Insights into the First Vision

Joseph Smith Journey of a Prophet


The morning was cool for early spring, and the sun little more than a warming promise in the high stretch of gray sky.

Young Joseph walked with long, purposeful strides along the packed dirt trail that led through the fields to the trees at the farthest end of his father’s farm. The world of men was still silent and unstirring. He was alone with the world of nature, which was the world of God.

This is an excerpt from Joseph Smith The Journey of a Prophet by Susan Evans McCloud.

For many months, Joseph had watched wonderingly the events going on around him. He had listened to the arguments of the minsters of contesting faiths—of contesting ways of trying to understand God. He attended meetings in the Methodist Church but found nothing there that would speak to his deepest need. The confusion—the unkindness, even malice, in those who claimed to represent Deity—reflected in the voices and faces of the people around Joseph. They struggled and argued, day in and day out, and Joseph realized that this behavior had a disturbing effect on his spirit. He knew this anger was wrong. He sensed with great certainty that God did not work in such a manner. God’s ways were gentle, clear, and true. He knew there was something better.

Had not his father experienced dreams and visions in the night? Had not his mother prayed with faith when her need was great and then seen miracles happen?

In the sanctity of his own inspired words, Joseph tells us: Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country.

Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

For notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased, yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued—priest contending against priest, and convert against convert, so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

In accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. (Joseph Smith—History 1:5–14)

Now, as Joseph walked, he carried the words of James like honey in his heart, like light in his mind: Let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally. . . .

In the insightful words of George Q. Cannon, “Unknown to himself he was awaiting the hour when the divine message should stir the waters of his soul” (Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet [Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor, 1888], 24).

Joseph had no doubt that an answer would come. As he entered the grove, the earth was soft beneath his feet. In a few hours, if the sun had its way, it would turn to thin mud. In the stillness, above the cries of the birds, he thought he could hear the very breath of the trees, though there was no wind and the air was still.

Later, as the light drew nearer and increased in brightness, “so that, by the time that it reached the tops of the trees, the whole wilderness, for some distance around, was illuminated in a most glorious and brilliant manner—he expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but, perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hopes of being able to endure its presence” (Pratt, “An Interesting Account”). But the elements endured, and he, himself, was imbued with the light.

Brother Pratt continued, “When it first came upon him, it produced a peculiar sensation throughout his whole system; and immediately his mind was caught away from the natural objects with which he was surrounded; and he was enwrapped in a heavenly vision” (ibid.).

This is an excerpt from Joseph Smith The Journey of a Prophet by Susan Evans McCloud.