The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon
(Joseph Smith-History 26-68; D&C 2-5; 10; 17)
The Book of Mormon and the Restoration
Ezra Taft Benson said: “A . . . powerful testimony to the importance of the Book of Mormon is to note where the Lord placed its coming forth in the timetable of the unfolding Restoration. The only thing that preceded it was the First Vision. In that marvelous manifestation, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned the true nature of God and that God had a work for him to do.
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the next thing to follow.
“Think of that in terms of what it implies. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon preceded the restoration of the priesthood. It was published just a few days before the Church was organized. The Saints were given the Book of Mormon to read before they were given the revelations outlining such great doctrines as the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, or work for the dead. It came before priesthood quorums and Church organization. Doesn’t this tell us something about how the Lord views this sacred work?” (in onference Report, Oct. 1986, 3; or Ensign , Nov. 1986, 4).
The Book of Mormon and Our Own Spirituality
The Prophet Joseph Smith said to the Twelve Apostles on 28 November 1841: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion and a man would get nearer to God: by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.” ( History of the Church, 4:461).
Ezra Taft Benson said: “Now, we have not been using the Book of Mormon as we should. Our homes are not as strong unless we are using it to bring our children to Christ. . . . Our Church classes are not as spirit-filled unless we hold it up as a standard. . . . Reading the Book of Mormon is one of the greatest persuaders to get men on missions. We need more missionaries. But, we also need better-prepared missionaries coming out of the wards and branches and homes where they know and love the Book of Mormon. . . .
“Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 96-97).
Preparing to Receive the Plates
After Three Years, Joseph Seeks to Know His Status
After his first vision, Joseph was clear on the status of the sectarian world-“that it was not my duty to join with any of them.” He also knew for sure that he could turn to God and get answers. He continued to suffer ridicule and abuse from many people but his family members supported him believingly. He resolved to “continue as I was until further directed.”
Joseph was a Typical Teenage Boy, Living a Normal Life.
It had been three years-a long period of time for a teenage boy-and in all that time he had heard nothing more from the Lord. He began to worry about his spiritual standing. “During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three-having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends . . . I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God” (JSH 1:28).
The Prophet assures us: “In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament”. Imagine that-a teenage boy acting foolishly, pulling tricks on people, and hanging out with the wrong crowd at times. He was, after all, a youngster, and one who loved life and loved to laugh.
On September 21, 1823, Joseph sought to know his status with the Lord. It having been three years, and feeling “condemned for my weakness and imperfections,” the Prophet lay in bed on the evening of September 21, 1838, and offered prayer to his God. He desired “forgiveness of all my sins and follies” and also asked for “a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him.” He says he had “full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.”
In his diary, the Prophet Joseph Smith said of that evening: “When I was about 17 years old, I had another visitation . . . in the night . . . after I had retired to bed. I had not been asleep, but was meditating upon my past life and xperience. I was very conscious that I had not kept the commandments and I repented heartily for all my sins and transgression, and humbled myself before Him whose eyes are on all things.” ( Joseph Smith Diary , [9 November 1835], Church Archives)
The Appearance of the Angel Moroni
The Angel Moroni appeared in Joseph’s bedroom in answer to his prayer. “While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a alight appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor” (v. 30).
The Prophet described the angel’s appearance. “He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom” (v. 31). He was beholding a resurrected person, so this vision gives us some idea of how resurrected persons look when they appear.
The angel’s robe was not the only thing that was “exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me” (JSH 1: 32).
Joseph was not alone in this bedroom. Several siblings lay sleeping beside him. But they were not awakened by either the light or the voice of this angel. It would seem that only Joseph could see and hear him. The others slept blissfully throughout the vision.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “On the evening of the 21st of September, A.D. 1823, while I was praying unto God . . . light like that of day, only of a far purer and more glorious appearance, and brightness burst into the room, indeed the first sight was as though the house was filled with consuming fire; the appearance produced a shock that affected the whole body; in a moment a personage stood before me surrounded with a glory yet greater than that with which I was already surrounded.
