03181_000_004Spiritual manifestations foreshadowed the return of gospel to earth
“About the time that Joseph Smith found the gold record, I began to feel that the time was drawing near, that the Lord would in some shape or other, bring forth his Church. I made some inquiry thro the country where I traveled if there was any strange work of God, such as had not been on the earth since the days of Christ. I could hear of none, I was living about 20 miles east of where the gold record was found.” 1
Although Solomon Chamberlain lived near the area where the beginning events of the Restoration took place, he heard nothing of them until, traveling to Canada to preach, he was moved by the Spirit to make an unscheduled detour. He went to Palmyra, where he met and visited with the Smith family. When he shared with them his own spiritual witness, he was surprised by their reaction.
“I … opened my mouth and began to preach to them,” Chamberlain wrote, “in the words that the angel had made known to me in the vision, that all Churches and Denominations on the earth had become corrupt, and no Church of God on the earth but that he would shortly rise up a Church, that would never be confounded nor brought down and be like unto the Apostolic Church. They wondered greatly who had been telling me these things, for said they we have the same things wrote down in our house, taken from the Gold record, that you are preaching to us. I said, the Lord told me these things a number of years ago, I then said, If you are a visionary house, I wish you would make known some of your discoveries, for I think I can bear them. They then made known to me that they had obtained a gold record, and just finished translating it here. Now the Lord revealed to me by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost that this was the work I had been looking for.”
He stayed with the Smiths for two days and listened to their message about the Book of Mormon. Then he accompanied them to the printing office where the Book of Mormon was being printed for the first time. “As soon as they had printed 64 pages, I took them with their leave and pursued my journey to Canada, and I preached all that I knew concerning Mormonism, to all both high and low, rich and poor, and thus you see this was the first that ever printed Mormonism was preached to this generation. I did not see any one in traveling for 800 miles, that had ever heard of the Gold Bible (so called). I exhorted all people to prepare for the great work of God that was now about to come forth, and it would never be brought down nor confounded.” 2
Solomon Chamberlain had left home with a feeling that a restoration of Christ’s church was imminent. But after meeting the Smith family, he gained a conviction that what he had previously felt was now a certainty.
Solomon’s feelings about a coming restoration of the truth were not uncommon during the period just prior to the dawning of the dispensation of the fulness of times. Similar feelings and experiences came to others who, in faith, sought to know the mind and will of God.
For centuries, the world had been bereft of the gospel, awaiting the day when the “restitution of all things” would be fulfilled. (Acts 3:21.) But it was not until the nineteenth century that such a promise became a tangible hope. At that time, it was made known to a limited number of truth seekers that a restoration would indeed occur in the immediate future—and some were even promised that it would happen in their own lifetime.
Wilford Woodruff, who later became President of the Church, had an impressive experience early in life that led him to look forward to the Restoration. An elderly gentleman, Robert Mason, with whom he often visited, told him about a strange vision he had received years earlier. “I was carried away in a vision,” the old man told him, “and found myself in the midst of a vast orchard of fruit trees. I became hungry and wandered through this vast orchard searching for fruit to eat, but I found none. While I stood in amazement finding no fruit in the midst of so many trees, they began to fall to the ground as if torn up by a whirlwind. They continued to fall until there was not a tree standing in the whole orchard. I immediately saw thereafter shoots springing up from the roots and forming themselves into young and beautiful trees. These budded, blossomed, and brought forth fruit which ripened and was the most beautiful to look upon of anything my eyes had ever beheld. I stretched forth my hand and plucked some of the fruit. I gazed upon it with delight; but when I was about to eat of it, the vision closed and I did not taste the fruit.”
At the conclusion of the vision, Mr. Mason had prayed that the Lord would give him the interpretation. “Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying: ‘Son of man, thou hast sought me diligently to know the truth concerning my Church and Kingdom among men. This is to show you that my Church is not organized among men in the generation to which you belong; but in the days of your children the Church and Kingdom of God shall be made manifest with all the gifts and the blessings enjoyed by the Saints in past ages. You shall live to be made acquainted with it, but shall not partake of its blessings before you depart this life. You will be blest of the Lord after death because you have followed the dictation of my Spirit in this life.’”
