Evidence Shows Joseph Smith’s Sensibility About Sacred Matters

  By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 14 August 2013

Speaker Ronald O. Barney addresses FAIR conference audience gathered at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah.   Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Brother Barney shared that critics’ line of thinking concerning Joseph Smith is defective.
  • Not only was Joseph taught by the Lord about keeping sacred confidences, Joseph also had a natural sensibility concerning sacred matters
  • After Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Joseph was careful about who he shared his experience with. He told a clergyman whom he trusted, who rebuffed and ridiculed him, Brother Barney said, and after that Joseph had learned his lesson.

“Not only was Joseph tutored by the Lord through revelation about this important expectation about keeping sacred confidences, from Joseph’s own history we learn that he also had a natural instinct for this qualification even before his prophetic role was made known to him.” —Ronald O. Barney, Mormon Historical Association executive director

PROVO, UTAH

While belief in Joseph Smith’s divine calling as a prophet will always be a matter of faith, there is compelling evidence he told the truth and “was not the ‘pious fraud’ that some charge,” Ronald O. Barney said in his FAIR conference address August 1.

Part of that evidence is what Brother Barney called “Joseph’s sensibility about sacred matters.”

Some prominent critics of the Church, Brother Barney said, “would have you believe that any reasonable person, after witnessing a heavenly manifestation, would have run home and grabbed his diary to carefully describe in great detail what he experienced before running from neighbor to neighbor shouting, ‘Guess what happened to me!’ ”

The best historical evidence, Barney said, “demonstrates that this line of thinking concerning Joseph Smith is a defective premise entirely.”

While translating the Book of Mormon, he pointed out, Joseph verbalized this passage to his scribe Oliver Cowdery: “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men” (Alma 12:9).

Brother Barney, an executive director of the Mormon History Association and a former Church History Department staff member involved with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, said, “Not only was Joseph tutored by the Lord through revelation about this important expectation about keeping sacred confidences, from Joseph’s own history we learn that he also had a natural instinct for this qualification even before his prophetic role was made known to him.”

For example, after he experienced the First Vision and returned home, his mother asked him what had happened to him, but he chose to keep silent about it.

“He apparently told no one in the family at that time, though it is certain that he told them later,” Brother Barney said, adding that the one person he did tell, a clergyman whom he trusted, rebuffed and ridiculed him. Other locals also heaped upon him “severe persecution.”

“Naturally, after a while the teenaged Joseph learned his lesson,” Brother Barney remarked. “Thereafter, he was particularly careful about divulging what had happened to him.”