Joseph Smith jun[ior], the person to whom the angel of the Lord was first sent, was born on December 23 in the year of our Lord 1805 in the town of Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. When he was ten years old, his parents moved to in the state of New York. For almost eleven years he lived here [in Palmyra] and in the neighboring town of . His only occupation was to plow and cultivate the soil. Because his parents were poor and had to feed a large family, his education was meager. He was able to read fairly well, but his ability to write was very limited and had only little literary knowledge. His knowledge of letters did not go any further. Most of the subjects which were generally taught in the were completely unknown to him at the time he was favored with a heavenly message. [p. 13]
When he had reached his fifteenth year, he began to think seriously about the importance of preparing for a future [existence]; but it was very difficult for him to decide how he should go about such an important undertaking. He recognized clearly that it would be impossible for him to walk the proper path without being acquainted with it beforehand; and to base his hopes for eternal life on chance or blind uncertainty would have been more than he had ever been inclined to do.
He discovered the world of religion working under a flood of errors which by virtue of their contradictory opinions and principles laid the foundation for the rise of such different sects and denominations whose feelings toward each other all too often were poisoned by hate, contention, resentment and anger. He felt that there was only one truth and that those who understood it correctly, all understood it in the same way. Nature had endowed him with a keen critical intellect and so he looked through the lens of reason and common sense and with pity and contempt upon those systems of religion, which were so opposed to each other and yet were all obviously based on the scriptures. [p. 14]
After he had sufficiently convinced himself to his own satisfaction that darkness covered the earth and gross darkness [covered] the nations, the hope of ever finding a sect or denomination that was in possession of unadulterated truth left him.
Consequently he began in an attitude of faith his own investigation of the word of God [feeling that it was] the best way to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. He had not proceeded very far in this laudable endeavor when his eyes fell upon the following verse of St. James [1:5]: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” He considered this scripture an authorization for him to solemnly call upon his creator to present his needs before him with the certain expectation of some success. And so he began to pour out to the Lord with fervent determination the earnest desires of his soul. On one occasion, he went to a small grove of trees near his father’s home and knelt down before God in solemn prayer. The adversary then made several strenuous efforts to cool his ardent soul. He filled his mind with doubts [p. 15] and brought to mind all manner of inappropriate images to prevent him from obtaining the object of his endeavors; but the overflowing mercy of God came to buoy him up and gave new impetus to his failing strength. However, the dark cloud soon parted and light and peace filled his frightened heart. Once again he called upon the Lord with faith and fervency of spirit.
At this sacred moment, the natural world around him was excluded from his view, so that he would be open to the presentation of heavenly and spiritual things. Two glorious heavenly personages stood before him, resembling each other exactly in features and stature. They told him that his prayers had been answered and that the Lord had decided to grant him a special blessing. He was also told that he should not join any of the religious sects or denominations, because all of them erred in doctrine and none was recognized by God as his church and kingdom. He was further commanded, to wait patiently until some future time, when the true doctrine of Christ and the complete truth of the gospel would be revealed to him. The vision closed and peace and calm filled his mind. [p. 16]
Some time after he had been given these heavenly revelations (in his earlier years), he lapsed into the errors and vanities of the world, which he later was genuinely sorry for.
On the evening of September 21 in the year of our Lord 1823, it pleased the Lord to hear his pleading once again and to answer the desires of his heart. On this noteworthy night, he retired to bed with the prayerful desire of being granted communion with some kind of heavenly messenger, who might give him the desired instruction concerning his acceptance before God as well as the revealed principles of the doctrine of Christ according to the promise which had been given to him in the early vision. As he continued to offer up his prayer to Heavenly Father, sudden[ly] light, like that of day, only purer and more radiant, filled the room. In truth, it appeared at first as though the house were engulfed in a consuming fire. The sudden appearance of this light had an effect like that of a violent force on his body which was felt even in his extremities.
However, his mind was immediately flooded with calmness and serenity and his state of mind was elevated to an ecstacy of joy that surpasses all description. [p. 17] At that instant a personage stood before him whose person, notwithstanding the light that filled the room, was encompassed about with even more brilliant light. His countenance though like lightning was of a pleasant, innocent and engaging aspect so that all fear was banished from his heart.
The stature of this person was somewhat taller than that of men in their youth; his clothes were perfectly white and appeared to have no seams.
This glorious being declared himself to be an angel of God, sent at the command of the Lord to tell him that his prayer had now really been answered and that he was bringing him [Joseph Smith] the glad tiding that the covenant which God had made with the ancient ones in Israel concerning their posterity was now about to be fulfilled; that the great work of preparation for the second coming of the Messiah was about to begin, that the fullness of the gospel would be preached with power among all nations to prepare a people of faith and righteousness for the millennial reign of universal peace and uninterrupted joy.
