By 1820, the world was ready for the “restitution of all things” spoken of by Peter and “all [God’s] holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).
At this time religious excitement was sweeping across the countryside in upstate New York. Ministers from different Christian churches competed for new members in villages and towns, including Palmyra, the home of the family of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith.
The Smith family listened to these ministers, and Mother Smith, Hyrum, Samuel, and Sophronia joined one church (see JS—H 1:7); Father Smith and his eldest son, Alvin, affiliated with another.
When 14-year-old Joseph Jr. considered which church to join, he investigated each one carefully, listening to the different ministers and trying to sort out the truth. He knew that there could be only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5), but which of the churches was the Savior’s he did not know. Later, he wrote: “I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (JS—H 1:10).
He looked for answers to his questions in the scriptures. While studying the Bible, he read this in James 1:5: “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 thought: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again” (JS—H 1:12). Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Joseph decided to go into a grove of trees near his home and test the promise he had read in the book of James.
On a beautiful, clear spring morning, he went to the woods and found a quiet spot where he could be alone. Then he knelt and began to pray. No sooner had he done so than an overwhelming feeling of darkness swept over him, as if some evil power was trying to overcome him. Rather than surrender, Joseph prayed harder—and God Himself answered his prayer. Joseph described what happened this way:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS—H 1:16–17).
I testify that those Beings were God, our Heavenly Father, and His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ!
They told Joseph he should join none of the existing churches. Their mission accomplished, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, departed.
Young Joseph was physically drained but spiritually enriched with exciting restored truth. He knew with certainty that God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, were real, for he had seen Them. He knew that They are two separate, distinct individuals. He knew that no church on the face of the earth had the authority of the priesthood to act in the name of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Perhaps the most important lesson young Joseph learned in the Sacred Grove is that the heavens are not sealed. God does communicate with mortals. He loves us today just as much as He loved those who lived anciently. He knows us and cares about us, individually and collectively. He communicates with us, either directly or through His living prophets, according to our needs.