If you live within one of our broadcast market areas and you’ve been watching History of the Saints, you’ve probably noticed a new look lately. When we wrapped up season three, “The Kingdom Endures,” there had been some talk of just ending the series altogether and looking for full-time jobs that actually paid us money. It was a good time to end. We’d gotten the Saints to the Valley, watched them struggle and grow, examined their conflicts with the Native Americans, other settlers, and even the United States Government, saw them build temples, tabernacles, and chapels, refine the doctrine as they received further revelation, and watched as Brigham Young began construction on the St. George temple and was then finally laid to rest.
But for us that wasn’t enough. We had told a great deal of the story and brought to light many things that hadn’t really been known or discussed much but we felt we’d left many important parts buried back in Kirtland, Nauvoo, Far West, Jackson County and other places. We wanted to go back and tell the story from the beginning. So we changed the look of the show and gave it a new subtitle, “Joseph Smith and the Foundations of the Restoration.” Our first episode was an examination of the First Vision but then we went back much further to the Reformation, which we believe was instituted by God to eventually create the conditions necessary for the Restoration centuries later.
Professor Steven C. Harper brought up an interesting point concerning the First Vision and that’s the idea that whether or not to approach God for an answer was a choice that Joseph Smith had to make, and the circumstances of that approach made it that way.
“Two of his accounts emphasize that he’s not able to get very far with his prayer,” Harper says. “The 1835 account in his journal tells about hearing something like walking behind him, something as if somebody is behind him. And that’s disturbing and so on. And then his tongue becomes swollen, it cleaves to the roof of his mouth.
“I think what surprised Joseph is that the devil made him such a particular target and that the power was so astonishing. It’s one thing to listen to a sermon about the devil having power, and it’s another thing to have him bind your tongue and make you wish you could become nonexistent.”
Harper goes on to say that this intense struggle made the decision to pray wholly Joseph’s. “Now you’ve got an opposition, which is really making it a choice. Joseph can now decide what to do. He can quit praying, and he feels like it. He’s just about to abandon himself to this power. Or he can keep praying because he’s got the will, the ability to make that choice. And he tells us—and this is very important to me—he says, ‘Just about at the moment where I was going to abandon myself’—in other words this moment of decision, this moment of choice—’I exerted all my power to call upon God to deliver myself from the enemy which held me bound,’ and the heavens open. A pillar of light descends. He sees two personages in the pillar, and he’s delivered from this enemy.”
The subtleties like this one that come out when we’re talking to these scholars and historians who have devoted their lives to this study are what keep us going with this project. We hope we can continue to share what we learn with others for a long time.