Joseph Smith, Jr. was born into a newly formed country, stumbling to its feet after winning its independence against Britain. Religious fervor was sweeping the nation and preachers from all factions of Christianity were calling the people to repentance.
Like his father, Joseph had a difficult time choosing which church to attend. His mother and three of his siblings were partial to the Presbyterian church, but he still had doubts. He attended church meetings and revivals.
He studied the scriptures and he talked often with his parents about religion, and yet, that inner peace — that sure knowledge — kept eluding him. Over the course of time, as he continued to study, he became drawn to the Methodist church. Of this time, he later wrote:
“During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; but though my feelings were deep and often poignant, still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit.
In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” JSH 1:8
One day, while reading the book of James, he came across one of the most well-known scriptures in LDS history: “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.” James 1:5.
This is exactly what young Joseph did, for he was only 14 years old. Early one morning, in the spring of 1820, Joseph knelt in solemn and humble prayer. All he wanted to know was which church was true. His faith was such that he believed he would receive that answer, just as was promised in James.
What he did not, even could not, expect was the appearance of God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ. Of this momentous occasion in his life as well as the history of mankind, he said:
“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 offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. 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 marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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!
“My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “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.” JSH 1:15-19
For the remainder of his life, regardless of how many painful and tortuous ways his enemies tried, Joseph Smith, Jr. never ever recanted this testimony. Denying truth does not make it any less true, and he never denied the truth.
Joseph lived a thousand lifetimes in his scant 38 years on this earth. I could write a thousand posts on him and never come close to covering what he accomplished during his mortal sojourn.
However, I was privileged to spend two years of my life doing nothing but studying the life and times of the prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr. I came to have a deep and abiding love and admiration of this man and all he sacrificed in order to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth.
If there are things you want to know about Joseph, that I have not yet written about, all you have to do is ask and if it is appropriate, it will be covered in an upcoming post.
I’m excited to be blogging in this category — covering the prophets throughout the history of the world to this modern time. Drop back by often — we’ll explore them together.