Much of the world as well as many Christians do not know or understand the true nature of God. On a beautiful spring morning in 1820 – some people believe that it was March 26 – young, fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees to ask God which church he should join. He came out of that experience with more knowledge about God than all the religious experts of the day. Here is the event in Joseph’s own words, which can be found in Joseph Smith-History 1:15-17.
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God….
16 … I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 … When the light rested upon me 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!
In an instant Joseph learned that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two separate Personages and They have glorified bodies of flesh and bone. Joseph immediately shared his experience with his family, and he shared it a few days later with a preacher. I find it interesting that his family – the people who knew him best – accepted what he told them. However, the preacher did not. The preacher told Joseph that his experience was of the devil and that “there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days” (verse 21).
Being just “an obscure boy” Joseph was surprised when there arose “a great deal of prejudice” against him. The prejudice continued to increase and became “bitter persecution” (verse 22). The persecution followed Joseph Smith until he and his brother Hyrum were killed.
Despite the persecution that he, his family, and his followers – many of them my ancestors – faced, he never changed his story. He went to his death testifying that he had seen God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ.
The persecution seemed to come from two false ideas: (1) There were no more visions or revelations after the days of the Apostles and (2) Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost were one entity without body, parts, or passions. Joseph’s experience, known as the First Vision, proved both ideas to be false.
This year marks 200 years since the First Vision. Millions of people testify that the Holy Ghost bore witness to them that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I add my witness that Joseph Smith is a prophet through whom God restored the true concept of the Godhead. He saw two Personages -- the Father and the Son, and he heard the Father introduce His Son. He spoke with Jesus Christ and gained the knowledge that he sought. Here is the testimony of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the living Apostles of Jesus Christ, to close my message.
Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace can we gain eternal life. (See Ensign, November 2007.)