Asael Smith warned his children not to think themselves more loved by God than "the heathen in the darkest corner of the deserts of Arabia, because God was no respecter of persons".  Interestingly, Martin Harris, the Joseph Knight family, and the Hezekiah Peck family were all Universalist in their beliefs as well, prior to the organization of the Church. (See Casey Paul Griffiths, “Universalism and the Revelations of Joseph Smith,” The Doctrine & Covenants: Revelations in Context, Proceeds of the 37th Annual BYU Sidney B. Sperry Symposium)

The Smith family and all their environs had been nurtured by the Lord for many years, so that when Joseph Smith received the First Vision, the growth of the Kingdom of God on the earth was rapid and sure, like black bamboo.  Many early saints were likewise prepared to accept the gospel years before they heard it.  One such was Wilford Woodruff.


"In the days of my youth I was taught by an aged man named Robert Mason, who lived in Sainsbury, Connecticut.  By many he was called a prophet; to my knowledge, many of his prophecies had been fulfilled.  The sick were healed by him through the laying on of hands in the name of Jesus Christ, and devils were cast out...

"Father Mason did not claim that he had any authority to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel, nor did he believe that such authority existed on the earth.  He did believe, however, that it was the privilege of any man who had faith in God to fast and pray for the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands.  He believed it his right and the right of every honest-hearted man or woman to receive light and knowledge..."  (Wilford Woodruff:  History of His Life and Labors, p. 15)

In the first segment of the video, Wilford and his brother Azmon are boys when Robert Mason visits their home.  (Show 1818 section of video.)

"When I conversed with the ministers...they would always tell me that prophets, apostles, revelations, healings, etc., were given to establish Jesus Christ and His doctrine, but that they have ever since been done away with, because [they were] no longer needed in the Church and Kingdom of God.  Such a declaration I never could and never would believe...

"From the study of the Bible I found that the principle of cause and effect was the same in all ages, and that the divine promises made were to all generations..."  (ibid.)

Wilford began to compile a list of things that existed in Christ's day that should be found in a latter-day church, if it were the church of Christ.  Watch as he researches the list.  There are 4 items.  (Show the 1830 segment of the video until the point at which Robert Mason is finished relating the vision.)

"He then turned and left...These were the last words he ever spoke to me upon the earth."  (ibid.)

One more thing that is not mentioned in the video:  At the end of the vision, after telling Wilford that he [Robert] would not experience Christ's church in this life, Father Mason said that the voice of the Lord told him, "You will be blessed of the Lord after death because you followed the dictations of my Spirit in this life."  (ibid.)

"I had given myself up to the reading of the Scriptures and to earnest prayer before God day and night as far as I could...I had pleaded with the Lord many hours in the forest, among the rocks, and in the fields, and in the mill--often at midnight for light and truth and for His spirit to guide me in the way of salvation.  My prayers were answered and many things were revealed to me.  My mind was open to the truth so that I was fully satisfied that I should live to see the Church of Christ established upon the earth and to see a people raised up who would keep the commandments of the Lord."  (ibid., p. 17-18)

You can see how the soil around that seed, Wilford Woodruff, was being prepared.  (Show the rest of the 1830 segment, as well as the 1831 segment.)

The next segment takes place in Richland, New York where Wilford Woodruff, as yet unmarried, was living with his brother Azmon, and Azmon's wife Elizabeth.  (Show the 1833 segment and continue to the end.)   


The names of the two missionaries who shared the gospel with Wilford Woodruff in 1833 were Zera Pulsipher and Elijah Cheney.  The Kingdom of God truly has rolled forth as a "stone cut from the mountain," (Daniel 2:45; D&C 65:2) or maybe more appropriately as a snowball (although this symbol would have been outside the experience of Daniel in the middle east).

As a snowball rolls, it gets bigger very rapidly.  Beneath the layer wherein Wilford Woodruff joined the church, we can find the layer wherein Zera Pulsipher heard the gospel and embraced the truth.  His story is no less fascinating.  Susan Easton Black quotes him in her wonderful book (my favorite D&C reference book), Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"'I married a very agreeable companion.  Lived with her about one year when she died leaving one child which we named Harriett.  [A few weeks after her death] she came to me in vision and appearing natural looked pleasant as she ever did and sat by my side and assisted me in singing a hymn--beginning thus: "That glorious day is dawning nigh when Zion's Light Shall Shine."'  (History of Zera Pulsipher as Written by Himself, BYU Special Collections)  Years later he concluded that the hymn they sang was to prepare him for the message of the Restoration.

"Zera was a Baptist minister in new York.  In 1831, he heard Elder Jared Carter preach in the area...Anxious to know [whether what Elder Carter preached was true], Zera fervently prayed for an answer.  The answer came as he was threshing in his barn: 'All at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time, but soon began it again.  Then in a few minutes another light came over my head which caused me to look up.  I thought I saw the Angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying, 'this is the great revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled.'"  Zera rejoiced, crying, 'Glory Hal-la-lu-ya to the God and the Lamb forever.'

"[He shared his excitement with his Baptist congregation, and many of them joined the Church with him.]  His desire to be a missionary was strong...[and] while preaching in the vicinity he baptized Wilford Woodruff..."  (Susan Easton Black, Who's Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 235)

The hand of the Lord can be found in any convert's life--preparing him to receive the gospel--and it can be found in the conversion of lifetime members, too, leading them from grace to grace.  Have you found this to be true in your life?


Although the Restoration has already taken place in the world, there are still many people who are being prepared for the Restoration to take place in their hearts.  Some will easily reached, just like snow will cling to a rolling ball, but others will be like black bamboo, covered in a nearly impenetrable hard shell.  We can help to nurture those seeds through our teaching, family relations, friendships, prayers, and missionary work.  Suddenly, one day, the shell will crack, there will be a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and the seed will sprout and begin to grow.  The important thing is that we have the faith and the patient love to continue to water and nurture for the symbolic five years necessary, despite the fact that there is no outward evidence that the seed will ever sprout.

Thank the Lord for the Restoration!


Unknown said...

Hi Nancy, my name is Ramona. I really love this post. I am a fairly new member/convert for the past 5 years of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I love it, and on the day I was Baptized, I knew it was the best day of my life, the only other days that compared was my own endowment and then Sealing to my husband.
I can testify that Heavenly Father does prepare us, literally from the foundation of the earth for our lives here, but also in how our life's journey evolves. In the space of about 15 years, in my own life, I saw myself pray for the Lord's help in my life in the form of a husband, a car that ran, a job with the weekends off and the bonus prize, a home of my very own. When my husband and I moved into the home, we didn't realize then that it was in walking distance of an LDS chapel, until the missionary's came a knocking.

I later found out that my husband was a member, but he was inactive and he was making his way back to church. It took a year and a half of investigating every aspect of this church for me to make a decision,and what sealed the deal for me, was that I believed that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that God and the Savior did indeed live and loved me. The journey is still evolving, and I am so grateful for the "clearing" of my path so that I could be here at this wonderful time in history.

Unknown said...

Hey Nancy, love your material and appreciate your work here. Whahoppen to Lessons 1 & 2?

Nancy W. Jensen said...

They were posted in December. Just look back a bit.

hemcoined said...

Thanks for sharing useful stuff, it quiet valuable for me.

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Unknown said...

�� thank you so much for taking the time to prepare and post these, truly a treasure of a resource