The gospel of Jesus Christ has been revealed to the people of the world many times. It was given to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and other prophets, including Book of Mormon prophets—each time in a dispensation. 1 Even the Savior brought the gospel anew in His dispensation. The gospel needed to be restored many times because it was rejected or lost from the earth many times through the wickedness of the people. Finally, in this dispensation of the fulness of times, the gospel was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith for the last time.
Here are some of the firsts in our last dispensation that made the Restoration of the gospel and the growth of the Church possible (see D&C 66:2).
The First Vision
James 1:5 promises, “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.”
After he read this verse in the spring of 1820, Joseph Smith Jr., then only 14, took the promise in James seriously. He went into the woods near his home to “ask of God.”
Speaking in the Sacred Grove, where Joseph went to pray to know which church was true, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Here in this very place the long night of apostasy blossomed into the glorious dawn of a new age. God Himself was both seen and heard. Here, where we stand in the quiet of these trees, in this most sacred of places, the nature of Deity was again revealed.
“The uncluttered and receptive mind of a boy became the instrument of the revelation here given and of many more yet to follow. Standing as the 15th in line from Joseph Smith and bearing the prophetic mantle which came upon him, I solemnly declare my testimony that the Prophet Joseph’s account of these events is true, that the Father here bore witness of the divinity of His Son, that the Son instructed the boy prophet, and that there followed a train of events which led to the organization of ‘the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which,’ He declared, ‘I, the Lord, am well pleased’ (D&C 1:30).” 2
The First Prophet
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont, on December 23, 1805. His parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith, were both religious people and brought their children up to believe in God and to seek for salvation. Joseph Sr. and Lucy had 11 children. Joseph was their fifth.
Joseph Smith was born to serve as the instrument in the Lord’s hands to restore Christ’s Church to the earth in this dispensation. President Brigham Young (1801–77) said of Joseph: “It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. … He was fore-ordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.” 3
The First Ordinations to the Priesthood
On May 15, 1829, the Lord sent John the Baptist to confer the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the unfolding work of the Restoration. President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “There on the bank of the Susquehanna River, near Harmony, Pennsylvania, John laid his hands upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and ordained them, saying, ‘Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins’ (D&C 13:1). The messenger announced that he acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, who held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Ordination and baptism followed. …
“In due time, Peter, James, and John were sent to bestow the blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood. These Apostles sent by the Lord ordained and confirmed Joseph and Oliver to be Apostles and special witnesses of His name. …
“As a result of these experiences, all of us carry the requirement—even the blessed opportunity and solemn duty—to be true to the trust we have received.” 4
The First Witnesses
Four years after Moroni’s first visit to him, Joseph Smith received the golden plates from the angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah and began to translate them. At first, no one else was allowed to see them, but later the Lord revealed that there would be three chosen to bear testimony of the Book of Mormon and the golden plates (see D&C 5:11–15).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told about these witnesses: “The three men chosen as witnesses of the Book of Mormon were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Their written ‘Testimony of Three Witnesses’ has been included in all … copies of the Book of Mormon the Church has published since 1830. These witnesses solemnly testify that they ‘have seen the plates which contain this record’ and ‘the engravings which are upon the plates.’ They witness that these writings ‘have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us.’ They testify, ‘We declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true.’
“Further, ‘the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things.’” 5
The Prophet was also allowed to show the plates to eight other witnesses. Their testimony is also recorded in the Book of Mormon.
The First Church Meeting
The organization of the Church took place in a small log cabin in Fayette, New York. To comply with the law for organizing a religious society, Joseph chose five men to assist him. The congregation of nearly 60 sustained Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as elders in the Church. The sacrament was blessed, the Saints sang together and prayed together, and some were baptized and confirmed.
“April 6, 1830, is a significant date for Latter-day Saints,” said Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “It is the day The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. The translation and printing of the Book of Mormon had been completed, the priesthood had been restored, and now the Lord directed that His church should again be organized here on the earth.” 6
The Last Dispensation
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to be led to new firsts through prophetic revelation. Many countries are now seeing their first converts or first temples, and missionaries all over the world continue to spread the gospel to those who are hearing it for the first time.
You have a part to play too. Speaking of the pioneers who built up the early Church, President Hinckley said: “As great things were expected of them, so are they of us. We note what they did with what they had. We have so much more, with an overwhelming challenge to go on and build the kingdom of God.” 7
As you share the gospel and live faithfully, you will help to build God’s kingdom and carry it to even more “firsts” in this last dispensation.
Then and Now
1830: Fewer than 50 members Now: More than 12 million members
1830: Fewer than 20 missionaries Now: More than 50,000 missionaries
1830: 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon printed Now: More than 120 million copies of the Book of Mormon printed
1836: One temple Now: 119 temples
The First Printing
Because he worked under inspiration, Joseph Smith took only about 65 working days between the beginning of April and end of June 1829 to translate the entire Book of Mormon. 8 The Prophet worked rapidly, rarely going back to revise the completed work. He had never studied ancient writings, and he did not refer to any sources outside the golden plates when he was translating. 9
Oliver Cowdery, who acted as one of Joseph’s scribes, said: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim.” 10
When the book was translated, Joseph and Martin Harris took it to E. B. Grandin to be published. Five thousand copies were printed, and the books were ready for sale in the spring of 1830.
The First Temple
The Church was organized again on the earth. “But the work of the Restoration was not over,” explained Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “As in times of old, members of the Church were instructed to build a temple, which was dedicated in Kirtland, Ohio, on March 27, 1836. One week later, on April 3, a meeting was held there. Following a solemn and silent prayer, Joseph and Oliver saw the Lord Jesus Christ standing before them. … Moses, Elias, and Elijah also appeared there and committed the keys of the kingdom, the saving ordinances, to Joseph.” 11
Only two years after the temple’s dedication and the restoration of sacred keys to the Prophet there, the Saints were forced to leave Kirtland and their first temple because of poverty, persecution, and apostasy.
Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont. (1805)
Joseph Smith received the First Vision in the spring. (1820)
John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood in May. (1829)
Peter, James, and John bestowed the Melchizedek Priesthood. (1829)
The Prophet translated the Book of Mormon between April and June. (1829)
An angel showed the gold plates to three witnesses. (1829)
The Book of Mormon was published in March. (1830)
The Church was organized in Fayette, New York, on April 6. (1830)
The Kirtland Temple was dedicated on March 27. (1836)
On April 3, the Lord appeared to the Prophet in the Kirtland Temple. (1836)
“A gospel dispensation is a period of time in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on the earth who bears the keys of the holy priesthood” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Dispensation,” 67; see also Bible Dictionary, “Dispensations,” 657).
“Special Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 20–21.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (1997), 96.
“All That the Father Has,” Ensign, July 1989, 68.
“The Witness: Martin Harris,” Ensign, May 1999, 35.
“Heed the Prophet’s Voice,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 17.
“True to the Faith,” Ensign, May 1997, 66–67.
See John W. Welch, “How Long Did It Take Joseph Smith to Translate the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, Jan.1988, 46–47.
See Neal A. Maxwell, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 39–40.
“Receiving a Testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 30; see D&C 110.