Episode 154: Church historians on 200th anniversary of angel Moroni’s first visits to Joseph Smith and coming forth of the Book of Mormon
The Church News podcast features Church Historian and Recorder, Elder Kyle S. McKay, and Keith A. Erekson of the Church History Department
Episode 154: Church historians on 200th anniversary of angel Moroni’s first visits to Joseph Smith and coming forth of the Book of Mormon
The Church News podcast features Church Historian and Recorder, Elder Kyle S. McKay, and Keith A. Erekson of the Church History Department
On the evening of Sept. 21 and the morning of Sept. 22, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith, teaching him and revealing the nearby location of an ancient record written on gold plates — the Book of Mormon. He quoted scripture about the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gathering of Israel.
With the approaching 200th anniversary of Moroni’s visits, the Church News podcast features Elder Kyle S. McKay, a General Authority Seventy and Church historian and recorder, and Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach for the Church History Department, talking about these historic visitations.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Sometimes we want to associate this vision with the bringing forth of or the announcement of the Book of Mormon, which it was. But there was much more. In fact, the Book of Mormon is a sign of the beginning of the Restoration. And Elder Holland said the Book of Mormon is the most preeminent tool for gathering Israel. Gathering Israel where? Gathering them unto Christ. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. So now we have the tool. And that’s what this book is used for. Joseph was and is the Prophet of the Restoration of the gospel in these latter days.
Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sept. 21 and 22, 2023, mark 200 years since Moroni’s first four appearances to Joseph Smith, during which he told the Prophet of the Book of Mormon, revealed the hiding place of the gold plates and instructed him in many ways. Today we welcome Elder Kyle S. McKay, Church historian and recorder and a General Authority Seventy; and Keith A. Erekson, director of research and outreach with the Church History Department, to talk about these historic visitations and this significant anniversary. We’re filming today in front of the Grandin press at the Museum of Church History. And so, welcome, both of you. Let’s just start and have you give a little background on yourself so that everyone knows why you can talk about this anniversary.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: I can talk about this anniversary because I’m sitting next to Keith Erekson, who knows everything. I’ve been in the Church History Department now for four years plus and recently was assigned to be the Church historian and recorder. I, my entire life, have been fascinated by and drawn to the history of this Church, and especially the doctrines that have been restored through the Prophet Joseph. And it all brings me great joy. So I’m thrilled to be here today visiting with you and especially to be next to Keith.
Keith A. Erekson: I’ve been with the Church History Department for nine years, most of that time as director of the Church History Library, and in that time had several precious opportunities to research closely in our documents and records about Moroni and his visit and to write and publish things about those events.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and let’s start, Keith, and have you set the scene for what’s about to happen on Sept. 21.
Keith A. Erekson: Sure. In many ways, this is the moment when the Restoration becomes public. Joseph had had his experience that we now call the First Vision. But that was largely a private thing. Joseph did share it with people, and he had some reaction; but in his own history, he relates that when he came home, his mom perceived that something was different. And he just told her not to worry about it, that he learned that her church wasn’t true. But at this moment, it’s going to become a very big deal in the Smith family. And so, Joseph had spent three years since the previous visit trying to follow the instructions, which were basically “Don’t do anything, and wait.” But along the way, he had done things that he felt were unbecoming of someone with his calling, and so on this night of Sept. 21, he went back in prayer, seeking for forgiveness and understanding of his place before God.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Elder McKay, take us back to the First Vision and the personal nature of that very sacred event.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: I think it’s interesting the way these two experiences tie together, because what brought forth both experiences was a desire, a need, on the part of Joseph Smith to receive forgiveness. And he goes into the grove, and of course, we know more about his grove experience with forgiveness from the 1832 and 1835 accounts. But he goes in there knowing that he needs forgiveness, knowing that he needs salvation, but he doesn’t know how to get it. He doesn’t know where to find it; “How to act I did not know,” he said in the 1838 version.
And so he goes to the grove and has this beautiful, spiritual, personal, redemptive experience. And we like to list all the things that Joseph came out of the grove knowing, and I’m thinking we probably impose a lot of our own knowledge after the fact on Joseph than he actually had leaving the grove. What he did know, and what he recorded, was, “I found that what James said was true, that if you ask, you’ll get an answer, because I asked, and I get an answer.” So now, fast forward three years; here I am, again needing forgiveness. And I’ve got this amazing experience as part of my background. “I know that if I ask, I’ll get an answer,” and he says that in his record, so he asks, and it’s seeking forgiveness and acknowledging his own faults that brings him to both places and summons forth both experiences.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Keith, how do we know about the things that transpired? Where do we get this record?
