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On Thursday, June 27, 2002, Maurine and I were privileged to be at a press conference just before the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple. Among the many interesting questions that were asked of President Gordon B. Hinckley was this one: “Do you think Joseph and Hyrum will be here today?” His answer: “I think there will be many here today from the unseen world.” The very thought thrilled us.
Near the beginning of the session (and we were there in the Priesthood Assembly Room with the Prophet), President Hinckley said, “I feel today the presence of…(and then he did that characteristic little cough when he used to try to cover his emotions—and we thought he was going to say “Joseph and Hyrum”)…the Father and the Son.” The Spirit bore witness to our souls of the truth of that statement and we were thrilled in every part of our being.
Have the Father and the Son visited this earth and made themselves manifest on more occasions than The First Vision? Yes!
I only write a few critically important things in those end pages of my paper scriptures that are blank and one of the things I recorded more than twenty years ago in the back of my Triple Combination was the various visions of the Father and the Son. Here is a photograph of my own set of scriptures:
Surely there are many more visions and visitations than the following, but let’s explore the records we have readily available.
ONE: The First Vision
It is a spine-tingling thrill that in answer to Joseph Smith’s prayer in a beautiful woods on the Joseph and Lucy Smith Farm in Manchester Township, New York, the Father and the Son appeared to him!
The most current research from Meridian writers John P. Pratt and John C. Lefgren place the day of this visit as Sunday, March 26, 1820. The article published on this discovery was one of the most read in Meridian’s history.
Joseph’s humble prayer was truly answered and the voice of the Father opened the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times with eight words: “Joseph. This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” What clear direction for each of us in these times—to hear the Son of God, even Jesus Christ and follow whatever He directs us and His Church to do.
Joseph’s description of Deity was powerful: “I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air.[i] In another account Joseph said he “saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day.”[ii]
Later Joseph testified boldly: “I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.”[iii]
President Hinckley testified of The First Vision: “We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith. When I was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the 60 Minutes program, he asked me if I actually believed that. I replied, “Yes, sir. That’s the miracle of it.”. That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.”[iv]
TWO: The Ordination of the First High Priests
In an obscure little log schoolhouse in Northern Ohio (on the Isaac and Lucy Morley Farm in Kirtland) on Friday, June 3, 1831, a number of the brethren gathered for a special priesthood meeting. The gathering was for the ordaining of the first high priests in this Dispensation.
Three men, Joseph Smith, Lyman Wight and Harvey Whitlock had a vision of the the Father and the Son. Levi Hancock, who was there, recorded that the Prophet Joseph was speaking to the elders when he “stepped out on the floor and said, ‘I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.”[v]
John Whitmer, who was the official Church historian at the time, reported the following for that occasion: “The spirit of the Lord fell upon Joseph in an unusual manner…He prophesied many…things that I have not written. After he had prophesied he laid his hands upon Lyman Wight [ordained him] to the High Priesthood after the Holy Order of God. And the spirit fell upon Lyman, and he prophesied, concerning the coming of Christ…He saw the heavens opened, and the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the Father. Making intercession for his brethren, the Saints. He said that God would work a work in these last days that tongue cannot express, and the mind is not capable to conceive. The glory of the Lord shone around.”[vi]
Those who were ordained to the high priesthood at this conference included: Lyman Wight, Sidney Rigdon, John Murdock, Reynolds Cahoon, Harvey Whitlock, Hyrum Smith, Parley P. Pratt, Thomas B. Marsh, Isaac Morley, Edward Partridge, Joseph Wakefield, Ezra Thayer, Martin Harris, Ezra Booth (who later denied the faith), Harvey Whitlock (also denied the faith), Joseph Wakefield, Joseph Smith, Sen., Joseph Smith, Jr. and John Whitmer.
I purposely give you the names of those present to remind us that there were many witnesses and various visions were given during this conference. Perhaps one day we will have more journals and accounts come forth of this glorious gathering.
It was in that same small schoolhouse that the priesthood brethren later gathered for another meeting in April 1834. Wilford Woodruff gives the account: “The Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland. … When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel with him to bear testimony of this work. … When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren, I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.’ I was rather surprised. He said, ‘It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’”[vii]
THREE: The Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory
On September 12, 1831, Joseph and Emma moved to the home of John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, Ohio. Here Joseph continued on the vast project of a new translation of the Bible. This would take Joseph and his scribes 37 months to complete (in contrast to the approximate 63 days to translate the Book of Mormon from the gold plates).
