Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pure Apostolic Witness and Testimony of the First Vision



(Part twenty of a series compiled by DennisB. Horne)

            As the concluding item of this series on the First Vision, I have sifted through most of the preceding nineteen pieces and selected brief quotations—nuggets of pure testimony—from those holding the holy Apostleship (including the keys of the Kingdom as received in direct line from the Prophet Joseph Smith, who got them from Peter, James, and John, and other ancient prophets), declaring their incontrovertible spiritual witness of the reality of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. In these testimonies, we find no doubt, just perfect knowledge:

            “I am grateful that early in my life I was blessed with a simple faith that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in a vision. He translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. That testimony has been confirmed to me over and over again.
            “As one of the least among you, but in my calling as one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ, I testify that He truly lives, that He is the Messiah. I do have a personal witness of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. I received this knowledge by the unspeakable peace and power of the Spirit of God.”

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Race Whitney in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906




            [Note: The below narrative is taken from a chapter in the author’s biography of Elder Orson F. Whitney, called “The Misadventures of Race Whitney” (page 257), that describes his harrowing experience as a newspaper reporter (working for the San Francisco Chronicle) when the great San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906. This was also about the time his father was called into the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Race Whitney was Orson’s oldest child, filled with promise and potential, but whose life was cut short because of drink—he died of alcoholism in his late twenties. Race, shortened from Horace, took after his father as a talented writer, journalist, and dramatist. Yet he became indifferent to the gospel teachings of his youth. As an older teenager, his father secured a position for him with a Salt Lake newspaper, and Race was one of a select company that travelled to St. George with President Lorenzo Snow in 1898, where President Snow received a revelation to reemphasize tithing to the Church. It would seem that after that experience, Race drifted from gospel teachings and standards, married a non-Latter-day Saint, and eventually drank himself to death. His account of being in the middle of the earthquake is well-written and thrilling. I have added some text from Race’s original correspondence with his father, that was published in the Deseret News, but that I deleted from the book since I thought it extraneous; this means the newspaper account found here is longer and has more earthquake details than the account in the book. Quotations are from Elder Whitney’s journal, mostly 1906, but I have deleted all the endnotes. From The Life of Orson F. Whitney: Historian, Poet, Apostle:]

            Good as he was at what he did—writer, reporter, dramatist—Race struggled to stay employed for very long. He also made a poor choice for a wife. It is with this decision that he again finds mention in Ort’s diary: “Went this evening with my son Race to see Miss Rosemary Gloez, his young lady. She is not a Mormon but is a very charming girl, aged 20, finely educated, a native of Boston. . . . They are a Hungarian family and nice people. Race and Rose are madly in love with each other. They want to marry. While I hate to see him wed outside the Church, I prefer this to no marriage, or a life on the stage, which he says is the alternative.”


About two months later, the day of the wedding arrived:

Saturday, March 28, 2020

President Hinckley Comments on Joseph Smith’s and the Church’s Critics



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

            While the standard procedure for the First Presidency is to ignore the enemies and critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they do sometimes manifest an awareness of what the devil’s mortal emissaries are saying and doing. As a natural result, President Hinckley occasionally referenced their public and private efforts to disturb or distract, or to diminish or destroy faith in Jesus Christ and His modern prophets. As President Hinckley noted, many of them have targeted Joseph Smith and his First Vision—and (as he notes) while they have had some small success among the weak in testimony, the true and faithful have not faltered.
            The below statements and explanations given by President Hinckley over past decades are not exclusive to defending the First Vision only (his defense was much broader than that), but enough is mentioned on that subject to warrant inclusion here. Further, all can be benefited by his prophetic counsel on handling criticism of all kinds. His larger perspective placing the Prophet’s and the modern Church’s critics in their true context in relation to the kingdom of God and eternity is a valuable lesson to all. This prophet knew how to put the devil in his place:

            What about the critics of the Church who have been so vocal of late?
            We have them. We have always had them. They are not as vociferous as they once were. Noisy as they are, they are not as threatening. People ask whether we are fearful of research of our history. My reply to this is no, of course not, provided it is done with balance and integrity, as has been done by some scholars both in and out of the Church.
            However, we are under no obligation to spend tithing funds to provide facilities and resources to those who have demonstrated that it is their objective to attack the Church and undermine its mission. These funds are sacred. They have been consecrated by the faithful to advance the work, and that is the way they will be used.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

President Gordon B. Hinckley’s Teachings and Testimony of the First Vision





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

            As far as I can discover, it seems to me that President Hinckley had more to say about Joseph Smith’s First Vision than any other modern prophet or apostle. As the below quotations demonstrate, he had studied the historical records, was informed on the scholarship (including the faulty arguments of the critics), had visited the sacred grove repeatedly, and had pondered and prayed and received a witness from the Holy Spirit, probably multiple witnesses, that what Joseph testified took place did. President Hinckley’s testimony of the First Vision must therefore be considered one of the greatest prophetic witnesses given since the event of the vision itself. The below selections are given in chronological order:

