President David O. McKay said, “Since childhood it has been very easy for me to believe in the reality of the visions of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”2 He said that his testimony of the Prophet Joseph was strengthened when he heard of an experience his father had as a missionary in Scotland:
“When [my father] began preaching in his native land and bore testimony of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he noticed that the people turned away from him. They were bitter in their hearts against anything [related to the Church], and the name of Joseph Smith seemed to arouse antagonism in their hearts. One day he concluded that the best way to reach these people would be to preach just the simple principles, the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the first principles of the gospel, and not bear testimony of the restoration. In a month or so he became oppressed with a gloomy, downcast feeling, and he could not enter into the spirit of his work. He did not really know what was the matter, but his mind became obstructed; his spirit became depressed; he was oppressed and hampered; and that feeling of depression continued until it weighed him down with such heaviness that he went to the Lord and said, ‘Unless I can get this feeling removed, I shall have to go home. I can’t continue having my work thus hampered.’
“The discouragement continued for some time after that, when, one morning before daylight, following a sleepless night, he decided to retire to a cave, near the ocean, where he knew he would be shut off from the world entirely, and there pour out his soul to God and ask why he was oppressed with this feeling, what he had done, and what he could do to throw it off and continue his work. He started out in the dark toward the cave. He became so eager to get to it that he started to run. As he was leaving the town, he was hailed by an officer who wanted to know what was the matter. He gave some noncommittal but satisfactory reply and was permitted to go on. Something just seemed to drive him; he had to get relief. He entered the cave or sheltered opening, and said, ‘Oh, Father, what can I do to have this feeling removed? I must have it lifted or I cannot continue in this work’; and he heard a voice, as distinct as the tone I am now uttering, say, ‘Testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.’ Remembering then what he tacitly had decided six weeks or more before, and becoming overwhelmed with the thought, the whole thing came to him in a realization that he was there for a special mission, and he had not given that special mission the attention it deserved. Then he cried in his heart, ‘Lord, it is enough,’ and went out from the cave.”
President McKay recalled, “As a boy, I sat and heard that testimony from one whom I treasured and honored as you know I treasured no other man in the world, and that assurance was instilled in my youthful soul.”3
Teachings of David O. McKay
Joseph Smith’s First Vision revealed glorious truths about God the Father and Jesus Christ.
So far-reaching and significant were the wonderful discoveries and inventions of the latter half of [the nineteenth] century that they overwhelm us. … But none of them has answered man’s greatest need and man’s most yearning desire. Not one has yet revealed that for which man has sought for ages. That need—that ever-present yearning in man’s heart—is to know God, and man’s relation to him. … Only one event of the nineteenth century claims to give to the human soul this answer. If in that event man finds the truth for which the human race has ever sought, then it truly merits the distinguishing tribute of the greatest event of the nineteenth century!
That event was the appearing of two heavenly Beings to the boy Prophet Joseph Smith, revealing the personal identity respectively of God the Eternal Father and of his Son Jesus Christ.4
Eighteen hundred years after Jesus died upon the cross, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the risen Lord appeared to him. [He said]: “… 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!” [Joseph Smith—History 1:17.]5
His declaration was simple but positive; and he was surprised when men doubted its truth. To him his claim was but the statement of a simple fact; to the Christian world it proved to be a lightning flash that, striking, weakened their religious structure from turret to foundation.
Two important elements in his first message were these: first, that God is a personal Being, who communicates his will to man; and second, that no creed in Christendom had the true plan of salvation.6
The appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith is the foundation of this Church. Therein lies the secret of its strength and vitality. This is true, and I bear witness to it. That one revelation answers all the queries of science regarding God and his divine personality. Don’t you see what that means? What God is, is answered. His relation to his children is clear. His interest in humanity through authority delegated to man is apparent. The future of the work is assured. These and other glorious truths are clarified by that glorious first vision.7
The world still does not comprehend its significance; but as a contributive factor to man’s knowledge of his relationship to Deity and of his place in the universe; as a means of establishing proper relationships between men as individuals and groups of men as nations; as a revelation pointing the way to man’s happiness and peace on earth as well as in the eternities to come, the appearing of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith and the subsequent restoration of the priesthood and the establishing of the Church of Jesus Christ in its fulness, will yet be recognized not only as the greatest event of the nineteenth century, but as one of the greatest of all ages.8
The Lord restored gospel truths through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
It is of Joseph Smith not only as a great man, but as an inspired servant of the Lord that I desire to speak. … Indeed, Joseph Smith’s greatness consists in divine inspiration. …
Nobody can study critically and intelligently the restored gospel of Jesus Christ without being deeply impressed with the harmony of the teachings with those given by the Lord and Savior Himself when He was on the earth with His disciples. Consider, for example, the Prophet’s revelation concerning the Creator—God as an intelligent Being, one who is, as Jesus taught, “Our Father in heaven.” [See Matthew 6:9.] …
Joseph Smith’s doctrine that Jesus Christ is the only Begotten of the Father, the Savior of the world, is identical with the teachings of Jesus Himself and His apostles.