During the translation on Thursday, February 16, 1832, Joseph and Sidney (Rigdon) came upon a passage of scripture in John chapter 5 which caused them to wonder:
“For while we were doing the work of translation, which the Lord had appointed unto us, we came to the twenty-ninth verse of the fifth chapter of John, which was given unto us as follows—Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man: And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust. Now this caused us to marvel, for it was given unto us of the Spirit. And while we meditated upon these things, the Lord touched the eyes of our understandings and they were opened, and the glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshipping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever.”[viii]
There were about a dozen other men in the room who witnessed Joseph and Sidney having this vision. One, Philo Dibble, recorded:
“Joseph would, at intervals, say: ‘What do I see?’ as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then Sidney replied, ‘I see the same.’ Presently Sidney would say ‘what do I see?’ and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing, and Joseph would reply, ‘I see the same.’
“This manner of conversation was reported at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.
“Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am.’”[ix]
Joseph and Sidney testified: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”[x]
Joseph later wrote of this vision of the three degrees of glory:
“Nothing could be more pleasing to the Saints upon the order of the Kingdom of the Lord, than the light which burst upon the world through the foregoing vision. Every law, every commandment, every promise, every truth, and every point touching the destiny of man, from Genesis to Revelation, where the purity of the Scriptures remains unsullied by the folly of men, go to show the perfection of the theory [of different degrees of glory in the future life] and witnesses the fact that that document is a transcript from the records of the eternal world. The sublimity of the ideas; the purity of the language; the scope for action; the continued duration for completion, in order that the heirs of salvation may confess the Lord and bow the knee; the rewards for faithfulness, and the punishments for sins, are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to exclaim: ‘It came from God.’”[xi]
FOUR: The Organization of The First Presidency
The Newel K. Whitney Store in Kirtland, Ohio became the headquarters of the Church for about 18 months beginning in the fall of 1832. Newel and Ann Whitney had worked very hard for the past year preparing four rooms for Joseph and Emma to have their home there, mostly above the store: A bedroom, a study, a meeting room and a kitchen.
It was in the meeting room or what we call the School of the Prophets where 24 of the brethren had been meeting to study the scriptures and learn languages such as Hebrew. A series of lectures on faith were prepared and delivered here in this room.
On Monday, March 18, 1833 the First Presidency was organized for the first time in this Dispensation. This day was truly a glorious day of revelation and vision. After the ordination of the presidency, the Prophet Joseph recorded:
“I exhorted the brethren to faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandment of God, and gave much instruction for the benefit of the Saints, with a promise that the pure in heart should see a heavenly vision; and after remaining a short time in secret prayer, the promise was verified; for many present had the eyes of their understanding opened by the Spirit of God, so as to behold many things…Many of the brethren saw a heavenly vision of the Savior, and concourses of angels, and many other things, of which each one has a record of what he saw.”[xii]
One brother, Zebedee Coltrin, recorded that he saw the Savior and then saw God the Father who “was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but His person. I saw His hands, His legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man…This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones.”[xiii]
Another brother, John Murdock, experienced a glorious vision of the Savior in that same meeting:
“The visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely! The visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair, a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes, a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white, and He was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely! And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage, from head to feet, it slipped from me, and the Vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never before felt, to that degree.”[xiv]
FIVE: Vision of the Celestial Kingdom
Joseph was in his office on the third floor of the unfinished Kirtland Temple about two months before the dedication. The date: Thursday, January 21, 1836. About ten other Church leaders were there with him. In this meeting Joseph “saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept. ” (HC2:381).
Some of the earliest washings and anointings were done in this meeting. The Spirit was present in a great degree. Joseph recorded: “At early candle-light I met with the Presidency at the west school room, in the Temple, to attend to the ordinance of anointing our heads with holy oil; also the Councils of Kirtland and Zion met in the two adjoining rooms, and waited in prayer while we attended to the ordinance. I took the oil in my left hand, Father Smith being seated before me, and the remainder of the Presidency encircled him round about. We then stretched our right hands towards heaven, and blessed the oil, and consecrated it in the name of Jesus Christ.
“We then laid our hands upon our aged Father Smith, and invoked the blessings of heaven. I then anointed his head with the consecrated oil, and sealed many blessings upon him. The Presidency then in turn laid their hands upon his head, beginning at the oldest, until they had all laid their hands upon him, and pronounced such blessings upon his head, as the Lord put into their hearts, all blessing him to be our Patriarch, to anoint our heads, and attend to all duties that pertain to that office…
“The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell. I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire; also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold. I saw Fathers Adam and Abraham, and my father and mother, my brother, Alvin, that has long since slept, and marvelled as that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set His hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins. Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying—All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom, for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts. And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability, are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.”[xv]
This vision was so personally powerful for the Prophet Joseph. His youthful heart had nearly burst when his brother Alvin had suddenly passed away just eight weeks after the first visit of the Angel Moroni. Alvin at that time was Joseph’s very best friend, his trusted confidant and his protector. Joseph had been concerned about Alvin’s salvation since he had died before the keys of the priesthood and the authority of baptism had been restored. What great comfort this vision gave to Joseph and now to the whole Church!
