A period of trial, testing and tutoring: New York, Pennsylvania era was formative for prophet

The 15 years that Joseph Smith resided in New York and Pennsylvania were formative years for both Joseph and the Church. Significant events that occurred in those years include the First Vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, Joseph's marriage to Emma and the beginnings of their family, the organization of the Church, the beginning of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, the launching of missionary work in this dispensation, and Joseph receiving no less than 39 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants.

These formative years were times of preparation for Joseph to be forged as a prophet, seer, and revelator. This preparation and tutoring came from God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, heavenly messengers, and "line upon line" of life's experiences. There were times of tranquility, peace, and a sense of accomplishment for Joseph and the Church.For the most part, however, there were many difficulties for Joseph and the fledgling Church. Truth and error were taking the field. A foreshadowing of the difficulties to be waged between the powers of good and evil was foreseen by Heber C. Kimball in a manifestation in the heavens. Heber was then living in the small town of Mendon, N.Y. He recalls: "It was the eventful night of Sept. 22, 1827.

"I had retired to bed, when John P. Greene, who was living within a hundred steps of my house, came and waked me up, calling upon me to come out and behold the scenery in the heavens. I woke up and called my wife and Sister Fanny Young (sister to Brigham Young), who was living with us, and we went out-of-doors.

"It was one of the most beautiful starlight nights, so clear that we could see to pick up a pin. We looked to the eastern horizon, and beheld a white smoke arise toward the heavens; as it ascended it formed itself into a belt, and made a noise like the sound of a mighty wind, and continued southwest, forming a regular bow dipping in the western horizon. After the bow had formed, it began to widen out and grow clear and transparent, of a bluish cast; it grew wide enough to contain twelve men abreast.

"In this bow an army moved, commencing from the east and marching to the west; they continued marching until they reached the western horizon. They moved in platoons, and walked so close that the rear ranks trod in the steps of their file leaders, until the whole bow was literally crowded with soldiers. We could distinctly see the muskets, bayonets and knapsacks of the men, who wore caps and feathers like those used by the American . . . officers with their swords and equipage, and the clashing and jingling of their implements of war, and could discover the forms and features of the men. The most profound order existed throughout the entire army; when the foremost man stepped, every man stepped at the same time; I could hear the steps. When the front rank reached the western horizon a battle ensued, as we could distinctly hear the report of arms and the rush.

"This scenery we gazed upon for hours, until it began to disappear." (Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp. 15-16.)

Later on, when Heber became familiar with the Church, he learned that Joseph received the Book of Mormon record the same evening Heber witnessed the heavenly manifestation - Sept. 22, 1827. The manifestation was a precursor for what was to come - difficult times. It would be a battle for Joseph and the Church to encounter the seeds of apostasy spread by Satan the antagonist, the enemy to all that is good.

According to President Joseph Fielding Smith, the results of the Apostasy were devastating: "Satan in his wrath drove the

ChurchT into the wilderness, or from the earth; the power of the Priesthood was taken from among men, and after the Church with its authority and gifts disappeared from the earth, then in his anger the serpent continued his war upon all who had faith and sought the testimony of Jesus, desiring to worship God according to the dictates of conscience. So successful did he become that his dominion extended over all the known world" (The Progress of Man, p. 166.)

A young boy's experience in a grove in Palmyra, N.Y., in the spring of 1820 set out a new campaign to change the direction of the battle and uproot Satan's seeds of apostasy. President Spencer W. Kimball explained: "That new day dawned when another soul with passionate yearning prayed for divine guidance. A spot of hidden solitude was found, knees were bent, a heart was humbled, pleadings were voiced, and a light brighter than the noonday sun illuminated the world -the curtain never to be closed again.

". . . Heaven kissed the earth, light dissipated the darkness, and God again spoke to man." (Ensign, May 1977, p. 77.) The First Vision was a pivotal event in the rise of the kingdom of God on the earth in the last days. Joseph Smith, although only an unlettered youth, learned profound truths that have become the foundation of the faith of the Latter day Saints. He had actually seen and spoken with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (see Joseph Smith History 1:17).

It was three years after Joseph experienced his great vision of God before he received further instructions concerning the important work he had been called to. This work, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, would preoccupy his life for the next seven years.

Many significant happenings in Joseph's early life and in the Church were associated with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. From the time the angel Moroni appeared in 1823 until the publication of the Book of Mormon in March of 1830, Joseph's life was tethered to the coming forth of the book. Where Joseph lived, his travel, and his associations were often associated with this book of scripture.

