Before the young Joseph Smith could enter the grove of trees behind his home in upstate New York there needed to be many events occur to set the stage. Much had to happen in this world and beyond the veil for what has now brought light in its fullness back to the earth. Each dispensation of time is just that, a dispensing of light and truth from the heavens to mankind upon the earth. At times to bring further light and knowledge and at other times to restore that which has been lost. Throughout the history of the earth there has remained enough faith among mankind that the gospel and priesthood had been passed down in some form and fashion. However, after the crucifixion of Christ there was a great contention among man in all areas of the vineyard that the prophets and apostles were killed and banished from among the people. This we know as the great apostasy. During this great apostasy there were many truths lost and altered through various translations and creeds. Religion was then mixed with paganism and Greek philosophy.
Though many embraced a form of Christianity there was no authority on the earth to govern the church of God. Good intentions fell into the dark ages. Many lives were lost. Schools were nearly extinct. War was continuous. Priceless records were destroyed. It truly was a dark time. President Hinckley stated, “Was not this a season of terrible peril? I wonder how humanity survived. But somehow, in that long season of darkness, a candle was lighted. The age of Renaissance brought with it a flowering of learning, art, and science. There came a movement of bold and courageous men and women who looked heavenward in acknowledgment of God and his divine son. We speak of it as the Reformation.” (The Dawning of a Brighter Day, April 2004 Annual General Conference)
This spark of light began in the 13th century with the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. A timeline of events that I view as key to Restoration is contained below.
- AD 1257 – St. Thomas Aquinas appointed as a master at the University of Paris and spent the next 16 years writing upon soul stirring notions to God and Christianity. It was through many of his writings that spurred along other reformists.
- AD 1300 – Marco Polo becomes the first to record the trade between Europeans and Asia inspiring many others to embark upon the journey. One such being Christopher Columbus.
- AD 1300 – Beginning of the Renaissance as a cultural movement throughout Italy and into the rest of Europe. This movement brought about new thoughts, insights, and passions in art, literature, science, philosophy, and mathematics. Bringing with it a new age of light and thought.
- AD 1384 – John Wycliffe produces the first widespread English translation of the bible from the Latin Vulgate Bible. He later is fired from Oxford because he valued the word of the bible as God’s authority over the Pope. His translation and stance towards the bible inspired many to follow his example and seek learning from the scriptures versus taking on the theories and interpretations of the priests.
- AD 1401 – England passes a law under King Henry IV known as De Haeretico Comburendo that enacted the burning at the stake for all heretics, thus censoring their practices of any religious view or writing in opposition to the Church. This censorship set the bar for later acts of government against religious practices that destroyed any religious freedom.
- AD 1453 – Fall of Constantinople brought about the fall of the great Roman Empire. Having held siege to much of the western world for over 1500 years. This fall of Rome brought about a few things that were key to the Restoration: First, the migration of many intellectuals to Italy, thus helping to spur along the Renaissance, and Second, the shifting of government from Rome in power to now a fight for power between Rome, France, Spain, and England primarily. These key aspects will set the stage for the way that the Renaissance and ultimately the US Revolution will play out.
- AD 1455 – Gutenberg invents the first ever printing press, thus books can now be produced as complete printed works on scale versus a handwritten text.
- AD 1456 – Gutenberg Bible printed. A Latin Bible printed in Germany to end the need for any further handwritten bibles. Without the printing press the Bible does not gain the widespread use that it needed to create the religious revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries.
- AD 1492 – Columbus discovers the American continent while in pursuit of the East Indies. “The Spirit of God….came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the Promised Land”. (1 Nephi 13:12) and in his own words,“It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from there to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures … encouraging me to continually to press forward and without ceasing for a moment they now encourage me make haste. Our Lord Jesus desired to perform a very obvious miracle in the voyage to the Indies, to comfort me and the whole people of God.” (Columbus, Book of Prophecies)
- AD 1517 – The Catholic priest Martin Luther nails his Ninety-Five Theses on his church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This began the protestant reformation as he sought to call the Catholic church back into correctness. “I am convinced by the passages of scripture, which I have cited, and my conscience is bound by the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything; since it is insecure and dangerous to act against conscience.” (see Foxes Book of Martyrs 159-166) He then proceeded to translate the Bible into German (his native tongue) that all may read the Bible in their own language.
- AD 1526 – William Tyndale utilizes the printing press to create the first New Testament printed in the English Language. From 600 A.D. up until this time it was unlawful (for the common man) for any Bible to be in a language other than Latin. Before his execution, Tyndale said, “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives the plough to know more of the scriptures than you do” (That boy was born in 1805, Joseph Smith)
- AD 1534 – King Henry VIII of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church
- AD 1557 – The Presbyterian Sect of Christianity derives from the Scottish Reformation with John Calvin and John Knox at its head. It refers to a number of Christian churches adhering to the Calvinist theological tradition within Protestantism.
- AD 1560 – The Geneva Bible becomes the first widely distributed and printed English Bible translated from Greek and Hebrew containing both the Old Testament and New Testament.
- AD 1604 – King James I takes the throne and seeks a unison of clergy and masses biblical usage. He then facilitates the King James Bible using 47 men to translate. They utilized both Tyndale and Geneva bibles for the translation with 90% of Tyndale’s New Testament being utilized.