Then the elderly gentleman looked at the young man and made an unusual prophecy: “Wilford, I shall never partake of this fruit in the flesh, but you will and you will become a conspicuous actor in the new kingdom.” 3
Of course Wilford Woodruff was moved by what he had heard. “To me this was a very striking circumstance,” he later wrote. “I had passed many days during a period of twenty years with this old Father Mason. He had never mentioned this vision to me before. On this occasion he said he felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to relate it to me.”
In addition to hearing the old man’s prophecy that he would live to embrace the truth, young Wilford came to the same conclusion himself after his own sincere search: “I had given myself up to the reading of the Scriptures and to earnest prayer before God day and night as far as I could years before I heard the fullness of the gospel preached by a Latter-day Saint. I had pleaded with the Lord many hours in the forest, among the rocks, and in the fields, and in the mill—often at midnight for light and truth and for His Spirit to guide me in the way of salvation. My prayers were answered and many things were revealed to me. My mind was open to the truth so much so that I was fully satisfied that I should live to see the true Church of Christ established upon the earth and to see a people raised up who would keep the commandments of the Lord.”
The fulfillment of Father Mason’s prophecy was as unusual as the prophecy itself. “The vision was given to him [Father Mason] about the year 1800,” Elder Woodruff wrote. “He related it to me in 1830, the spring in which the Church was organized. Three years later when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, almost the first person I thought of was this prophet, Robert Mason. Upon my arrival in Missouri with Zion’s Camp, I wrote him a long letter in which I informed him that I had found the true gospel with all its blessings; that the authority of the Church of Christ had been restored to the earth as he had told me it would be; that I had received the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands; that I knew for myself that God had established through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the Church of Christ upon the earth.
“He received my letter with great joy and had it read over to him many times. He handled it as he had handled the fruit in the vision. He was very aged and soon died without having the privilege of receiving the ordinances of the gospel at the hands of an elder of the Church.
“The first opportunity I had after the truth of baptism for the dead was revealed, I went forth and was baptized for him in the temple font of Nauvoo.” 4
Benjamin Brown was another who received assurances of the coming restoration of the gospel. “A knowledge was given me that the ancient gifts of the Gospel—speaking in tongues, the power to heal the sick, the spirit of prophecy, &c., were just about to be restored to the believers in Christ. The revelation was a perfect knowledge of the fact, so sure and certain, that I felt as though the truth had been stereotyped upon me. I knew it from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot—in the whole of my system, being filled with the Holy Ghost! I can compare it to nothing better than the change made on a clean sheet of paper by a printing press, leaving an indelible impression behind.” 5
Part of that knowledge had come to him as a result of an experience he had had earlier. When he was about twenty-five years old, he had “a vision” of his brother who had died fourteen or fifteen years earlier. In the vision, his brother was praying. “I heard his voice clearly and distinctly, and listened attentively.
“In the course of his prayer, he referred to a great work to be done on the earth during the last days, quoting several Scriptures. I did not, however, fully comprehend the meaning of them, until, coming into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, years after, I saw the applicability of his words to the views of that people, with regard to the restoration of the Gospel gifts, and great work of gathering the Saints of all nations in the last days, and the fulness of the latter-day glory, for he particularly prayed for the hastening of these things. Soon he disappeared from my view, when suddenly … a sound, as of a rushing mighty wind, with some accompanying influence, seemed to fill the house and myself, and I heard a voice saying—“This is the spirit of understanding.” 6
Daniel Tyler, an early Saint who became prominent in later Church history, recorded that after his father and grandfather had studied the scriptures, they came to believe that the Church as established by Jesus Christ was not on the earth. Their reason for so believing was that none of the ancient signs that were exhibited by the followers of Christ were then manifest.
