Viewpoint: Commemorate “a Brighter Day”
Contributed By the Church News
- May 15, 2015, will mark 186 years since the Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
- The place where this event occurred is currently being developed and will be dedicated in early fall of this year as a Church history attraction.
“Last year, 296,803 new converts were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ by virtue of priesthood authority brought back to the earth by John the Baptist at this location 186 years ago.”
Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were busily engaged with the translation of the Book of Mormon near Harmony, Pennsylvania, when an event occurred that is fundamental to the latter-day restoration of the gospel and to the salvation of mankind.
It would fulfill instructions given to Joseph nearly five years earlier by the angel Moroni: “When [the gold plates] are interpreted the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim this gospel and baptize by water, and after that they shall have power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands” (quoted in Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10–11).
That would begin to transpire on May 15, 1829, after the two men came across the idea of baptism as the Prophet was translating and dictating to Oliver. Accordingly, they went outside to a nearby hillside grove of sugar maple trees, where they inquired of the Lord concerning baptism. Their petition was answered with a divine visitation by John the Baptist, who had baptized our Lord Himself in mortality and was now a resurrected being.
He explained that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, Christ’s ancient Apostles who held the keys of the higher priesthood. With the laying on of hands—the procedure used for priesthood ordinances from the time of Adam and throughout all gospel dispensations—John bestowed authority upon Joseph and Oliver in words familiar to us today:
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (Joseph Smith—History 1:69; see also D&C 13:1).
John instructed Joseph and Oliver that this priesthood they received did not include power of the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost; they would receive that power later.
In obedience to John’s instruction, Joseph and Oliver went to the nearby Susquehanna River, where Joseph baptized Oliver and Oliver baptized Joseph, and afterward, each man ordained the other to the Aaronic Priesthood.
True to John’s word, Christ’s resurrected Apostles Peter, James, and John visited Joseph and Oliver to bestow upon them the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, by which authority they organized the Church of Jesus Christ in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. The specific date and location of this event are not known today, but it is believed to have happened soon after and in the general vicinity of the Aaronic Priesthood restoration.
We often remember this seminal event this time of year with commemorations, sermons, and classroom instruction. Our remembrance has added significance this year. The site of the Aaronic Priesthood restoration at present-day Oakland Township in Pennsylvania is undergoing development right now as a visitor attraction to be dedicated in early fall of this year.
It is the last of the major historic sites to be developed by the Church that pertain to its establishment in this dispensation. It is important not just because the priesthood restoration occurred there but also because most of the Book of Mormon translation took place and some of the foundational revelations pertaining to the establishment of the Church were received at this location.
A combination visitors’ center and Church meetinghouse will welcome visitors, who will view a 22-minute narrative film recounting the events that took place on the site. From there, visitors will proceed to the location of the log home where Joseph and his wife, Emma, lived, and the neighboring frame house where Emma’s parents lived. Both structures are being replicated onsite.
Nearby, visitors will see the location in the “sugar maple bush,” or grove, where John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver. Research for the historic site development has resulted in improved understanding of the details of the 1829 events. Previously, it had been believed the angel’s appearance occurred on the riverbank. With the most recent edition of the scriptures, the heading to Doctrine and Covenants 13 has been changed to conform to the revised understanding.
Ultimately, visitors will make their way down to the river to see where the baptisms took place.
Thus, many people will be able to experience what the late historian Stanley B. Kimball called “the power of place and the spirit of locale” as it pertains to these important events in the history of God’s dealings with His children.
Last year, 296,803 new converts were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ by virtue of priesthood authority brought back to the earth by John the Baptist at this location 186 years ago. They have thus entered the gate to the strait and narrow path that leads to happiness and eternal life. Untold millions of saving ordinances and blessings of comfort and healing have been performed by virtue of the higher priesthood authority restored by Peter, James, and John. The gospel of Christ is again on the earth by virtue of the priesthood keys that have been brought forth in latter days, and mortal messengers of Christ are proclaiming this glad news to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people in preparation for His coming in glory.
The events we commemorate this time of year truly did signal a brighter day, as proclaimed in the hymn text written by Elder Parley P. Pratt in the early days of the Restoration:
“The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day
Majestic rises on the world.”