- AD 1607 – The founding of the port city of Jamestown in the New World. The first permanent English settlement on the American continent. Bringing about a rich southern area of mainland America for European colonization.
- AD 1609 – English Separatist and Puritan, John Smyth, starts the Baptist Sect of Christianity. In accordance with his reading of the New Testament, he rejected baptism of infants and instituted baptism only of believing adults. Even prior to that, in 1606, John Smyth, a Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, had broken his ties with the Church of England. It is interesting to note that, John Smyth, didn’t even stay true to the faith he founded—for he died while waiting for admittance and baptism into the Mennonite faith.
- AD 1611 – King James Bible published originally, with the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Apocrypha- all 80 books.
- AD 1620 – The Pilgrims land at Plymouth rock. They had departed English rule to find a more free practice of religion. They wanted to practice what they believed free from tyranny. Upon the Mayflower were many ancestors of early church leaders. Seven of Joseph Smith’s progenitors were upon the Mayflower was Joseph’s fifth great grandfather, John Howland. Here they came, lead by the Spirit, to find religious freedom. “I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” (1 Nephi 13:13)
- AD 1729 – The Methodist Sect of Christianity is founded by the Wesley brothers who were clergy within the Church of England.
- AD 1730-1740 – The Great Awakening was a Christian revitalization movement that swept Protestant Europe and British America, and especially the American colonies. This awakening leaves a permanent impact on American religion.
- AD 1756-1763 – The Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War takes place and drains the British treasury. An important footnote leading to the American Revolution.
- AD 1765 – The Stamp Act was passed by Parliament extending a long arm of governmental authority over the American Colonies. This gave the colonies great reason to seek liberty from English rule.
- AD 1770 – Boston Massacre
- AD 1776 – July 2-4, The Declaration of Independence was drafted, signed, ratified, and delivered to England.
- AD 1775-1781 – War on Independence was fought between the American Colonies and the British. “I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance…the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations….the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them….their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them….the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.” (1 Nephi 13:15-19)
- AD 1781 – British General Cornwallis surrrenders to George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown, thus, bringing an end to the battles of the War of Independence
- AD 1783 – Paris Treaty was signed bringing an official end to the War on Independence and the United States receiving liberty from Great Britain.
- AD 1787 – The Constitution of the United States was ratified creating a Republic upon the Land of Promise.
- AD 1800-1870 – The Second Great Awakening sweeps America as it experiences a revival of the need for Salvation and Christ in their lives. This awakening reached its peak in 1820.
- AD 1805 – Dec 23 – Birth of Joseph Smith Jr. to Joseph Smith Sr. “Behold, that seer will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy him shall be confounded; for this promise, which I have obtained of the Lord, of the fruit of my loins, shall be fulfilled. Behold, I am sure of the fulfilling of this promise; And his name shall be called after me; and it shall be after the name of his father. And he shall be like unto me; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation.” (2 Nephi 3:14-15)
- AD 1819 – July – more than one hundred ministers gathered for a conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, convened in Vienna (now Phelps), New York. It was at this conference George Lane was appointed Presiding Elder for the area. It was he who Joseph confided in for advice on how to solve his great dilemma of knowing which church to join. As well, this conference brought a great buzz of religious excitement to the area.
- AD 1820 – Joseph Smith Jr. receives what we now refer to as the First Vision. In response to the strong impression that he received in reading James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.” he proceeded to a grove of trees behind his farmhouse to act on that verse. In answer to his humble prayer, he was visited by the Father and the Son to usher in a new dispensation. “I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb.” (1 Nephi 13:34)
- AD 1823 – Sept 21 – The Angel Moroni visits Joseph Smith in his room and then proceeds to take him to the hill Cumorah to show him where the plates are buried. (See JSH 1:27-47)
- AD 1827 – Sept 21 – The Angel Moroni authorizes Joseph Smith to take the Gold Plates and begin translation.
- AD 1829 – On the banks of the Susquehanna River the Aaronic Priesthood was restored by the hand of John the Baptist on May 15th to Joseph Smith Jr. and Oliver Cowdery. Later that year they received the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood from the hands of Peter, James, and John. The authority to act in the name of God was again upon the earth among those called and chosen of God. (See D&C 13)
- AD 1830 – April 6 – Joseph Smith unites with 5 other men, namely, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith, and David and Peter Whitmer, Jr. in accordance with the laws of the country to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ’s church was again establish upon the earth. (See D&C 20)
- AD 1836 – April 3 – While praying in the newly dedicated Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were visited by the Savior, Moses, Elias, and Elijah. This visitation brought about the remaining keys of the kingdom. They received the keys of gathering of Israel, the gospel of Abraham, and of sealing as promised by Malachi. (See D&C 110)
There are many individuals and events that are not discussed here. This could continue to go on. God is in the details. He knew what needed to take place to restore the Gospel in its fulness. He placed the individuals on the earth that were prepared for their duty and task to bring about the stage for the boy Joseph Smith to enter the grove. Each player has a role. That continues today. We learn in Alma 13, D&C 93, and Abraham 3 that we were prepared the world was “according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith” (Alma 13:3). We each have a role to play. Let us act according to faith and diligence to fulfill the role that God has for us.