Brother Tyler further recorded: “My grandfather … prophesied that he would die, but my father [Andrew] would live to see the true church organized with all the apostolic gifts and blessings.” Young Daniel heard and believed the prophecy, and identified the true gospel when it was later restored and taught. Ironically, his father resisted it, even threatening to disown family members who were baptized. “Soon after,” Brother Tyler wrote, “my grand-father appeared to my father in a dream, and told him that this was the people he prophecied of while living, and my parents were baptized.” Other family members, including Daniel, followed. 7
Before hearing the message of the Restoration, Lorenzo Dow Young, a younger brother of Brigham Young, was concerned about religion and studied the Bible diligently. But he didn’t feel right about being baptized in any church. “Although religious in my nature, … sectarian religion seemed empty and void,” he wrote. “… I had joined no church, although I had professed religion, attended meetings, and preached when I had an opportunity.” Indeed, his preaching yielded great fruit. Sixty people desired baptism after hearing some of his sermons, but he excused himself from performing the ordinance, saying “that I had never joined any religious denomination, and did not feel authorized to administer it.”
A Campbellite preacher baptized Lorenzo’s converts, organized them into a branch of the Campbellite church, and tried to convince Lorenzo to be baptized himself and to go on a preaching circuit. “I told him I would not preach his doctrines. If I preached at all, I should preach the whole Bible as I understood it. … A spirit worked with me to do all the good I could, but not to join any religious denomination. It prevailed within me against all temptation this time.”
When he was introduced to the Book of Mormon, he was cautious. “I read and compared the Book of Mormon with the Bible, and fasted and prayed that I might come to a knowledge of the truth. The Spirit seemed to say, ‘This is the way; walk ye in it.’” He was later baptized.
Years before, Lorenzo had had a dream which, in retrospect, helped prepare him to accept the restoration of the gospel: “In the autumn of 1816, when about nine years old, I had a peculiar dream. I thought I stood in an open, clear space of ground, and saw a plain, fine road, leading, at an angle of 45 degrees, into the air, as far as I could see. I heard a noise like a carriage in rapid motion, at what seemed the upper end of the road. In a moment it came in sight. It was drawn by a pair of beautiful, white horses. The carriage and harness appeared brilliant with gold. The horses traveled with the speed of the wind. It was made manifest to me that the Savior was in the carriage, and that it was driven by His servant. The carriage stopped near me, and the Savior inquired where my brother Brigham was. After informing Him, He further inquired about my other brothers, and our father. After I had answered His inquiries, He stated that He wanted us all, but He especially wanted my brother Brigham. The team then turned right about, and returned on the road it had come.
“I awoke at once, and slept no more that night. I felt frightened, and supposed we were all going to die. I saw no other solution to the dream. It was a shadowing of our future which I was then in no condition to discern.” 8
Another young boy, John Taylor, had a vision pointing to the Restoration which he too failed to understand until years later. “When but a small boy,” writes his biographer, B. H. Roberts, “he saw, in vision, an angel in the heavens, holding a trumpet to his mouth, sounding a message to the nations. The import of this vision he did not understand until later in life.”
We can only guess the impact such an experience would have had upon him when, years later, he joined the Church and found that what he had seen in vision was a supporting tenet of the restored gospel and the fulfillment of prophecy as seen by the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos.
At the age of seventeen, while serving as a Methodist preacher in England, he had an additional witness which he did not understand at the time. “I have a strong impression on my mind,” he told a companion, “that I have to go to America to preach the gospel!”
His biographer explains the significance of those feelings: “At the time he knew nothing of America but what he had learned in his geography at school; and emigration to that country had not been thought of then by his family. So strong was the voice of the spirit to him on that occasion that it continued to impress him as long as he remained in that land; and even after he arrived in Canada, a presentiment that he could not shake off, clung to him that he had some work to do which he did not then understand.” 9 John Taylor later became the third President of the Church.
