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Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of the sect, was the son of a Vermont farmer, and was born in Sharon township, Windsor County, in that state, on 23 December, 1805. In the spring of 1820, while living with his parents at Manchester, Ontario (now Wayne) County, New York, he became deeply concerned upon the subject of his salvation, a condition partly induced by a religious revival which proselytized a few of his relatives to the Presbyterian Faith. Joseph himself was inclined toward Methodism; to satisfy his mind as to which one of the existing sects he should join, he sought Divine guidance, and claimed to have received in answer to prayer a visitation from two glorious beings, who told him not to connect himself to any of these Churches, but to bide the coming of Church of Christ, which was about to be re-established.
According to his own statement, there appeared to him on the night of 21 September, 1823, a heavenly messenger, who gave his name as Moroni, and revealed the existence of an ancient record containing the fullness of the Gospel of Christ as taught by the Saviour after his Resurrection to the Nephites, a branch of the House of Israel which inhabited the American continent ages prior to its discovery by Columbus. Moroni in mortal life had been a Nephite prophet, the son of another prophet named Mormon, who was the compiler of the record buried in a hill situated about two miles from the modern village of Manchester.
Joseph Smith states that he received the record from the Angel Moroni in September, 1827. It was, he alleges, engraved upon metallic plates having the appearance of gold and each a little thinner than ordinary tin, the whole forming a book about six inches long, six inches wide, and six inches thick, bound together by rings. The characters engraved upon the plates were in a language styled the Reformed Egyptian, and with the book were interpreters -- Urim and Thummim -- by means of which these characters were to be translated into English. The result was the "Book of Mormon", published at Palmyra, New York in March, 1830; in the preface eleven witnesses, exclusive of Joseph Smith, the translator, claim to have seen the plates from which it was taken. On renouncing Mormonism subsequently, Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris -- the three principal witnesses -- declared this testimony false.
The "Book of Mormon" purports to be an abridged account of God's dealings with the two great races of prehistoric Americans -- the Jaredites, who were led from the Tower of Babel at the time of the confusion of the tongues, and the Nephites who came from Jerusalem just prior to the Babylonian captivity (600 B.C.). According to this book, America is the "Land of Zion", where the New Jerusalem will be built by a gathering of scattered Israel before the second coming of the Messiah. The labours of such men as Columbus, the Pilgrim Fathers, and the patriots of the Revolution, are pointed out as preparatory to that consummation. The work of Joseph Smith is also prophetically indicated, he being represented as a lineal descendant of the Joseph of old, commissioned to begin the gathering of Israel foretold by Isaias (11:10-16) and other ancient prophets.
In another part of his narrative Joseph Smith affirms that, while translating the "Book of Mormon", he and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, were visited by an angel, who declared himself to be John the Baptist and ordained them to the Aaronic priesthood; and that subsequently they were ordained to the priesthood of Melchisedech by the Apostles Peter, James and John. According to Smith and Cowdery, the Aaronic priesthood gave them authority to preach faith and repentance, to baptize by immersion for the remission of sins, and to administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; the priesthood of Melchisedech empowered them to lay on hands and bestow the Holy Ghost.
The "Book of Mormon" being published, its peculiar doctrines, including those just set forth, were preached in western New York and northern Pennsylvania. Those who accepted them were termed "Mormons", but they called themselves "Latter-Day Saints", in contradistinction to the saints of former times. The "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" was organized on 6 April, 1830, at Fayette, Seneca County, New York; Joseph Smith was accepted as first elder, and prophet, seer, and revelator.
The articles of faith formulated by him are as follows:
"(1) We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
"(2) We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
"(3) We believe that through the atonement of Christ all men may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
"(4) We believe that these ordinances are: First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, repentance; third, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost
"(5) We believe that a man must be called of God by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof.
"(6) We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, viz. apostles, prophets, pastors teachers, evangelists, etc.
"(7) We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.
"(8) We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the 'Book of Mormon' to be the word of God.
"(9) We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
"(10) We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes. That Zion will be built upon this continent. That Christ will reign personally upon the earth, and that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
"(11) We claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of our conscience, and allow all men the same privilege; let them worship how, where, or what they may.
"(12) We believe in being subject to kings, president, rulers and magistrates, in obeying. honoring and sustaining that law.
"(13) We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul, 'We believe all things, we hope all things' we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." - The Catholic Encyclopedia Robert Appleton Company
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