Church History Lesson 03 (JS-History 1-26)

THE APOSTASY AND RENAISSANCE

Preparing the Way for the Restoration

The Great Apostasy: After Jesus Christ was crucified, His Apostles presided over the Church. But soon persecution, divisions, and apostasy increased, and within a few decades, there was a falling away from the Church, as the Apostles had prophesied (Acts 20:28–30; 2 Thess. 2:1–3;2 Timothy 4:3–4).

There were many consequences of the Great Apostasy: (D&C 1:15–16).
— There was no priesthood authority on the earth (Mormon 1:13–14).
— There were no Apostles or prophets on the earth (JS-Hist. 8–9, 19, 21).
— Essential knowledge about the nature of God was lost.
— The doctrines of the gospel were corrupted.
— Sacred ordinances, such as baptism, were changed.
— The original Church became divided into discordant groups.
— The darkness of the Apostasy lasted many centuries.

The darkness of the Apostasy lasted many centuries. However, God foresaw the apostasy and planned for the restoration of the gospel in the latter days. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Beginning in the 14th century, the Lord began to prepare those social, educational, religious, economic, and governmental conditions under which he could more easily restore the gospel for the last time.”1

The Renaissance was a rebirth of learning, particularly in literature, art, and science. Inventions such as the printing press emerged. Elder James E. Talmage said, “[The Renaissance was not a chance occurrence but rather] a development predetermined in the Mind of God to illumine the benighted minds of men in preparation for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which was appointed to be accomplished some centuries later.”2

The Reformation began when John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and John Calvin challenged the practices and teachings of existing churches, believing they had strayed from the teachings of Christ. Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “[Martin Luther and other reformers] “were inspired to create a religious climate in which God could restore lost truths and priesthood authority.”3

Discovery of the Americas: The United States was colonized by religious people and eventually became an independent nation. Columbus, the Pilgrims, and others found and flocked to the blessed land promised to the posterity of Joseph in Egypt (1 Nephi 13:12–19).

The Constitution of the United States was established, guaranteeing the religious freedom that would be necessary for the Restoration:

The founders of our nation were inspired of God (D&C 101:77–80). Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “God inspired the earlier explorers and colonizers of America and the framers of the Constitution of the United States to develop a land and governing principles to which the gospel could be restored.”4

THE SMITHS IN NEW ENGLAND

Joseph Smith’s Noble Ancestry

Samuel Smith (Great-Grandfather)
— A highly religious man; all his children were baptized.
— Active in public worship.
— Member of the Congregationalist Church.
— Those who knew him said he was. . . .
• “A man of integrity and uprightness.”
• “A strenuous advocate for the doctrine of Christ.”

Asael Smith and Mary Duty (Paternal Grandparents)
— Was hard working, but the depression of the 1780s took away their family farm.
— Was religious, but believed in Universalism (everyone will be saved).
— Made many family Bible notations, showing that he read it, believed it, and honored it.
— Disliked standard evangelical preaching and rejected the organized churches of his day.
— Was a strong advocate of truth and of free and equal religious liberty.
— Believed God guided the Revolutionary War and the Constitution.
— Was a gifted writer, and wrote words of counsel to his children.
— 1/5 of his will contains exhortations on how to be saved through Christ.
— Prophesied the restoration through his posterity: “It has been borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith.”
— Lived to see it. The first summer after the organization of the Church, his son Joseph Sr. and grandson Don Carlos, brought him a Book of Mormon which he diligently read.
— Was convinced that the work of his grandson, Joseph Smith, was of divine origin.
— Was not baptized, due to his weakened physical condition, and died shortly after this visit.
— His wife, Mary Duty Smith, later moved to Kirtland, where she died in 1836, firm in the faith.

