Sunday, September 7, 2014

Joseph Smith and the First Vision: Transparently Sincere and Matter-of-Fact

This evening some friends and I attended a fireside with special guest speaker Elder Marlin K. Jensen, emeritus general authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Church Historian.  His message was of necessity brief, but it was also inspiring and instructive. Drawing from the scriptures, episodes in Church history, and personal experiences, Elder Jensen expounded upon the wisdom of acquiring a broad view, and a godly perspective concerning things as they really have been, as they really are, and as they really will be. (see Jacob 4:13) Although LDS scholar Terryl Givens has stated that, "Elder Marlin Jensen has done more to further the cause of Mormon history than any person of the current generation," Elder Jensen himself modestly confessed that he is "not an expert," and that his own work in field of Church history "comes more from yearning than from learning."  Echoing the advice of other Church historians, Elder Jensen counseled the audience "not to study Church history too little."

Elder Jensen also suggested that the study of Church history is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, and that a wise assembler of puzzles begins with the corners and the borders.  He cautioned the members of the audience to avoid, as much as possible, the error of presentism, or in other words, the propensity to impose modern day perspectives on interpretations of the past.  He commended the work that is being done in Mormon Studies in places such as Claremont College, Utah State Univeristy , the University of Virginia, and Durham, England, and admonished Church members to trace the origins of their own testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As part of this admonition, Elder Jensen referenced the work of the poet, author and former professor of English at Brigham Young University, Arthur Henry King.  In his excellent and edifying book The Abundance of the Heart, King recounted the story of his conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ:

"I am glad that the first thing they [the missionaries] did was to give me the pamphlet on Joseph Smith’s vision. The style of the Joseph Smith story immediately struck me. He spoke to me, as soon as I read his testimony, as a great writer, transparently sincere and matter-of-fact. . . . When Joseph Smith describes his visions, he describes them not as a man who feels that he has to make the effort to persuade. He simply states what happened to him, and does it in a way that gives it credence. I am in this church because of the Joseph Smith story; my fundamental act of faith was to accept this as a remarkable document." (Arthur Henry King, The Abundance of the Heart (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 25.

Like Elder Jensen and Arthur Henry King, I too trace the roots of my own testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the transparently sincere and matter-of-fact account of the Prophet Joseph Smith. On occasions too numerous to mention, the power of Joseph Smith's simple story has penetrated my heart and the hearts of those with ears to hear.  I know that it is true.  In answer to his humble prayer for wisdom, Joseph Smith saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.  After this experience, Joseph Smith wrote of his affinity for the Apostle Paul, who was also persecuted for sharing the story of his vision:

"So it was with me. 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, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation." (JS-History 1:25)


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