It was the confusion among the religions of his time that prompted Joseph Smith to seek divine truth in the grove near his home. "Mankind did not come unto the Lord," Joseph later wrote. "They had apostatizedfrom the true and living faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament."
Just as Abraham, Moses, and other prophets served God as prophets in earlier times, Joseph Smith was the first prophet for the last days. Through him, "true doctrine—the fullness of the gospel" as taught by ancient prophets was restored to the earth .
He accomplished the great work for the kingdom of Godwithout the advantages of education, privilege, or widespread public acclaim. His message of his ministry was simple: "I am a lover of the cause of Christ." That cause began in the latter days with Joseph's First Vision in the Sacred Grove while he was yet a boy.
Joseph Smith Quotes
The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 191.)
We . . . must be under [God's] guidance if we are prospered, preserved and sustained. Our only confidence can be in God; our only wisdom obtained from Him: and He alone must be our protector and safeguard, spiritually and temporally, or we fall. (History of the Church, 5:64.)
It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind. Oh! how I would delight to bring before you things which you never thought of! But poverty and the cares of the world prevent. But I am glad I have the privilege of communicating to you some things which, if grasped closely, will be a help to you when earthquakes bellow, the clouds gather, the lightnings flash, and the storms are ready to burst upon you like peals of thunder. Lay hold of these things and let not your knees or joints tremble, nor your hearts faint; and then what can earthquakes, wars and tornadoes do? Nothing. (History of the Church, 5:362.)
Lucy Mack Smith, Mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith
There was a great revival in religion, which extended to all the denominations of Christians in the surrounding country in which we resided. Many of the world's people becoming concerned about the salvation of their souls, came forward and presented themselves as seekers after religion. Most of them were desirous of uniting with some church, but were not decided as to the particular faith which they would adopt. When the numerous meetings were about breaking up, and the candidates and the various leading church members began to consult upon the subject of adopting the candidates into some church or churches, as the case might be, a dispute arose, and there was a great contention among them. While these things were going forward Joseph's mind became considerably troubled with regard to religion. (Lucy Smith, History of the Prophet Joseph Smith, rev. George A. Smith and Elias Smith (1902), 73.)
Marion G. Romney, Apostle, 1951–1988
Some people have said that Joseph Smith was an unlearned man . . . in the things of the world, but the day he came out of the grove, following the first vision, he was the most learned person in the world in the things that count. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1946, 37.)
Neal A. Maxwell, Apostle, 1981–2004
What followed Joseph Smith's prayer in the spring of 1820 irrevocably illuminated our view of God, ourselves, others, life, even the universe! A young boy in a small grove of trees began receiving answers to mankind's oldest and largest questions! ("My Servant Joseph," Ensign, May 1992, 37.)
Why did God choose to call a prophet in our time?
As the Lord explained to Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove, all the creeds then upon the earth taught the doctrines and commandments of men while lacking divine authority (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Later, Joseph would become the Lord's instrument in restoring to the earth the truth of God and authority to act in the name of God.
How did the scriptures help Joseph find answers to his questions?
Joseph searched and pondered the scriptures for answers. He recalled of reading James 1:5: "It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; . . . 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" (Joseph Smith—History 1:12–13).
Has Jesus Christ called other prophets since Joseph Smith?
Wilford Woodruff, fourth Church President, taught that "the keys of the kingdom . . . are going to stay here . . . until the coming [of] the Son of Man. . . . They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on . . . another apostle" (Millennial Star, Sept. 2, 1889, 547). Since Joseph Smith's time, there has been a prophet on the earth in direct succession to him. At this writing, President Gordon B. Hinckley is the Lord's mouthpiece on the earth and president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Online Resources at LDS.org
"The Need for a Restoration" – Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 1
"The Setting in Western New York" – Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 29–30
"Joseph Smith Was Persecuted and Ridiculed for His Witness That God Had Spoken to Him" – Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 6
"Reaction to Joseph's Vision" – Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 33–34
"Additional Details from Joseph Smith's 1832 Account of the First Vision" – Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System Manual, 2003), 5–6
Online Resources at BYU
Study of the evidence of the revival atmosphere in and around Palmyra which inspired Joseph's prayer and vision.
Milton V. Backman Jr., Brigham Young University Studies 9, no. 3 (1969): 301–20