” ( Times and Seasons , 1 Mar. 1842, 707)
Oliver Cowdery said: “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 . . . . [The angel identified himself as Moroni ], “a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord, to deliver a special message, and to witness to him [Joseph] that his sins were forgiven, and that his prayers were heard.” ( Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Feb. 1835, 79).
The angel called Joseph Smith by name and said “he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.”
Neal A. Maxwell said: ” Throughout the expanse of human history, no prophet has been scrutinized in such a sustained way, on as wide a scale, or for so long a period of time as Joseph Smith, Jr. The communication capacity of this age and the global impact of his work have so ensured. Young Joseph was told that his name would be “both good and evil spoken of” throughout the world. Except from a divine source, how audacious a statement! Yet his contemporary religious leaders, then much better known than Joseph, have faded into the footnotes of history, while the work of Joseph Smith grows constantly and globally.” (in Conference Report, October 1983, Ensign, November 1983, 54.)
Moroni told Joseph about the Nephite plates containing an account of the inhabitants of ancient America and the Savior’s ministry among them. “He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants” (JSH 1:34). Moroni told Joseph that “the time that they should be obtained was not yet fulfilled” but that when he did receive them “I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed” (JSH 1: 42).
A vision then opened before Joseph’s mind so that he “could see the place where the plates were deposited, and that so clearly and distinctly that I knew the place again when I visited it” (JSH 1: 42).
Moroni also told Joseph about the Urim and Thummim . He described them as “two stones in silver bows-and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim – deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.”
Moroni Departs and Reappears
When Moroni departed, Joseph said, “I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.”
We can imagine Joseph Smith lying there, musing on singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger” (JSH 1:44). While he did so, “my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside” (JSH 1:44). Joseph said that he “again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit, without the least variation; which having done, he informed me of great judgments which were coming upon the earth, with great desolations by famine, sword, and pestilence; and that these grievous judgments would come on the earth in this generation.” And then, “he again ascended as he had done before” (v. 45).
Moroni appeared a third time and Joseph said, “so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard” (v. 46). But we can imagine his great “surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before” (JSH 1:46). This time, the angel “added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father’s family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.” The angel then ascended into heaven again as he had done before, leaving Joseph to “ponder on the strangeness of what I had just experienced; when almost immediately . . . the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.”
Trying to Work
Joseph had been up all night and was exhausted. He tried to work on the farm with his father, as usual, but was not able. His father told him to go home. He started to do so, “but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.” When he came to, he heard a voice “calling me by name. I looked up, and beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received”. Joseph did this, returning to the field and “rehears[ing] the whole matter to him. He replied to me that it was of God, and told me to go and do as commanded by the messenger” (v. 50).
Joseph Smith, Sr.from the beginning believed in and sustained the prophetic calling of his son. Soon after D&C 4 was given to him in answer to his desire to know what the Lord would have him do, he became one of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He became the first Patriarch to the Church December 18, 1833, and an assistant counselor in the First Presidency in 1837, in which calling he served faithfully until his death in 1840.
E. Cecil McGavin noted: “Joseph Smith, Sr. was filled with the testimony of the truth, and was always anxious to share it with others. He was almost sixty when he made the tedious journey…to carry the gospel to his father and mother, his sisters and brothers. Soon after his return [home,] he was imprisoned for a small debt of fourteen dollars, rather than deny the divinity of the Book of Mormon and be forgiven the debt! He was cast into a cell with a condemned murderer and left for four days without food. Later he was transferred to the prison workyard where he preached the gospel and converted two persons whom he later baptized.
He was in prison a full month before his family was able to obtain his release” ( The Family of Joseph Smith, [ Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, Inc., 1965],
Moroni’s Message Clarified Old Testament Prophecies
In explaining the restoration of the gospel during these visions, the angel Moroni quoted or summarized at least five Old Testament prophecies, indicating that they would soon be fulfilled. In 1842, Joseph Smith explained Moroni’s message to John Wentworth, a newspaper editor: The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God sent to bring the joyful tidings, that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the gospel, in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the millennial reign.” ( History of the Church , 4:537).