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, our records come from many, many people, actually, in this case. Joseph himself either authored or directed at least four accounts as part of his histories or letters or things that he was preparing. But because this was a story that Joseph told many, many times in public, and it was a story that really resonated with people, we get information about this from many people who are close to Joseph, like his mother; she spends a lot of detail in her memoir written after Joseph was murdered. She talks about the family and their experience and the reaction. But then other people who come into the Restoration, like Oliver Cowdery, when they go to Joseph, they ask about his experiences, and they’re excited to learn and to record what they’ve heard Joseph say about these visitations of the angel and his instructions about the record.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Elder McKay, Joseph had this very, very supportive family who not only supported him in all he had to do, but believed him wholeheartedly.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yes, he did. What a blessing. And President [M. Russell] Ballard, who is a descendant from that family, has taught on more than one occasion — and he’s quoting Brigham when he does it — that the Lord had His eye on that family for a long time and for generations, even, as He brings Joseph through that line. And that includes his immediate family, with a father who is, I guess in today’s terms, we would say he was spiritual but not religious; his mother, who taught him and prayed with him; and then his siblings, who supported him. Alvin was perhaps — and Keith, you can chime in here, but — maybe his biggest believer and supporter and, on his deathbed, gives Hyrum a charge: Make sure you support Joseph. And, boy, did Hyrum support Joseph. So, they were believers from the beginning. And they still had family interactions that were less than perfect, but believers and supporters from the beginning.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to detail some of the things that Moroni taught Joseph. He actually teaches him from the scriptures. And so, let’s start there and start with Malachi.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: So, thank you; I think it’s important that your listeners remember that sometimes we want to associate this vision with the bringing forth of or the announcement of the Book of Mormon, which it was, but we sometimes view it almost exclusively as Moroni announcing the Book of Mormon, telling Joseph where it is, and then he goes and gets it or visits it every four years. There was much more. In fact, I suspect that if you were to make columns of “Here’s how much the Book of Mormon was talked about,” “Here’s how much the Restoration was talked about,” the Book of Mormon is a sign of the beginning of the Restoration. And so, Moroni tells him about this record, because the record will begin the whole thing. But the Restoration itself is what Moroni focuses on: Malachi, the prophet Elijah, I’m going to send him, I’m going to reveal the priesthood, through the prophet Elijah, “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).
And then he — and Joseph even notes it — quotes Elijah a little differently than is in Malachi, saying that he will “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” (Joseph Smith—History 1:39): Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. And with those promises planted in their hearts, then “the hearts of the children [will be turned] to their fathers” (verse 39), their ancestors. So, he begins with this amazing prophecy from Malachi about the prophet Elijah and, really, the sealing keys, the sealing power that will come forth because of his visit. I like to say that the keys of the priesthood restored by Elijah were promised in Palmyra, restored in Kirtland and turned in Nauvoo and now.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Keith, he then — as Elder McKay alluded to — talks about the Book of Mormon, tells him that there are gold plates. That had to be somewhat of a shock to Joseph.
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, and I think it is one of the things that sparks his interest, his family’s interest. And I think Joseph has a lot of thoughts about these plates. And that’s part of what he’s learning about and being tutored through. One train of thought is the excitement about the record and the people and the information and the knowledge. But Joseph in his accounts of his experience is also very forthcoming in saying he feels tempted by the dollar value. His family is not a wealthy family. They are struggling, and the idea that there is a fabulous treasure very close to them, he admits, is tempting. And then he shares that Moroni is very emphatic in teaching Joseph that that is not the reason for this encounter.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And we’ve mentioned this, but this is really the beginning of everything that happens, because of this book of scripture. Elder McKay, detail more of the significance of this moment where he actually learns there is a Book of Mormon.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: That’s not what it was called to him in that moment, but he learns about this record. And the significance of the record is that — and I’m now quoting from modern-day prophets — Elder [Jeffrey R.] Holland said the Book of Mormon is the most preeminent tool for gathering Israel. It is the preeminent tool for gathering Israel. President [Russell M.] Nelson said if there had been no Book of Mormon, there could have been no gathering. So, here’s the record, and this is the tool; this is the instrument by which I am going to gather Israel. A great part of what Moroni talked to Joseph about was the gathering of Israel, the Restoration of not only the gospel, but of God’s covenant people. And the Book of Mormon, this record that I’m telling you about, is the preeminent tool for that gathering.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, Joseph would have known very early that the purpose of the Book of Mormon was to bring people to Jesus Christ.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yes, he would have, because a great deal of what Moroni talked about — and I’m referring now to a letter that Oliver Cowdery wrote W. W. Phelps in 1835, where he recounted in greater detail Joseph’s experience with Moroni — a great deal of that focused on the gathering of Israel and fulfilling the promises of old and bringing them back; “Here’s how you’re going to do it.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Keith, can you detail for us how Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 played out? Moroni appears four times. It had to be exhausting for Joseph Smith. What are some significant parts of those visitations?
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, so the first three visits occur all within the same night. And Joseph, in his own experience, the way he relates it in the account we have in the Pearl of Great Price, he just feels like he’s having a conversation. And then when the third visit ends, he’s surprised that it’s morning already. And so he gets up, he tries to go to work and then he is too exhausted. And his brother tells him, you know, “Hurry up; we’ve got to get finished today.” Joseph can’t keep up with the work. And so then Joseph goes to his father, and his father sends him home. His father thinks he’s sick or something like that. And then somehow in there, on his way home, Joseph stumbles, passes out, is just too exhausted.