Another who became convinced that the Restoration was at hand was Asael Smith, grandfather of Joseph Smith. Asael was a deeply religious man who strictly encouraged scripture study among his family members. Although he felt partial to the Universalist faith, he generally kept himself aloof from the sects of his day because he was unable to reconcile their conflicting teachings with the truths found in the scriptures.
But Asael Smith had great hope for the future. His great-great-grandson, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, wrote of him: “At times the spirit of inspiration rested upon him. On one occasion Asael said: ‘It has been borne in upon my soul that one of my descendants will promulgate a work to revolutionize the world of religious faith.’ Perhaps he did not expect to live to see that day, but such proved to be the case.” 10
Indeed, shortly after the organization of the Church and the restoration of priesthood authority, his son Joseph Smith, Sr., and grandson Don Carlos Smith visited him and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. While reading it, the old gentleman rejoiced, stating that he was certain the work of his grandson Joseph was of God. According to another grandson, Elder George A. Smith, when the aged gentleman “heard of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, … he said it was true, for he knew that something would turn up in his family that would revolutionize the world.” 11 Thus the prophecy was fulfilled.
The prophet Joseph further supports the account by his cousin in his narration of the event. “My grandfather, Asael Smith, long ago predicted that there would be a prophet raised up in his family, and my grandmother was fully satisfied that it was fulfilled in me. My grandfather, Asael, died … after having received the Book of Mormon, and read it nearly through; and he declared that I was the very Prophet that he had long known would come in his family.” 12
Because of advanced age and poor health, Grandfather Asael Smith was not baptized; he died in October 1830 at the age of 86, firmly believing in the restoration of the gospel. A daughter-in-law who was present at the time of his death recorded: “F[at]her Asael Smith … on his deathbed declared his full and firm belief in the everlasting gospel and also regretted that he was not baptized when Joseph his son was there and acknowledged that the doctrine of universalism, which he had so long advocated, was not true. For although he had lived by this religion 50 years, yet he now renounced it as insufficient to comfort him in death.” 13
Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, also had special dreams pointing to the Restoration of the gospel. On one occasion, after praying in behalf of her husband—“that the true gospel might be presented to him and that his heart might be softened so as to receive it, or, that he might become more religiously inclined”—she was informed in a dream that “the pure and undefiled gospel of the Son of God” would be made known to him, and that “when he was more advanced in life, [he] would hear and receive [it] with his whole heart, and rejoice therein; and unto him would be added intelligence, happiness, glory, and everlasting life.” 14
Of course, Joseph Smith, Sr., and his wife Lucy accepted the gospel when their son Joseph taught it to them—as did many others who had been prepared beforehand for the Restoration. The signs, wonders, and gifts of the Spirit were of themselves testimonies of the source of the Restoration. These gifts and blessings have been promised to men in all ages of the world. They were evident in the early ages of the world, during the meridian of time, prior to the restoration of gospel keys and authority, and they continue today. The proper use and understanding of these gifts and blessings will help to edify the Saints and help to fulfill the promises of the Lord to his obedient children.
Larry C. Porter, “Solomon Chamberlain—Early Missionary,” BYU Studies (Spring 1972), pp. 315–16. The spelling and grammar of the material quoted have been retained.
Ibid., pp. 316–17; italics added.
Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1881), p. 3.
Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff: History of His Life and Labors (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), pp. 16–18.
Benjamin Brown, Testimonies for the Truth: A Record of Manifestations of God, Miraculous and Providential (Liverpool: England: S. W. Richards, 1853), p. 7.
Ibid., p. 4.
Daniel Tyler, “Incidents of Experience,” Scraps of Biography, Classic Experiences and Adventures (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), pp. 22–23.
Lorenzo Dow Young, “Lorenzo Dow Young’s Narrative” Fragments of Experience, Four Faith Promoting Classics (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968), pp. 23–25, 31–33.
B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1963), p. 28.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), p. 25.
Journal of Discourses, 5:102.
History of the Church, 2:443.
Quoted in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971), p. 215 (note number 217).
Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958), pp. 43–45.