Solomon Mack and Lydia Gates (Maternal Grandparents)
— Solomon Mack was born in Lyme, Connecticut, September 26, 1735.
— He was indentured at age 4 due to his father’s debts.
— He was treated cruelly by his master, who was his only male model.
— He sought worldly wealth most of his life, just as his master did.
— At the age of 21 he enlisted in the service of his country and fought in the Revolutionary War.
— Was converted at age 75 and repented strongly of his sins
— He married a young school teacher, Lydia Gates, who home educated all her children.
— She was a woman of “piety, gentleness, and reflection.”
— She also regularly called her children together to pray, both morning and evening.
— She urged them to love each other, and also to love Him who made them.
— She raised a very close-knit family

Joseph Smith’s Parents

Joseph Smith’s parents, Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, also greatly influenced his life.
— Both were deeply devoted to God.
— Both were devoted parents, teaching their children the principles of faith and righteousness.
— Both had profound religious experiences.
— Both searched actively for religious truth.
• Feeling none resembled the Church of Christ, Joseph Sr. did not join any church.
• Lucy felt it was her duty to be baptized and joined the Presbyterian Church.
• When the gospel was restored, they both recognized the truth and embraced it.

Joseph Smith Sr.
— He was a hard working man, but poor throughout his life.
— He was humble, simple, and unpretentious.
— He was cheerful and possessed a keen sense of humor.
— He had great faith, but (like his father) was uneasy about the religions and clergy of his day.
— He believed the Churches were corrupt and was skeptical of their authority.
— He had several dreams assuring him he would enjoy the blessings of the true gospel of Christ.
— He was a devoted father and exemplified great loyalty to Joseph throughout his life.
— He wept (and immediately believed) when he heard Joseph’s story of his vision.
— When Moroni appeared to Joseph, he counseled his son to “be obedient to the vision.”
— He wept again when the plates were delivered by Moroni to his son.
— He was one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon.
— He was one of the first members baptized into the Church on April 6, 1830.
— He and his son, Don Carlos, completed a mission that same year to New York.
— He held the office of a high priest in the Church and was the Church’s first Patriarch.
— He loved the Kirtland Temple.

Lucy Mack Smith
— Lucy Mack Smith was a kind, wise, sympathetic, and understanding wife and mother.
— She was reared by God-fearing parents, she was taught to “walk uprightly before the Lord.”
— She yearned to find God, but (like her husband) distrusted ministers.
— She was prone to worship on her own, doing Bible reading and meditating, and taught her children to do the same.
— She was a woman who believed in prayer and taught her children to pray.
— Once, while critically ill as a young mother, she made a covenant with God that she would serve Him completely if He would let her live to care for her family. Soon afterward she heard a voice comfort her, and she made a remarkable recovery.
— She was a woman of great faith and courage. Despite the many adversities in the Church, she never wavered or lost faith in God.
— Lucy Mack Smith saw her husband and each of her sons, except William, laid to rest.
— Her dying husband paid this tribute to her: “Mother, do you not know, that you are the mother of as great a family as ever lived upon the earth?”

Joseph Smith’s Childhood

Adversity Prepared Him for Future Challenges
— His family repeatedly experienced crop failures and the dishonest of others—moving 8 times in Joseph’s first 8 years.
— When Joseph was about 8 years old, his entire family suffered from typhoid fever.
— As a result of his own tyhpus infection, Joseph suffered a painful bone affliction in his leg, requiring agonizing surgery without anaesthetic.

His Family Provided Great Strength and Support
— Qualities demonstrated by Joseph’s family in this one incident alone include:
• The mother’s deep concern for her son
• Joseph’s faith in his father
• Joseph’s compassion for his mother
• Hyrum’s tenderness and sympathy, and his untiring support for his brother
• Joseph’s faith in the Lord

God moved the Smiths to Western New York
— When Joseph was 10 years old, the Tambora Volcano erupted on the other side of the earth, throwing so much ash into the air that it produced a “year without a summer” in the U.S.
— As a result, the Smith family experienced a third crop failure. After much deliberation, the family moved to Palmyra, NY, where there was a prospect of better farming conditions.

THE FIRST VISION

The Religious Atmosphere in Western New York

The Prophet Joseph wrote his history to put false reports to rest concerning himself and the Church (JS-History 1–2).