And when he comes to, he sees Moroni again, who repeats the message and again tells Joseph to go and talk to his father. Joseph seems to be reluctant in — is his father going to believe him, that he’s been visiting with an angel all night, and that’s why he can’t work? And Moroni assures him that his father will believe him. He goes back and tells his father the real reason that he’s exhausted. And his father just says immediately, “It’s of God. Go and do exactly what the angel says.” And so, in this exhausted state, Joseph then goes to that hill near his house and has more instruction from Moroni — doesn’t receive the plates — and he comes back to his home that evening on the 22nd.
And his family has all, you know, they’ve heard from his father, from his brother, that something has happened. And they start hitting Joseph with questions. And then Alvin perceives that Joseph has basically been up all through the night and all day long, and Alvin says, “Look, he’s tired. Why don’t we all go to bed, get up, have a good work day tomorrow, and finish our chores early.” And so, it’s on the evening of the 23rd that they sit down early. And Joseph then has the strength to tell his family all that had happened to him over the previous two days.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and it’s significant to me that they believed him without question. Talk about the faith of the Smith family.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: It is a family brought up in faith. They were taught by parents to believe. Although Joseph Smith Sr. didn’t join any of the denominations, he was a faithful man. And Lucy had a journey similar to Joseph’s, I think: “Which church?” And so her searching, her quest, takes her to join a certain church.
But they are believing people, full of faith, and have been for generations. And then to hear this and to believe it immediately is a product of two things: No. 1, their background — they’re believing people, they are a loving, close-knit, unified family. But No. 2, they had a confirmation of the Spirit. They believed. And those confirmations came again and again and again throughout the process of the Restoration and everything Joseph did. But I have to believe — it makes the most sense to believe — that as they listened to their brother, their son, tell of his experience, they had a confirmation, and they knew it was true. And so they followed in faith.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Now Keith, just as word quickly spread throughout the Smith family, word also starts to spread throughout the community. What impact did that have on both Joseph and his family?
Keith A. Erekson: You know, it’s kind of an interesting impact. In some ways, it draws other people of faith who are curious and interested and wonder about the things that God is doing or about to do. But it also draws the attention — in some ways, it’s the struggle that Joseph has in his own soul — it also draws attention from people who are interested in the treasure or what it might be. And so there begins to be both a competition between the spiritual value of this work and the financial gain to be had, and that struggle is part of the community.
It also increases Joseph’s notoriety as a seer, as somebody who can find things, who can see things that others can’t see. And Joseph, you know, he doesn’t receive the plates for another four years. And so he’s still in between; he’s seeking for employment, and he’s, you know, just trying to make a living. And so, all of these are part of his experience over the coming years.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Moroni gives Joseph very specific instructions, but he also trusts him to work out some things for himself. Talk about the journey, Elder McKay, of Joseph from Sept. 21 to when he actually gets to the point where he can receive the plates.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Well, he’s married. That helps a lot. It makes a world of difference who you marry. And Joseph was guided to Emma, and in fact saw that he would be married to her in a vision. And Emma made a world of difference in Joseph’s life. But I want to back up and start where you started, and that is what Moroni taught him initially that gave him kind of the shove into the fray, and then met with him and trained and retrained once a year. When you read Oliver’s account of this — as he learned from Joseph, and we get it in a little more detail — he learned of how Moroni taught him that night. We know from the Joseph Smith version in the Pearl of Great Price that while he was — Moroni, that is — while he was speaking about the record in the hill, a vision was opened up in Joseph’s mind so that when he went to the hill, he knew exactly where it was because he recognized it. That same process, that same experience, happened as Moroni was talking about the Restoration and the gathering, as he is quoting all of these scriptures and giving many other explanations which cannot be written — these are Joseph’s words — the vision is being opened up in Joseph’s mind.
And Oliver — in fact, I could read you his words; we have them here, the original — but Oliver makes a statement that I think is instructive. He said, “To give a minute rehearsal of a lengthy interview with a heavenly messenger, is very difficult.” Then he said, “[By the Spirit], so much may be shown and made perfectly plain to the understanding in a short time. ... You will understand then, by this, that while those glorious things were being rehearsed, the vision was also opened, so that our brother [Joseph] was permitted to see and understand much more [fully and perfectly] than I am able to communicate in writing. I know much may be conveyed to the understanding in writing, and many [marvelous] truths set forth with the pen, but after all it is but a shadow, compared to an open vision of seeing, hearing and realizing eternal things.”
Joseph had an open vision not only of the Hill Cumorah but of all the things Moroni was talking about as he explained the coming forth of the gospel, the Restoration of the gospel and the Restoration of God’s people. So, he sent him forth, and Joseph grew; he increased in wisdom and learning. He got a job, he worked, he got married and he continued to repent daily. That’s one of the greatest messages of Joseph’s life, is his need and his desire to repent and be forgiven. It starts at least in the spring of 1820, and then we see it repeated over and over again throughout his life. Joseph repented a lot between 1820 and 1827.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and since we’re talking about Joseph not only being a Prophet but also being very human, let’s talk about what message you have for people who doubt that he was a Prophet of God, who take one incident or one example of his life and say, “Because of this, he couldn’t have been a Prophet.”
