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"Joseph Smith Praying in the Grove", 1912, black & white
Illustration of young Joseph Smith kneeling in a grove of trees with hands folded, praying and seeing a bright pillar of light. Found in the book, From Plowboy to Prophet.
William A. Morton writes in his children's book (pp. 8--9) that soon after Joseph had read the Bible passage of James 1:5:
"He awoke early the next morning, arose and dressed himself. The rest of the family were fast asleep, so, slipping quietly out of the house, Joseph made his way to a small grove not far from his father's home. It was a beautiful spring morning. The sun was gilding the hill tops, the birds were singing their songs in the trees, and the air was scented with the fragrance of wild flowers. All nature seemed to say 'God lives. God is good. He loves His children and delights to bless them.'
Selecting a suitable spot in the grove, Joseph knelt down and began to call upon God in earnest prayer. While he was praying he saw an exceedingly bright light coming down out of heaven. He gazed in astonishment on this strange sight, while a peaceful influence filled his soul. As the light reached the tops of the trees, Joseph beheld in the midst of it two heavenly Beings. They were in the form of men, but far more glorious and beautiful. They were God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son. Pointing to the Son, the Father said, 'Joseph, this is my beloved Son, hear Him.'
As soon as Joseph was able to speak he asked the Lord which of the churches was the true Church. He was surprised when the Lord told him that all the churches had departed from the right way, that they had been established by men and not by God, that none of them taught the true gospel, and that he was not to join any of them.
Then the Lord told Joseph that in due time the true Church would be set up again on earth, and that if he were true and faithful he would be chosen to be its leader and Prophet."
Joseph Smith himself relates in The Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History, verses 13, 14, 16--20:
"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.
So, 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.
...I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
...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!
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)---and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: 'they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time...."