Indirectly, Joseph's marriage was influenced by the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Joseph had made the acquaintance of Emma Hale two years after Moroni's first visit and two years before he received the plates. They had first met in Harmony, Pa., in the fall of 1825, while Joseph was boarding at the Hale home. Joseph went to Harmony to work for Josiah Stowell, who hired Joseph to dig for treasure because of his rumored ability to "discern things invisible to the natural eye." (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, p. 92.) Joseph's family was experiencing some economic difficulties and would hire out for whatever work was available.

It appears that the Lord's purpose for Joseph going to Harmony was far more than gainful employment. The purpose occurred on Jan. 18, 1827, when Joseph and Emma ended a long-distance courtship, eloped, and were wed in South Bainbridge, N.Y. by Squire Zachariah Tarbell. Since Emma's parents were opposed to this courtship and marriage, the new bride and groom apparently did not return to Harmony but moved to Palmyra.

At the time, Palmyra was a fitting place for Joseph to reside, for he had an appointed annual meeting with the Angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah beginning Sept. 22, 1827, eight months distant.

Joseph had not been in Palmyra long when the Angel Moroni met him on the road near Cumorah and chastised him: "I had not been engaged enough in the work of the Lord; that the time had come for the record to be brought forth; and that I must be up and doing and set myself about the things which God had commanded me to do." (History of Joseph Smith, p. 100.) In relating this incident to his father, Joseph exclaimed, "Father, give yourself no uneasiness concerning the reprimand which I have received, for I now know the course that I am to pursue, so all will be well." (History of Joseph Smith, pp. 100-101.) This course led to Joseph receiving the plates on Sept. 22, 1827.

Meanwhile, pressure was building in the village. Talk was heard of a mob with plans to tar and feather Joseph unless he showed them the plates. Joseph could see that he would not have peace in Palmyra and so asked Alva Hale, Emma's brother, to come up from Harmony with a wagon to transport their belongings. Alva arrived and in December 1827, Joseph loaded their belongings into the wagon, including the plates hidden in a barrel of beans, helped in the two-month-pregnant Emma, and set out for Harmony.

Joseph and Emma's move to Harmony offered a temporary peace from the badgering of neighbors and persecution. The Smith family settled down in a small home on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The Hale family welcomed the opportunity to have Emma home again in order to bring Emma to her senses concerning the rogue she had married.

Early in the year of 1828, Joseph began the translation of the plates, first aided by Emma then by Martin Harris, a well-to-do farmer from Palmyra who had taken a keen interest in Joseph and the plates (see History of Joseph Smith, p. 114). Joseph's interpretation of the characters on the plates came by the gift and power of God.

By June, 116 pages of manuscript had been translated. Emma was in her last month of pregnancy and deserving of Joseph's attention. It is under these circumstances that Joseph stopped translation of the plates and allowed Martin his wish to take the 116 pages to show his family in Palmyra.

The day after Martin left, June 15, 1828, Emma gave birth. Whatever happiness the child brought was short-lived. The baby, named Alvin after Joseph's older brother, died. For some time Emma was near death herself, and Joseph had to attend to her day and night.

After two weeks, Emma began to mend, and Joseph began to turn his thoughts back to the manuscript.

Martin Harris' return with the 116 pages was overdue, and Joseph's anxiety was mounting. Joseph went to Manchester to check on the manuscript. Joseph's fears were confirmed. Martin had lost the 116 pages of manuscript.

Upon returning home to Harmony without the 116 pages of the manuscript, Joseph immediately began to pray for the Lord to forgive him for acting contrary to His will.

Moroni appeared to Joseph and required him to return the plates and the Urim and Thummim, but promised that he could receive them back if he were humble and penitent.

Some time later he received a revelation that chastised him for negligence and for "setting at naught the counsels of God," but also comforted him that he was still chosen to perform the work of translation if he repented. (See D&C 3:4-10.) Joseph did repent and again received the plates and the Urim and Thummim, along with a promise that the Lord would send a scribe to assist him in the translation (History of Joseph Smith, p. 135.)

The lesson from this experience remained with Joseph throughout his life; he had "feared man more than God." (D&C 10.) He had learned obedience and was later able to say, "I made this my rule: When the Lord commands, do it." (History of the Church 2:170.)

Joseph recommitted himself to the work, and the Lord soon made good on his promise by sending another scribe, Oliver Cowdery, to assist Joseph. Joseph and Oliver labored with little cessation on the translation throughout April. With Oliver's help, Joseph proceeded faster than ever before. During the next three months Joseph and Oliver completed the amazing task of translating approximately 500 printed pages. This was a glorious period in their lives. Oliver wrote: "These were days never to be forgotten to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven. . . . Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated, with the Urim and Thummim . . . the history, or record, called `The Book of Mormon' " (Latter-day Saint Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, p. 14).