            Joseph Smith likewise was a figure of loneliness. I have a great love for the boy who came out of the woods, who after that experience could never be the same again, who was berated and persecuted and looked down upon. Can you sense the pathos in these words of the boy prophet?
            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—H 1:25]

            When I was a boy, twelve years of age, my father took me to a meeting of the priesthood of the stake in which we lived. I sat on the back row while he, as president of the stake, sat on the stand. At the opening of that meeting, the first of its kind I had ever attended, three or four hundred men stood. They were men from varied backgrounds and many vocations, but each had in his heart the same conviction, out of which together they sang these great words:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Missionary Receives a Testimony of the First Vision



and a few other like experiences
(Part seventeen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            A few years ago, a returned missionary who served in one of the Mexican missions shared with me a classic experience that illustrates the “diligence” principle in the acquisition of faith and sacred knowledge. I had conducted the stake president’s interview before his mission and sent his papers to Church headquarters. I remember that interview with him. He was 6 foot 5 inches tall and 255 pounds. He was one of the first two young men recruited from my children’s high school to play football at Brigham Young University. He was a fine young man, clean-cut and worthy in every way. I remember being impressed with his potential. I could tell from the answers he gave to the questions I asked that he was honest, but there was one crack in his armor. I knew that his testimony was based on the faith of others rather than on his own witness. However, he related the following story to me during his release interview at the end of his mission.
            As his mission began, Elder Stone worked energetically with his companion. Frequently he was called upon to give the first lesson. In the lesson it was necessary for him to tell the investigators about the appearance of the Father and the Son to the boy Joseph in the Sacred Grove and then bear witness of its truthfulness. After bearing testimony a number of times, his conscience began to bother him. Although he believed the story, he did not know that it actually happened. He had not been there, nor had he received his own witness. How could he tell others that the First Vision really happened? As doubts began to multiply and replace his belief and as the pains of conscience increased, he told his companion that he could no longer be a missionary. He was going home. He could not serve as a witness to something he did not know. His companion responded, “Elder Stone, why don’t you follow the counsel given the investigators? You need to study and pray more diligently. Put Moroni’s promise to the test. Exercise your faith, and you will receive an answer. Stay with me for a few more weeks.”
Elder Stone agreed to stay and put Moroni’s promise to the test. A few weeks passed, the missionary worked harder, prayed more often, was more attentive in his reading, but no witness came. Finally, during an interview with the mission president, Elder Stone expressed his frustrations and indicated his desire to return home. He could not continue. A wise mission president counseled, “Elder, do not give up! You have a desire to believe. If you continue faithful in your calling for a few more weeks, the Lord will answer your prayers. I promise you!”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sister Ida Romney Obtains a Testimony of the First Vision



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

            Two edifying accounts of the same story relating how Ida Romney, wife of President Marion G. Romney (a former counselor in the First Presidency), gained a witness of the reality of the First Vision. The first is from a Church News interview and the second is a more detailed account shared by her husband:

            After I wrote about Sister Camilla Eyring Kimball in early March 2019, I began thinking about other women of faith I’ve met during my career at the Church News. One of them was Ida Jensen Romney, wife of President Marion G. Romney, who was then a counselor in the First Presidency. (He had been a General Authority since 1941; he died in 1988.)
            I interviewed Sister Romney in their home in preparation for a feature article about her that was published Jan 16, 1974.
            She reviewed a time when she had to know for herself that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. As a member of a stake Sunday School board, she was assigned to teach the teachers in the stake. Although she didn’t have a college degree, she had a teaching certificate.
“One man was a graduate of the University of Idaho,” she said. “His wife (who was not a member of the Church) was also a college graduate. She attended the meetings with her husband.
“It never bothered me to have her in the class until one day our lesson was about Joseph Smith’s First Vision. I was preparing it, and I thought about this woman.
“‘She’s an educated woman,’ I thought to myself. ‘She’s going to think I’m crazy when I tell this story.’”

Sunday, March 15, 2020

President Russell M. Nelson, As the Senior Apostle, Exercises the Keys of the Priesthood




            We are now seeing a remarkable and historic example of the President of the Church and Prophet of God exercising the keys of the priesthood which only he holds in their fulness. The active word is “exercising” of the keys, or rights and powers of presidency. This is something that is not and cannot be done in other (man-made) churches, simply because they don’t have the keys or the priesthood, despite all the good they do. They don’t have a Prophet who can turn the authorized work of the Lord on and off as the Lord directs. But such sacred power is vested in the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
            Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained:

