(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.
Elder Kimball sat under one of the three trees and invited us to sit on some of the roots which were protruding above ground. As the four of us sat there, Elder Kimball handed me a small triple combination and said, “Bishop, read to us what Joseph wrote about that morning in this sacred place.” I turned to the Pearl of Great Price and read the account of the First Vision. I read it slowly and carefully. It was a special experience. When I finished, Brother Kimball stopped me. At this point he suggested that we stand and sing, “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.”
I shall never forget singing that wonderful hymn on that special occasion. Elder Kimball then asked if we would join him in prayer. He asked permission to be the one to offer the prayer. To me, this was one of the truly great moments of my life. On that morning we heard an Apostle express his feelings to the Lord. It was marvelous to kneel by his side and hear him thank God for what happened on that spot in the spring of 1820. Rarely in my life have I heard anyone pray so earnestly and so sincerely. My heart was pounding. The years have come and gone, and I have never forgotten the great feeling of reverence I had that morning in the Sacred Grove with one who was to become the Prophet of the Lord. (As quoted in Elder Rudd’s personal history.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley (from biography):
A week later [June 2, 1973] Elder Hinckley reorganized the Cumorah Stake in Rochester, New York. Early Saturday morning he and President Bryant Rossiter of the Cumorah Stake, Regional Representative Mark Weed, and President William Siddoway of the Cumorah Mission visited the Sacred Grove, and, as before, he was deeply affected by the experience. "It was a magnificent morning after three weeks of rain," he wrote. "In the grove we were alone. The birds were singing, and the sun was filtering through the trees. It was a tremendously inspirational experience to stand on sacred ground where this dispensation was opened with the visitation of God the Eternal Father and the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, to the boy Joseph Smith. We bowed our heads, and I offered prayer in behalf of the group. I think I shall not forget the experience of this morning in this sacred place." Such experiences reinforced within him an "ever-growing compulsion to bear testimony of the divinity of the Lord and of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I think this world needs this more than any other thing," he reflected.
(Go Forward With Faith, chap 17)
I have not spoken face to face with all of the prophets of this dispensation. I was not acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith, nor did I ever hear him speak. My grandfather, who as a young man lived in Nauvoo, did hear him and testified of his divine calling as the great prophet of this dispensation. But I feel I have come to know the Prophet Joseph Smith.
I have read and believed his testimony of his great first vision in which he conversed with the Father and the Son. I have pondered the wonder of that as I have stood in the grove where he prayed, and in that environment, by the power of the Spirit, I have received a witness that it happened as he said it happened.
Elder Ben B. Banks
My wife and I recently had the occasion to spend a couple of hours alone walking hand in hand through the Sacred Grove. I testify to you the Prophet Joseph saw what he said he saw as the Father and the Son appeared to him in that sacred ground of the holy Sacred Grove. As the Father addressed his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, with those seven words—“This is my Beloved Son, hear Him”—the gospel was reintroduced to the earth through the Prophet Joseph, never to be taken from the earth again in its fullness. I testify that the Prophet Joseph was the prophet of this dispensation and that today you and I have the opportunity of sitting and listening to a living prophet—even President Gordon B. Hinckley, who holds all the keys of the kingdom. I promise that if we will listen to his counsel, he will help us to prepare one day to be worthy to return to the presence of the Father and the Son.
This past week Sister Reeve and I have had the opportunity to spend some days where the Church was organized. We were back at the pageant. We were in the Sacred Grove. You can’t be in that sacred place and not know that something special happened there. The feeling that’s there, unless you’re totally insensitive to the Spirit, lets you know that you are on holy ground, just as Moses must have felt when he approached the burning bush, when the Lord said to him, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
Elder George Albert Smith:
We boarded the train on Christmas night and were taken westward. On the morning of the 26th, we arrived at the little station of Palmyra. There we found carriages awaiting us, and we began a tour of that section of the country, visiting places of much interest to the Latter-day Saints. We went to the former home of the father of the Prophet Joseph Smith, where Joseph came with the plates after he had received them from the hand of Moroni, and where, it is said, he received the manifestations of the angel, who appeared to him three times in one night. We went in to the grove where Joseph had knelt down and asked the Lord to inform him which church he should join. We were impressed to sing, in that hallowed place, the beautiful Mormon Sunday school hymn. “Joseph Smith's First Prayer.”. . . We were taken inside the house and shown the room where a part of the Book of Mormon had been translated. We drank water out of the well that was supposed to have been dug by the father of the prophet Joseph Smith. The house was built by his brother Alvin. . .