Elder Kyle S. McKay: You’re catching me in the middle of a growing relationship that I have with the Prophet Joseph. And by growing, I might say evolving, because as a child, I idolized him. And then you find out things that, “Yep, Joseph didn’t get that right. If he had a redo, he’d probably redo it or undo it.” It goes without saying that Joseph was human and made mistakes. So then, why do we feel compelled to say it? And I’ve caught myself saying what goes without saying that Joseph was human; he did make mistakes. The Joseph Smith Papers that we just finished chronicle errors, but they also chronicle the marvelous Restoration.
And so, what I would say to people is what the Lord said to Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 6: “Stand by my servant Joseph, faithfully, in whatsoever difficult circumstances he may be for the word’s sake. Admonish him in his faults, and also receive admonition of him.” That phrase “for the word’s sake” might identify what Joseph has to go through, the difficult circumstances he may be in, for the word’s sake. But it also, I think, modifies or describes what Oliver is doing. “You know his faults, Oliver, maybe more than anybody but Emma”; Oliver knew Joseph’s faults, but he’s going to stand by him. Why? For the word’s sake. So, that’s what I try to do. And I think that’s what we should do. Of course he had faults. It goes without saying, and yet somehow, we feel compelled to say it anyway, about him only.
Keith A. Erekson: You know, I think in many ways, this is a function of an incomplete way that we talk about Church history. And we can see it by contrast, I think, with the New Testament. In the Gospels, Jesus Christ is the main character. And He’s right in the center of the story. And because of that, we seem to be OK with the fact that the disciples, they don’t know everything, they don’t understand things, they go back to Jesus for things to figure out, they can’t cast out a Spirit and Jesus teaches them. We’re comfortable with that because Jesus is right in the center.
But then, for some reason, when we talk about modern Church history, we often leave Jesus out of the center of the story. And then it feels like there’s a vacuum, and we need to put somebody in the middle who knows everything. And so I think we mistakenly push prophets into the center, and we imagine that they are perfect, flawless, they understand everything, they’re never at a loss for what to do.
And I think the corrective action for this is to put Jesus back as the main character in our modern Church history. It’s Jesus who forgives Joseph’s sins. It’s Jesus who sends Moroni to instruct Joseph. It’s Jesus who authorizes and endorses Joseph’s translation of the Book of Mormon. And when Jesus is at the center of the modern history, then it should still be OK that Joseph or Brigham or any of us, we don’t know everything, we don’t understand things, because that’s not our role. We are the disciples and the learners, and Jesus is the main character of our modern history as well as our ancient history.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Beautiful thought. Thank you, Keith.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’m hoping before we move on that each of you will be willing to talk about the most significant or the most personal learnings that came to you as you reflect on what happened on Sept. 21, 1823.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: When I think of Joseph and his experiences, I naturally place myself there or relate to what I’m going through here. And for me, the spring of 1820 is the experience I go back to, where he had this experience where he sought for forgiveness, where he had a blessed experience, a remarkable, unparalleled experience, and then recorded it four different times. And those different recordings didn’t always match up perfectly. I had a foundational, significant spiritual experience early on in my life. And I recorded it contemporaneously and at least three or four times after that. Those records don’t match up. Two of them have historical errors in them. I wrote the record. I had the experience. And notwithstanding the failure to match up perfectly, notwithstanding the historical inaccuracies in two of those versions, I know what happened. And I was there.
And so, Joseph’s experience in both having seen the Father and the Son and then recording it afterward has actually helped me with my experience. The same is true with his experience with Moroni. And maybe the thing that drives me and pulls me is this cycle, this — it’s not even a cycle. It’s a pattern that Joseph recognizes a need to repent and be forgiven. Look at how many times in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord begins a section by saying, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” He does not bestow forgiveness whimsically. He bestows forgiveness after repentance, and usually in response to a request for forgiveness. So that can be implied in all of the sections where he says, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Joseph’s life, including the Sacred Grove and Moroni’s visit, are an example of daily repentance.
Keith A. Erekson: I think one of the insights that’s come to me from looking closely at Joseph’s sources about his experience is how little he knew in the beginning and how his understanding unfolded. Often, when we look back on the past, because we know the outcome, we tell stories about history as if they all knew everything and how it would all unfold. But I just have this kind of humble awe about Joseph getting these really simple instructions. And, you know, from his first experience, the instruction is “Don’t do anything. Don’t join a church, just wait.”
And then from this experience, the instruction is, “You need to be worthy to accept this record.” And it takes him a couple of years to get there. Then he receives the record, and he’s instructed to translate it, and he doesn’t know how. And we just see him humbly taking that one prompting, that one instruction from the Lord, and doing it, and then the Lord can say, “OK, here’s something else.” And I see a really great lesson there, in the simple instructions we get.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And from those things that each of you talked about — the First Vision and then this appearance of Moroni — there are several enormously significant outcomes for the Church. The first is obviously the Book of Mormon. Talk about the significance of having that book of scripture.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: It is, as mentioned previously, the preeminent tool for gathering Israel. Gathering Israel where? Gathering them unto Christ. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to convince Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. But remember, it is identified even by modern-day prophets as the sign of the beginning. So now we have the tool. Now, let’s go get to work and gather Israel back into the fold. And that’s what this book is used for. It is a singular work and testimony of Jesus Christ, but it too represents a record of normal, struggling, everyday people. And that’s why it resonates with me.
