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I love studying dreams and visions from our pioneer forefathers. Their journals are full of them. The Lord has been bounteous in giving so many lay members and common folk wonderful views into the unseen world. I want to share with you a little-known vision or dream of Lorenzo Dow Young, brother to Brigham Young.
Lorenzo (1807-1895) was likely named after a famous preacher named Lorenzo Dow (many boys in that era got the name Lorenzo Dow). He was one of the eleven children (five boys and six girls) of John and Abigail (Nabby) Howe Young.
At Watertown, New York on the 6th of June, 1826, Lorenzo Dow Young married Persis Goodall, daughter of Joel and Mary (or Molly) Swain Goodall, and soon afterwards they moved to Mendon, Monroe County New York. Mendon is just 19 miles from Palmyra.
There in Mendon, at age 19 or 20, Lorenzo had a remarkable vision or heaven-sent dream which made a life-long impression upon him. This vision came about 4 years before the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and nearly 6 years before he would join the Church.
I want to share this with you in a very individual way because there’s a very intimate part of this whole experience that touches me personally. I will interrupt the vision a number of times along the way for various reasons to show patterns and types from the scriptures and other sources. The vision will be in bold italics so you can clearly follow it. You could use this as your personal spiritual study of the day if you desire.
Here is the vision or dream in Lorenzo Dow Young’s own words:
“In a moment, I was out of my body and fully conscious of the change. I was sensible that I had passed through what we call death. I felt and acted as naturally as I had done in the body, with all my sensations as complete without as with it.
“At once a heavenly guide was by my side dressed in the purest white.”
You remember in Nephi’s great vision recorded in 1 Nephi chapters 11-14; he first was taught by the “Spirit of the Lord” then he was taught for the rest of the vision by an angel or heavenly guide. And the teaching method was questions and answers and also commands to observe, especially the command: “Look!”
Joseph Smith, Sr. had a series of seven visions, all before the First Vision of his son Joseph (the seventh was in 1819). He too was accompanied by a guide who answered questions as he went along.
I think we learn from this we will never feel alone or left on our own in the next world and that teachers and guides are critical to our journey. That is a comfort.
The Hosts of the Dead
Back to Lorenzo Dow Young’s Vision:
“For a short time I remained in the room where lay my body. My sister Fanny, who was living with me, and my wife, were weeping bitterly over my death. I sympathized with and desired to comfort them in their grief. I realized I was under the direction of the man who was by me, and begged of him the privilege of speaking to them. He replied that he could not grant it. My guide, for so I will call him, said “Now let us go.”
“Space seemed annihilated. Apparently we went up and almost instantly were in another world, of the magnitude of which I formed no conception. It was filled with innumerable hosts of beings as naturally human as those among whom I had lived.”
Joseph F. Smith was given a series of visions, one of which we have canonized as Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. You recall this part of Joseph F.’s account:
“As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
“And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality.”[i]
Oscar W. McConkie, was given a vision of the Spirit World and he too saw large gatherings of people interacting one with another. One group he described, who was listening to one missionary, he estimated numbered between 20 and 30 thousand.[ii]
From these accounts we learn there are innumerable hosts of souls and they have sociality one with another in the next world.
A Vision of the Miserable
Back to Lorenzo Dow Young:
“All sorts of people were intermingled, and some of them I recognized as acquaintances in the world I had just left. My guide informed me that they had not yet arrived at their final abiding place. Their surroundings and appearance indicated they were in a state of expectancy, and anxiously awaiting some event of considerable importance to them.”
Remember: This vision of Lorenzo Dow Young was given at least three to four years before the gospel was restored to the earth.
“Going on from this place my guide said, “I will now show you the condition of the damned.” Pointing with his hand he said, “Look.”
That term or command “Look” is used in Nephi’s Vision 13 times. Whenever I see something repeated like that I pay attention. This is an imperative. It is a command. And we are to follow that command. The Spirit often uses the same command in individually teaching us. “Look!” And we need to obey.
An angel met Amulek and gave him very specific instructions to receive Alma whom he had never met.[iii]
An angel met Joseph Smith on the road by Harmony, Pennsylvania to give him specific instructions about the use of wine or water in the sacrament in this dispensation.[iv]
These are all angelic imperatives or commands.
