Mormon Classics   |   Spalding Library   |   Bookshelf   |   Newspapers   |   History Vault

Sidney Rigdon,
The Real Founder of Mormonism

William H. Whitsitt

THE  DISCIPLE  PERIOD: Oct. 11, 1823 -- Nov. 8, 1830
(Section I, pp. 149-173)

Contents  |  Book   I  |  Book  II  |  Book  III:  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  |   Book  IV  |  Book V
"Wm. Whitsitt: Insights into Early Mormonism"   |   Times & Seasons' Rigdon History
Benedict's 1813 History of Baptists   |   Campbell's newspapers   |   Christian Baptist (rev. ed.)
Sidney Rigdon: Undercover Campbellite   |   Rigdon among the Baptists   |   Lawrence Greatrake


go back to: page 148

[ 149 ]



Chapter I.
Very Short Commons.

The Party which followed Rigdon into the Sandemanian fold is given out to have been more numerous than that which remained behind (C.B., V. I:7, p.184); by the representation of this authority it was only twelve persons of the Baptist church in Pittsburgh, out of a membership that is variously estimated at from eighty to one hundred, stood out against the innovations, and in consequence were recognized as the only legitimate Baptist church of the town. But the faction that held with Rigdon were not perhaps, in a pecuniary sense, the most liberal. Indeed if they had ever been so much disposed to award him a pecuniary support, the principles of the Disciples at that time stood in the way of such a procedure, It was a great point in their creed, borrowed directly from the Sandemanians, that the elders of the churches should not look to their brethren for a support, but should obtain it by the sweat of their faces in some kind of manual occupation, For several years Mr. Campbell was vehement in denunciation of the custom of receiving a salary on the part of a minister of the gospel; it was his boast that he always preached the gospel without pecuniary remuneration (C.B. pp. 16, 28, 43 & 46).

Shortly after the deposition of Rigdon, Campbell found occasion to sneer at the Rev. Lawrence Greatrake, who had succeeded to the

[ 150 ]

pastoral office, on the ground that he was "hired" by the party that had rejected his friend (C.B. p. 91 [p. 37-39, orig. ed.]); but there is little reason to question that as often as Rigdon got a view of his bill of fare, he had grounds to regret that he was himself no longer "a hireling." Speaking of the union that had been effected between the partisans of Sidney and the Sandemanian church under Walter Scott, Mr. Campbell tries to administer encouragement in the following fashion: "There is a church in Pittsburgh that would rejoice much more in being a regular church of Christ, than a regular Baptist church; which church has two bishops, who while they watch over and labor among the saints, labor working with their own hands, according to the apostolic command; and not only minister to their own wants, but are (ensembles) to the flock in beneficence and hospitality (C.B. p. 91 [p. 39, orig. ed.]) It is clear from the above that when Sidney surrendered his position in the Baptist ranks it was expected of him. to resort to some trade to earn a support, for himself and family, which by this time had been further augmented by the birth of two children, namely, Athalia under date of August 11, 1821, and Nancy on the 8th of December 1822.

The excommunication of Sidney from the Baptist church is believed to have been performed on the 11th of July 1823; the formal recognition of that act by a council appointed to pass upon it, took place three months later, on the 11th of October, it is likely that the congregations of Rigdon and Scott began to draw nigh to each other

[ 151 ]

directly after the earlier of the two dates mentioned, but they did not succeed in effecting a formal union until the year 1824 had begun (Rich., II:99). If any property was involved the party opposed to Rigdon was able to assert their right to it; his friends were constrained to resort to the courthouse (Patterson p.8), which was likely chosen as the place of worship because Scott and his "Scotch Baptists" were in the custom of assembling there (Baxter, Life of Walter Scott, p.45). It is possible that Thomas Campbell might have come forward to contribute his feeble powers and wisdom towards helping on the union of the two parties; for there is proof that after the marriage of Scott in January 1823 (Baxter, p.72), the old gentleman resided with him in the same house at Pittsburgh. Waiter Scott says: "He and I taught the same school, and presided together as bishops in the same church" (Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, p.275).