Moroni quoted Malachi 3:1-3 These verses about the preparation for the second coming of the Lord, say “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in” (Malachi 3:1). We know from modern revelation that this “messenger of the covenant” is the Lord himself. We are told that when the Lord comes again he will be like “a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifer of silver” (Malachi 3:23). In other words, he will purge all wickedness from the earth.
The scripture also makes mention of the sons of Levi making offerings again at the temple of the Lord (Malachi 3:3). We should note the heavy emphasis on the temple in these predictions. The restoration has barely begun, and already Joseph is learning of the importance of the temple to the Lord’s work.
Next, Moroni quoted Malachi 4:1 . Joseph said he quoted Malachi 4 “with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles.” Instead of quoting Malachi 4:1 as it reads in the Bible, he said: “For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble ; for they that come shall burn them , saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (JSH 1:37) emphasis added to highlight changed words). This prophetic language has multiple meanings. It can refer to the utter destruction of the wicked at the second coming. But it also has symbolic meaning concerning eternal families-that those who choose to do wickedly will not be eternally connected to their ancestors or descendants, but will live singly and without eternal family relationships forever.
Moroni quoted Malachi 4:5-6. Moroni quoted these two verses differently also. He said “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers , and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers . If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”
Here, at the very beginning of the restoration, we have Moroni emphasizing the importance of genealogical and temple work, and stating that without it the entire history of the world and plan of salvation would have been a “waste.” It will be 13 years before the keys of this work will be restored (1838), yet the groundwork is already being laid. As if to emphasize its importance, this one scripture appears in all four of our standard works.
How important is temple work, then? And why is this instruction repeated so many times throughout the scriptures?
Again, early in the young Prophet’s life, he is already being taught temple principles and being prepared to be a restorer of these blessings to the earth.
When Moroni quoted Isaiah 11 , h e said that the prophecies contained in this chapter were “about to be fulfilled.” It is interesting to note that in D&C 113, we find the Prophet Joseph Smith explaining the scripture to others, perhaps based on what Moroni told him in this vision. Several of these verses refer to a latter-day prophet who will restore Israel and hold the keys of the priesthood. These refer specifically to the Prophet Joseph himself.
Moroni quoted Joel 2:28-32 about revelation in the latter days and also some of the destructions that will precede the second coming of the Lord, he said also “was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be.” Then Moroni “quoted many other passages of scripture and offered many explanations which cannot be mentioned here.”
A Period of Preparation
When Joseph Smith was first shown the gold plates at the tender age of 17, he was not yet prepared to receive and translate them. But the Lord prepared Joseph to receive and translate the plates over the next four years. There were a number of things that Joseph had to learn before he could receive the plates:
– The need to be strictly obedient to the Lord’s commandments
– The sacredness of the ancient record
– The power of Satan, who would attempt to destroy both Joseph and the record
– The future destiny of the work to which Joseph had been called
Instruction at the Hill Cumorah
When Joseph first went to the Hill Cumorah, because his vision had been so distinct, “he knew the place instantly,” and used a lever to lift up the edge of the stone coverint the box. Moroni had warned Joseph that he would be tempted to seek the gold plates for worldly gain, and indeed when he first beheld the block of golden plates, he allowed himself to marvel and wonder at their monetary worth. Because of this, when he “made an attempt to take them out, [he] was forbidden by the messenger, and was again informed that the time for bringing them forth had not yet arrived, neither would it, until four years from that time” (JSH-1:53). This was greatly disappointing to Joseph, but he learned an important lesson about righteous motivation and obedience.
Lucy Mack Smith said: “The angel told him . . . that the time had not yet come for the plates to be brought forth to the world; that he could not take them from the place wherein they were deposited until he had learned to keep the commandments of God-not only till he was willing but able to do it.” ( History of Joseph Smith , 81).
During that first visit to Cumorah, though he could not obtain the plates, the Lord gave Joseph Smith a vision of his glory followed by a vision of the Prince of Darkness so that Joseph would be able to recognize the difference between the two powers, and to resist temptation. (B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 6 vols. [ Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 78-80).
