Question: How have critics taken George Q. Cannon's First Vision "angel" references out of context?

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Question: How have critics taken George Q. Cannon's First Vision "angel" references out of context?

Quote #1

It is claimed that in 1882 George Q. Cannon "seemed to start Joseph’s call with the vision of Moroni." This, despite the fact that they admit Brother Cannon's statement refers to the appearance of the Father and Son to the Prophet! This is a prime example of anti-Mormon desperation. A fuller examination of the content of Brother Cannon's sermon reveals that his focus in the material right before the contested quote is on "the ministration of divers angels—heads of dispensations . . . all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their Priesthood. So that Joseph, the head of this dispensation . . . received from all these different sources . . . all the power and all the authority and all keys that were necessary for the building up of the work of God in the last days."

Then, Brother Cannon says in the contested paragraph, "when Joseph died he had embodied in him all the keys and all the authority, all the powers and all the qualifications necessary for the head of a dispensation, to stand at the head of this great last dispensation. They had been bestowed upon him through the providences of God, and through the command of God to His faithful servants who lived in ancient days. There was no end scarcely, in many respects, to the knowledge that [Joseph] received. He was visited constantly by angels; and the Son of God Himself condescended to come and minister unto him, the Father having also shown Himself unto him; and these various angels, the heads of dispensations, having also ministered unto him. Moroni, in the beginning, as you know, to prepare him for his mission, came and ministered and talked to him from time to time, and he had vision after vision in order that his mind might be fully saturated with a knowledge of the things of God."

The sentence that is emphasized above by bold lettering highlights an important passage tha critics of Mormonism have conveniently skipped over. It provides the proper sequence of the giving of "keys," "powers," "authority," and "qualifications." First came bestowals through God Himself (i.e., the First Vision) and then came similar things through ancient, faithful messengers who were commanded by God to visit Joseph Smith (i.e., angelic visitations). In Oliver Cowdery's published Church history he even makes note of the fact that "[Joseph Smith] heard [the angel Moroni] declare himself to be a messenger sent by commandment of the Lord"[1]

Quote #2

Anti-Mormons are taking Brother Cannon's phraseology - "there was no church upon the face of the earth whom God recognized as His, and whose acts He acknowledged" - and claiming that it belongs exclusively to the First Vision story. They claim that there must be a confusion of storylines because this phrase appears to be attributed by Brother Cannon to the angel Moroni.

A check of the sermon where Brother Cannnon makes this remark shows that two paragraphs prior to where this statement is made there is a very similar one which says -

"It was foreshadowed to [Joseph Smith] in the plainest possible manner that which we now behold. The effect of the preaching of the true gospel would be that persecution would be aroused. He was shown the hatred he would have to contend with, and all the adverse influences that have had to be overcome from that day until the present. Joseph Smith was told that there was no authority upon the face of the earth to administer the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was told that there was no church which God recognized as His own, while there were many that had parts of the truth, portions of the gospel. There was no church which God acknowledged amid the multiplicity of sects as His. He was told to wait until the Lord should give the power and communicate the authority."

The question to ask, then, is - Did the angel Moroni make these things known to Joseph Smith or are they themes that belong exclusively to the First Vision narrative?

The answer to this question is found in the published accounts of the angel Moroni visitations. In them it can be seen that Joseph Smith was told by the angel Moroni in 1823 that -

  • he was chosen to do the work of bringing forth "the fulness of the everlasting gospel" (Smith 1838); the "plan of salvation" would be made known (Cowdery, April 1835).
  • the Priesthood would be revealed (Smith, May 1838); the "holy priesthood" would be given so that baptisms could be performed and the gift of the Holy Ghost bestowed (Cowdery, October 1835).
  • "those who are not built upon the Rock will seek to overthrow this church; but it will increase the more opposed" (Cowdery, October 1835).
  • Joseph must focus his mind on building God's "kingdom" (Smith, May 1838); the Gentiles would be "called into the kingdom" (Cowdery, April 1835).
  • missionary work, gathering, and temple worship would take place (Cowdery, April 1835).
  • the "restoration of the house of Israel" would be accomplished (Cowdery, July 1835).
  • the "covenant" between the Lord and His people would be reestablished (Cowdery, April 1835).

The angel Moroni definitely told Joseph Smith that the Lord was going to establish a "church" in his day because the plan of salvation, legitimate priesthood authority, the fulness of the gospel, and authorized ordinances were not available on the earth at that time. In other words, the Lord clearly did not recognize the ecclesiastical organizations that were then in existence. George Q. Cannon's 1883 statement is, therefore, completely vindicated.

Notes

  1. Oliver Cowdery, February 1835.