Friday, February 21, 2020

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision

(Part nine of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            When Latter-day Saint historians name those they view as the leading or most prominent and influential of all the men who have served as counselors in the First Presidency, along with names such as Heber C. Kimball, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, and Gordon B. Hinckley, President J. Reuben Clark stands with them. So many of his protégé’s have spoken so highly of him: Presidents Lee, Romney, Packer, Monson, and Hinckley to name but a few. He moved directly from high government service to even higher church responsibility. I could take pages extolling his contributions to the work of the Lord in the latter days, but such would steer wide of the purpose of this piece. Suffice it to say that President Clark’s teachings and thoughts and witness place him as one of the foremost figures in the Church:

Testimony as related by Elder Glen L. Rudd:
            About thirty years ago I received a phone call in my office at Welfare Square from Elder Harold B. Lee.  He wanted me to drop everything and come immediately to his office. When I arrived, he introduced me to a very splendid gentleman from England. He was a member of the British cabinet—the solicitor general of Great Britain. He was a man in his early fifties. Brother Lee took this gentleman and me into the First Presidency’s reception room where we were joined by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. of the First Presidency. President Clark was past ninety ears of age and was having difficulty walking. However, he was in complete control of his faculties. He seated Brother Lee at one end of the large table in this room, and me at the other end. He sat on one side at the middle of the table and asked the gentleman from England to sit directly across from him. I thought to myself, “What will they talk about? I am sure he will ask how the Prime Minister is and how legal matters are going in Great Britain.” I thought that President Clark, being interested in international affairs, might ask about those matters. However, President Clark, without any apologies and without any hesitation, began to bear his testimony of the reality of the First Vision. He told in simple terms how and why Joseph, as a boy, went into the Sacred Grove. He then told what actually happened, how Joseph knelt in prayer and how the power of Satan almost overcame him. Then President Clark told of the light appearing and the appearance of God the Father and the Son. Never once did he apologize or say, “We believe this.” He spoke in absolute facts and in such a manner that the three of us listening were completely captivated by the simplicity in which he told this marvelous experience. At that moment I thought nobody on this earth could deny that testimony. The man from England listened intently. President Clark spoke with great intent. It was a great moment in my life as I listened to a ninety-year old prophet of God tell the magnificent account of one of the greatest events that has ever taken place on this earth. I am sure the man from England never forgot that great experience. I surely have not and quite likely never will.[1]

            President Clark speaking:
            A boy fourteen years of age, Joseph Smith, with the innocence of Samuel ministering before the Lord in the Tabernacle at Shiloh, and with the trust of David, sling-armed, facing Goliath, was seeking truth,—the truth of immortality and eternal life.
            A great religious revival among the sects of his neighborhood, a concourse of seekers for truth, had come together. The ministers were contending one against another. It was "a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued," said the boy. Some of his family had joined the Presbyterians; he was inclined to the Methodists. But, said he, "so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations," so torn in spirit was he with this "war of words," that he could not make up his mind what to do.
            Reading one day in Holy Writ, he chanced on the words of James:
            "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
            "Never," says he, "did any...scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine." He pondered, as best his youthful mind allowed, upon his own lack of knowledge and the promise of James. At last, it came certainly to him, he must do as James bid, and ask God.
            Now let Joseph tell his own story:
            "So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
            "After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
            "But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
            "It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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 said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
            "My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right—and which I should join.
            "I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'
            "He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home."
            So did the Father and Son open the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, by a personal appearance to the boy Joseph.
            From that sacred hour in the grove, Satan never forgot Joseph for a moment until his murderers had finished their work, and never to this day has Satan forgotten Joseph's mission and work. Slander, vilification, falsehood, persecution, plunderings, whippings, mobbings, law courts, jails, were daily piled upon Joseph for a quarter of a century, and then he was massacred by a mob, against the wrath of whom a Governor had solemnly promised to protect him. Joseph died a martyr to the cause to truth, sealing his testimony with his blood, the highest proof mortal can give of his own belief in the cause he espouses.
            The holy vision in the grove, ushering in this Last Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, with the Father and Son present in person, marked the opening of the last chapter of the mortality of men. It was one of the greatest hours of all time, surpassed only by the hours that saw the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Only Begotten, the Son.
            God was present, in voice, at the baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Ghost was also manifest,—the only time in recorded scriptures when the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost all manifested themselves at the same time and place to the physical senses of man. The Father manifested himself, but in voice only, at the time of the transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John were on the Mount with Jesus 4nd again, in voice only, in the Temple on the third day of the week of the atoning sacrifice, when the Father comforted the Son in distress over the approaching crisis. Thereafter, on this hemisphere after the resurrection, when Christ, descending from heaven in resurrected body, visited the Nephites, the Father introduced him by voice only to the assembled multitude.
            Each time the Father has introduced the Son, he has declared the Sonship of the Only Begotten. As John the Baptist baptized Jesus while others stood on the river bank, the Father declared to Jesus: "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration, the Father said to Peter, James, and John: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." And to the people on this hemisphere, the Father proclaimed: "Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him."
            And now, to the boy, praying in the woods on that bright spring morning, the Father, calling the youth by name, pointed to the Son, and said: "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!"
            Atheists have jeered at the naivete of the boy's story, and at the credulity of them who believe in him. To those who so jeer, it need only be said: Repent and turn to God, lest his judgments come upon you.
            Others, professing Christ, have ridiculed the fact that God and the Son should come to a boy. But is this stranger than that the Lord should come to young Samuel in the temple after nightfall, and call Samuel to his service, or that the spirit of the Lord should rest upon the youth David, to the performance of his task?
            Others have scoffed at his struggle with the evil power, and at his coming to, lying upon his back upon the ground, at the shaft of light, at the appearances of the heavenly beings, and at his weariness, declaring that all this was but an epileptic fit.
            But what will these scoffers say of the experience of Saul, of the light that shone about him, of his falling to the ground, of his blindness, so that he must be led by the hand, of his extreme exhaustion? Will any Christian dare characterize that as an epileptic fit?
            And what of Daniel's experience, when his vision came to him, when he was left without strength, fell into a deep sleep on his face which was towards the ground, when the personage spoke to him, and gave him commands, and then afterwards Daniel was strengthened. Was this, too, epilepsy?
            Was Jacob's wrestling with the Lord, at the time the Lord gave him the name of Israel, and he saw God face to face,—an epileptic fit?
            When at the time of the transfiguration, a great light appeared, and heavenly beings appeared, with whom Jesus talked, while Peter, James, and John slept, and awakened confused, but saw the glory of these beings? Was this, too, a fit?
            When Jesus went to the Garden to pray on the night of the betrayal, while Peter, James, and John waited "a stone's cast" away, and falling to the ground on his face, he prayed: "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt." Was this reality, or some physical impairment?
            And what of Stephen, the first martyr of the Primitive Church, who, responsive to the enquiry of the high priest, bore his testimony of the Christ to the Council of the Jews, and they hearing and frenzied by Satan "gnashed on him with their teeth," and he, "being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Are Christians ready to dismiss this as epilepsy, or as an hallucination? And before they answer yes, let them listen and try to hear the crunching of Stephen's bones as the mob stoned this martyr to death, Saul witnessing; let them try to vision Stephen, with pain-taut, agonized features, as his spirit struggled to be free, but with glorious exaltation in his eyes, crying out as he neared death:
            "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.... Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep."
            And what of Pentecost, and the "sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind," and the coming "unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them," and of their speaking in tongues, being filled with the Holy Ghost, and then the great multitude, "devout men, out of every nation under heaven," each hearing the Apostles' testimony in his own tongue, saying among themselves, what meaneth this, and some, mocking, declaring: "These men are full of new wine." Was this, too, epilepsy, a mob hallucination? Deny the verity of this, Christians who can, and then try to get on your knees and pray to God, through our mediator, Jesus Christ.
            The vision of Joseph, when he saw the Father and the Son, was real, just as all these we have named were real. It was not the vagary or hallucination of a disease-preyed mind. Joseph saw, even as Moses saw,—the one no less certainly than the other.
            The Spirit hath borne its witness to me of this, and I so declare, in the name of the Son. Amen.[2]