Now, back to Lorenzo Dow:
“I looked down a distance which to me appeared incomprehensible, and gazed on a vast region filled with multitudes of intelligences. I saw every thing with the most minute distinctness, and the vast multitudes of people seemed extremely miserable. “These,” said my guide, “are they who have rejected the means of salvation that were placed within their reach, and in that way have brought upon themselves the condemnation you behold.”
“The expression of the countenances of these sufferers was clear and distinct, and conveyed to me a consciousness that no one but themselves were to blame for their forlorn condition. This scene affected me so much that I could not refrain from weeping.
“Again my guide said, ‘Now let us go.’”
Others have been shown these kinds of visions.
“And when the Lord had said these words, he showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth.”[v]
“And it came to pass, as the voice was still speaking, Moses cast his eyes and beheld the earth, yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God.
“And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God; and their numbers were great, even numberless as the sand upon the sea shore.”[vi]
“And he said unto me: My son, my son (and his hand was stretched out), behold I will show you all these. And he put his hand upon mine eyes, and I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof.”[vii]
Joseph Smith, Jr. and Sidney Rigdon:
Joseph and Sidney were also shown a vision of those who had succumbed to the power of Lucifer.[viii]
We learn here that through the Spirit we can be shown things that to our finite minds here seem incomprehensible.
The Transcendent Beauty of the Next World
Back to Lorenzo Dow:
“In a moment we were at the gate of a beautiful city, which was opened, and we passed in. I cannot describe its beauty and grandeur. It was clothed in the purest light I had ever beheld, brilliant but not glaring nor unpleasant.”
Joseph Smith described a vision of the celestial world:
“The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell.
“I saw the transcendent beauty of the gate through which the heirs of that kingdom will enter, which was like unto circling flames of fire;
“Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son.
“I saw the beautiful streets of that kingdom, which had the appearance of being paved with gold.”[ix]
From this and other visions I have studied from lay members of the Church, everyone without exception struggles to describe the beauty of the place where God dwells. There are colors we have never imagined, animals we have never seen, a quality of light we have never comprehended. We cannot sufficiently formulate mortal words to describe heavenly things.
The Place Where God Himself Resides
Let’s see Lorenzo Dow’s attempt:
“My guide rather hurried me on through this place to another still higher, but connected with it. It was still more beautiful and glorious than what I had seen, with an extent and magnificence incomprehensible to me.
“My guide pointed to a mansion of wonderful perfection and beauty, clothed with fire and intense light. It appeared to be a fountain of light from which emanated brilliant scintillations of glory, but I could form no conception of the extent of these emanations.
“Said my guide, ‘That is where God resides.’”
John the Beloved tried to describe the city of God in the Book of Revelation:
“And I John saw the holy city…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
“Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;
“And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
“And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.
“And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
“And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”[x]
This reminds us of the promise from the Apostle Paul:
“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”[xi] 1 Corinthians 2:9
I think about my angel Mother who at age 99 years and 4 months is likely closer than most of us to seeing those things He has prepared. This makes all these truths very real to me.
I remember President Kimball saying once in the late 1970’s: “I used to think that the celestial world and all of the glories of that kingdom were something far, far away and long in the future, I have since learned that such is not the case.”[xii]
Not Wanting to Return to This Earth
Let’s get back to Lorenzo Dow:
“He permitted me to enter this glorious city but a short distance and, without speaking, motioned that we would retrace our steps.
“We were soon in the adjoining city, where I met my mother and a sister who died when six or seven years old. These I recognized at once. After mingling with the pure and happy beings of this place a short time, my guide again said, “Let us go.”
“When we were through the gate by which we had entered the city, my guide said, “Now we will return.”
“I could distinctly see the world from which we started, but at a vast distance below us. It looked cloudy and dark. I was filled with sadness, I might say horror, at the idea of returning there, for at first, I had hoped to stay in that heavenly place I had so long desired to see. Up to this time the thought had not occurred to me that I should be required to return.”