We visited the Hill Cumorah and were accorded the courtesy of going thereon. . . . When we went up there and looked around, we felt that we were standing on holy ground. The brethren located, as near as they thought was possible, the place from which the plates of the Book of Mormon were taken by the Prophet. We were delighted to be there. Looking over the surrounding country we remembered that two great races of people had wound up their existence in the vicinity, had fought their last fight, and that hundreds of thousands had been slain within sight of that hill. Evidence of the great battles that have been fought there in days gone by are manifest in the numerous spear and arrow-heads that have been found by farmers while plowing in that neighborhood. We were fortunate enough to obtain a few of the arrowheads. Upon the hill, near a little grove of timber, the party stood and sang that glorious hymn:
An angel from on high
The long, long silence broke;
Descending from the sky
These gracious words he spoke:
Lo! in Cumorah's lonely hill,
A sacred record lies concealed.
And then, under the inspiration of the Lord, President Smith offered one of the most profound and beautiful prayers I have ever listened to. Everyone present was melted to tears. We felt the presence of the Spirit of our Father; and all who were there can testify that it was one of the most supremely happy moments of their lives. (Conference Report, April 1906.)
Elder Thorpe B. Isaacson (Second Counselor Presiding Bishopric):
A week ago I had an opportunity to walk into the Sacred Grove, the place where that young man, Joseph, walked and prayed to the Lord to help him. One cannot walk into that grove without feeling that spirit of reverence, that spirit of sacredness, the only spot, if my memory serves me right, where God and his son Jesus Christ both appeared at the same time, at the same place, and they spoke to that boy. Oh, that is a fact! You cannot go into the grove but what you feel that influence. It is different from any other wooded grove in all the world, because it is a sacred place and a hallowed spot. That grove is right behind the house where his father and mother lived and where Joseph lived as a boy; and right down the road a little way—you who have not been there—is that other sacred spot, the Hill Cumorah, where the angel of the Lord appeared to that boy, not once, but in four consecutive years, before he delivered to him the golden plates, and from them came the Book of Mormon. That boy did not write that book. Then he sealed that testimony by giving his life. How much more evidence do we need? Surely the world must accept that as truth. And it would be well if we would stimulate that belief in the hearts and souls of our young people. If they can only feel that influence, that one feels when he is there, they would need never to doubt nor would they need ever to worry.
Before I left the grove, I asked those that were with me if I could remain a little while. Then I knelt down before my Father in heaven by that big tree, and I tried to pour out my heart to him as I had never tried before. I bear you my testimony that the influence of the Lord is there, that all of that is true. I did not intend to say that, but the Sacred Grove and the recent memory of it were fresh in my mind.
Elder Stephen L Richards:
In the Sacred Grove there comes to one of faith, a solemnity and feeling that are indescribable. It is believed that many of the large stately trees that gave shade and seclusion to the humble boy a hundred and twenty years ago still live. Standing beside these ancient silent witnesses who know the truth it is not difficult to secure confirmation and added support for testimony and conviction. That something which we call the soul of man responds to such an environment. His inner feelings are stirred, the spark of divinity within him is kindled anew, and each one of the seventy persons gathered together in a five-and-a-half-hour missionary meeting in this exquisitely beautiful Grove knew, as perhaps he had never known before, that the experience of Joseph within these woods was actual, that he did behold the Father and the Son, that he heard Them speak and that his incomparable mission in life was divinely given to him. Each historic scene brought similar feelings and confirmation. (Conference Report, October 1942.)
Hyrum G. Smith, Patriarch to the Church:
I was also permitted to go into that sacred grove where the boy sought an answer to his prayer, and I instinctively felt the very spirit that one would naturally suppose would be in that place from its sacred history, and the entire time that I was in the grove I felt the very presence of the Spirit of the Lord. (Conference Report, April 1921.)
Elder Orson F. Whitney:
During the past summer it was my happy privilege to visit some of the early scenes of our Church history. Among these was the site of the old log and frame farmhouse in the township of Manchester, New York, where the Prophet Joseph was living with his parents, as a boy between fourteen and fifteen years of age, when God appeared to him in person, and opened the dispensation of the fulness of times. I stood within the very grove where it is believed the Father and the Son appeared to and conversed with him as one man converses with another. I am sure I cannot tell you how profoundly impressed I was while standing upon the spot where these marvelous events took place. I sensed the difference between reading of things or hearing of them, and being where I could feel them as I never felt them before. Not that any particular place gives a testimony of the truth, but it seemed to me that my testimony was renewed, or deepened and expanded, by what I saw, and I felt the truth more vividly. I know, for God has revealed it to me, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet of the Most High. I know that he saw God face to face and spake with Him, and that he saw Him in the form of man. I am not dependent upon man, but upon God, for this knowledge. (Conference Report, October 1914.)