While Joseph Smith was growing up in western New York, there was great religious excitement, with many churches contending for converts (JS-History 5–6).

The Smiths were a close family, divided over religion (JS-History 7). That is what drove the young Joseph into the Sacred Grove.

Characteristics of Joseph Smith that were evidenced in his youth:
— He was given to serious reflections (JS-History 8).
— He had deep inner convictions about religion.
— He wanted to know who was right, and how he could come to know it (JS-History 9–10).
— Joseph turned to the scriptures for answers—searching and pondering them (JS-History 11–13).

A Vision in the Sacred Grove

Joseph’s prayer on this morning was different from other prayers he had offered—it was his first vocal prayer (JS-History 14).

Satan was determined to keep Joseph from praying (JS-History 15–16).

Truths revealed by the First Vision: Satan and his power are real (JS-History 16–17).
— Satan works to thwart God’s plans.
— The Lord’s power is greater than Satan’s.
— The heavens are open to those with faith.
— God hears and answers prayer.
— Revelation has not ceased.
— God lives.
— The Father and Son are separate beings.
— The Father and Son are beings of glory.
— The Father wants us to listen to his Son, the Savior

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I submit that in the few minutes that Joseph Smith was with the Father and the Son, he learned more of the nature of God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord than all the learned minds in all their discussions through all centuries of time.”5

President David O. McKay said, [The First Vision] “answers all the [questions] regarding God and his divine personality. . . . His relation to his children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious first vision.”6

Joseph was told that he was to join none of the Churches of his day because “all their creeds were an abomination,” their teachers were “corrupt,” and “their hearts are far from me” (JS-History 18–19).

Elder James E. Talmage said, “When we say that the Lord is not pleased with those churches, we do not mean that he is not pleased with the members thereof. . . . The Church as such may be wholly corrupt because of the false claims that are being made for it, and yet within that church as members there may be people who are doing their best.”7

Joseph said that he was told “many other things” that he could not write at that time (JS-History 20). From time to time, in other writings and interviews, the Prophet gave additional details about the First Vision:
— He saw many angels.8
— The two Personages exactly resembled each other.9
— He was told the fullness of the Gospel would, at some future time, be made known to him.10
— His sins were forgiven him.11
— He was filled with unspeakable joy that remained with him for several days.12

The vision weakened Joseph physically (JS-History 20). Man in his natural state is not able to endure the presence of God.

He told his mother (JS-History 20).

The Importance of the First Vision

President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The appearance of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ to the boy prophet is the greatest event that has occurred in this world since the resurrection of the Master.”13

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A testimony of [that vision] has touched the hearts of millions in many lands. I add my own witness, given me by the Spirit, that the Prophet’s description of that marvelous event is true, that God the Eternal Father and the risen Lord Jesus Christ spoke with him on that occasion in a conversation as real and personal and intimate as are our conversations today.”14

WAITING FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTION

Negative Responses to the First Vision

In response to Joseph’s vision, others tried to dismiss it and belittle him (JS-History 20–23). He spent much serious reflection on others’ reactions and became strengthened in his vision of what the Lord wanted him to do.

Joseph Smith’s firm resolve to be true to his testimony while facing ridicule and opposition was similar to other great people of the scriptures (JS-History 24–26).

Notes:
1.  Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 717.
2.  Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 749.
3.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 85; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 66.
4.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 85; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 66.
5.  Church News, 24 Oct. 1998, 6.
6.  Gospel Ideals [1954], 85.
7.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1928, 120.
8.  “History of the Church” [manuscript at Church Historian’s Library], 120–122.
9.  History of the Church, 4:536.
10.  History of the Church, 4:536.
11.  History in “Kirtland Letter Book” [manuscript at Church Historian’s Library], 1829–1835, 1–6.
12. “History of the Church” [manuscript at Church Historian’s Library], A-1, 120–122.
13.  In Conference Report, Apr. 1971, 20; or Ensign, June 1971, 34.
14.  Be Thou an Example [1981], 10.

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