            With no more fanfare than marked the coming of the prophets of old from the homes of the lowly and humble, we come to the First Vision.
            Pardon the details I give, but I think they must be in our minds. The purpose of Joseph’s prayer in the grove was his desire to learn which of the various contending sects was right. The power of evil finally deserting Joseph, he asked the two glorious personages standing above him, the Father and the Son He had introduced, which of the sects he should join. He says:
            “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’
            “He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19–20).
            So the vision closed. The world had ripened in spiritual apostasy and iniquity. The curtain had risen on the dispensation of the fulness of times, which would bring the refreshing, the restitution, and the restoration promised by Peter and John in the temple, for this was God’s prime concern for His children.
            Following the First Vision, events moved as rapidly as the unschooled, untrained, unprejudiced mind of Joseph could proceed. Joseph was 14 years old, not so young by years as was Samuel when called by the Lord to take over from Eli, nor was he more unschooled than the humble fishermen called from their nets on the shores of Galilee, nor more untrained than were they, and not by far so prejudiced as those men who were themselves steeped, with their ancestors for generations before them, in the beliefs and rituals of the Mosaic law. All were minds in virgin innocence of doctrines and principles of the gospel to be restored and of the priesthood to be bestowed. But God had again set His hand to the plow. There would be no forsaking the furrow He was now turning over in the field of humanity. He again drove ahead, for His work and His glory was “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”
            As soon as physical maturity came to Joseph sufficient to meet the trials and hardships that were to be his, there came first a visit of Moroni, a messenger “sent from the presence of God” to prepare Joseph for the translation of the Nephite records and the bringing forth of them as the Book of Mormon. Moroni told Joseph regarding the book “that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith—History 1:33–34).
            The record containing this fulness was in due time delivered to Joseph, was translated and printed so men could read once more the unpolluted words of God.
The essential purpose of all previous dispensations—the restoration of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ—had at this point been reached.[3]

            (See also the next installment, #10, for Pres. Clark’s teachings about being a latter-day saint and accepting the First Vision.)

[1] J. Reuben Clark, Jr., as quoted in Thoughts on Welfare from the Words of President Harold B. Lee, comp., Glen L. Rudd (Salt Lake City: Privately published, n.d), 142.
[2] On the Way to Immortality and Eternal Life, chap 16, “The First Vision”.
[3] “The Genius of Our Church Organization,” Lecture given to Seminary and Institute Teachers, June 17, 1958; Brigham Young University.

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