Another significant event in the early history of the Church in this time period was the restoration of the priesthood. Again the event was related to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. While translating, Joseph and Oliver were thrilled as such doctrines as the resurrected Savior's visit to the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere and the teachings about baptism were unfolded. At this point their souls were driven to mighty prayer to learn how they could obtain the blessings of baptism. On May 15, 1829, Joseph and Oliver went into the woods along the Susquehanna River to pray. Oliver described the scene that followed: "On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance! What joy! What wonder! What amazement! While the world were racked and distracted . . . our eyes beheld our ears heard." (Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, p. 15.)

The angel introduced himself as John (John the Baptist in the New Testament) and told them that he was acting under the direction of the apostles Peter, James, and John. He laid his hands upon Joseph and Oliver and said, "Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins." (Joseph Smith-History 1:69; see also D&C 13:1.)

John explained the Melchizedek Priesthood would be bestowed upon them at a later time. This soon after occurred when Joseph and Oliver went to Colesville. On their return trip, the Lord's chief apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to them on the banks of the Susquehanna River. (See D&C 128:20.) The angelic visitors conferred upon them the holy Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the apostleship. (See D&C 27:12.) Joseph and Oliver now had the authority to act as legal agents for the Lord in building the kingdom of God upon the earth. For the first time in centuries, the priesthood was again with man on the earth.

Persecution began to increase in Harmony, so Joseph looked for another place to complete the translation. Oliver communicated with David Whitmer, an acquaintance of his from Fayette, N.Y., and told him of Joseph Smith, the ancient records, and the divine work. As a result Joseph and Oliver were invited to Peter Whitmer's farm (David's father) to complete the translation.

As the work of the translation came to a close in Fayette on June 1, 1829, Joseph turned his attention toward the publication of the Book of Mormon. He obtained the printing services of Egbert B. Grandin and John H. Gilbert of Palmyra, N.Y., to produce and typeset the book. The publication was completed in March of 1830 and went on sale March 26.

Shortly after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the priesthood in 1829, they were shown in revelation "the precise day upon which, according to [God's] will and commandment, we should proceed to organize his church once again, here upon the earth." (Times and Seasons, Oct. 1, 1842, pp. 928-29.)

Peter Whitmer Sr. offered the use of his home for the organization meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday, April 6, according to revelation. At the appointed hour, close to 60 people assembled to witness the formal organization of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Approximately 20 of these people came from Colesville, a distance of approximately 100 miles, to participate in the events of this sacred occasion.

The meeting was simple. Joseph Smith, then 24 years old, called the group to order and designated five associates - Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Peter Whitmer, Jr., Samuel Smith, and David Whitmer - to join him to meet the necessary legal requirements for incorporating a religious society for the state of New York. After kneeling in solemn prayer, Joseph asked those present if they were willing to accept him and Oliver as their teachers and spiritual advisers. Everyone raised their hands to the affirmative.

In a revelation received on this day, Joseph was designated "a seer, translator, a prophet, and apostle of Jesus Christ." (D&C 21:1.) The Lord instructed members of the newly organized Church to receive Joseph's word "as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith." (D&C 21:5.)

The organization of the Church climaxed a decade of preparation for the Prophet Joseph Smith.

There were many first occurrences for the infant Church in these formative years: The first miracle of the Church later in April in Colesville as Joseph Smith cast out evil spirits from Hiram Page. The first public discourse on April 11, in Fayette. And the first general conference of the Church on June 9 in Fayette.

With the formal organization of the Church the stone had been cut out and began to roll forth. (See Daniel 2:44-45.)

Joseph began the translation of the Bible in June 1830. Joseph still had his residence in Harmony, and the translation of the Bible was begun there.

While the above events were transpiring in Fayette, Colesville and Harmony during the summer of 1830, missionary work was also under way in other parts of New York state.

In August 1830 the Smiths left Harmony never to return again. Joseph and Emma resided a short time in Fayette, for within five months the Lord commanded Joseph and his people to gather "at the Ohio." (D&C 37:3.)

These were the formative years for Joseph and for the Church. The truth was rolling forth, and it had begun in New York and Pennsylvania.




Spring 1820, visitation of the Father and the Son.

Sept. 21-22, 1823, five visits of Angel Moroni.

Jan. 18, 1827, Joseph Smith marries Emma Hale.

Sept. 22, 1827, Angel Moroni delivers gold plates to Joseph Smith.

May 15, 1829, restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood; soon after, Melchizedek Priesthood is restored.

June 1829, Joseph Smith and scribe Oliver Cowdery complete translation of the Book of Mormon; three witnesses, and later, eight witnesses, view gold plates.

March 26, 1830, Book of Mormon is published in Palmyra, N.Y.

April 6, 1830, Church is organized at Fayette, N.Y.

June 9, 1830, first conference of Church in Fayette, N.Y.

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