I was at a funeral once of a Stake President in Tremonton, Utah, Boyd Cullimore, who died of a heart attack at age 53. He was my college best friend’s father. We all know that 53 is very young, don’t we?
The stake patriarch spoke and said to RaeNell, the widow, “I think if Boyd were given the choice, he would not return.”
Ouch. I thought.
Elder Carlos E. Asay of the presidency of the Seventy then spoke.
He gave a glorious talk on the great plan of happiness and of salvation and a powerful testimony of the Spirit World and the work going on there. He painted a beautiful picture of the organization of the Lord’s work on both sides of the veil. He then said: “Yes, RaeNell, if Boyd were given the choice, he would not return.”[xiii]
Lorenzo’s Concluding Thoughts
Let’s conclude Lorenzo Dow’s vision:
“I pleaded with my guide to let me remain. He replied that I must return and take my body, for I was only permitted to visit these heavenly cities before I had filled my mission in yonder world. He promised me if I was faithful to the grace of God which would be imparted to me, if I would bear a faithful testimony to the inhabitants of the earth of a sacrificed and risen Savior and of His atonement for man, in a little time I should be permitted to return and remain.”
(I like how things are so relative there because “a little time” would be more than 68 years back on earth!)
“To me the circumstances, the words, and the spirit that accompanied them were real and I was comforted and inspired with faith. I accepted the great mission that was then placed upon me and have never ceased to realize its responsibilities.
“We returned to my house where I found my body, apparently dressed for burial. With great reluctance I took possession of it to resume the avocations of life and endeavor to fill the mission I had received. I awoke and found myself in bed, where I lay and meditated the remainder of the night on what had been shown me.
“Call it a dream, a vision, or what I may, it was as real to every sense of my being as anything I have passed through. The memory of this [vision] is still clear and distinct, after the lapse of over fifty years with their many changes.
“From that time, although belonging to no church, the spirit was with me to testify to the sufferings and atonement of the Savior. As I had opportunity I exhorted the people in public and in private to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, to repent of their sins and live lives of righteousness and good works.”[xiv]
The Rest of the Story
Let me conclude with a brief afterword, “the rest of the story,“ if you will.
Phineas Young, Lorenzo Dow’s brother, was the first of the Young brothers to join the Church. He had set an appointment to preach the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to a gathering that was ten miles away on evening but could not fill it. He was sick and could not get out of bed. “Lorenzo, can you fill this appointment? I cannot put one foot in front of the other.” “I’m not of your faith. I know nothing of Mormonism. I cannot preach to this gathering,” replied Lorenzo Dow. “Just go and preach faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance and the Spirit will guide you.”
Based on his assignment from the angel in the vision, I’m certain, and the pleadings of Phineas, he went and filled the appointment.
A large group of interested parties gathered for that meeting. He preached faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and repentance. The Spirit bore witness of the truthfulness of his words. My great-great grandfather, Joseph Holbrook and my Aunt Mary Ann Angell were both there that night and joined the Church because of non-member Lorenzo Dow Young’s testimony and witness.
I testify, with the many other witnesses I have drawn from—and there are hundreds more we could draw from—of the reality of the Spirit World.
I testify that God remembers each and every one of His children and knows them by name.
I testify that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
I shall be eternally grateful for visions and dreams and angels who speak to lay people like you and me.
[i] See D&C 138: 11-12.
[ii] See Millet, Robert L. and McConkie, Joseph Fielding, The Life Beyond, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1986, pp. 55-57.
[iii] See Alma 8: 19-21 and Alma 10: 7-11.
[iv] See D&C Section 27 headnotes and verses 1-4.
[v] Ether 3: 25
[vi] Moses 1: 27-28.
[vii] Abraham 3: 12.
[viii] See D&C 76: 25-49.
[ix] D&C 137: 1-4.
[x] See John 21: 2, 11-12, 19-23.
[xi] 1 Corinthians 2:9.
[xii] Personal notes of the author, 1978.
[xiii] Personal notes of the author, 1983-84.
[xiv] Biography of Lorenzo Dow Young, by James Amasa Little, Utah Historical Quarterly, 14:1–4 (1946), pp. 29-31.