After Joseph Smith received the First Vision in 1820, he shared his experience with a preacher who rejected his testimony. In addition, other people in the community persecuted young Joseph Smith. Men of high standing went out of their way to publicly criticize him. In spite of this opposition, Joseph Smith remained true to his testimony.
Begin class by reading aloud the following account told by President Gordon B. Hinckley about a conversation he had with a young man in London, England. Before you read the first part of this account, invite the class to ponder what they might do if they were in the position of this young man. (You may want to tell the class that the conclusion of this account will come later in the lesson.)
“He said, ‘I’ve got to talk with someone. I’m all alone. …’
“And I said, ‘What’s your problem?’
“And he said, ‘When I joined the Church a little less than a year ago, my father told me to get out of his home and never come back. And I’ve never been back.’
“He continued, ‘A few months later the cricket club of which I was a member read me off its list, barring me from membership with the boys with whom I had grown up and with whom I had been so close and friendly.’
“Then he said, ‘Last month my boss fired me because I was a member of this church, and I have been unable to get another job. …
“‘And last night the girl with whom I have gone for a year and a half said she would never marry me because I’m a Mormon’” (“The Loneliness of Leadership” [Brigham Young University devotional address, Nov. 4, 1969], 3, speeches.byu.edu).
After reading this account, invite a few students to respond to the following question:
Have you ever felt that you have been treated unkindly or criticized because of your religious beliefs? What was the situation? (You may also want to share a personal experience with the class.)
Display the picture The First Vision (Gospel Art Book , no. 90; see also LDS.org). Explain that although Joseph Smith was greatly blessed because of the testimony he received as a result of the First Vision, he was also severely tested. Encourage students to consider what they might learn from Joseph Smith’s response to the opposition he experienced because of his testimony.
Assign students to work in pairs. Invite each pair to take turns reading aloud from Joseph Smith—History 1:21–23. Ask them to look for words and phrases that describe the opposition Joseph Smith faced because of his testimony. (You may want to suggest that students mark the words and phrases they find.) After students have finished reading, ask the following questions:
What words or phrases stood out to you?
Who initiated much of the persecution against Joseph Smith at this time? (People of high standing in the community who claimed to be Christians.)
As you consider Joseph Smith’s age and circumstances in life, how might persecution from these people have been especially difficult for him?
Point out the sentence near the end of Joseph Smith—History 1:20 that begins, “It seems as though. …” Invite students to begin with these words and silently read the rest of the verse, looking for the reason Joseph Smith gave for why he had experienced this persecution at such a young age.
According to Joseph Smith, why did he experience this persecution at such a young age? (Satan recognized that Joseph Smith would be “a disturber and an annoyer of his kingdom” [Joseph Smith—History 1:20].)
Explain that as students continue their study of Joseph Smith—History today, they will learn important truths that will help them deal with the opposition and persecution they may experience because of their righteous beliefs and actions.
Hold up your scriptures, and ask the following question:
Who is someone in the scriptures whom you admire because of his or her character or the strength of his or her example? (Invite students to briefly explain their answers.)
Invite a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:24 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the name of a person whose experiences were similar to those of Joseph Smith.
Why was Joseph Smith able to look back on his experiences and identify with the Apostle Paul? (Paul had been mocked for his testimony of Jesus Christ and yet remained true to it.)
How do you think it may have been helpful for Joseph Smith to see things he had in common with the Apostle Paul? (See 2 Corinthians 11:23–27 for a description of Paul’s sufferings.)
What lesson can we learn from Joseph Smith’s example of studying and pondering the experiences of Paul? (Help students identify the following principle: During difficult times, we can draw strength from the examples of faithful individuals in the scriptures.)
Write this truth on the board, and explain that it is an example of a principle. You may want to remind students that doctrines and principles of the gospel are fundamental, unchanging truths that provide guidance for our lives. To help students relate this principle to their lives and feel its truth and importance, ask the following question:
When have you been strengthened by studying the experience of a faithful individual in the scriptures? (You may also want to share an experience.)
Encourage students to turn to the scriptures for strength whenever they face difficulties.
Write the following statement on the board: “I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
What does this phrase teach you about Joseph Smith’s testimony of the First Vision?
How can you gain a witness that Joseph Smith actually saw God the Father and Jesus Christ?
Invite students to study Joseph Smith—History 1:24–25 silently. Ask them to look for doctrines or principles that can help us when we face opposition or are wavering in our testimonies. Invite them to record what they find in their class notebooks or scripture study journals. Examples of truths students may identify include the following:
The knowledge we receive from God is true even if the world rejects it.
We should be more concerned about what God thinks of us than what men think.
Even if we are hated and persecuted for our testimonies, we must remain true to them.
Invite students to share the truths they have identified. Encourage them to listen carefully to each other. You may want to suggest that they record the truths they learn from one another in their class notebooks or scripture study journals. As students share the truths they have discovered, ask the following questions:
How was Joseph Smith an example of that truth?
How might that truth be helpful to you?
How might living that truth influence our choices?
Read aloud the rest of the account told by President Hinckley about the young man in London, England, who faced great opposition because of his religious beliefs:
“I said, ‘If this has cost you so much, why don’t you leave the Church and go back to your father’s home and to your cricket club and to the job that meant so much to you and to the girl you think you love?’
“He said nothing for what seemed to be a long time. Then, putting his head down in his hands, he sobbed and sobbed. Finally, he looked up through his tears and said, ‘I couldn’t do that. I know this is true, and if it were to cost me my life, I could never give it up’” (“The Loneliness of Leadership,” 3–4).
Invite students to choose one of the truths they listed and write down what they will do to apply that truth in their lives.
Conclude the lesson by inviting a student to read Joseph Smith—History 1:26 aloud. Ask students to follow along and identify the principle that Joseph Smith had found to be true.
What blessings came to Joseph Smith because he believed the promise from James? (He learned that when we ask God in faith for wisdom, He will freely give it to us. He also learned that when we act on promises in the scriptures, we can gain a testimony of their truth.)
Share your testimony that as we trust in God and believe and act on the promises in the scriptures, we will receive answers from God and gain strength to overcome the challenges we face.