In the spring of 1820 a 14 year old Joseph, went into a grove of trees behind his house to pray. There, to quote Ezra Taft Benson “…the greatest event that has occurred in the world since the resurrection of the Master” took place.  Joseph Smith recorded in his history “… 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 aid, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
This event restored significant information about God the Father and His son Jesus Christ that had been lost. Throughout the history of the earth there has been a pattern of apostasy followed by restoration of eternal truths. Before Joseph Smith’s first vision, the last restoration was seen with Jesus, and his twelve apostles. With the death of the apostles went the authority to act in the name of Jesus Christ, and the fullness of His gospel. Knowledge of who the Savior is, and having a personal, direct relationship with him was taken from the earth. That would all change through the faith of a boy with a burning question for the Lord. He wanted to know which church to join to gain salvation for his soul. In this one moment the veil of darkness that cloaked the world was rent, and truth about who God was and his eternal plan for His children was revealed.
According to an article written by Andrew C. Skinner, who was the Dean of Religious Education at BYU, at least 14 things were restored to the earth about God the Father and Jesus Christ:
- “· God the Father and Jesus Christ are alive and reside in heaven
- · Their relationship is a familial one—Father to Son.
- · They are separate and distinct personages, not one spiritual essence.
- · They possess a glory beyond description.
- · They look, act, and speak like human beings.
- · Humans are created in the image of the Father and the Son.
- · The Father and the Son hear and answer prayers.
- · The Father and the Son know individuals by name.
- · There is an opponent to righteousness; he is real.
- · That adversary to righteousness tries to thwart prayer.
- · Revelation was a continuing reality seventeen hundred years after the so-called era of primitive Christianity.
- · The Father testifies of His Son and the Son of God deals directly with humankind.
- · There had been an apostasy from Christ’s Church.
- · None of the churches on the earth in Joseph’s day possessed the fullness of Christ’s gospel.”
Through Joseph Smith, God’s children would once again know Him. They would have access to Him, and have eternal ties with their loved ones. For the first time since Christ walked the earth, God’s children would have a fullness of knowledge, blessings and happiness. The impact of that spring day in 1820 would change millions of lives, yet powerfully and very personally affect every individual. Just as Joseph was given knowledge that God lives and Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world, we too can have a witness that we are loved and part of a great plan of happiness. This is the miracle of what happened in the grove, and the greatness of the Prophet Joseph. He reintroduced a personal, individual link to the Savior, and cleared the path home to our Heavenly Father.
The first vision was not known as the first vision to Joseph. In fact, he rarely spoke of it while alive. Historically we have four written accounts, the first one being recorded in 1832. He did not tell his family- his mother recalls that he came in to the house physically weakened she asked him what was wrong, and he replied: “Never mind all is well.—I am well enough off.” He went on to say that he had learned for himself that Presbyterianism was not true. The only person he confided in was a local minister he was good friends with. It was not until he had received instruction from Moroni that we have any accounts of his family knowing. It was not general knowledge amongst the early Saints; conversion was based on testimony of the Book of Mormon. It was not until the last people that knew Joseph personally were dead, and that living link to the prophet was gone; that the church begins to publicly tell the story of the First Vision and it becomes part of church literature. Firsthand accounts of the Prophet were no longer enough. Faithfulness demanded living testimony and a witness of the Book of Mormon from the Holy Ghost.
Ezra Taft Benson also said “Not all men will perceive the hand of God in this latter-day work. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3.) Without the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, there will be some who will see nothing more to the progress of the Church than a social curiosity”.
The same is true for Joseph. What kind of a man can found a church? What are his personality traits? What kind of charisma does it take to gather thousands of People from two continents to gather as he did? What kind of person will compel hundreds to stand for hours in the pouring rain to hear him preach? To have many offer to give their lives for him? A man who would be involved in over 225 court cases, ridiculed in public for doing housework, and helping Emma care for the children, having a consistent habit of sharpening any tool loaned him before it was returned, and being grateful to anyone that offered help to him or his family. At one point he pronounced eternal blessing upon a man that had chopped firewood for Emma while he was in jail.
Joel’s third great grandfather Ezekiel Johnson was tied to a wagon wheel and whipped until he died, because he would not renounce his testimony of Joseph Smith. Ezekiel was not even a baptized member of the church when this occurred.
People loved him because he emanated the Love of the Savior. They could feel the love of Christ, when he spoke. They felt their hearts pricked with the familiarity of a former life, and a familiar person. They knew him, and he knew them. People, who only had brief interactions with him, would be so profoundly affected that it was remembered throughout their entire lives. Joseph had a gift from God to lift others out of this world, and give them tastes of heaven, and reminders to their spirit of what they already knew. He lifted people to Christ, and brought Christ to them. Through Joseph, Christ had indeed been restored. What rejoicing it must have been for the Savior to know that there was a man on the earth that people’s spirits would respond to, and that would stir them up in remembrance of how much he loved them.
After what Parley P Pratt said was Joseph lifting a corner of the veil for him he said. “It was Joseph Smith who taught me how to prize the endearing relationships of father and mother, husband and wife; of brother and sister, son and daughter. It was from him that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity; and that the refined sympathies and affections which endeared us to each other emanated from the fountain of divine eternal love. It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. … I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling, which would lift my soul from the transitory things of this groveling sphere and expand it as the ocean. … In short, I could now love with the spirit and with the understanding also.”2
John Taylor, Prophet of the Lord and third President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said this about the Prophet Joseph Smith:
“Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fullness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!”