In 1820, a boy named Joseph Smith went into the woods near his home and prayed for Christ’s truth.
In 1830, he stood in a print shop in Palmyra and held truth in his hands.
Because the First Vision and the Book of Mormon’s publication are remembered today as the founding moments of a global faith, it’s easy to forget the 10 years between them.
But the man who brought the world new scripture in 1830 was also the boy who was told in 1820 by a preacher he trusted that God’s revelations had ended long ago.
A boy who had to choose between what others said and what he knew.
“[I] could find none that would believe the heavenly vision nevertheless I pondered these things in my heart.”
Joseph’s choice to follow the vision and not join a church cost him some mentors and friends. As a boy “of very tender years” in a new town, he felt their absence. Left to find his own friends and his own way, he sometimes struggled to live up to his sense of greater purpose.
Joseph frequently “felt condemned” for his “weaknesses and imperfections.” How could a person feel God’s love so strongly and still stumble?
One night in September 1823, he stayed awake “meditating upon [his] past life and experience” and began to pray. “I repented heartily for all my sins,” Joseph recalled, “and humbled myself before Him whose eyes are over all things.” And then, once again, he saw a bright light.
“He saw a bright light enter the room where he lay; he looked up and saw an angel of the Lord.”
The angel said that his name was Moroni and that he had once lived on earth as the last prophet of an ancient American people. It was, in part, through their forgotten records, he said, that Joseph would find the “fulness of the everlasting Gospel” the Lord had promised him.
The task would be difficult, Moroni warned. Joseph could only be entrusted with the plates the records were engraved on if his heart was focused solely on God’s work—but he would be tempted to use the plates for personal gain.
When Joseph went to the nearby hill where the records were buried, he thought “he could keep every commandment given him.”
After removing the golden plates, though, “the thought flashed across his mind that there might be something more in the box” which he could sell without breaking his promise.
Because of that thought, Moroni appeared and told him to wait another year before returning for the records.
“I cried unto the Lord in the agony of my soul why can I not obtain them.”
Every September, Joseph went to the hill and was taught by Moroni while his family “doubled [their] diligence in prayer” on his behalf. He worked to prepare himself and purify his motives—but would his efforts be enough?
“[The angel] told him if he would Do right . . . he might obtain [the plates] the 22nd Day of September Next and if not he never would have them.”
The fourth year after Moroni’s first visit, the long-awaited moment came. Borrowing a carriage from a close family friend named Joseph Knight, Joseph and his new bride, Emma, went to the hill shortly after midnight on September 22, 1827, and obtained the plates at last.
In later years, Joseph would often be mocked and persecuted by those who didn’t believe his experiences had been real. His first problems, though, were with some old friends who fully believed he had gold plates—but cared far less about their spiritual value than their monetary worth.
“The angel of the Lord stood by and said now you have got the record into your own hands and you are but a man therefore you will have to be watchful and faithful to your trust.”
In the fall of 1827, several attempts were made to steal the plates. To protect them, Joseph hid them in different locations in and near the family’s frame home.
In December, Joseph and Emma left Palmyra for the relative calm of her family’s farm in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Most of the Book of Mormon was translated there by revelation to Joseph Smith. At least seven scribes—including Emma and her brother—wrote as Joseph dictated.
“Though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation . . . it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much as to anyone else.”
In the unfolding Book of Mormon text, Joseph Smith found answers to some of the questions that had brought him to the Sacred Grove as a 14-year-old boy. Many people close to the process were moved by the book’s message and eagerly waited for a renewing of old covenants and the Restoration of Christ’s Church.
At the same time, opposition to the book grew in Palmyra. Some saw the miraculous story of its origins as superstitious; others saw the claim of new scripture as blasphemy. Even before a printer was found, a boycott loomed.
E. B. Grandin, Palmyra’s only printer, initially refused to publish the book but reconsidered after friends assured him his role would be seen as “merely a business matter.” Martin Harris, a firm believer in the work, mortgaged part of his farm to finance the printing.
“They therefore agreed with E. Grandin to Print five thousand Copies which was Printed and Bound at Palmyra in the Spring of 1830.”
It took Grandin and his staff seven months to complete the printing process. During that time, early believers worked in small and simple ways to support the work.
“I exhorted all people to prepare for the great work of God that was now about to come forth.”
Even before first finished copies of the Book of Mormon became available on March 26, 1830, Solomon Chamberlain preached from loose pages in Canada and Thomas B. Marsh carried the book’s message back to his home in Boston. A few weeks after the book’s publication, the restored Church of Jesus Christ was organized, bringing to a close Joseph Smith’s 10-year wait for a spiritual home.
The Book of Mormon is now read by millions of people in over a hundred languages. The same words published in Palmyra nearly two centuries ago still answer questions and bring Christ’s power into lives today.