This year we celebrate the bicentennial of the First Vision. It was the signal event that launched the Kingdom of God in this dispensation. Every time something profound is about to occur in God’s Kingdom, Satan and his nefarious forces are present in their goal line stand. It occurred at the birth of the Savior with the slaying of the innocents. It occurred when the Savior commenced his mission and was confronted with the three temptations.
And it occurred again during the time of the Atonement — there was the betrayal, the denunciation, the mock trial and the final barb: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40).
And so it would be with Joseph Smith before the advent of the First Vision. Satan would be there in all his diabolic opposition. At all costs, Satan knew he must stop this young boy from proceeding to carry out his destined work. No doubt Satan knew Joseph in the premortal existence; he knew he was a spiritual redwood; and he knew he was destined to be a disturber in his kingdom.
It was the spring of 1820. Joseph, in his 15th year, was pondering James 1:5. One can almost envision Satan wringing his hands, “perspiring” as he watched this boy with intensity read this scripture again and again. In Joseph’s own words he said: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again” (JS History 1:12).
The next morning, on a beautiful spring day, Joseph was about to enter the Sacred Grove, but he would not be alone. As he knelt in prayer, he heard the rustling of leaves and footsteps. There was the thickening of his tongue so he could not speak, and the overpowering gloom of darkness to which he almost succumbed, but finally a glorious light dispelled that cloud of darkness and he saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. That transcendent vision changed all history. That heavenly manifestation ushered in the Restoration.
Is it any wonder that three years later when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph in his bedroom, he should make this astounding prophecy: “That [Joseph’s] name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” (JS History 1:33). That was a remarkable prophecy to make of a teenage farm boy, who had no more than the equivalent of a third-grade education and who lived in the backwoods of New York, yet every word of it would be vindicated.
On July 20, 1844 (one month after the Prophet’s death), the New York Tribune, no doubt unaware of Moroni’s prophecy, made this stunning observation: “[Joseph Smith] was a remarkable man, and has left the impress of his genius upon the age … and his name will be remembered, for good or evil, when the names of half the ephemeral Statesmen of the age will be forgotten.”
What an unwitting, but remarkable confirmation from a gentile paper of Moroni’s prophecy!
The Doctrine and Covenants gives us this insight as to who would know Joseph’s name for evil, and who would know his name for good:
“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision [those who will know his name for evil], and hell shall rage against thee;
“While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous [those who will know his name for good], shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:1-2).
The scriptures testify that Joseph “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (Doctrine and Covenants 135:3). Accordingly, we can testify without excuse, without apology, and without embarrassment that Joseph Smith did see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove on that spring day in 1820 and that he was God’s anointed prophet for the Restoration.
His name is known for good and evil throughout the world exactly as Moroni prophesied. May we be among the wise and noble and virtuous who honor and praise the name of Joseph Smith for good.
— Elder Tad R. Callister is an emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president.