Keith A. Erekson: You know, now, 200 years later, it’s really hard to overstate the significance of the Book of Mormon. It laid the foundation, it begins the work. In many millions of cases, it is the first encounter that converts to the restored gospel have as they talk to missionaries and receive the message and then — but it’s also kind of a stepping point that we quickly move beyond. And when I say, “move beyond,” I only mean that in the sense that the words on the page are not all that God has given. And the book itself is an invitation, not to stay within the covers of the book, but for the reader, her or himself, to go to God and ask for more.
And so, in that sense, for each person in the way that the Book of Mormon opens the whole Restoration for everyone on the earth, it also — for us, individually — opens the door to know the truth of the book, and then the truth of all things and to have a relationship with God that then extends through, you know, blessings that we receive, patriarchal blessings. A lifelong relationship for an individual begins with that book.
Sarah Jane Weaver: How significant is it that someone of Joseph’s age and educational background actually managed to translate the Book of Mormon?
Keith A. Erekson: Well, you know, I think the Book of Mormon would be significant no matter who was involved — age, background — you could have the most learned person, and if they still were involved in bringing this forward, it would be beyond their capacity and their learning. But I do think there are some really pleasant reminders in the fact that Joseph is — we often talk about him not being very learned, and that’s kind of common for his day. But another thing I like about Joseph in this moment is how young he is. And I think today in the 21st century, we often underestimate what God can do through young people. And we think, “Oh, you’re not old enough for that important calling,” or “There’s a certain age,” or something. And we see this first generation of both Joseph and his scribes and the witnesses and the early Church members. These are people in their 20s and 30s. And they are at the forefront of something huge.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yes. Can you comment on the youthfulness of those early Church members?
Elder Kyle S. McKay: It’s remarkable, starting with Joseph at age 14, who’s prepared, and then the early Apostles of the Church — was there one over 35, Keith? You tell me.
Keith A. Erekson: Maybe one.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yeah, so they’re just young. They’re full of energy, they’re full of faith, and they’re full of belief, and God has raised them up and prepared them for this. And back to Keith’s prior point of the Book of Mormon and how it is an instrument but it’s not the end — it takes you to Christ — there is a verse; in fact, it’s back-to-back verses in the Book of Mormon where the Lord says, “I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:20). It is fascinating, exciting, to watch how He does His own work when he has the Book of Mormon and no missionary. Here’s Parley P. Pratt and the Book of Mormon and the Holy Ghost, and see what happens.
And the same thing with the Book of Mormon placed by Samuel Smith. Then consider what was done with God and the Book of Mormon in the lives of Brigham Young and others with this Book of Mormon, or two Books of Mormon, placed in the hands of Phineas Young and John P. Greene. And in that little region, that book and God did the work. So, it’s a marvelous thing, and it was among young people; and that same capacity and that same expectation is part of God’s plan now for young people in the Church, beginning at a very young age — Primary-aged, children — and going through their young adulthood, where He makes these opportunities and experiences available to all.
Keith A. Erekson: You know, perhaps as a way to underscore your point — sitting next to you is the first edition of the Book of Mormon. And it is the most unassuming thing. It is a simple leather cover, just the title on the back spine; there’s nothing here that’s screaming to the reader, “Open me. Buy me. Your life will be changed.” This is just a simple book that gets passed from friend to friend to family member to neighbor. And it’s what’s inside the book and what it opens to people as they draw closer to God from this message.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yeah, thank you. Marvelous point.
Sarah Jane Weaver: We’re talking in front of the Grandin press. It took great effort to get the Book of Mormon printed and funded. As you look at the press, what are some of the thoughts that fill both of your minds?
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Just the press itself and the timing that lined up in order to get the Book of Mormon printed, and this man, E. B. Grandin, just his availability, his initial refusal, correct?
Keith A. Erekson: That’s right.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: And then all of a sudden, it all just lines up till we get 5,000 copies of this book. That in itself is its own little miracle. But it’s also — so, Tyndale said, “If God spares my life, in a few years, a plowboy shall know more of the scriptures than you do.” And here we are a few years later with the ability to print and distribute. And that plowboy, Joseph, is a big part of it.
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, I think in terms of the big sweep of history, when you watch “When does the work of the Restoration begin?” the availability of a printing press and cheaper printing, and to be able to spread things widely is crucial. I mean, the fact that they can print 5,000 copies and missionaries can take these in their pocket, hand them around, that is just so much of an advance over, you know, hand copying old manuscripts. And so, this is the right time for the word of God to go throughout the world, because printing is an avenue to do that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Keith, next to you, you have a significant artifact in Church history. Tell us a little bit about that.
