Feast upon the Word Blog

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D&C Lesson 3, part 3

Posted by cherylem on January 15, 2009

And here I post the last of Mack Stirling’s Institute notes on JSH1:1-26, The FIRST VISION

I know these notes are tough to get through, and the format doesn’t always copy very well, but I promise that working through them is a worthy use of your time.


More insights into the First Vision from the other three accounts (see Dean C. Jessee: “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision” in Studies in Scripture Vol 2, The Pearl of Great Price. P. 303-314, Randall Book, 1985).








Poverty of family

Limited education













Three years pondering the scriptures




Worried about his sins and the sins of mankind







Seeks mercy from God “cry in wilderness”






Speaks only of seeing Christ

Receives remission of sins



 Christ describes worldwide apostasy and alludes to second coming.








Joseph’s soul filled with joy for many days; none believed him

1832 account of first vision. Handwriting: Frederick G. Williams & Joseph Smith Jr. (the story itself is in the handwriting of Joseph Smith Jr.) recorded between summer 1832 and November 1832.


. . . . and being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the Support of a large Family having nine children and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the Support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education Suffice it to Say I was mearly instructed in reading {and} writing and the ground [rules] of Arithmatic which constuted my whole literary acquirements. At about the age of twelve years my mind became seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the wellfare of my immortal Soul which led me to Searching the Scriptures believeing as I was taught, that they contained the word of God thus applying myself to them and my intimate acquaintance with those of differant denominations led me to marvel excedingly far I discovered that [they did not {adorn}] {instead} Of adorning their profession by a holy walk and Godly conversation agreeable to what I found contained in that Sacred depository this was a grief to my Soul thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the sittuation of the world of mankind the contentions and divions the wickeness and abominations and the darkness which pervaded the {of the} minds of mankind my mind become excedingly distressed for I became convicted of my Sins and by Searching the Scriptures I found that {mand} [mankind] did not come unto the Lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament and I felt to mourn for my own Sins and for the Sins of the world . . . .


therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy forthere was none else to whom I could go and {to} obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in [the] attitude of calling upon the Lord [in the 16th* year of my age] a pillar of {fire} light above the brightness of the Sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filld with the Spirit of God and the [Lord] opened the heavens upon me and I Saw the Lord and he Spake unto me Saying Joseph [my son] thy Sins are forgiven thee. go thy [way] walk in my Statutes and keep my commandments behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life [behold] the world lieth in sin {and} at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the Gospel and keep not [my] commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them acording to this ungodliness and to bring to pass that which [hath] been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles behold and lo I come quickly as it written of me in the cloud [clothed] in the glory of my Father and my Soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the hevenly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart . . .

Words enclosed by {} indicate deletion by cross out– words enclosed by [] indicate insertion with ^ mark.






Concern for eternal consequences








 More details of experience with darkness à sensation of a noise of a person coming






 “pillar of fire”



one personage followed by a second (Christ)

sins forgiven

saw many angels

1835 account from diary

written by Warren A. Cowdery. Monday Nov. 9th. . .

. . . I knew not who was right or who was wrong, but considered it of the first importance to me that I should be right, in matters of so much moment, matter involving eternal consequences. Being thus perplexed in mind I retired to the silent grove and there bowed down before the Lord, under a realizing sense (if the bible be true) ask and you shall receive, knock and it shall be opened, seek and you shall find, and again, if any man lack wisdom, let of God who giveth to all men liberally & upbraideth not. Information was what I most desired at this time, and with a fixed determination to obtain it, I called on the Lord for the first time in the place above stated, or in other words, I made a fruitless attempt to pray My tongue seemed to be swoolen in my mouth, so that I could not utter, I heard a noise behind me like some one walking towards me. I strove again to pray, but could not; the noise of walking seemed to draw nearer, I sprang upon my feet and looked round, but saw no person or thing that was calculated to produce the noise of walking. I kneeled again, my mouth was opened and my tongue loosed; I called on the Lord in mighty prayer. A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un-speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication. . .





Conflicting plans of salvation




(omits references to encounter with darkness and to his sins)









Softer condemnation of other churches



Promise of restoration of fullness of Gospel.


Wentworth letter account of first vision. 1842.


. . . When about fourteen years of age I began to reflect upon the importance of being prepared for a future state, and upon enquiring the plan of salvation I found that there was a great clash in religious sentiment; if I went to one society they referred me to one plan, and another to another; each one pointing to his own particular creed as the summum bonum of perfection: considering that all could not be right, and that God could not be the author of so much confusion I . . . .


I retired to a secret place in a grove and began to call upon the Lord, while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and 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. They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to “go not after them,” at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.





