Elder Bruce R. McConkie had an incredible way with words. He was able to convey doctrinal truth in a way that really reached out and grabbed the listener. In October 1975, Elder McConkie spoke about an event of transcendent importance in an utterly unforgettable fashion. He focused his considerable rhetorical talents on explaining the significant of the first vision.
Elder McConkie first noted that events of such sigificance only occur rarely in human history:
“Once or twice in a thousand years–perhaps a dozen times since mortal man became of dust a living soul–an event of such transcendent import occurs that neither heaven nor earth are ever thereafter the same.”
Elder McConkie then mentioned a few such moments. In particular, the fall, the flood, and “most transcendent of all” the atonement and resurrection of Christ.
Interestingly, Elder McConkie emphasized that such events are rarely the types of miracles that occur prominently in the public eye. Flashy manipulations of the laws of nature may be impressive, but they are not nearly as significant:
“Now and then in a quiet garden, or amid the fires and thunders of Sinai, or inside a sepulchre that cannot be sealed, or in an upper room–almost always apart from the gaze of men and seldom known by more than a handful of people–the Lord intervenes in the affairs of men and manifests his will relative to their salvation.”
Turning to the First Vision, Elder McConkie emphasized that many of the greatest miracles from the scriptures could both compare in terms of significance:
“By comparison to what then occurred, the command of the man Moriancumer unto the mountain Zerin, “Remove,” and it was removed; or the decree of the man Moses to the Red Sea, “Divide,” and the waters were divided, congealing on the right hand and on the left; or the command of the man Joshua, “Sun, stand thou still, and thou moon likewise,” and it was so–by comparison to what happened in that grove of trees in western New York on that spring morning, such things as these fade into an obscure insignificance.”
For members of the Church, the First Vision represents the first glorious outpouring of revelation at the dawn of a new day of restoration. Therefore, to understand the significance we must also understand the dark apostasy that proceeded the restoration:
That year of grace, 1820, like the 1,400 years which preceded it, was one in which darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people. It was a day of spiritual darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains. Angels no longer ministered to their fellow beings; the voice of God was stilled, and man no longer saw the face of his Maker; gifts, signs, miracles, and all the special endowments enjoyed by the saints of old were no longer the common inheritance of those in whose hearts religious zeal was planted. There were no visions, no revelations, no rending of the heavens; the Lord was not raining down righteousness upon a chosen people as he had done in days of old.”
In the midst of that darkness, God prepared one single child to be a vessel of restoration. He placed that child in a land of liberty and in the midst of religious turmoil. And “[i]t was at this critical point that divine providence caused a ray of living light to shine forth from God’s holy word and enlighten the heart of the troubled truthseeker.”
Joseph’s humble prayer would “usher in the greatest era of light and truth ever to exist on earth.” For “[t]he light of the gospel, the light of the Everlasting Word, would soon shed its rays o’er all the earth.”
That moment changed the world forever. It also changed my life forever.
“Thereupon the heavens parted and the veil was rent; the heavens, long brass, poured out showers of blessings; the age of light and truth and revelation and miracles and salvation was born.
The place, the hour, the need, the man, and the divine destiny all united to usher in God’s great latter-day work. The heavens did not shake, nor the earth tremble. It was not an event heralded by the thunders and clouds on Sinai but one patterned after the calm serenity and peace present before an open tomb when Mary of Magdala uttered the reverent cry, “Rabboni,” to the risen Lord.
This was the occasion when the greatest vision ever vouchsafed to man of which we have record burst the gloom of solemn darkness. The gods of old revealed themselves anew.”
What a glorious vision and what glorious light!
“Great God in heaven above–what wonders do we now behold! The heavens rend; the veil parts; the Creators of the universe come down; the Father and the Son both speak to mortal man. The voice of God is heard again: he is not dead; he lives and speaks; his words we hear as they were heard in olden days.”