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, I have here one of our remaining pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. And this, too, is a testimony of the work. Joseph would dictate the translation to scribes, they would write as fast as they could write. And this becomes a material artifact, a material evidence of the translation process. And we can see even in our artifacts, we move from, you know, the handwriting to the print. And we see the work moving forward, kind of step by step in small ways to build the kingdom of God.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: So as Keith holds this up, I think, if I’m correct, is this 1 Nephi 3:7, “I will go and do”? So, this scripture, especially, I think, is instructive and really tells a story about the Book of Mormon and its purpose. Nephi said, “Look, I’m going to go, and I’m going to obey because I know that God doesn’t give us a commandment save He shall prepare a way for us to accomplish the thing which He commanded.” If the commandment is to remember — and it is, throughout the scriptures, He’s commanding that we should remember, including at the end of the Book of Mormon when he says, “[After you] receive these things, ... remember” (Moroni 10:3) — if the commandment is to remember, then what is the way prepared that we may accomplish this thing or obey this commandment? One of the ways is the record. And so, on the night of Sept. 21, 1823, Moroni introduces the record, the way, the means by which we can obey the commandment to remember.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And from this moment where Moroni appears to Joseph, the Restoration starts to unfold, and I want to have you comment on other significant things. And let’s just start with the restoration of priesthood power.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yeah, this is the beginning. This, as I said earlier, this is the beginning of the work. The Sacred Grove was the preparation of Joseph. Now we’re going to go to work. And the vision Joseph sees is remarkable. We don’t know or have all of it. We have a hint based on what Oliver wrote, but we just don’t know everything Joseph saw, but it was big, where he saw, there comes Elijah, and as all of these things are being explained, he sees it. And then in fulfillment, again, just the beginning, here comes in 1829 the restoration of the priesthood, the Aaronic Priesthood first. And this is the authority necessary for ordinances and for governance in God’s Church. He has an order, and this priesthood is part of it.
I think it’s remarkable how patient God is, at least by our standards. He doesn’t wear a wristwatch. Think of how long it takes things to process and unfold. And now we’re all the way forward into 1829, nine years, almost a decade, after Joseph has the amazing experience in the grove. Now we’re finally to the point where we have the lesser priesthood being restored by John the Baptist, and he’s one of many heavenly messengers who were sent to Joseph. And in that case, Oliver, and we could spend a long time talking about John the Baptist and what we can learn from him, but it was the beginning of authority.
Keith A. Erekson: I also think it’s significant that the restoration of the priesthood also begins within the text of the book. And you think, “Oh, this is something so important that God would send a billboard or some flashy way to do it.” No, He waits, as they’re translating, and they come to a passage that’s emphasizing “You need authority.” And it’s their own thought process that says, “Wow, you need authority to do this. Oh, how would that work? Well, let’s go ask about it.” And even, you know, God’s patience to just let them do the work, get to the point where they’re ready and curious, and then God is standing by, ready with the next instruction. But He’s patient for us to get there to the point of being ready.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: I think John’s introduction of himself — and a phrase that he uses twice, at least twice, in that encounter, in that experience — is instructive. And it goes to help us understand that we’re all people and the disciples in the New Testament didn’t know everything. So, John shows up. Remember what Jesus said about him, that he was more than a prophet, that among those born of women, there’s none greater. Now, he’s a resurrected, glorified being visiting two mistake-prone novices. And he descends to them, and I’d be inclined to be a little frightened at that. But he introduces himself: “I am [your] fellow-servant.”
I don’t know whether he says his name first or says that first. But he says early on, “I am your fellow-servant. You’ve got a job, I’ve got a job. We’re both servants in this work.” And then of all the things John needed to say as he restored the Aaronic Priesthood, I think the salutation or addressing them as fellow servants in that ordinance wasn’t necessary. But he said it: “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah” (Joseph Smith—History 1:69). And that’s an impressive thing about John and his understanding of his place in this. We are all servants of Jesus Christ, who is in the center. We’re fellow servants.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And following priesthood keys, then we get sealing power. Let’s talk about that.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: I’ll say a word about that. Now we’re into Kirtland. Remember, I said that the sealing power is promised in Palmyra, restored in Kirtland and then turned, those keys are turned, in Nauvoo. It’s a week or so after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and then is the fulfillment of what Moroni promised Joseph. And I wonder and have wondered whether in Joseph’s mind, he reflects back on this Sept. 21-22, 1823, experience, throughout the entire process of the Restoration.
Because when Elijah comes and restores those keys — and remember, Moses is coming to restore the keys of the gathering of Israel, and that was a huge topic during Moroni’s visit — now we’ve got this fulfillment. So I wonder if in Joseph’s mind, there was some recollection. And Elijah restores the power to bind on earth and in heaven, and to loose on earth and in heaven, and that’s another clue or keys to how Christ works. He’ll loose us from the bands of sin or the bands of sorrow, and having loosed us from everything that would get in the way of our joy, or getting between us and Jesus, then He can bind us to Him. So with that power, we are loosed eternally from the bad stuff and bound to Christ forever and ever.
Keith A. Erekson: I think sometimes today, we often kind of shrink the meaning of the word
“sealing.” And we most often use this in connection with a temple ordinance that unites a husband and wife and a family. But in the instructions Joseph receives, it is that, ordinances, but it’s also everything that is done in the Restoration is valid on earth, and it’s valid in heaven. And so, it’s your baptism and your forgiveness. It’s the preaching. It’s promises that you receive and you act on. All of this work is sealed and bound into heaven if we are worthy for that promise.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And in this time, we’re also seeing the Saints start to gather. They’re gathering in Kirtland and then of course, along the way, ultimately in Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley. What is the significance of gathering?