            The way these things work is this:  There is priesthood on the one hand (which is God’s power and authority), and then there are keys on the other hand.  Keys are the right of presidency which authorize the use of the priesthood for a particular purpose.  Peter, James, and John brought the priesthood, which is power and authority, and then somebody else came and gave the keys which authorized the priesthood today to baptize, to perform eternal marriages, and to preach the gospel in all the world—a whole host of uses.  On the other hand, we can’t use the priesthood today to resurrect somebody, because the keys have not been given and we are not authorized to use God’s power for that purpose.  The way the keys operate is that they center in one man at a time and that man is the President of the Church.  They are conferred upon all the Twelve, but they lie dormant in them unless they become the senior apostle, because keys are the right of presidency and only one man presides over all others.  So you can never perform an act by the authority of the priesthood, alone.  You must have the authority of the priesthood and in addition you must have the authorization to use the priesthood for a purpose, which is keys.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

President Marion G. Romney Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision



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

            President Romney is much less well-known in the Church today than he once was. He served as a counselor to both President’s Lee and Kimball, but the effects of age drastically diminished his capabilities the last years of his life. Elder Glen L. Rudd, one of his associates in the Church Welfare Program, wrote this of him: “Elder Romney was the most rigid and difficult man at first until I had been with him on two trips and realized that he had built a solid wall around himself and was hard to get to [know] but when he and I finally got on good terms, he turned out of be one of the easiest of all the Brethren for me to talk to. . . . Elder Romney was a remarkable man—much greater than most people thought. He and Elder Lee knew the Book of Mormon better than anyone. President Romney told me his door was always open and I could come at any time to visit him. Toward the last years of his life I would visit with him often and get him to tell me stories about his youth and the great leaders of the Church he knew.” I concur with the statement that President Romney was a greater spiritual giant in the Church than people of his or our generation generally realize:

            As he revealed himself after his resurrection to his followers in the Holy Land and to the Nephites in America, so he has revealed himself in our day. Indeed, this dispensation opened with a glorious vision in which the Prophet Joseph was visited by the Father and the Son. He heard their voices, for they both spoke to him. He was given a personal introduction to the resurrected Jesus by the Father himself. He beheld their glorious bodies and afterwards thus described them: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22.)

            I know that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I know he saw God, the Eternal Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ, as he says he did. I was not there, but I have read his account many, many, many times. From his account I get in my mind a mental picture, but I did not get my knowledge that he had the vision from that source. I received it from the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, and I have had those whisperings in my mind the same as Enos had when he said, “. . . the voice of the Lord came into my mind” (Enos 1:10). (Conference Report, April 1953, 123-25.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Joseph Fielding McConkie Discusses the First Vision and Tolerance



Selections from the article, “The First Vision and Religious Tolerance
(Part fourteen of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            In revelation both ancient and modern, the Lord calls His words “sharper than a two-edged sword” (D&C 6:2; 11:2; 12:2; see also Hebrews 4:12). In modern vernacular, much of what He said would be politically incorrect. It could be considered judgmental, divisive, rigid, closed-minded, or just plain embarrassing. Yet in some instructional meetings, the teaching of ethics prevails over the teaching of doctrine, thus avoiding disagreements or the possibility of giving offense. Everyone is content to speak of God’s love; rarely is His wrath or displeasure mentioned. . . .
In this context the reader is invited to consider three touchy or sensitive texts that stand at the very heart of our theology. These texts have been chosen to honor Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the great martyrs of our faith. They did not seal their testimony with their blood in Carthage Jail so that we may teach ethics. They did not die hoping that future generations of Latter-day Saints would say to the world, “Look, we are just like you.”. . .
Each of the three texts comes from the revelations of the Restoration, and each is frequently considered offensive by those not of our faith. Even within the Church some are uncomfortable with these texts and feel a need to apologize for them. . . .
The second is part of the Prophet’s account of the First Vision, in which he asked the Lord which church he should join: “I was answered,” the Prophet said, “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’” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). . . .
            I would like to make some brief observations about the principle of tolerance. . . .

Friday, March 6, 2020

Elder Bruce R. McConkie Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision



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

            As one of the greatest doctrinal and scriptural thinkers and teachers of the 20th century, Elder McConkie occasionally turned his attention to expounding matters related to the First Vision. Further, his testimony of that supernal theophany left no doubt that he knew with perfect certainty that it had occurred:

            By comparison to what then occurred, the command of the man Moriancumer unto the mountain Zerin, “Remove,” and it was removed; or the decree of the man Moses to the Red Sea, “Divide,” and the waters were divided, congealing on the right hand and on the left; or the command of the man Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still, and thou moon likewise,” and it was soby comparison to what happened in that grove of trees in western New York on that spring morning, such things as these fade into an obscure insignificance.
            As we approach with awe and reverence, in the spirit of worship and thanksgiving, the heaven-sent miracle of that bright morn, let us view first the setting in which the heavens would be rent and the miracle wrought.
            That year of grace, 1820, like the 1,400 years which preceded it, was one in which darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. It was a day of spiritual darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains. Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles, and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted. There were no visions, no revelations, no rending of the heavens; the Lord was not raining down righteousness upon a chosen people as he had done in days of old.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Orson F. Whitney’s Dream-Vision of the Savior





