In a post a few weeks ago, I suggested that Joseph Smith’s First Vision might be better understood in the context of evangelical (especially Methodist) conversion narratives of early 19th century America. As a follow-up to that post, I want to now turn the attention to the aftermath of the vision. That Joseph expressed great surprise that the Methodist minister he related the vision to reacted with “great contempt, saying it was all of the Devil”  is commonly recited today, and generally explained by alluding to Smith’s youthful naivety and the arrogance of the learned Methodist minister dismissing all such notions. Joseph’s surprise, however, was more likely a result of his vision being dismissed as “of the Devil” while hundreds of other evangelicals of the day recounted visions and dreams accompanying their conversion experiences without any “great contempt” from ministers and co-religionists.
Perhaps the difference is not what Joseph experienced, but rather how he described the occurrence. As historian Susan Juster has noted, “Evangelicals were very careful in the language they used to describe their visionary experiences, always conscious of the porous line separating faith from superstition. They used words like ‘seemingly’ and ‘by faith’ to signal their awareness of the enormous channels of truth and knowledge.”  As pointed out by an astute commenter here, Charles Finney, the famed Presbyterian revivalist, qualified nearly every sentence of his visionary conversion narrative by explaining that “it seemed to me a reality.” Primitive Methodist Hugh Bourne likewise described his 1809 vision by explaining that “[i]t seemed as is Jesus Christ embraced me in his arms. After this he seemed to move to the church at Cloud, and there he sat as he is represented in Isaiah’s vision; and he seemed to put his arms around me, and say that I should reign with him.”  These qualifications are conspicuously absent from Joseph’s relation of his vision, though. Instead, he expressed confidence that he had “actually seen a vision. … I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.” 
In addition, Joseph affirmed that God had related to him a distinct message-another trigger for suspicion. That the direct and damning message related to Joseph by Christ (that all churches had gone astray and “there is none that doeth good no not one” ) would not sit well with Christian ministers of the day is not surprising. However, that God communicated a message to Joseph at all was equally suspicious and contemptible. “In general,” Susan Juster summarized, “visions should be seen-not felt or heard in any physical way-and seen by the ‘eye of faith’ alone. … [E]vangelicals agreed that the more palpable the vision, the greater the suspicion that its source was not divine but pathological in some sense.” 
 Joseph Smith, “History-1839,” in The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:273.
 Susan Juster, Doomsayers: Anglo-American Prophecy in the Age of Revolution (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 116.
 John Walford, Memoirs of the Life and Labours of the Late Venerable Hugh Bourne (London, 1855), 196.
 Smith, “History-1839,” in The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:275.
 Joseph Smith, “History “, in The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:7.
 Juster, Doomsayers, 114-15.