Summary by James E. Faust


There has been no event more glorious, more controversial, nor more important in the story of Joseph Smith than this vision. It is possibly the most singular event to occur on the earth since the Resurrection. Those who do not believe it happened find it difficult to explain away. Too much has happened since its occurrence to summarily deny that it ever took place. (Ensign, May 1984, p. 67)


What was learned from the First Vision?

1. The existence of God our Father as a personal being, and proof that man was made in the image of God.

2. That Jesus is a personage, separate and distinct from the Father.

3. That Jesus Christ is declared by the Father to be his Son.

4. That Jesus was the conveyer of revelation as taught in the Bible.

5. The promise of James to ask of God for wisdom was fulfilled.

6. The reality of an actual being from an unseen world who tried to destroy Joseph Smith.

7. That there was a falling away from the Church established by Jesus Christ—Joseph was told not to join any of the sects, for they taught the doctrines of men.

8. Joseph Smith became a witness for God and his Son, Jesus Christ.

(Ensign, May 1984, p. 68)



1.  The nature of God (and man).


It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us.    (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345-6)


If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. (TPJS, p. 343)


Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach him, and how to ask so as to receive an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to Him, he begins to unfold the heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to him, he is ready to come to us.  (TPJS, p. 350).


The First Vision cuts through centuries of man’s obfuscation of the nature of God and His relationship to man.


The First Vision fixes some meaning on the statement that man was created in the image of God.


2.  Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of the world and resurrected. Revelation comes to mortal man and Christ and not the Father, who only functions to bear witness of Christ.


3.  The opening of the dispensation of the fullness of times.

Eph. 1: 9 Having made known unto us the amystery of his bwill, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

  10 That in the adispensation of the fulness of times he might bgather together in one call things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:


Why did God wait until 1820?


4.  The reality of Satan


The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man.

All beings who have bodies have power over those who have not. The devil has no power over us only as we permit him; the moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power. (TPJS, p. 181)


In relation to the kingdom of God, the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God , , , , (TPJS, p. 365)


The devil could not compel mankind to do evil, all was voluntary. Those who resisted the Spirit of God would be liable to be led into temptation . . . . God would not exert any compulsory means, and the devil could not. (TPJS p. 187)






1.  First Vision supposedly happened in 1820 but not written down until 1838 à simply made up to justify Joseph Smiths “evolving” ideas of the Godhead, apostasy, etc.

Replies to this attack:

·       1832 account written within 2 years because of the commandment to keep a record. 1835 account mentions two personages.

·       Lectures on Faith #5 from 1834-5 teaches clearly about the Father and Son as two personages.

·       Joseph Smith’s understanding of the significance of the First Vision probably did evolve/grow over time.

·       Probably not written early (before 1830) because Joseph considered it a sacred personal experience.

·       Joseph Smith never used the First Vision to establish doctrine.


2.  The different accounts vary so much: additional evidence that Joseph was just making of the story.

Replies to this attack: 

·       No differences in the accounts that cannot be harmonized easily.

·       Differences easily accounted for by considering the audience addressed and normal evolution of understanding over time.


3.  A search of Palmyra newspapers from 1819-1829 shows no notices of revival meetings in Palmyra; but there are notices for 1824 à Joseph conflated the later revival with his lie about the First Vision.


·       This argument is demolished by the Backman article referred to previously: See Awakenings in the Burned-over District by Milton V. Backman Jr. in BYU Studies 1969, p. 301-20.


4.  The Bible says man cannot see God; it also says God is spirit.


Yes, it seems to:


Ex. 33:20  aAnd he said, Thou canst not see my face: for bthere shall no man csee me, and live.


Judges 6: 22 And when Gideon perceived that he was an angel of the Lord, Gideon said, Alas, O Lord God! for because I have seen an aangel of the Lord face to bface.

  23 And the Lord said unto him, Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die.


John 1:   18 No aman hath bseen God at any time; cthe only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath ddeclared him.


John 5:   37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne awitness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor bseen his shape


John 4:23 (NIV): Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

1 Timothy 6: 16 Who only hath aimmortality, dwelling in the blight which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath cseen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

But it also says that men have seen God:

Gen. 32:30 And Jacob called the name of the place aPeniel: for I have bseen God cface to face, and my life is preserved.

Ex. 24:9-11  9 ¶ Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and aseventy of the belders of Israel:

  10 And they asaw the God of Israel: and there was under his bfeet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as cit were the body of heaven in his clearness.

  11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they asaw God, and did eat and drink.

Ex. 33:9-11 9 And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the acloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses.

  10 And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.

  11 And the Lord aspake unto Moses bface to face, as a man cspeaketh unto his dfriend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant eJoshua, the son of fNun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.

Isaiah 6:1, 5:   1 aIn the year that king Uzziah died I bsaw also the cLord sitting upon a dthrone, high and lifted up, and ehis train filled the temple.

  5 ¶ Then said I, Woe is me! for I am aundone; because I am a man of bunclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have cseen the dKing, the Lord of hosts.

