Sunday, January 3, 2021

Joseph Smith History 1:1-26


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).

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.)

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, but he could only conclude that Jesus Christ's true church did not exist on the earth. During his search, he received a vision of the Tree of Life, just like Father Lehi's in The Book of Mormon, but in his dream he wandered through surroundings that matched his New England home and not an Arabian desert (Lucy Mack Smith, Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, p. 64-66).  Lucy also witnessed several personal visions. This family expected God to speak, to answer questions, to reveal His will. The Smith family had been nurtured, transplanted, and humbled for decades by the Lord, so that when Joseph Smith received the First Vision, the growth of the Kingdom of God on the earth was rapid and sure, like the sprouting of black bamboo.  


Joseph Smith's life was not one of quiet contemplation and serenity in which he could leisurely write in his journal or keep careful records of all that happened to bring the Church of Jesus Christ back into the world. In fact, simply obtaining paper was an expense not always easy to manage. Hence, histories were started and then stopped when problems arose, then restarted in another fashion. As he wrote shortly before his death, 

"Since I have been engaged in laying the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have been prevented in various ways from continuing my Journal and the History, in a manner satisfactory to myself, or in justice to the cause. Long imprisonments, vexatious and long-continued lawsuits, the treachery of some of my clerks, the death of others, and the poverty of myself and brethren from continued plunder and driving [from place to place by mobs] have prevented my handing down to posterity a connected memorandum of events desirable to all lovers of truth" (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church, 4:470).

Among these stops and starts, there are eight accounts of the First Vision. Three of them are copies of others, which means there are five different accounts of the First Vision in Joseph Smith's own words. 

1832 Journal Entry

Photograph of an excerpt of 
the 1832 journal history, 

The first time that Joseph Smith wrote out an account of his First Vision was in 1832, 12 years after it occured, and 2 years after the Church was organized. It was written on three pages of a ledger book (possibly the only paper that was available). This is the only account of the vision that was written in Joseph Smith's own handwriting and not dictated to a scribe. Joseph Smith had only an elementary education, therefore he delegated writing when possible to those who had better skills of penmanship, grammar, and spelling. This draft was not published in his lifetime. There is no punctuation. There are strike-outs and inserts. I have edited it here to make it easier to read.

"At about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with regard to the all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures, believing as I was taught that they contained the word of God. Thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of different denominations led me to marvel exceedingly, for I discovered that they did not adorn 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 situation of the world, of mankind, the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and abominations, and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convicted of my sins, and by searching the scriptures, I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatized from the true and living 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 today and forever; that he was no respector to persons for he was God. For I looked upon the sun, the glorious luminary of the earth, and also the moon, rolling in [its] majesty 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 majesty and in the strength of beauty, whose power and intelligence in governing the things which are so exceeding great and marvelous even in the likeness of him who created them. And when I considered upon these things, my heart exclaimed, 'Well hath the wise man said, it is a fool that saith in his heart there is no God.' My heart exclaimed, 'All these bear testimony and bespeak an omnipotent and omnipresent Power, a Being who maketh 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 [knowing] that Being seeketh such to worship him as worship 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 obtain mercy. 

"And the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord, a pillar of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day came down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the Spirit of God. And the Heavens opened 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 crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. 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. 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 according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles. Behold and lo! I come quickly as it is written 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 I could find none that would believe the heavenly vision. Nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart."

I love this account because it shows the huge amount of time and effort Joseph Smith had expended over a long period of time prior to his prayer and also because that last paragraph shows a universal element of a vision from a heavenly source: a feeling of overpowering love.

1835--Robert Matthias Conversation

Later that year, Joseph began a journal which he kept the rest of his life. Usually it was dictated to a clerk, later it was entirely written by the clerk. The second account of the First Vision was written November 9, 1835, in this journal. The clerk writing at the time was Warren Parrish. Joseph dictated a conversation he had with a visiting religious eccentric named Robert Matthias in which he told of his vision. This version is much shorter and more concise:

"Being wrought up in my mind respecting the subject of religion and looking at the different systems taught [to or by] the children of men, I knew not who was right or who was wrong and I considered it of the first importance that I should be right in matters that involve eternal consequences. Being thus perplexed in mind, I retired to the silent grove and bowed down before the Lord."

