joseph smith has his founding vision at age seventeen -- 10/03/16

Today's selection -- from Heaven's Ditch by Jack Kelly. Living in the early American frontier of western New York state, young Joseph Smith was exposed to a number of the new religious sects, including the Shakers and New Israelites. He had his first religious vision when he was fourteen, and at seventeen had the vision that led to the founding of the Mormon religion. By the time he reached thirty-nine, the Mormons had begun their westward migration and grown to hundreds of thousands of members, but Smith was murdered in jail in Illinois while he awaited trial for treason:

"On September 21, 1823, Joseph Smith and his family spent the evening speculating about eternity. Amid flickering candle­light, they discussed the Bible and the claims of competing religious faiths. Joseph, almost eighteen now, kept the memory of his earlier vision locked in his heart. He had refused to join any of the churches, all of which he had been told were abominable.

"Joseph was an ordinary teenager. With his striking blue eyes and aquiline nose, he had become 'a great favorite with the ladies.' Like almost all males of the time, he occasionally drank too much. He 'fell into many foolish errors.' Talk of religion sometimes left him feeling guilty over his entanglement with the 'vanities of the world.'...

Joseph Smith 

"[That evening] he tossed and turned. Achingly aware of his follies and sins, he prayed for forgiveness. His eyes grew sensitive to the gloom. An eerie brightness began to erase the shadows. Morning? Moonlight? No, the unearthly glow intensified, illuminating the chamber like day. The radiance etched every object, every rafter, every sleeping face. He saw a person by the door in a robe of exquisite whiteness, a figure 'glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning.'

"The individual spoke to him, fired words into his head like shots from a pistol. He was Moroni, a resurrected being. He caused im­mense ideas to flood Joseph's mind. The youth saw the great judg­ments and desolations that would afflict the present generation. Moroni conveyed a revelation from God that commanded Joseph to perform a fabulous, urgent mission. Then he silently gathered the light into himself and ascended toward heaven. The boy stared after him, slack-jawed with amazement. Twice more that night, Moroni appeared in the room. Each time, he reiterated his message. The next morning, Joseph's brain still reeled with the apparition, the tumble of ideas. He could barely concentrate on his work in the fields. His older brother Alvin rep­rimanded him for dawdling. His father, seeing Joseph's pallor, told him to go back to the house. On the way, the boy stumbled and fell unconscious. As he recovered from his daze, Moroni appeared again to admonish him. ...

Although he had been warned [by Moroni not to touch the golden plates Moroni had shown him except in the spirit of reverence,] Joseph succumbed to the luster, the immense value of the gold. Reaching to grasp the treasure, he received a nasty shock. He looked up to see the stern celestial being. Moroni chastised him. He must approach the plates with nothing in mind but the glory of God. Nor would he be able to retrieve them now. He must come back every year on the same day. One day, per­haps, he would be allowed to possess them. ...

"Joseph Smith Jr., not yet eighteen, had begun one of the most extraordinary spiritual journeys in modern history."



Jack Kelly


Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2016 by Jack Kelly


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