How often should we read, study, and retell the Joseph Smith—History in the Pearl of Great Price? In the late 1960’s, my Mission Handbook and President Thomas S. Monson (the Apostle assigned to oversee European missions at that time) recommended that we reread it “once a week.” Being able to share the Prophet Joseph’s testimony was one of the most important messages that we needed to be prepared to do.
A Five-Minute Mission Testimony
I remember one difficult day when my temporary exchange companion and I were going door-to-door in an older neighborhood of West Germany, and no one was willing to listen to us. My companion became so discouraged that he said that we should just give up and go home for dinner. I felt, however, that we should continue until the end of the block.
When we knocked on the last door, a woman invited us to come into her living room with the warning that she only had five minutes to listen to us. Immediately, I felt the whisperings of the Holy Ghost prompt me to know that the most important thing that I needed to tell her was about Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
I explained that a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith living in New York in the 1820’s had questions about his personal salvation and which church he should join. After he read a verse in the Holy Bible that encouraged, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God … and it shall be given him” (James 1:5), he decided to go alone into the forest near his home and kneel to pray. In fact, it was the first time in his life that he had ever prayed vocally. In answer to his prayer, a pillar of light descended through the trees, and God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared before him. Heavenly Father addressed Joseph by name and then pointed to Jesus and said, “This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17). Jesus answered Joseph’s questions. He was told not to join any church (Joseph Smith—History 1:19) and to know that “all is well” (Joseph Smith—History 1:20) regarding the future of his salvation.
Then, I tearfully shared my testimony that I knew that Joseph Smith had actually seen and spoken to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Under their direction, other heavenly messengers were sent years later who empowered him to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. I concluded by telling her that each one of us can have our questions answered through study and prayer and guidance from God.
When I finished, I could tell that what I had said in less than five minutes had touched her as well, for there were tears in her eyes. After a brief moment of silence, she thanked us for sharing our message, and we left. Unfortunately, I never returned to that city nor heard whether that exchange companion made any follow-up contacts. In those brief five minutes, though, I knew that I shared one of most important events that has occurred upon this earth. Additionally, I still hope and pray that my testimony helped the woman who opened her door for five minutes to understand that she too could be guided by heavenly light and inspiration.
Continuing to Study Joseph Smith’s First Vision
One of the “Ideas for Personal Scripture Study” in the January 4-10, 2021 Come, Follow Me lesson explains: “During his life, Joseph Smith recorded his experiences in the Sacred Grove at least four times … Each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience, just as the four Gospels help us understand the Savior’s ministry.” To review Joseph’s other accounts, see First Vision Accounts (Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). Additionally, A six-episode podcast series from the editors of The Joseph Smith Papers analyzes Joseph Smith’s First Vision: see Latter-day Saints Channel, iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and RSS feed.
Some of Joseph Smith’s First Vision accounts have only been documented and printed as a result of 20th century research efforts. Concerning the 1832 account, Elder Richard J. Maynes, of the Presidency of the Seventy, explained that this account (much of it written in Joseph’s hand) was found in the following way: “After the pioneers’ trek West, it remained packed in a trunk for several years and was generally unknown until it was published in a master’s thesis in 1965 (See Paul R. Cheesman, “An Analysis of the Accounts Relating Joseph Smith’s Early Visions,” [master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1965], 126–32, scholarsarchive.byu.edu.). …The 1835 account was recorded in Joseph’s journal by his scribe. It was not included in early editions of Joseph’s history and was first published in BYU Studies in the 1960s” (“The First Vision: Key to Truth,” Ensign, June 2017). Each of these accounts confirm Joseph Smith’s testimony of the First Vision and can also strengthen our individual testimonies.
The Heavens Are Open
Thankfully research and revelation continue in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the April 2020 general conference, President Russell M. Nelson announced that to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, “an event that changed the world … initiated the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times … We, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles, issue the following proclamation. Its title is ‘The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World’” (“Hear Him,” Ensign, May 2020, 90-91).
This proclamation’s concluding words invite us to seek truth through study and prayer: “With reverence and gratitude, we as His Apostles invite all to know—as we do—that the heavens are open. We affirm that God is making known His will for His beloved sons and daughters. We testify that those who prayerfully study the message of the Restoration and act in faith will be blessed to gain their own witness of its divinity and of its purpose to prepare the world for the promised Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (“Hear Him,” 91-92).