Changing First Vision Accounts - 1834-35 First Vision Account in Messenger and Advocate
1834-35 — Oliver Cowdery, with Joseph Smith’s help, published the first history of Mormonism in the LDS periodical Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, Ohio, Dec. 1834, vol.1, no.3.
Principle elements of the account:
- A revival stirred in him a desire to “know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion.”
- Desired to know if a Supreme being did exist, and wanted manifestation that his sins were forgiven.
- Age 17 (1823)
- He was in his bedroom
- Vision of an angel
- Told sins were forgiven and Lord would do a work through him
- Told about gold plates and their location
“You will recollect that I informed you, in my letter published in the first No. of the Messenger and Advocate, that this history would necessarily embrace the life and character of our esteemed friend and brother, J Smith Jr. one of the presidents of this church, and for information on that part of the subject, I refer you to his communication of the same, published in this paper. I shall, therefore, pass over that, till I come to the 15th year of his life. “It is necessary to premise this account by relating the situation of the public mind relative to religion, at this time: One Mr. Lane, a presiding Elder of the Methodist church, visited Palmyra, and vicinity. Elder Lane was a talented man possessing a good share of literary endowments, and apparent humility. There was a great awakening, or excitement raised on the subject of religion, and much enquiry for the word of life. Large additions were made to the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. … Then strife seemed to take the place of that apparent union and harmony which had previously characterized the moves and exhortations of the old professors, and a cry — I am right — your are wrong — was introduced in their stead. “In this general strife for followers, his mother, one sister, and two of his natural brothers, were persuaded to unite with the Presbyterians. … “After strong solicitations to unite with one of those different societies, and seeing the apparent proselyting disposition manifested with equal warmth from each, his mind was led to more seriously contemplate the importance of a move of this kind.”
Oliver Cowdery continues the narrative in the next issue, on page 78-79: “You will recollect that I mentioned the time of a religious excitement, in Palmyra and vicinity to have been in the 15th year of our brother J. Smith Jr.’s age — that was an error in the type — it should have been in the 17th. — You will please remember this correction, as it will be necessary for the full understanding of what will follow in time. This would bring the date down to the year 1823. “I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject of this excitement. … “And it is only necessary for me to say, that while this excitement continued, he continued to call upon the Lord in secret for a full manifestation of divine approbation, and for, to him, the all important information, if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him. “… On the evening of the 21st of September, 1823, previous to retiring to rest, our brother’s mind was unusually wrought up on the subject which had so long agitated his mind … all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind of messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. “… While continuing in prayer for a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven; endeavoring to exercise faith in the scriptures, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness burst into the room … It is no easy task to describe the appearance of a messenger from the skies … But it may be well to relate the particulars as far as given — The stature of this personage was a little above the common size of men in this age; his garment was perfectly white, and had the appearance of being without seam. Though fear was banished from his heart, yet his surprise was no less when he heard him declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard;"
Cowdery's narrative continues from this point and parallels others given by Smith over the years. The angel tells Joseph of a restoration and a new book of Scripture. It is interesting that this account does not follow the two event, 'double visitation' pattern of Joseph's 1832, 1835-36, and 1838 accounts, but instead parallels the earliest accounts where a single spiritual being visits Joseph and tells him of the plates. It combines the following key elements into a single event.
- Joseph as a young spiritual seeker (rather than a treasure seeker) who is unsure if God even exists
- Joseph's desire for and receiving of forgiveness
- the appearance of an angel
- first time mention of a local revival (which did occur around 1823) as an external motivator for Joseph's unrest
- the revelation about gold plates
In subsequent accounts Joseph Smith will divide these elements between two visionary experiences separated by several years.