How Did Mormonism Begin?
THE FIRST VISION OF JOSEPH SMITH
Joseph Smith, the forefather of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was born in Vermont in 1805. His family was poor and moved several times before finally residing near Palmyra, New York. Because he did not have opportunity to attend school, Joseph learned only the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Smith offers a unique explanation of the Mormon origin. As a child, numerous churches surrounded him, each claiming to teach the truth. He wrote:
I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: “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.”Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine…I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (J. Smith 48)
Smith was fourteen years old in the spring of 1820 when he became troubled over religious division surrounding him. He spoke of a religious revival that took place in the area:
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist….During this time of great excitement [a revival] 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. (J. Smith 47-48)
Joseph was confused as to which church on earth was true, and so he went into a grove of trees near his home in Palmyra, New York. He began to pray, seeking the answer. Smith described his alleged encounter:
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! (J. Smith 49)