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?