The school of Walter Scott supplied him an abundant support; the question that pressed most heavily was that regarding the support of Bishop Rigdon, He was good for nothing in the line of handicraft; having been brought up at the most slipshod style of farming, he was not sufficiently educated to take a hand in the school even if a place had been open there, Nevertheless his situation was somewhat relieved by the sale to James (Means) on the 28th of June 1823, of the share of the paternal estate in St. Clair township that fell to his portion (Patterson, p.9), and there was a brief season

[ 152 ]

of respite that could be employed in looking for a situation, After due consideration he decided to resort to a tannery, This point is established on the authority of Joseph Smith, who must have been in possession of definite information. In his biography of Rigdon, which there is reason to suspect was based upon a brief inquiry and investigation at first hands, Mr. Smith declares: "Having retired from the ministry, Mr. Rigdon engaged as a day laborer in a tannery, which employment he followed for two years, after which he removed to Bainbridge (township), Geauga county, Ohio" (Tullidge, p.102). This view is confirmed by the authority of (Patterson p.8); by the testimony of an eye witness in the person of Mrs. Eichbaum (Patterson, p.11) and by Rigdon's family, who are uniform in the denial that he was ever at any time employed in a printing-office (Patterson, p.9).

A still further indication of the correctness of it appears in the circumstance that when on the 25th of April 1834, the prophet was dividing out such property as he had been enabled to lay his hands upon in the village of Kirtland, the tannery was accorded to Sidney. Following are the exact words of the revelation in question: "Let my servant Pelagoram (Sidney Rigdon) have appointed unto him the place where he now resides, and the lot of Tahhanes (the tannery) for his stewardship, for his support while he is laboring in my vineyard, even as I will when I shall command him (D&C 104:20). Sidney being acquainted with the art of tanning, was an appropriate person to whose keeping and stewardship this establishment might be safely entrusted.

[ 153 ]

In the face of proofs so strong as these that have just been supplied to the effect that Sidney's handicraft in Pittsburgh was that of a tanner, it would under average circumstances hardly be considered important to give attention to any other representation. But the statement has been so often repeated that he was engaged in a printing office at Pittsburgh that it will be of interest to devote a measure of attention to it.

Nothing was ever heard of Rigdon as being employed in the printing office of Patterson and Lambdin at Pittsburgh until the first day of April 1839. The document containing this singular assertion was subscribed by Matilda Davison, whose former husband had been the Rev, Solomon Spaulding, (and may be found in full in the Millennial Harbinger for 1839, pp.265-7). A slight inspection will show that it was occasioned by a painful religious convulsion in the vicinity of Monson, Mass., where Mrs. Spaulding Davison then had her residence. She says: "Learning recently that Mormonism has found its way into a church in Massachusetts, and has impregnated some of its members with its gross delusions, so that excommunication has become necessary, I am determined to delay no longer doing what I can to strip the mask from this monster of sin, and to lay open this pit of abomination(s)." By consulting Mormon sources It appears that the trouble broke out in the church of the Rev. Mr. Storrs of Holliston a few miles

[ 154 ]

away, and had already cost him tho loss of a deacon and some of the best members of his congregation (Reynolds, Myth of the Manuscript Found, pp. 21 & 31). Relief was greatly in demand and resort was had to the lady in question in order to obtain it. But this was to turn to a very inferior source; Mrs. Spaulding Davison had imparted all the information she could command to Mr. Howe in the year 1834, and it is a marvel to perceive how meager was her store (Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, pp.287-8). Evidently she had given but little heed to the vagaries of her shiftless husband; she had heard of the "Manuscript Found" by name, but was not aware of its contents; she could not be positive that it had ever been carried to the office of Patterson and Lambdin, and was just as much in the dark to decide whether it had ever been returned; of Sidney Rigdon she knew nothing in the world.

But when her certificate dated the 1st of April 1839 was given to the public, she had meanwhile acquired a considerable access to her knowledge regarding all these topics and especially touching Mr. Rigdon, She affirms: "Sidney Rigdon, who has figured so largely in the history of the Mormons, was at that time connected with the printing office of Mr. Patterson, as is well known in that region, and as Rigdon himself has frequently stated. Here he had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Mr. Spaulding's manuscript and to copy it, if he chose. It was a matter of notoriety and interest to all who were connected with the printing establishment."


