There was an unusual excitement about religion in Manchester, New York, and the surrounding area in 1820, and everyone living there seemed to be affected by it. Preachers of different churches each claimed to have the true religion. Because some preached one doctrine and some another, there was confusion and bad feelings among the people.
Joseph Smith, Jr., a fourteen-year-old boy who had recently moved into that area with his family, was also confused. With all the commotion and with the churches clamoring for members, he found it extremely difficult deciding which church to join.
Joseph was a boy with deep feelings, and he wanted to find the true church. One day while he was reading the Bible, he came to a verse in the epistle of James that stated, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Joseph said later, “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine … I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did.”
After much pondering, Joseph came to the conclusion that either he must remain in darkness and confusion or he must do as James directed and ask God for the information he sought. If the scripture he had read was true and God really would give wisdom to those who lacked it, he felt that he should pray to his Father in Heaven.
On a beautiful spring morning Joseph walked to a secluded spot in the woods near his home. Looking around to make certain he was alone, he knelt down and began to pray. He was immediately seized by some power that bound his tongue so that he could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around him, and he thought he was doomed to destruction. Exerting all his strength, Joseph called upon God to deliver him from the evil power that had seized him. It was not an imaginary enemy; it was “the power of some actual being from the unseen world.”
Just when Joseph felt that he was about to be destroyed, he saw a pillar of light directly over his head. The light was brighter than the brightness of the sun, and as it descended upon him, Joseph was delivered from the enemy of darkness.
In the light Joseph saw two glorious Personages standing above him in the air. One of them, Heavenly Father, spoke and called Joseph by name. He said, pointing to the other Personage, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
Joseph was filled with awe at being in the presence of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ When he was finally able to speak, Joseph asked which of all the churches was right and which he should join.
The answer was that Joseph must join none of them, for they were all wrong. Jesus explained: “They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” Again forbidding Joseph to join any of the churches, Jesus proceeded to tell him many other things.
When Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ left, Joseph found himself lying on his back, “looking up into heaven.” The experience had drained him of his strength, but he soon recovered enough to return home.
Later, when Joseph related his sacred experience to his family, they believed him; but nearly everyone else who heard his story refused to believe that the Lord had once again spoken to man on earth. They began to ridicule and torment Joseph cruelly.
Heavenly Father had chosen Joseph Smith for an important mission here upon the earth. After the visit of God the Father and Jesus Christ, other heavenly visitors also helped direct Joseph in his work.
Through the power of God, Joseph Smith translated the Nephite records from the gold plates and published them as the Book of Mormon. He was given the necessary keys and powers of the priesthood to restore the gospel and to organize the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days. He testified to the world that Jesus Christ lives and is the Savior of mankind.
In spite of all he suffered, Joseph’s testimony never changed: “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it; and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.”
Eventually Joseph gave his life as a martyr for the gospel of Jesus Christ.