SIX: Introduction of Anointing with Oil to Priesthood Quorums
Just seven days after the great vision of the celestial kingdom, Joseph and his counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, gathered in the Kirtland Temple with about 100 other priesthood holders. In this meeting the leaders introduced the ancient ordinance of anointing with oil. Joseph Smith pronounced a number of sealing blessings upon the heads of the brethren.
The Spirit was poured out upon all present and many beheld visions and saw angels. “Elder Roger Orton saw a mighty angel riding upon a horse of fire, with a flaming sword in his hand, followed by five others, encircle the house, and protect the Saints, even the Lord’s anointed, from the power of Satan and a host of evil spirits, which were striving to disturb the Saints.
“President William Smith, one of the Twelve, saw the heavens opened, and the Lord’s host protecting the Lord’s anointed.
“President Zebedee Coltrin, one of the seven presidents of the Seventy, saw the Savior extended before him, as upon the cross, and a little after, crowned with glory upon his head above the brightness of the sun.”[xvi]
One of the brothers present, Harrison Burgess, wrote of this experience in his autobiography. He recorded that in the middle of the meeting, “Joseph exclaimed aloud, ‘I behold the Savior, the Son of God.”[xvii]
We learn from Charles Lowell Walker, one of the Church’s great diary keepers, that he heard Harrison Burgess say that Joseph saw both the Father and the Son. Walker recorded his words in his journal:
“Br Harrison Burgess spoke of the first Endowments given in the Kirtland Temple and that all the quorums met at one time in the Attic; Joseph and Hyrum met with them. He said that all at once there was a Heavenly and Divine Atmosphere surrounded them, and it seemed as if the rafters and Beams were all gone and Joseph gazing up said, I see the Son of God sitting at the right hand of the Father. Hyrum at the same instant said, I behold the Angels of Heaven, and Roger Orton said, I see Horses and Chariots of Heaven.”[xviii]
This would be the beginning of a season of visions and heavenly visitations experienced by hundreds of the Saints in the Kirtland area.
Joseph Smith was personally ministered to and/or visited by no less than 56 heavenly beings and no less than 86 times, including these documented six visitations or visits from the Father and the Son.
Many hundreds of others have also been ministered to by heavenly messengers and are lay witnesses of the divinity of this great work.
The great promise in the allegory of Zenos concerning the very last time has been fulfilled over and over again in this Dispensation:
“And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.
“And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.”[xix]
Author’s note: Special thanks to my dear friend Karl Ricks Anderson who has gathered so much of the research and history of the Kirtland period of Church History. His books, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, and The Savior in Kirtland are required reading for any serious student of Church History.
[i] Joseph Smith History 1: 17.
[ii] ““Church History,” 1 March 1842,” p. 707, The Joseph Smith Papers.
[iii] Joseph Smith History 1:25.
[iv] Hinckley, Gordon B. “The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” General Conference, October 2002.
[v] The Life of Levi Hancock, p. 33 (emphasis added).
[vi] See Book of John Whitmer, by John Whitmer, Chapter 7, paragraphs 3,4,5 and 6 (emphasis added).
[vii] Wilford Woodruff, in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, p. 57.
[viii] See D&C 76:15-21 (emphasis added).
[ix] Philo Dibble, in Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303–4.
[x] D&C 76:22-24.
[xi] “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Historical Record, January 1888, p. 402.
[xii] Smith, Joseph. History of the Church, Volume 1: 334-35.
[xiii] Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883.
[xiv] Murdock, John. “A Brief Synopsis of the Life of John Murdock,” p. 14.
[xv] See History of the Church, Volume 2: 379-381. Also see D&C 137.
[xvi] See History of the Church Volume 2: 386-87 and also Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, editors, Journals, 1832-1839, volume 1:174-75.
[xvii] Burgess, Harrison, “Sketch of a Well-Spent Life,” in Labors in the Vineyard in Classic Experiences and Adventures (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), p. 67.
[xviii] Diary of Charles Lowell Walker, ed. A. Karl Larson and Katharine Miles Larson, 2 Vols. (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1980), 2: 483.
[xix] See Jacob 5:71-72.