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, gathering is another message that comes to Joseph in this first night of visitations from Moroni, and we get in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph saying that “Moroni shared several other scriptures with me,” but Oliver Cowdery wonders what those are. And when he records the things Joseph told him about the experience, Oliver shares scriptures from Psalms, from Deuteronomy, from Isaiah, throughout the Old Testament. And a thread running through these is about the gathering of all of God’s people, the gathering of the house of Israel, the gathering of the righteous.
And so, that seed is at least planted in Joseph’s mind in 1823. And then, yes, over time, line upon line, we see it have a physical manifestation that people should gather to a place in Kirtland. We also then see gathering connected with temples and ordinances, and so — but that important message of gathering together in the strength of our covenants and the strength — also, that thread traces all the way back to this first message from Moroni.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: God has always sought to gather His covenant people. One of the things that Oliver wrote about that event that Keith just alluded to, there was an extensive discussion and teaching about the gathering on that night, Sept. 21: “And thus” — this is Oliver — “And thus shall Israel come: not a dark corner of the earth shall remain unexplored, nor an island of the seas be left without being visited; for as the Lord has removed them into all corners of the earth, he will cause his mercy to be as abundantly manifested in their gathering as his wrath in their dispersion, until they are [all] gathered according to the covenant.”
There’s a verse or two in the Book of Mormon — and of course, it is also in the New Testament — where Jesus’ voice from heaven is talking to the survivors of this terrible destruction. And among other things, He says, “How oft would I” — well, first of all, He says, “How oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, [to nourish] you” (3 Nephi 10:4). And then He says, “And ... how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, ... and ye would not” (3 Nephi 10:5).
Jesus over the years, throughout the centuries, has wanted to gather His people. That word “would” is past tense of “will,” meaning a person’s desire, what he wants. So a fair reading of that verse in 3 Nephi 11 is, “How oft have I wanted to gather you, and you didn’t want to be gathered.” I think that message is applicable and in the forefront and even a little haunting now. Consider how oft Christ wants to gather us now, weekly, to nourish us, to protect us, to give us power through that sacred ordinance of the sacrament, administered — meant to be administered — at a gathering.
And so, “How oft have I wanted to gather you, and you didn’t want to be gathered.” Well, He’s putting forth His hand one more time, one last time, to gather His people, His covenant people. And candidly, that is the greatest part, I believe, of the ongoing Restoration. I’m now in 2 Nephi 30. In Verses 5 and 8, he talks about, “Yeah, we’re going to have a Restoration of the gospel, but it’s all for the purpose of restoring my people. I’m going to restore my covenant people. Anybody who’s willing to make a covenant with me, I’m going to restore them.” To restore something means to put it back into its place. In the law, we use a different word: redeem. “I have come to redeem or restore my people, put them back where they were, where they belong.” And that gathering began with — or at least the sign of the beginning of the gathering was the Book of Mormon.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I want to talk a little bit about something that you mentioned earlier. And that’s the timeline of these events, because I think we like things to happen fast. Certainly, we don’t like to wait months or even years from instruction to actually receiving an outcome. Talk about the timeline of these early days of the Restoration, and it really did take longer than we would like to think.
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, I think it’s — in some ways, it’s long. In some ways it’s short. I think it all depends on how you look at it in the big sweep of things. But yes, often, when we’re kind of sitting there waiting for something to happen, years can seem like a long time, or decades can seem like a long time. In our ancient scripture, you know, the house of Israel spends 40 years in the wilderness being prepared, getting ready. And so, God seems to have a different sense of urgency than we do.
We often try to align ourselves with cultural clocks from our own culture, like, “Well, by the time I’m this age, I’m supposed to be this far in my career or in my life.” And God, most of the time, doesn’t care about our cultural clocks. And He cares about us being ready and being to the point where He can offer kind of the next instruction that moves us to the next step in our progress.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: I love what Keith said a little earlier about some of this Restoration unfolding in response to a question that just arose naturally; the restoration of the priesthood, for example. And God waits on us. We’re commanded to “wait upon the Lord” (Isaiah 40:31) with patience, in that we’re following His example. He waits upon us with patience and sometimes is willing to grant our request and would have granted it much earlier had we only sought after it.
In the case of the Restoration, that happened a lot. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed this famous prayer: “Thy will be done” (Matthew 26:42). That’s what He said to the Father. In a very real way, He says that to each one of us throughout our lives: “Look, here’s my will for you. I want to gather you. But thy will be done. If you don’t want to be gathered, then you’re not going to be gathered.” So, He waits on us to fulfill His purposes. And when we’re ready — and He, of course, is actively involved in our preparations — then He works. But He’s OK to work things within our timing.
I consider — and I’m a little bit sheepish about how long the Lord has had to wait for me for different things. But He’s going to get it done. And it’s going to be sooner or later. And again, as Keith said, it’s not going to be done by our cultural clocks; it will be done in His timing, and His timing is often just subject to ours. And what a wonderful statement that is, for Him to work according to our timing. But He’s done it, and He did it in the Restoration.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, on Sept. 21, 1823, we have the beginning of the Restoration, President Nelson has taught us that the Restoration continues even to this day. What is significant for members to know about that teaching?
