Saturday, January 04, 2014

The First Vision Series - Conclusions and Links

I've reviewed the major accounts of the First Vision.  There are other accounts, but for the most part, they repeat the accounts I reviewed.

What have I learned from all this?  I learned these things are certain.

I learned Joseph thought a lot about the eternities.

I learned there had to be a catalyst that drove him to seek God in prayer.

I learned Joseph experienced something profound in his teenage years.  He saw (either physically or in a vision), Jesus or God the Father or an angel or numerous angels or a combination of all of them.

I learned he was forgiven of his sins.

I learned Joseph took his spiritual salvation seriously - he did not leave it to chance or to any other man.

As a reference, I'll include some other summaries of the various accounts of the First Vision.  These do a great job listing the different accounts and how they differ.

Comparison of 9 First Vision Accounts
Primary Accounts of Joseph Smith's First Vision of Deity
Comparing Early Accounts of the First Vision

Friday, January 03, 2014

The First Vision Series - Orson Pratt, 1840

I've copied below the text from the Orson Pratt 1840 account.

When somewhere about fourteen or fifteen years old, he began seriously to reflect upon the necessity of being prepared for a future state of existence: but how, or in what way, to prepare himself, was a question, as yet, undetermined in his own mind: he perceived that it was a question of infinite importance, and that the salvation of his soul depended upon a correct understanding of the same. He saw, that if he understood not the way, it would be impossible to walk in it, except by chance; and the thought of resting his hopes of eternal life upon chance, or uncertainties, was more than he could endure. If he went to the religious denominations to seek information, each one pointed to its particular tenets, saying— “This is the way, walk ye in it;” (Isaiah 30:21) while, at the same time, the doctrines of each were, in many respects, in direct opposition to one another. It, also, occurred to his mind, that God was not the author of but one doctrine, and therefore could not acknowledge but one denomination as his church; and that such denomination must be a people, who believe, and teach, that one doctrine, (what ever it may be,) and build upon the same. He then reflected upon the immense number of doctrines, now, in the world, which had given rise to many hundreds of different denominations. The great question to be decided in his mind, was—if any one of these denominations be the Church of Christ, which one is it? Until he could become satisfied, in relation to this question, he could not rest contented. To trust to the decisions of fallible man, and build his hopes upon the same, without any certainty, and knowledge, of his own, would not satisfy the anxious desires that pervaded his breast. To decide, without any positive and definite evidence, on which he could rely, upon a subject involving the future welfare of his soul, was revolting to his feelings. The only alternative, that seemed to be left him, was to read the Scriptures, and endeavour to follow their directions. He, accordingly, commenced perusing the sacred pages of the Bible, with sincerity, believing the things that he read. His mind soon caught hold of the following passage:—“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 i. 5. From this promise he learned, that it was the privilege of all men to ask God for wisdom, with the sure and certain expectation of receiving, liberally; without being upbraided for so doing. This was cheering information to him: tidings that gave him great joy. It was like a light shining forth in a dark place, to guide him to the path in which he should walk. He, now, saw that if he inquired of God, there was, not only, a possibility, but a probability; yea, more, a certainty, that he should obtain a knowledge, which, of all the doctrines, was the doctrine of Christ; and, which, of all the churches, was the church of Christ. He, therefore, retired to a secret place, in a grove, but a short distance from his father’s house, and knelt down, and began to call upon the Lord. At first, he was severely tempted by the powers of darkness, which endeavoured to overcome him; but he continued to seek for deliverance, until darkness gave way from his mind; and he was enabled to pray, in fervency of the spirit, and in faith. And, while thus pouring out his soul, anxiously desiring an answer from God, he, at length, saw a very bright and glorious light in the heavens above; which, at first, seemed to be at a considerable distance. He continued praying, while the light appeared to be gradually descending towards him; and, 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. He 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, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending, slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and, immediately, his mind was caught away, from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision, and saw two glorious personages, who exactly resembled each other in their features or likeness. He was informed, that his sins were forgiven. He was also informed upon the subjects, which had for some time previously agitated his mind, viz.—that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines; and, consequently, that none of them was acknowledged of God, as his church and kingdom. And he was expressly commanded, to go not after them; and he received a promise that the true doctrine— the fulness of the gospel, should, at some future time, be made known to him; after which, the vision withdrew, leaving his mind in a state of calmness and peace, indescribable.

This Orson Pratt account from 1840 is actually quite moving and flows very well.  It blends all the other versions so well.  This account flows so naturally too.  All the gaps and missing pieces from the other accounts seem to be filled by this account.

I underlined four sections above, which, to me, stand out significantly when the whole subject of the First Vision is considered.

The first section hits upon the notion of whether we put our trust in fallible men with regard to religion.  We learn from Orson Pratt's account that Joseph had tremendous anxiety about trusting in fallible men when his eternal salvation was at stake.  He wanted certainty in this regard.  As Pratt describes, Joseph wanted "positive and definitive evidence" regarding the welfare of his soul.  Without such evidence, he was "revolted."  Going back to what I tried to saw in a previous post - generally speaking, people don't have this anxiety any more.  And even if they do, that are almost always told to "have faith" and that their testimony does not depend on "definitive evidence."

The second section is a variation of this same thought.  Joseph felt confident in James 1:5.  He did not leave his testimony up for chance.  He went directly to The Source with a "sure and certain expectation" of getting knowledge.

The third section paints a very different picture than I had ever envisioned.  Pratt describes how the light appeared far off and as Joseph kept praying, the light got nearer.  In the other accounts, I always got the impression that the appearance was sudden.  But this account describes how it was gradual.  This description reminds me of how the Savior descended to the Nephites (3 Nephi 11:8).

Lastly, the fourth section describes the how the vision went from physical to spiritual.  This was very similar to Joseph's 1842 account where he said his "mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision."  Pratt fills in one small gap and notes how when the light came upon Joseph, it "produced peculiar sensation" before he was en-wrapped in a vision.