Saturday, January 30, 2021
Sunday, January 24, 2021
D&C 3:5 says, "Behold, you have been entrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember also the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them."
This verse contains three important elements that we should carefully consider with respect to the translation of the Book of Mormon and other aspects of the Restoration.
1. What was Joseph entrusted with?
Moroni related the history of the "aborigines of this country" and "said this history was written and deposited not far from that place," meaning the Smith farm near Palmyra.
Moroni told Joseph about the plates, and also "that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book." (Joseph Smith—History 1:35)
Moroni told Joseph he could not show the Nephite relics except under certain conditions. "Again, he told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken—for the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled—I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed." (Joseph Smith—History 1:42)
Another strict commandment Joseph received was to do the work with an eye single to the glory of God. Oliver explained that, "On the subject of bringing to light the unsealed part of this record, it may be proper to say, that our brother was expressly informed, that it must be done with an eye single to the glory of God; if this consideration did not wholly characterize all his procedings in relation to it, the adversary of truth would overcome him, or at least prevent his making that proficiency in this glorious work which he otherwise would."
When Joseph went to get the plates, he was unable to because he allowed himself to think of the worldly value of the ancient Nephite relics. Moroni explained, "Those who kept the commandments of the Lord on this land, desired this at his hand, and through the prayer of faith obtained the promise, that if their descendants should transgress and fall away, that a record might be kept and in the last days come to their children. These things are sacred, and must be kept so, for the promise of the Lord concerning them must be fulfilled. No man can obtain them if his heart is impure, because the<y> contain that which is sacred; and besides, should they be entrusted in unholy hands the knowledge could not come to the world, because they cannot be interpreted by the learning of this generation; consequently, they would be considered of no worth, only as precious metal. Therefore, remember, that they are to be translated by the gift and power of God."
3. What promises were made to him, if he did not transgress?
In Letter IV, Oliver quoted Moroni's promises to Joseph. "He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvle not if your name is made a derission, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people.”
Moroni also told Joseph that it would be his "privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record."
In the Wentworth letter, Joseph explained the promises Moroni made to him and how he fulfilled one of them. "I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of his purposes in this glorious dispensation....
Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift, and power of God."
Despite setbacks (the loss of the 116 pages) and serious obstacles including poverty, the death of his firstborn child, Emma's poor health, and the difficulty of protecting the plates, Joseph eventually accomplished the tasks he was given.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Times and Seasons (April 1842)
Joseph Smith-History 1:33
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Nephi.
He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni.
Joseph Smith-History 1:34-5
JS-History 1834-5, p. 121
(9 November 1835, visit with Joshua)
JS-History 1834-5, p. 64-5
(Letter IV, February 1835)
He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang.
He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants;
Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.
He told me also of a sacred record which was written on plates of gold. I saw in the vision the place where they were deposited. He said to me the Indians were the literal decendants of Abraham.
He also informed me that the Urim & Thummim was hid up with the record, and that God would give me power to translate it with the assistance of this instrument;
He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigenes of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham. He represented them as once being an enlightned and intelligent people, possessing a correct knowledge of the gospel, and the plan of restoration and redemption.
He said this history was written and deposited not far from that place, and that it was our brother’s privilege, if obedient to the commandments of the Lord, to obtain and translate the same by the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were deposited for that purpose with the record.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Unlike missionaries today, early missionaries did not focus much on the first vision. Instead, they preached from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Historian Richard Bushman has pointed out that in the early 1800s, lots of people claimed to have visions, so Joseph's experience would not be all that unusual. That makes sense to me.
Another question that people ask is why Joseph and Oliver didn't include the first vision in the eight essays on Church history they wrote and published in 1834-5. The essays describe Joseph's concern about the welfare of his soul and his prayer, but instead of the first vision, they relate Moroni's first visit. From our perspective today, this would have been an ideal time for Joseph to set out the first vision. Why wait until 1838 to relate the vision in detail, and then delay the publication until the 1842 Times and Seasons?
Bushman's explanation could be one factor. Maybe in 1834-5, a vision of God was not so unusual. What set Joseph's experience apart from other spiritual experiences was the visit of a resurrected being who directed him to translate ancient records. Naturally, that would be the focus of the history.
Another explanation could be the law of witnesses. Joseph's first vision took place with him alone. Maybe he hesitated to relate that experience until he had a second witness, when someone could attest to a personal experience with Jesus Christ. That did not occur until April 3, 1836, when the Lord appeared to Joseph and Oliver together in the Kirtland temple, as described in D&C 110. (Prior to that, Joseph and Sidney Rigdon had shared a vision during which they saw and conversed with Christ (D&C 76), but that vision was described as less physical than the experience in the Kirtland temple, when they described the Lord standing on the pulpit and provided a detailed description of his appearance.)
One aspect of the first vision the manual discusses is the existence of four separate accounts. Anyone who has described an experience in their lives more than once, especially over a period of years, knows that we don't relate experiences the same way every time. We always focus on one or another element, depending on the purpose of relating the experience, the audience, the brevity or detail involved, etc.
The lesson manual asks an intriguing question after referencing JS-H 1:6:
For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.
(Joseph Smith—History 1:6)
The question from the manual:
How can we handle disagreements without becoming contentious like the people described in this verse?
The contention Joseph described was between and among religious people who shared basic beliefs in Christianity, but who insisted that others agree with their particular interpretations and opinions.
We see this type of contention among apologists in the Church today. They seem obsessed with trying to get everyone else to agree with them.
An alternative approach is to present a variety of views, perspectives, interpretations and opinions, and allow people to make informed decisions about what to believe. That's the approach I favor.
Jonathan Edwards wrote about this problem when addressing those engaged in apologetics:
By this means the devil scatters the flock of Christ, and sets 'em one against another, and that with great heat of spirit, under a notion of zeal for God; and religion by degrees, degenerates into vain jangling; and during the strife, Satan leads both parties far out of the right way, driving each to great extremes, one on the right hand, and the other on the left, according as he finds they are most inclined, or most easily moved and swayed, till the right path in the middle, is almost wholly neglected.
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