Elder Kyle S. McKay: That God has never fallen mute; His children have fallen deaf. And so, we are in an age where we have a Prophet and a people who have opened their ears and are willing to listen, and so the Restoration is ongoing, including the Restoration of His people. But if you haven’t seen ongoing Restoration since President Nelson has been Prophet, you’ve been fast asleep.
Keith A. Erekson: I’m really grateful that we use this term “ongoing Restoration” more now. And it’s not a new concept; it’s been built into our doctrine. But I think in our practice, we often look at the history, and we talk about it as being done. “It happened, the Church was restored, it’s over.” But at the same time, we’ve been teaching regularly that God works “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Children memorize the idea that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). And so, I’m just thrilled that we’ve kind of reopened the idea that the Restoration is ongoing and there is so much more to come.
Sarah Jane Weaver: When I think about Joseph Smith, we often hear about how hard things were for him. When you think of the faith that he exhibited and His willingness to go forward, why do you think it had to be so hard? All of us, I think, want it to be just a little easier for him.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Yeah, I agree. Maybe I’ll respond to that. I ask that question about my life. But it’s true of Joseph’s as well, beginning in the grove. We sometimes want to use 2 Nephi, Chapter 2, as “there [must be] opposition in all things,” or resistance. And certainly that was the case in Joseph’s life. But remember, the opposition is in context of opposites. So there could be choices. And Joseph had a choice all the way along: to give in to the opposition, or to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ” (2 Nephi 31:20).
And so, I think the opposition that Joseph faced is a lesson for all of us — and we can all relate — that we push through against adversity, but we also choose, because there are opposites. And he could have, at any time, chosen not to go forward. Think about it: All he had to do was say, “Nah, not really,” and his life is now returned to normal, nobody paying attention, he slips into anonymity. But he didn’t. He chose to press forward, to stay true to the testimony. “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and [he didn’t dare] deny it” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
And he died with that testimony on his lips and in his heart, not withstanding the opposition, not withstanding the moments when he said, “O God, where art thou?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1). And speaking of wristwatches and cultural clocks, “How long?” “Yea, O Lord, how long [is this going to go on]?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:3). He pressed through all of that and was a marvelous example to all of us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Joseph and Hyrum both sealed their testimonies of the Book of Mormon with their lives. Let’s talk about how this story ends for Joseph and Hyrum that night at Carthage Jail.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: So, they seal their testimony not only of the Book of Mormon, but of Jesus Christ. That’s what their testimony was. And they sealed that testimony with their blood. The Book of Mormon, of course, is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” But Joseph and Hyrum sealed their testimony of Jesus Christ with their blood. And I don’t fully understand the significance or the necessity, in some cases, of a person being called upon to seal their testimony with their blood — certainly Christ did, and Joseph and Hyrum did, and Stephen did. But Joseph and Hyrum did seal their testimony with their blood. And talk about the sealing power; they bound up the law and sealed up the testimony. And they did it by their actions as well as with their words. And their dying action was to die for the word. And He is the word.
Keith A. Erekson: And in some ways, it’s also not the end of their ministry. I think one sentiment that was common among early Latter-day Saints or at the time of the martyrdom was a relief that Joseph’s enemies can’t get him anymore. He’s now in a place where they can’t touch him. And he now has the ability to continue to care for the work and be a part of the work, maybe in ways that we don’t always understand. But he continues to be the Prophet of the Restoration. He continues to be responsible for the ongoing Restoration. And I think there have been times in Church history, subsequent moments, where people have felt that Joseph was close or he was guiding their thoughts or their actions. And so, he continues to be a living part of an ongoing Restoration.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: Let me follow up on that, because Joseph himself said these words to his friend, Benjamin Johnson, not long before his death: He said, “Benjamin, [if I should die], I would not be far away from you, and if on the other side of the veil ... would still be working with you, and with a power greatly increased to roll on this kingdom.” There’s no question that Joseph remains involved in this work in rolling on the kingdom of God with a power greatly increased, still working with us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: As part of the Church News podcast, we always ask our guests the same question. It’s: “What do you know now?” What do you know now from studying the time period that the Restoration was in its infancy? And Keith, will you start?
Keith A. Erekson: Yeah, I think one of the things that I know now after spending time in the records of Joseph Smith and his experience, one of the things that has come away to me, is how sweet this was for a family experience. We often talk about it as a revelation to Joseph, which it was, but it happens in his home. And his first instruction is to tell his father, and then the next night, he now is authorized to share with his family, and they become important witnesses and defenders. And so, for me, one of the takeaways in studying this event more closely is how much of a family moment it was, and something that brought their family focus and unity and a witness that God was about to do great things with Joseph.
Elder Kyle S. McKay: So, I’m not sure I can identify what I know new. But I can identify what I know anew and with greater certainty. God is our Father and is over all. Jesus is the Christ. Joseph was and is the Prophet of the Restoration of the gospel in these latter days. God — and this again goes back to 2 Nephi 27 — “I am able to do mine own work.” The Restoration is proof of that. My life is proof of that, when I think of how He’s used me as an instrument. He can take anyone who is willing, and use them for a great and glorious purpose. That’s what has just been confirmed to me over and over and over again through the Restoration.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on TheChurchNews.com.