This is the first version in which Joseph Smith quotes James 1:5, right after paraphrasing Matthew 7:7, "Ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find." It is also the first telling in which Joseph Smith felt it important to mention the effort of the devil to stop his prayer. He also mentions in this version that the personages appeared one after the other, and he inserted after dictating it, that he saw many angels. Once again, he writes that he was filled with "joy unspeakable."
This version was copied into an early church history that was later abandoned for a newer plan.

1835--Erastus Holmes Conversation
Five days after this entry, Joseph dictated a summary of his visit with Erastus Holmes, from Newberry, Ohio, who had come to inquire about the faith and its beginnings. It was a short recounting of his conversation, only a couple of sentences, vaguely mentioning that he told Mr. Holmes about his visions without detailing exactly what he said. This telling was also copied into the same history.

1838--Church History/Pearl of Great Price

Three years later, in 1838, in the new Church history, Joseph wrote his story out more completely. This is the version members of the Church are all familiar with because it has been canonized as scripture in The Pearl of Great Price as "Joseph Smith--History." This is the only version in which Joseph includes the very important detail that one of the personages said, pointing to the other, "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" 

1842--Wentworth Letter

The last version Joseph Smith wrote was in 1842 for John Wentworth, the editor of the Chicago Democrat, who requested a story about the Church for a history of New Hampshire. Joseph Smith's response was never used in that history, but was published in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons, the first account published in the United States. The following year it was published in An Original History of the Religious Denominations at Present Existing in the United States, by Israel Daniel Rupp. Notice that in this very brief version, which was written for a secular history, Joseph Smith did not name the two personages, include the vision of angels, or mention the presence of Satanic forces. Perhaps at this point in his life, he knew casual secular readers would not care about or believe those things, but would only mock. He only wrote the basics about why he started a new religion.

"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 enrapt in a heavenly vision, and I saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light, which eclipsed the sun at noonday. They told me that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines..."

A photograph of a page of the history book by Rupp

You can read all of these accounts at or in the book, Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820-1844, John W. Welch, ed. (Brigham Young University Press: Provo, Utah and Deseret Book: Salt Lake City, Utah, 2005) 3-19.


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. One thing I love about reading the various versions of Joseph Smith's vision are that the place that we call "The Sacred Grove," he calls "the silent grove" and "the secret grove." 
  • Do you have your own silent, secret, sacred grove? If not, can you find a place--a room, a closet, a secluded space outdoors--that will work for you? 
  • Have you seen the hand of the Lord preparing you for a conviction of the truth? 
  • Spend some time today writing about ways that God prepared you, arranged your environment, put people in your path, or brought ideas to your mind that grew your testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Keep this testament close at hand for any times when your faith wavers or when others need to be strengthened. Like Joseph Smith, be careful which parts you share with which audiences--always be guided by the Spirit when sharing sacred stories.


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 be easily reached, but others will be like black bamboo, covered in a nearly impenetrable hard shell.  We can help to nurture those seeds through our example, 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, despite the fact that there is no outward evidence that the seed will ever sprout.

Thank the Lord for the Restoration! 


This is a jaw-dropping treatise on the First Vision as a prelude to the Endowment and as a pattern of the entire Gospel, presented at the 2019 FAIR Mormon Conference by historian Don Bradley. Don had left the Church but then returned when he studied the First Vision in order to prove that it was a fake. I highly recommend it! You can read the transcript  or listen to the audio or find FAIRMormon on your own podcast app and play Episode 40, "Joseph Smith's First Vision as Endowment and Epitome of the Gospel (or Why I Came Back to the Church)."


To learn about another great prophet who was prepared by the Lord for the Restoration watch "A Search For Truth,"  the story of Wilford Woodruff's conversion. It is definitely worth your time.


Ramona Gordy 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.

Rebotco said...

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

Nancy Wyatt 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

Anonymous said...

Really appreciate the insight. Helps me to understand in different ways and different perspective. Please keep this up