First Vision Was Only a Beginning, Symposium Speaker Says

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 10 November 2016

Robert L. Millet delivers the keynote address at the 45th annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at Brigham Young University October 28, 2016.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • God called upon the weak and simple to bring forth His great and marvelous work.
  • The futures of God’s people will be determined by how well we read signs of the times.

“All of God’s purposes for His children cannot be codified. Nothing is more fixed, set, and established than the fact that among the people of God the canon of scripture is open, flexible, and expanding.” —Robert L. Millet, BYU professor


Though Joseph Smith’s First Vision heralded “the dawn of a new day,” it was only the beginning of “the era of restitution, the times of refreshing, the season of cleansing, purification, and endowment that would reach its zenith in the Millennium itself,” Robert L. Millet said October 28.

Brother Millet, professor of ancient scripture and emeritus dean of religious education at Brigham Young University, was the keynote speaker at the 45th annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium sponsored by the university. The symposium honors Brother Sperry, who taught at BYU from 1932 to 1971 and is recognized as a pioneer in religious education.

The theme of this year’s symposium was “Foundations of the Restoration: Fulfillment of the Covenant Purpose.”

The Lord calls servants to restore His church

“Unable to walk fully in the light of the Lord, the people of the earth had chosen their own paths and sought to direct their own destinies,” Brother Millet said of the period leading up to the First Vision. “In the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gives both a description of the situation and a prescription for how to solve it.”

Paraphrasing that preface, Brother Millet said the pressing problem “was idolatry: devotion or dedication to anything other than the true and living God.”

By way of prescription, “God would call upon the weak and simple to bring forth His great and marvelous work—those, He said, who were unlearned and despised, those who were teachable, who were willing to unlearn falsehood, strip themselves of pride and duplicity, whose minds and hearts are open to the will of the Almighty.”

The Restoration, Brother Millet noted, would begin by revelation or “re-revelation” of doctrine, principles, and precepts and would include the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which includes “verities long lost on such matters as the Creation, the Fall, the Atonement.”

He added, “Revelation upon revelation would come to and through Joseph Smith, including the restoration of those plain and precious truths once taken away or kept back from the Bible.”

The Lord’s Appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple, by Theodore S. Gorka.

Elijah Appearing in the Kirtland Temple, by Dan Lewis.

Citing the words in Doctrine and Covenants 135, the section announcing Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, that other than Christ Himself, Joseph had done more for the salvation of those in the world than any other man who had ever lived in it, Brother Millet posed the question of what that means. He suggested a few points to consider:

  1. “Joseph Smith serves as the legal administrator associated with that period of time prophesied” in Joel 2:28 that the Lord would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. This applies not just to members of the Church but to others as well, Brother Millet said. “The Spirit of God, meaning the Light of Christ, has been behind the rapid intellectual, scientific, technological developments from the time of the Industrial Revolution to our own information age. A modern seer presides over this age of enlightenment and expansion.”
  2. “Most of what we know today in the form of doctrine … has come to us through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith,” Brother Millet said. “His call initiated the times of restitution of all things which God had spoken by the mouths of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
  3. “With the visit of the disembodied Savior to the postmortal spirit world, the work of the redemption of the dead began,” Brother Millet said. “It would appear that the responsibility for gospel ordinances for … the earth’s inhabitants rests with our dispensation. Think on it: Joseph Smith and his successors are responsible for the teaching in the world of spirits and the performance of saving ordinances for literally billions of our Father’s children.”

Being loyal to the gospel restoration entails being ready and willing to bear witness of truths made known in latter days, Brother Millet affirmed.

How God's people fare in days to come

“Modern revelation provides, as it were, an interpretive lens, a hermeneutics key to the Bible. Much of what we understand about the testaments is clear to us because of the Book of Mormon, the Joseph Smith Translation, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. There are those, however, who hesitate to read into the biblical record what we know from modern revelation, those who feel that to do so is somehow to compromise the integrity or the unique contribution of the Bible itself.”

He compared such a posture to using a map that is deficient in detail or inaccurate in layout simply because the map had been in the family for generations and was highly prized.

Brother Millet said there is a matter that is not understood by some today: “As members of the Church in the 21st century, we can be loyal to Joseph Smith only to the degree that we are loyal to the leaders of the Church in our own day. Those who criticize or find fault with the present Church leaders … in the name of being true to Brother Joseph know not what they do. The spirit of Joseph is with the leaders of this Church. Of that I have no question.”

Furthermore, “the Church is to be governed by revelation—current, daily, modern, ongoing, divine direction—and not by written documents alone,” he said. “All of God’s purposes for His children cannot be codified. Nothing is more fixed, set, and established than the fact that among the people of God the canon of scripture is open, flexible, and expanding.”

How God’s people fare in days to come “will be determined largely by how well we are able to read the signs of the times,” he said.

“To read the signs of the times in our day does not mean seeking signs in our day. … Those who are not spiritually mature enough to read the signs of the times are so often those who demand signs. ‘Show us the golden plates,’ they cry out. ‘Call down the angel Moroni. And while you’re at it, furnish the complete text for the book of Abraham.’

“Those who truly seek to be in tune with the divine will, on the other hand, become witnesses and recipients of those wonders and miracles that a gracious Lord always bestows upon His faithful flock. Faith cometh not by signs, the Lord says, but signs follow those that believe.”