These doctrines were given to him now so that he as one called and chosen of God might recognize [p.18] the wonderful purposes that God wanted to bring about through him. He was also told that the “American Indians” were remnants of the House of Israel and that they were an enlightened people when they left Jerusalem to emigrate to America, possessing a knowledge of the true God and enjoying his blessing and special favor. The prophets and inspired writers among them were commissioned to write a history of the important events among them and to hand it down from generation to generation.
In the course of time, this people fell into great wickedness and the greater portion of them was destroyed; but at the Lord’s direction their records were deposited for protection into the bosom of the earth by one of their last prophets, to preserve them from the hands of the wicked who sought to destroy them. He was told that these records contained many sacred revelations pertaining to the fullness of the gospel and which stood as prophecies on a grand scale concerning the events of the last days and that they furthermore must be made known unto the nations for the sake of the promise given to the ancients in order to fulfill the purposes of God in restoring his children. [p. 19]
He was also promised that if he were faithful, he would be the favored instrument to bring these sacred things to light. It was especially pointed out to him that this work must be done with an eye single to God and that no one could be entrusted with these sacred scriptures who would try to aggrandize himself by using these sacred things for unrighteous or speculative purposes.
After the angel had given Joseph Smith many other instructions concerning present and future things which are not all recorded in this work, he disappeared and the glory of the Lord with him; however his mind remained filled with heavenly peace.
Before dawn this vision was repeated twice, each time with new instructions concerning the bringing about of the great work of God on earth.
The next morning, Joseph Smith went out into the field to work as usual; here the vision was renewed once again. The messenger of the Lord appeared to him in the field and showed him the place where the sacred records were deposited, [p. 20] about whose importance he had been instructed the night before and he commanded him to go immediately to look for them. Accordingly he went to the designated spot which was not far from his ’s home. It was on the 22nd of September in the year of our Lord 1823, when after some effort digging away the earth and removing several stones stacked on each other and held together by mortar, he finally beheld the sacred records with his natural eyes. As he looked upon these sacred treasures in amazement and awe, behold, the angel of the Lord who had already visited him previously, again stood at his side. And his soul was again enlightened as on the previous evening, he was filled with the Holy Ghost, the heavens were opened and the glory of the Lord shone around him.
And as he stood there engrossed in ecstasy in the presence of the messenger of heavenly bliss, the angel spoke to him: “Behold,” and when he had said this, Joseph Smith saw the prince of darkness pass by with a numberless host of his associates; and the heavenly messenger once again said unto him: “You have now been shown the good and the evil, the holy and the unclean, the glory of God and the power of darkness, so that you may hereafter [p. 21] recognize the two powers and not be deceived by the evil one. Behold, whatever entices you to do good comes of God, but what does not is of the evil one. He is the one who fills the hearts of men with evil, so that they walk in darkness and blaspheme the Lord; from now on you shall know that his ways lead to destruction, but that the way of holiness leads to peace and rest. You are not permitted at this time to receive these records, for it is the command of the Lord, that when these sacred things shall be received, it shall be through prayer, faith and obedience to the Lord. They were [not] placed here as a means of accumulating worldly gain or for the glorification of this world. They were sealed and buried amid the prayers of faith and are of no value unto the children of men except for what they contain. The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is written upon them as it was given to the people in this land (). And when it shall go forth by the power of God, it shall be carried to the nations which are not of the House of Israel. Many of them will accept it and afterward the seed of Israel shall be brought into the fold of their redeemer, if they follow these revelations. Those ancestors who kept the commandments of the Lord in this [p. 22] land (), received through his mercy and through faithful prayers the promise that when their descendants should fall into error and apostasy, they would not receive the sacred records but that they would be preserved unto the last days of their children. These things are sacred and must be kept that way, for the promise of the Lord concerning them shall be fulfilled. For no one will receive them whose heart is unclean, for their content is sacred, through them the Lord wants to bring about a great and marvelous work. The wisdom of the wise shall come to naught and the understanding of the prudent shall be clothed in darkness. And when the power of God is revealed, then those who think they are walking in truth will struggle against deception and tremble with anger. But the hearts of the faithful will be comforted with signs and wonders, with gifts and healings, with the revelation of the power of God and with the Holy Ghost. You have been shown the power of God and the power of Satan. You see that there is nothing desirable in the works of darkness, that they cannot bring happiness and that those who succumb to them are only miserable and unhappy, whereas on the other hand the righteous are given a place in the kingdom of God where they are filled with unspeakable joy. [p. 23] There they are beyond the power of the enemy of truth and no evil can harm them. They are crowned with the glory of God, they celebrate an eternal feast of his goodness and bask in the smile of his countenance. Even though the manner by which you can discover wickedness has been revealed to you, nevertheless I will give you a sign. And when it shall come to pass, then know that the Lord is God, that he