So also is his doctrine of the persistence of personality after death. …
The same harmony is found in the teachings of other principles of the gospel such as faith, repentance, baptism, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, ordination to the priesthood, his teachings on “knowledge, temperance, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity,” etc. [See 2 Peter 1:5–7; D&C 4:6.] …
… The advocates of infant baptism taught regarding little children: “Infants who come into the world are not only destitute of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, but have a natural inclination to evil and only evil.”
… Boldly and fearlessly, and speaking as one having assurance that he is right, the Prophet Joseph said: “Little children are holy and are sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ.” [See D&C 74:7.]9
Divine inspiration is manifest … in [Joseph Smith’s] glorious announcement of the eternal nature of covenants and ceremonies and the opportunity of salvation for every human being. The Church is not exclusive but all inclusive to every soul who will accept its principles. … All mankind shall be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Even they who died without law shall be judged without law. To this end is the ordinance of salvation for the dead revealed.
The eternity of the marriage covenant is a glorious revelation, giving assurance to hearts bound by the golden clasp of love and sealed by authority of the holy Priesthood that their union is eternal.
Other covenants also continue with eternal progress throughout the ages of eternity.
Joseph Smith could not have accomplished all this of his own wisdom, intellect, and influence. He could not have done it.10
The Lord has revealed in this day the Plan of Salvation, which is nothing more or less than the way to the spiritual realm by building character worthy of entrance into his kingdom. The Plan is the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and it is ideal and comprehensive.11
The restored Church of Jesus Christ is evidence of the Prophet Joseph’s divine inspiration.
About 1820, religious excitement led Joseph Smith to seek the right church, the proper mode of worship, the right way to live. The desire to know impelled the youth to seek the Lord in earnest prayer. One result of the answer to his prayer was the organization of the Church in Peter Whitmer’s home on … April 6, 1830. In that organization may be found the comprehension of the whole plan of man’s salvation.
Now I wish to consider that organization as one evidence of his inspiration. … [It] has survived financial panics, social upheavals, and religious turmoil; and today stands as a means of supplying the highest needs of mankind. …
… “The Church of Jesus Christ was organized in accordance with the order of the Church as recorded in the New Testament,” said Joseph Smith [see History of the Church, 1:79]. The practical and beneficent workings of this organization prove its divine authenticity.12
Many years ago Joseph Smith, a mere boy between fourteen and fifteen years of age, declared that, in answer to prayer, he received a revelation from God. … The result of this declaration was his immediate ostracism from the religious world. In a very short time he found himself standing alone.
Alone—and unacquainted with the learning and philosophy of his day!
Alone—and unschooled in the arts and sciences!
Alone—with no philosopher to instruct him, no minister to guide him! In simplicity and kindness he had hastened to them with his glorious message; in scorn and derision they had turned from him saying it was all of the devil; that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the Apostles; and that there would never be any more of them [see Joseph Smith—History 1:21].
Thus he was left alone to embark upon the ocean of religious thought, having rejected every known vessel with which to sail and never having built one or even having seen one built himself. Surely if an impostor, the bark [or ship] he could build would be indeed a crude one.
On the other hand, if that which he built possesses an excellence and superiority over that which the learned professors and philosophers had given to the world during the preceding hundreds of years, men will be forced, at least, to say in surprise, whence hath this man his wisdom!
It would appear, then, that though he seemed alone, he was alone only as was Moses on Sinai; as Jesus on the Mount of Olives. As with the Master, so with the prophet, his instructions came not through man-made channels but direct from God, the source of all intelligence. He says: “I am a rough stone. The sound of the hammer and chisel were never heard on me until the Lord took me in hand. I desire the learning and wisdom of heaven alone.” [History of the Church, 5:423.] …
His claim to revelation from God, if established, leaves no doubt as to his authority to organize the Church of Jesus Christ upon earth, and to administer authoritatively the principles and ordinances thereof. Thus at the very inception of this great latter-day work was laid the immovable cornerstone of Christ’s Church in this dispensation, [namely], the authority to officiate in the name of Jesus Christ in things pertaining to his Church.13
As we consider [Joseph Smith’s] outstanding accomplishments during the brief span of fourteen years between the organization of the Church and his martyrdom; as we contemplate the perfect harmony of the restored gospel with that of the primitive church established by Jesus and His apostles; as we note his penetrating insight into principles and ordinances; and as we see the incomparable plan and efficiency of the Church established by the inspiration of the Christ whose name it bears—the answer to the question, whence this man’s wisdom? is given in the stirring stanza:
The Prophet Joseph lived and died in defense of the truths revealed to him.
Great men have the ability to see clearly into the heart of things. They discern truth. They think independently. They act nobly. They influence strong men to follow them. Small men sneer at them, ridicule them, persecute them, but the critics die and are forgotten, and the great man lives on forever.