Ezekiel 1:26-28 6 ¶ And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the athrone was the likeness as the bappearance of a man above upon it.

  27 And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of afire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.

  28 As the appearance of the abow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the bappearance of the likeness of the cglory of the dLord. And when I saw it, I efell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.

In the following verses, seeing the glorified Christ is the same as seeing the Father:

Rev. 1:13-18

13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the aSon of man, bclothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

  14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his aeyes were as a flame of bfire;

  15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his avoice as the sound of many waters.

  16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged asword: and his bcountenance was as the csun shineth in his strength.

  17 And when I asaw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

  18 I am he that aliveth, and was bdead; and, behold, I am alive for cevermore, Amen; and have the dkeys of ehell and of death.

Luke 24:36-39

36 ¶ And as they thus spake, Jesus himself astood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, bPeace be unto you.

  37 But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.

  38 And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do athoughts arise in your hearts?

  39 Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: ahandle me, and see; for a bspirit hath not cflesh and bones, as ye dsee me have.

Colossians 1:15 Who is the aimage of the invisible bGod, the cfirstborn of devery creature:

Hebrews 1:2-3

  2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his aSon, whom he hath bappointed cheir of all things, by whom also he dmade the eworlds;

  3 Who being the brightness of his aglory, and the express image of his bperson, and upholding all things by the word of his cpower, when he had by himself dpurged our sins, sat down on the eright hand of the fMajesty on high;


à Also see Jeremiah 1:4-11; Habakkuk, 3:3-4; Ezekiel 3:22-23; Daniel 12:4-10; Zechariah 1:12 and 6:1-8; Job 42:1-6


for Christ after the Resurrection: Matthew 28:5-10 and 16-20; Mark 16:9-14; John 20:10-29; Acts 9:3-7 and 17; 22:6-11, 23:11, 26:12-17; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.


Tools to use in resolving the paradox

“Bible not translated correctly.”

1.     Man has clearly feared that seeing God would cause death

·       Related to Girard’s concept of the violetn sacred: to “see God” = become a [deified] victim.

·       Literally true that mortal man seeing God’s glory unprotected by God’s power would die (also see below)

2.     Some Pentateuchal sources felt God could be seen and others did not (Ex. 33:20 versus Ex. 33:9-11).

3.     Joseph Smith may well be the only person who has actually seen God the Father.

4.     Christ came into the world to reveal the Father, so that men could see and know the Father.

5.     Man  ees God only with spiritual, not natural, eyes.


Moses 1:11

But now mine own eyes have abeheld God; but not my bnatural, but my cspiritual eyes, for my dnatural eyes could not have ebeheld; for I should have fwithered and gdied in his presence; but his hglory was upon me; and I beheld his iface, for I was jtransfigured before him.


D&C 67:10-14

  10 And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a apromise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you bstrip yourselves from cjealousies and dfears, and ehumble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the fveil shall be rent and you shall gsee me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual.

  11 For no aman has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.

  12 Neither can any anatural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.

  13 Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, acontinue in patience until ye are bperfected.

  14 Let not your minds aturn back; and when ye are bworthy, in mine own due time, ye shall see and know that which was conferred upon you by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun. Amen.


6.     In an ultimate sense, man in mortality cannot fully comprehend or see the fullness of God’s glory. See 1 Tim. 6:16

Ultimately our salvation is dependent on our ability (with God’s help) to see God – and we should be everlastingly grateful to Joseph Smith for restoring both this concept and the power to do it: this is the whole point of the temple endowment.

D&C 93: 1 VERILY, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who aforsaketh his bsins and cometh unto me, and ccalleth on my name, and dobeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall esee my fface and gknow that I am;


D&C 88: 66 Behold, that which you hear is as the avoice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is bSpirit; my Spirit is truth; ctruth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.

  67 And if your eye be asingle to my bglory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light ccomprehendeth all things.

  68 Therefore, asanctify yourselves that your bminds become csingle to God, and the days will come that you shall dsee him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.


D&C 84:

19 And this greater apriesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the bkey of the cmysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the dknowledge of God.

  20 Therefore, in the aordinances thereof, the power of bgodliness is manifest.

  21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the aauthority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is bnot manifest unto men in the flesh;

  22 For without this no aman can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

  23 Now this aMoses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to bsanctify his people that they might cbehold the face of God;

  24 But they ahardened their hearts and could not endure his bpresence; therefore, the Lord in his cwrath, for his danger was kindled against them, swore that they should not eenter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

25 Therefore, he took aMoses out of their midst, and the Holy bPriesthood also;



2 Responses to “D&C Lesson 3, part 3”

  1. Rex said

    These have all been great – and helpful. Thanks for posting.

  2. kimmatheson said

    I cannot offer enough thanks for these notes; they’ve been remarkably helpful.

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