will fulfill his purposes and that the content of these records shall go to every nation, tongue, kindred and people under all of heaven. This is the sign: When these things begin to be known, that is, when it becomes known that the Lord has shown these things unto you, then the workers of iniquity shall seek your overthrow. They will spread falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and they will also seek to take your life. But remember that if you are faithful and keep the commandments of the Lord, you shall be preserved in order to bring these things to light, for in due time you shall be commanded to come and get them. When they are interpreted, the Lord will grant the priesthood unto some and these will begin to preach the gospel and to baptize with water, and they will have the power to bestow the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their [p. 24] hands. Then persecution will rage more and more, for the iniquities of men will become manifest and those who are not founded upon the rock, will seek to overthrow the Church of Christ. But the more obstacles there are, the more it will grow and come to the knowledge of men, until they shall be sanctified and receive an inheritance where the glory of the Lord shall rest upon them. And when this shall come to pass and all things are prepared, then shall the ten tribes of Israel again be revealed in the northern regions where they had remained for so long. Then the saying of the prophet shall be fulfilled: ‘And the Redeemer shall come to Zion and unto them in Jacob who shall turn from their unrighteousness.’ [Isa. 59:20] And even though the workers of iniquity shall seek your destruction, the protecting arm of the Lord shall be over you and you shall be borne off victorious, if you keep all his commandments. Your name shall be known among the nations, for the work which the Lord shall perform by your hands shall prove to be a joy unto the righteous, but rage unto the wicked. Among the former, your name shall be honored, but among the latter it shall be a reproach. Yea, for them it shall be terrible, because of the great and marvelous work [p. 25] which shall go forth unto the fulfilling of the gospel. Now go your way and remember what the Lord has done for you. Be diligent in keeping his commandments and he will deliver you from the temptations, persecutions and snares of the evil one. Don’t forget to pray that your mind may become strong, that you may have power to escape the evil when the Lord shall reveal himself unto you, so that you may receive these precious things.”
During the course of the following four years Joseph Smith received many instructions from the mouth of the heavenly messenger. And on the morning of the 22nd of September in the year of our Lord 1827 the angel of the Lord permitted him to take possession of these records. These were engraved on uniform plates which had the appearance of gold. Each plate was almost 7 inches wide and almost 8 inches long and in thickness somewhat less than common tin. They were engraven with a fine script similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs and fastened together in the form of a book by three rings, which were drawn through the whole by means of small holes on the ends. The entire book was approximately 8 inches thick and one part of it was sealed. The characters or letters of the unsealed part were small and artistically beautifully engraved (according to the words of Mr. , from whose writings [p. 26] I have taken the foregoing account). The whole book exhibited many signs of antiquity such as the skill of engraving. Two transparent stones, clear as crystal, were found with the records. They were called “seers” and were used by the ancients. The manner in which they were used is as follows: These two stones, called Urim and Thummim, in diameter the size of an English crown (coin) but a little thicker, were placed where there was no light. Those using them then offered prayers unto the Lord and the answer appeared written with letters of light on the Urim and Thummim, but disappeared again soon after. Thus: “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not” [John 1:5] — In this manner these records were translated into English. [p. 27]
After it had become known that Joseph Smith had received heavenly manifestations and that he had been granted the knowledge of the sacred records, many began to mock and to ridicule this idea. Others were busy spreading slanderous rumors and misrepresentations about him; many were inclined to treat him with violence and others were believing and desirous of seeing and hearing more. Indeed, it brought forth such an excitement among the people like unto that in Jerusalem when Christ was born, of which has been said: “Herod was afraid and all Jerusalem with him.” [Matt. 2:3]
In consequence of this great excitement, Joseph Smith found it more expedient to move with his , [p. 28] whom he had married shortly before, to the vicinity of his in the state of on the shores of the magnificient Susquehannah River. Before he left , he was shot at several times, but each time divine providence helped him to escape unharmed. However, on one occasion he was beaten by two men with clubs so violently, that he still bears the scars on his body to this day. The newspapers began to ponder, speculate and to wonder what the outcome of the whole affair might be.
After he had made a home for himself in this part of the country, he began to translate the records from the “reformed Egyptian” under the direction of God and with the help of the Urim and Thummim which were described earlier. Since he hadn’t learned to write well, he was required to use a scribe who wrote it down as it came from his mouth.
In the meantime, however, Joseph Smith copied several characters from the original and translated them; both the copy and the translation were taken to the city of to be presented to a who [p. 29] was known as one who was well versed in all ancient and modern languages. He examined them both, but it was impossible for him to decipher them; however he felt that if the original were brought to him, he could help with the translation.
But to return [to the story]; Joseph Smith continued with the work of translation as his pecuniary circumstances allowed, until he had completed the unsealed portion of the records. This translated portion is entitled: “The Book of Mormon,” which contains somewhat more than the New Testament.