According to Oliver Cowdery, Moroni told the Prophet during that first visit, “When it is known that the Lord has shown you these things, the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow: they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.” ( Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate , Oct. 1835, 199).
Moroni told Joseph Smith “that I should come to that place precisely in one year from that time, and that he would there meet with me, and that I should continue to do so until the time should come for obtaining the plates” (v. 53). This he did, going “at the end of each year, and at each time I found the same messenger there, and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews, respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (v.
54). These annual visits on the 22nd of September, 1823-1827, were days of instruction concerning the restoration and concerning the history and culture of the Nephites.
Lucy Mack Smith said:
Joseph continued to receive instructions from the Lord, and we continued to get the children together every evening for the purpose of listening while he gave us a relation of the same. I presume our family presented an aspect as singular as any that ever lived upon the face of the earth-all seated in a circle, father, mother, sons and daughters, and giving the most profound attention to a boy, eighteen years of age, who had never read the Bible through in his life. . . . The sweetest union and happiness pervaded our house and tranquility reigned in our midst.
He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease . . . as if he had spent his whole life among them.” ( History of Joseph Smith , 82-83).
Important Family Events While Waiting for the Plates
The Smiths were not wealthy and had to work hard on their farm and in day jobs around the area to support themselves. As the eldest brother, Alvin was an important key to their earning power. He had also labored hard to build a nice frame home for his parents so they wouldn’t have to live in the original log cabin anymore. But during that first year after Joseph’s first visit to the Hill Cumorah, his brother Alvin died, leaving the family in financial difficulty and in mourning. Lucy Mack Smith said:
On the 15th of November, 1823, about ten o’clock in the morning, Alvin was taken very sick [and treatment by several different physicians did not help. After a few days of sickness,] he called Hyrum to him and said, Hyrum, I must die. Now I want to say a few things, which I wish to have you remember. I have done all I could to make our dear parents comfortable. I want you to go on and finish the house and take care of them in their old age, and do not any more let them work hard, as they are now in old age.’ . . . He called for all the children and exhorted them separately in the same strain as above. But when he came to Joseph, he said, I am now going to die, the distress which I suffer and the feelings that I have, tell me my time is very short. I want you to be a good boy, and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the Record. Be faithful in receiving instruction, and in keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must leave you; but remember the example which he has set for you; and set the same example for the children that are younger than yourself, and always be kind to your father and mother . . . ‘ Alvin was a youth of singular goodness of disposition-kind and amiable, so that lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood in which he resided.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith , 86-88).
Joseph Meets and Marries Emma Hale.
In answer to the family’s financial crisis, “In the month of October, 1825, [Joseph] hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York . He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania “. While employed by Mr. Stoal, Joseph boarded with the Hale family in Harmony, Pennsylvania , and there, for the first time, “saw my wife (his daughter), Emma Hale.”
Translation of the Record Begins
The Angel Moroni told the Prophet in 1823 that great persecution would come. According to Oliver Cowdery, Moroni said, “When it is known that the Lord has shown you these things, the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow: they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.” ( Latter-day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate , Oct. 1835, 199).
Joseph and Emma moved back to Joseph’s parents home near Palmyra , where he farmed with his father that spring and summer season (v. 58). The year was 1827, and this was the year in which Moroni had told Joseph he could obtain the plates. Thus, “On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger delivered them up to me” (v. 59). Emma rode to the hill with Joseph, in a borrowed carriage, in the middle of the night, and waited patiently in the dark while Joseph met with Moroni and received the plates.
The Angel Moroni warned again as he delivered the plates to Joseph, as he had during their first visit at the Hill Cumorah in 1823: “You are but a man, therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust, or you will be overpowered by wicked men; for they will lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get it away from you, and if you do not take heed continually, they will succeed.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, 110).
Joseph soon learned that Moroni ‘s prophecies would be literally fulfilled .Leaving the Hill Cumorah, Joseph temporarily hid the plates in an old log. Later, while transferring them to his home, he was attacked several times. This quickly taught Joseph why Moroni had given him the warning concerning the safety of the plates.