Some of Joseph Smith’s contemporaries sneered at him; others admired him; his followers revered him. …
No one unbiased in his judgment can study the life of this religious leader without being impressed with the fact that he possessed in a rich degree the qualities of true greatness, the source of which is found in a desire to know God’s will, and in a determination, when it is found, to follow it.15
Throughout all ages truth has been first perceived by a few heroic leaders who, in defense of it, frequently sacrificed their lives. To the clear perception and the courage of these intrepid leaders of men is due the progress of mankind. At some time or other, they have had to make a choice whether to deny, modify, or defend truth—a choice between personal ease and preferment, or ostracism, punishment, or even death. Such a choice came to Peter and John as they stood prisoners before Annas, the high priest. It took real courage from them to bear witness of Christ in the presence of the very men who had condemned him to death. [See Acts 4.]
It took courage for Paul, a chained prisoner before King Agrippa and his royal company, to bear witness that Christ did suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the gentiles. [See Acts 26.]
It took courage for Joseph Smith to testify to an unbelieving and bitter world the truth that God and his Beloved Son had appeared in vision to him.16
All men who have moved the world have been men who will stand true to their conscience—such men as Peter, James, and Paul, and their brethren of the ancient apostles, and also others. When the religious leaders of Palmyra, New York, turned against the youthful Joseph Smith for what he had seen and heard in the Sacred Grove, he said, having a testimony of the Lord Jesus in his bosom: “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. …” [Joseph Smith—History 1:25.]
Joseph Smith was true to his testimony to the last.17
The result of [Joseph Smith’s] divine guidance was an assurance of the righteousness of what he taught and a fearlessness in proclaiming it. When Joseph Smith taught a doctrine, he taught it authoritatively. His was not the question whether it agreed with man’s thoughts or not, whether it was in harmony with the teachings of the orthodox churches or whether it was in direct opposition. What was given to him he gave to the world irrespective of its agreement or disagreement, of its harmony or its discord with the belief of the churches, or the prevailing standards of mankind; and today, as we look through the vista of over one hundred years, we have a good opportunity of judging of the virtue of his teachings, and of concluding as to the source of his instruction. …
Not only did he receive guidance and instruction from the divine Head, but, once received, defended it with invincible resolution.18
Through railings, scoffings, mobbings, arrests, imprisonments, persecutions that led to martyrdom, Joseph Smith as Peter and Paul before him, ever strove to the utmost of his ability to follow the light that had made him a “partaker of the divine nature.” [See 2 Peter 1:4.]19
The best blood of this country was shed in innocence. [The Prophet Joseph] knew he was innocent. He knew his rights. So did his brother Hyrum, John Taylor and Willard Richards who were there with him. But because of lies, black and damnable, the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred.
… In the midst of it all what was the Prophet’s attitude? A calm, Christ-like attitude. Said he, when he was going to Carthage that evening:
“I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer’s morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and all men. If they take my life I shall die an innocent man, and it will yet be said of me, he was murdered in cold blood.” [See D&C 135:4.]20
The lives of the Prophet, of his brother, Hyrum, the patriarch, and of hundreds of thousands of others who accepted the truth of [the First Vision] bear evidence that the plan of salvation, as it is purported Jesus Christ revealed it, most assuredly leads toward Christlike character. So real was the revelation to the Prophet and his brother, Hyrum, that they unflinchingly sealed their testimony with their blood.21
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
President McKay related an experience his father had on his mission concerning the need to testify of Joseph Smith (see pages 91–92). Why is the answer his father received significant for us today?
Why was it necessary for the Lord to call a prophet in the latter days? (See pages 92–94.) Why is a testimony of Joseph Smith an essential part of a testimony of the gospel? In what way is the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith the “foundation of this Church”?
What are some truths that were revealed through the First Vision? (See pages 92–94.) In what ways has your knowledge of the First Vision influenced your testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
What are some other doctrines that the Lord revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith? (See pages 94–95.) How have you been blessed as you have studied and applied these doctrines?
In what ways are the Church and its teachings a testament that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God? (See pages 95–98.)
What are some Christlike attributes shown by the Prophet Joseph Smith? (See pages 98–100.) What can you do to follow his example?
What responsibilities do we have when we have a testimony of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel?
Cherished Experiences from the Writings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss, rev. ed. (1976), 16.
Gospel Ideals (1953), 524.
Cherished Experiences, 11–12.
Gospel Ideals, 79–80; paragraphing altered.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1966, 58.
Gospel Ideals, 80.
Gospel Ideals, 85.
Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss (1962), 227.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith—On Doctrine and Organization,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1945, 14–15; paragraphing altered.
“Joseph Smith—Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1942, 55.
Treasures of Life, 420.
Improvement Era, Jan. 1942, 13, 54.
Gospel Ideals, 80–82; paragraphing altered.
Improvement Era, Jan. 1945, 47.
Pathways to Happiness, comp. Llewelyn R. McKay (1957), 284–85.
Treasures of Life, 376–77.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1969, 151.
Gospel Ideals, 81–82.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 95.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1931, 12–13.
Treasures of Life, 226–27.