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

            March of 2020 will see the BYU Church History Symposium held at both Brigham Young University and at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, the main theme being the first vision received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. In the original “call for papers” the symposium committee listed “Latter-day Saint visionaries” other than Joseph Smith as a topic they desired to consider. I sent them a proposal for a paper on Orson F. Whitney’s dream-vision of Jesus, knowing it had a few aspects in common with the Prophet’s first vision. My proposal was not accepted for reasons unknown, but I have chosen to put the below information together nonetheless, as it may yet be of interest to some.
            One criticism leveled at Joseph Smith relates to the fact that he wrote or dictated several accounts of his first vision with additional details in each. Antagonistic unbelievers have erroneously interpreted the extra information to mean that Joseph made up new particulars as he went along, becoming more grandiose with each telling. This approach is not well considered and is a flimsy effort to reject the Prophet’s testimony and thereby relieve themselves of the burden of belief—with all the accountability and obligation that comes with it. Said President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I have read the words of critics, who from 1820 until now have tried to destroy the validity of that account. They have made much of the fact that there were several versions and that the [canonized] account as we now have it was not written until 1838. So what? I find security for my faith in the simplicity of his narrative, in its lack of argument, in its straightforward reasonableness, and in the fact that he sealed his testimony with his life’s blood.” I vastly prefer this astute prophet’s explanation to that of the skeptics; the fact is, he knew it was true by the power of the Spirit of God.
            President Hinckley could have said much the same things about Whitney’s vision. As it happens, one similarity Brother Orson has with Brother Joseph is that he also left multiple accounts, written at different points over his (much longer) life. Five written records exist (that I could locate), along with notes mentioning other unrecorded tellings. Another similarity is that slightly more detail emerges with each account, though the whole remains consistent, as does the lesson the vision taught to Whitney.

Friday, February 28, 2020

President Joseph Fielding Smith Teaches and Testifies about the First Vision



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

            President Smith was the grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was and still is considered one of the great expounders of doctrine and interpreters of the scriptures in this dispensation. He became President of the Church with the death of President David O. McKay. He felt a special responsibility and therefore took pleasure in teaching about his forebears and the mission they performed as church leaders. His words reflect that obligation:

            I want to say to all those who are listening at this particular time that I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and is, for his work has not ceased, for a righteous man's work does not cease: Joseph Smith was a righteous man when he died; I know that he was called, appointed by our Father in heaven; that he received revelation and guidance from the Son of God that would be of benefit and a blessing to all men if they would receive it.
            Now in what I have to say I wish to direct my remarks to those who are not members of the Church, if there are any such listening. I want them to know that I believe this sincerely and absolutely. That is my faith. I think I can say safely it is my knowledge, by the gift of God, that Joseph Smith in the year 1820 did see the Father and the Son; that the Father introduced his Son; that the Son spoke to him, asked him what he wanted to know, and gave him counsel; told him what to do, with the promise that eventually other light would come and the fulness of the gospel, which was not then upon the face of the earth, would be restored.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Must Accept the First Vision (or they are not Latter-day Saints)



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

            Many Latter-day Saints are not aware of the below teachings that in order to be considered a full, true, and faithful Latter-day Saint, they must, sooner or later, develop a conviction born of the Spirit, that Joseph Smith received a visitation from the Father and the Son. Most missionaries gain this conviction by prayerfully studying and teaching the account from Joseph Smith’s history. Some critics, often referring to themselves as “cultural Mormons,” deny Joseph’s testimony (along with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, and other miraculous foundational matters), and desire participation in the “community” the Church provides without believing in it. The reason that doesn’t work is that they also seek to change the community to their way of thinking, or denying, the foundational truth claims of the Church. In reality, you either believe/know, or eventually come to believe/know, or eventually leave. Some (sadly) leave loudly and try to drag others out with them; too bad.
            On a side note, I noticed that one of the listed subjects that may be examined in the forthcoming BYU Church History Symposium on the First Vision (March 2020), is “J. Reuben Clark’s 1938 statement that religious educators must assent to the First Vision as a historical event—context and implications.” This means a scholar may research and talk about the below teachings of President Clark at the symposium—we shall see. But the statement itself, taken from the “call for papers” is not correct. What President Clark actually said was “In all this there are for the Church, and for each and all of its members, two prime things which may not be overlooked, forgotten, shaded, or discarded.” I see that he was not simply talking about “religious educators” but “each and all of its members”—a major difference.
            Whether or not that proves to be the case (that someone presents a paper on the subject), the fact is that President Clark and some other church leaders have taught that this is fundamental to personal faith and testimony. So much so, in fact, that President Clark, speaking for and in behalf of the First Presidency, stated that if you do not gain an inner conviction of Joseph’s First Vision and the restoration of the priesthood, you are “not a Latter-day Saint.” So much for so-called “cultural Mormons” and other dissidents who want to be in the Church community but not of it—President Clark is not gentle in referring to such and his declarations are strong. And you don’t have to attend a symposium or buy a book later to study them:

Sunday, February 23, 2020

President Nelson Expounds on Life With and Without the Book of Mormon



Messages assembled by Dennis B. Horne

            In his “Closing Remarks” of the October 2019 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson invited members to ask themselves questions about what their life and their world would be like without the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the major events that attended it. One example he gave was this: “Our course of study for next year in Come, Follow Me is the Book of Mormon. You may wish to ponder important questions such as, ‘How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?’”
            As it happens, President Nelson has himself asked and answered this very question. It seems he has not asked the membership of the Church to do something he himself has not done, and we might also conclude that he found the exercise so valuable that he felt inspired to invite others to do likewise. Even though Pres. Nelson indicated we could and should come up with our own questions, I would suppose that it could not but help to review and study his insightful questions and answers. He did this in an address to the Church not long before he became its president.
            At the bottom of President Nelson’s General Conference talk The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?, is (the below) information that is not found in the talk as delivered (in 2017) and constitutes something of an appendix to his message—counsel that he continues to promote as President of the Church.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Word Selection Sophistry Explained



            With the great and spacious building, also known as the internet/social media/news media, filled with those who have left the Church either in heart or in fact, we see substantial sophistry in play. I am defining sophistry here as these people’s efforts to disguise or minimalize their attempts to weaken or destroy faith, to misdirect and confuse, or to act as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
            Below are examples of what I see dissenters, progressives/liberals, activists, Salt Lake Tribune reporters, and others of like ilk attempting to perpetrate, often on unsuspecting readers of blogs and news stories.

Crafty wording

            For some years now, “apostates” have sought to dodge that powerfully meaningful word (or label or state of being), and have come up with a replacement—“faith transition” (begun by a “faith crisis”).
            They do this because transition sounds so much better than apostate. They happily speak of going through a faith transition and proclaim how emotionally hard it is on them, seeking sympathy and support. The fact of the matter is they are apostates who are apostates who are apostates. By apostatizing, we must not forget that they are usually breaking the most solemn covenants, not made with people (even priesthood leaders), but with God. Of course, once apostate, they don’t believe that anymore, but it is still the fact. There are many websites, securely positioned in the great and spacious building or floating in the river of filthy water, filled with pride and worldliness and sin, that employ such language to soften and ease their apostasy in their own minds. Whether a word alteration helps them will be seen at the day of judgment.

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]

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Elder Joseph F. Merrill Teaches and Testifies about the First Vision



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

            Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve (1868-1952), known of by few in the Church today, was the son of another slightly-better-known Apostle, Elder Marriner W. Merrill. His teachings are included here because he used much of his time in three General Conference talks over three years to teach and testify about the First Vision; seemingly he felt inspired to do so and there is much of worth in his words:

            Mormonism, as the world generally calls the religious faith taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is noted for many characteristic teachings, one of which is that Joseph Smith was divinely called, beginning with a most wonderful and glorious vision. Relative to this matter a basic and fundamental question that every member of the Church may rightfully ask, as well as every honest investigator, is "Did Joseph Smith really see God?"
            As I view it, this is perhaps the most natural and logical question that can be asked concerning the origin of Mormonism. It is one that might well challenge the attention of every person who believes in God and in life beyond the grave, whether he is a Mormon or non-Mormon.
            All informed Latter-day Saints know the story of the first vision as related by Joseph Smith. He was a member of a sincerely religious family but belonged to no church. Though he was only fourteen years old at the time, this fact of non-church membership worried him. As a means of helping him to solve his problem, he read the Bible with deep interest, for he wanted to know which of the contending churches was the right one to join. He therefore resolved to heed the injunction of James (James 1:5-6) and so went into the woods and prayed that God would give him wisdom that he might know what to do. In answer to the boy's simple prayer, he related that he was enveloped in a pillar of brilliant light which descended from above. Looking up he beheld two personages standing above him whose brightness and glory defied all description. One of them, calling him by name and pointing to the other said, 'This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" and then Joseph heard the voice of Jesus Christ, the Son, and received instruction from him.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Teachings and Testimony about the First Vision Given at The 100 Year Centennial General Conference Commemoration



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

            The April 1920 General Conference became a 100-year anniversary commemoration of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Most of the conference speakers referenced it one way or another. President Heber J. Grant, only a year into his administration, began by sharing his own feelings, and other speakers followed his example. These remarks were given in a day when most spoke extemporaneously for various lengths of time. Not all comments were equally insightful, but I have tried to select some of the more interesting excerpts—and some are powerful witnesses indeed (see for example, Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s remarks). Apostolic and prophetic commentary of spiritual things can enlarge understanding and perspective:

            The Latter-day Saints were driven from city to city, county to county, state to state, and finally beyond the confines of the United States to the Rocky Mountains, then Mexican territory. They could have had immunity, they could have dwelt in peace, had they renounced their faith; but our fathers and our mothers had received the witness of the Holy Spirit and they knew that Jesus was the Savior, they knew that Joseph Smith was in very deed a prophet of God. The Lord Almighty had implanted in their hearts a knowledge that God did, one hundred years ago this spring, appear to a boy; that he did speak to that boy; and that when the boy asked of our Father in Heaven, "Which of all the religious denominations in the world is the true Church of Christ?" in answer to that question our God and our Father pointed to the Savior of the world and said: "This is my beloved Son, hear Him." The Savior of the world told that boy to join none of the sects, that they had all gone astray, that they were teaching for doctrine the ideas and the commandments of men, and that they did not have the true Church of Christ. When that boy returned from that wonderful and marvelous vision, the greatest event in all the history of the world, excepting only the birth and death of the Savior, his mother saw that there was something strange about his appearance and asked him some questions; and he simply answered, m substance, and said to his mother (who was a Presbyterian): "Mother, there is one thing I know now, and that is that the Presbyterian church is not the Church of Christ."
            When he related his vision to ministers and others the boy was ridiculed.

Friday, February 7, 2020

President Heber J. Grant’s Audio Address to the 1938 Deseret Sunday School Union Meeting

Introduced by Dennis B. Horne

            As far as I know, audio recordings of addresses given by President Heber J. Grant are rare. They are also a treat, for several reasons. Not only do you get to hear his voice but you get a flavor of his personality not so easily discernable in his written words. And best of all, his speeches were not written down and read as most are today. They were extemporaneous, vigorous, and from the heart. Today we are not used to hearing the prophet of the Lord speak in this old-time oratorical style. Today the addresses given by the prophets and apostles are written well in advance so that they can be translated into many other languages, and also to ensure that nothing wrong is accidentally said. (Critics gleefully latch onto misstatements and make a mountain of a mole-hill out of them, trying to weaken faith. As President Hinckley said, “Our critics at home and abroad are watching us. In an effort to find fault, they listen to every word we say, hoping to entrap us. We may stumble now and again. But the work will not be materially hindered. We will stand up where we fell and go forward.”)
            After listening to President Grant preach with the fire he did, I can’t help but feel sorry for the poor apostate who crossed him; they would soon be a miserable puddle on the floor. When Pres. Grant goes after an apostate in this speech, he isn’t tactful and diplomatic, except in withholding the man’s name (Frank J. Cannon).
            I assume one reason for the volume and vigor of the speaking style is that there were no amplifiers in that day, and speakers had to be sure the person sitting in the back of the Tabernacle heard them as clearly as those at the front, despite the exceptionally fine acoustics of the building.
            In order to assist listeners with understanding the content of this address, I make the following historical observations.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Present and Past Church Leaders Teach and Testify of the First Vision



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

            A selection of teachings and testimony about the First Vision from various Church leaders as given over the decades:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
            One concluding thought: Joseph Smith’s 19th-century frontier environment was aflame with competing crowds of Christian witnesses. But in the tumult they created, these exuberant revivalists were, ironically, obscuring the very Savior young Joseph so earnestly sought. Battling what he called “darkness and confusion,” he retreated to the solitude of a grove of trees where he saw and heard a more glorious witness of the Savior’s centrality to the gospel than anything we have mentioned here this morning. With a gift of sight unimagined and unanticipated, Joseph beheld in vision his Heavenly Father, the great God of the universe, and Jesus Christ, His perfect Only Begotten Son. Then the Father set the example we have been applauding this morning: He pointed to Jesus, saying: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
9 No greater expression of Jesus’s divine identity, His primacy in the plan of salvation, and His standing in the eyes of God could ever exceed that short seven-word declaration.
            Commotion and confusion? Crowds and contention? There is plenty of all that in our world. Indeed, skeptics and the faithful still contend over this vision and virtually all else I have referred to today. In case you may be striving to see more clearly and to find meaning in the midst of a multitude of opinions, I point you toward that same Jesus and bear apostolic witness of Joseph Smith’s experience, coming as it did some 1,800 years after our blind friend received his sight on the ancient Jericho Road. I testify with these two and a host of others down through time that surely the most thrilling sight and sound in life is that of Jesus not only passing by10 but His coming to us, stopping beside us, and making His abode with us.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Some Facts and Thoughts about Church Manuals



            The last few weeks have seen some dissenters express anger at a minor mistake in the new printed version of the “Come, Follow Me” manual on the Book of Mormon, which is being studied in Sunday School classes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this year. (One critic called it a “dumpster fire” and another confused “inerrancy” with loyalty.) While these little ruckuses come and go and are nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, they do unfortunately provide critics and activists with a temporary platform to express their anger to a larger audience. Some even proclaim their faithfulness in their critical posts—!?!?!?.
            Therefore, it seemed to me that it might be a worthwhile time to share some quotations about Church Correlation and Curriculum writing from a book I compiled years ago called Determining Doctrine, which has an entire chapter on the subject. These quotations from the First Presidency and apostles and prophets might help give some readers a broader perspective, and also an improved viewpoint from which to evaluate the dissenters’ criticisms:

President Boyd K. Packer:
            The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the Correlation Committee, with the President of the Twelve and the two senior members acting as the executive committee. (“All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting,” 18 May 1993, 3.)

The First Presidency:
            The Evaluation Division of the Correlation Department is responsible for the review and evaluation of all proposed activities, programs, policies, procedures, practices, plans, terminology, and other materials intended for use throughout the Church to ensure that they are consistent with doctrine and with approved policy and procedure. These materials include, but are not limited to handbooks, course materials, supplements, notices, magazine articles, seminar materials, internet, and audiovisual materials. The responsibility of the Correlation Department has been expanded to include content review of general Church communications utilizing electronic and digital technologies. All of these items, prepared by the general Church departments and organizations and intended for use throughout the Church, are without exception to be submitted for review and evaluation.
(Note: this quotation is not in my Determining Doctrine compilation but is newer.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

General Authority Teachings and Testimonies of the First Vision



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


            There was an additional benefit that came from this assignment: the bellows operator sat in a seat that offered a great view of a stained-glass window that beautified the front part of the chapel. The stained glass portrayed the First Vision, with Joseph Smith kneeling in the Sacred Grove, looking up toward heaven and into a pillar of light.

            During the hymns of the congregation and even during talks and testimonies given by our members, I often looked at this depiction of a most sacred moment in world history. In my mind’s eye I saw Joseph receiving knowledge, witness, and divine instructions as he became a blessed instrument in the hand of our Heavenly Father.

            I felt a special spirit while looking at the beautiful scene in this window picture of a believing young boy in a sacred grove who made a courageous decision to earnestly pray to our Heavenly Father, who listened and responded lovingly to him.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

In the Sacred Grove with Prophets



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

            Following are accounts by General Authorities of choice experiences they have had in the grove of trees where Joseph Smith was visited by God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ:

Elder Glen L. Rudd:

            In the Sacred Grove with Elder Spencer W. Kimball.

            On Sunday evening [in 1962] following the Cumorah Stake conference, Elder [Spencer W.] Kimball asked if I would be willing to stay over and go with him to the Sacred Grove and the Hill Cumorah the next morning. Of course, I agreed.

            It was a magnificent Monday morning. President Rossiter drove us out of the Joseph Smith home, and the three of us were joined by the caretaker, Brother Stephen R. Boswell. We then walked across the street and down the path toward the Sacred Grove. Elder Kimball used his pocket knife to cut a limb from a tree which he used as a walking stick as we moved along.

            When we got to the Sacred Grove, we reverently entered and began talking in whispers. The caretaker told us there were only three trees left that were growing on the day of the first vision. The rest of the trees had sprouted since that most significant morning.

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Bonus First Vision Series Blog Installment: An Amalgamation of Joseph Smith’s First Vision followed by A Doctrinal Summary of the First Vision from the Teachings of Apostles and Prophets



as prepared by Dennis B. Horne

Note: this narration is only of the prayer and vision, not other closely related matters. It contains descriptive material (not word-for-word) from the four main accounts originating with Joseph Smith. I put it together to show how they collectively enlarge our understanding by adding depth, breadth, and detail. One quickly understands why this vision is today viewed as the foundation of the Restored Church. Editorial commentary is in parenthesis:

Young Joseph looked around to ensure he was alone and then called upon the Lord for the first time vocally (having previously prayed in his heart). As Joseph began to pray, the devil exercised his power to stop Joseph’s tongue from speaking (vocalizing) and he heard noises like someone walking behind him (noises probably made by Satan). Joseph strove harder to pray but heard more walking noises behind him. He jumped up and looked around but saw no one. He felt surrounded by overwhelming darkness. He thought he was doomed to destruction and knew it was the power of the unseen devil at hand. Joseph again kneeled; his tongue was loosed and he called on the Lord in mighty prayer, and he was heard.

While praying, a pillar of light or fire brighter than the noon sun appeared above his head, descended, and rested on him. The instant that Joseph saw the light the devil left him. He was filled with the Spirit of the Lord and unspeakable joy (which means he was transfigured at this time so that he could abide the presence of God).

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

President James E. Faust Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision



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

            These discussions of the First Vision contain sublime doctrinal insights from a past member of the First Presidency:

            Many years ago, I visited for the first time a wooded area of extraordinary natural beauty near Palmyra, New York. This area is known to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Sacred Grove. On the day of our visit, the bees were kissing the wildflowers, and the soft zephyrs gently rustled the leaves of the great trees. It is a place of perfect peace and serenity. It was easy to believe that the heavens were opened and that the magnificent vision took place there.

            I refer to the awesome experience of Joseph Smith when he beheld God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, in the spring of 1820. 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. Some years later, still suffering under the impact of that happening, Joseph said, “If I had not experienced what I have, I should not have known it myself.” (Millennial Star, Nov. 1844, p. 93.)

            Young Joseph Smith, fourteen years of age, lived with his family near Palmyra, New York. In the spring of 1820, Joseph, like many others, was caught up in the religious excitement of the day. Desiring to know the truth for himself, and encouraged by the epistle of James, he knelt in solitary, fervent prayer in that beautiful grove not far from his home. He was at first violently seized by “the power of some actual being from the unseen world.” (JS—H 1:16.) In an effort to extricate himself, he exerted all his powers to call upon God for deliverance from this tremendous evil power. At this point he said:

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Some Unusual Perspectives on the Atonement of Jesus Christ




            Below I examine some items related to the atonement of Jesus Christ. I forewarn readers that these are a little unusual, but are helpful to properly understand and have the right overall perspective when approaching them.

            The first relates to some false doctrine that occasionally rears its head with fringe types or misled fundamentalists that are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The second relates to what I have come to believe to be a meaningful clarification of doctrine, or at least doctrine that I have become satisfied within myself as to its correctness. The third relates to the issue of pain in the repentance process, something misunderstood by the world and dissident/extremist activist Latter-day Saints. We conclude with true teachings about the atonement by prophets.

We Will Not Atone for the Sins of Others

            I hope I do not surprise anyone by noting that over the almost two centuries over which The Restored Church of Jesus Christ has existed, that there have been occasions when some members, and even leaders, have believed and taught false doctrine. It happens in the true church of Jesus Christ simply because it is made up of fallible mortal people who sometimes get things wrong, and of course, Satan tries to influence covenant making and keeping church members in particular; if he can fool an influential Latter-day Saint, he can cause much harm.[1]

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Some Doctrinal Teachings about the First Vision


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

            Occasionally, when the first vision is reviewed by church leaders, they may state some doctrinal insights, interpretations, defenses, or positions about various particulars. The below items mention some of these. The first is a comment (from a memo) from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then a member of the First Council of the Seventy, about some wording in relation to the first vision, found in a book written by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

            The second is self-explanatory and is Elder Bangerter using President Hinckley’s comments to illustrate his own views. The others contain further doctrinal insights:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie:

            You indicate that Joseph Smith communed with the Father and the Son “as one man speaketh with his friend.” This, or course, is what the record says that Moses did in talking to the God of Israel. I may be wrong, but I always assumed that this kind of communication meant that a man talked to God face to face with all his faculties. That is, it is the kind of communion that Joseph Smith had in the Kirtland Temple when the Lord appeared to accept the building. In the case of the First Vision Joseph, presumably, was in a trance; that is, he was unconscious. He came to himself after the vision was over. This view may, or may not be correct, it is just what I always have assumed this phrase meant.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Comments on a Book Review of A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 12–13. Edited by Matthew Bowman and Rosemary Demos (as published in BYU Studies Quarterly)


            I realize that reviewing a book review, which this (sort of) is, is a little unusual. However, it is the best I can do since I refuse to read the actual book that was reviewed. I see such a read as a complete waste of time. More and more, as so-called “Mormon Studies” (the academic study of “Mormonism”) increases at the university level, we see books and articles being produced that purport to apply the training of the academy to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is an exercise in futility at best and spiritual danger at worst. The things of God (His words) can only be understood by the Spirit of God. We now have another superb instance of proof that this is the case.

            The latter half of Alma 12 and first part of Alma 13 are the Book of Mormon passages that receive intense academic scrutiny in this book, A Preparatory Redemption, issued by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (still?!) attached to BYU. My comments on the book are necessarily restricted to the quotations and summaries from it and reactions to it found in the review, which the book’s authors and editors are not responsible for. Yet it appears to me that some conclusions can be reached. The discourse being covered is Alma’s teachings to the people of Ammonihah. The text includes quoted material from Alma, but is also part of a larger abridgment by Mormon.

            The book reviewer, Charles Harrell, explains that the book’s introduction cautions that the essays in it should bee seen “as theological and speculative, rather than as definitive.” They are “clearly exploratory and experimental.” Right away we see that this book will have very limited appeal and use; after all, what good is experimental theology to Latter-day Saints who only desire revealed truth?. Only those who enjoy the specious speculations of others will want to read this material. Most people are seeking gospel truths, not academic speculation. We get “a diversity of perspectives” from scholars instead of attempts to glean gospel truths. The reviewer thinks much of it evokes “new and insightful ways of thinking about the text.” But is that what we really want, especially when they are readily acknowledged to be entirely speculative?