[ 155 ]

It is not probable that Mrs. Spaulding Davison should have been the author of assertions of this nature. She was too honestly ignorant of these concerns in 1834 to have expressed herself in the above strain in the year 1839; besides during the period of her residence at Pittsburgh, Sidney was an obscure youth hidden in the seclusion of the valleys adjacent to Peter's Creek, who it is likely did not find his way to the city much oftener than once or twice a year. It is to the last degree improbable that she ever heard his name; it is absolutely certain that he was not an apprentice in a printing office as early as she intimates.

It will be observed that a couple of gentlemen from Monson do Mrs. Spaulding Davison the honor to stand sponsor for this famous performance; one of them was the Rev. A. Ely, D.D., pastor of the Congregational church, and the other vas D. R. Austin, Principal of the Academy, and it is to be suspected that the additional clearness of the good lady in her declaration of the year 1839 was derived by them from a more or less careful perusal of Howe's work upon its appearance in 1834. The affirmation touching Rigdon also has much resemblance to a theory that might have been sustained by one of the twain in explanation of the circumstance. suggested by Mr. Howe that he had obtained the manuscript which was previously in the printing office.

It is [in] many ways an occasion for regret that this idle "April fool"

[ 156 ]

was ever enacted; it has been the source of much confusion in the minds of students of the subject. If between the years 1834 and 1839 Mrs. Spaulding had really acquired additional topics of information it was fully in order that she should communicate them; but that was not the case. Almost every important allegation that she supplies in the certificate which is presumed to have been composed by Messrs. Ely and Austin, is incorrect and misleading. A comparison of the two separate utterances will suggest two conclusions; one or the other of which must be accepted, The first is that the good lady is an unfaithful witness, and the second is that her innocency was employed by some person who wished to do evil that good might come of it.

But no real good has ever come of it; the certificate of 1839, besides introducing a large amount of error into this history, has steadily brought aid and comfort to the Mormons. Howe had struck the mark so accurately in his publication of 1834 that Rigdon was overwhelmed; throughout the intervening five years he had writhed in silence under the justice and the severity of the blow, without daring anywhere to commit a reply to print. But when the clumsy fabrication that bore the signature of Mrs. Spaulding Davison was given to the public, he immediately perceived that his opponents had given him an opportunity that had been sadly lacking heretofore to deny something. He now had a grievance

[ 157 ]

and hastened to give it air with a fine display of his best "plantation manners." His letter in reply was dated Commerce (Nauvoo), May 27th 1839, (and may be consulted in Mackay's work, pp.33-40.)

If the certificate subscribed by Mrs. Spaulding Davison on the first of April 1839 (is to) be rejected as the clumsy invention of parties who were using her simplicity to accomplish their own ends -- and no other course lies open to the student of the subject -- the public will be deprived of the only evidence it ever possessed to the effect that Sidney was at any time engaged in a printing office at Pittsburgh or elsewhere. On the other hand the proof is almost positive that he was engaged in the business of tanning, after his expulsion from the Baptist church on the 11th of November 1823.

The inquiry may now be raised [as to] how long Mr. Rigdon prosecuted this manner of life in Pittsburgh, laboring in a tannery by day, and on Sunday and other odd moments assisting Mr. Walter Scott to care for the small and highly quarrelsome community over which they jointly presided in the court-house. Joseph Smith says he followed the employment of tanning for two years (Tullidge, p.102). Supposing that he began it as early as November 1823, his engagement would have been closed in the month of November or December 1825. This supposition would agree well enough with the investigations of Mr. Patterson in the work entitled "Who Wrote the Book of Mormon?" He there says Rigdon "continued to preach in the court-house to his

[ 158 ]

adherents; but in 1824, according to one account, he removed to the Western Reserve of Ohio; according to another account he engaged in the tanning business in Pittsburgh until 1826, and then removed to the Reserve, residing for brief periods at Bainbridge, Mentor and Kirtland" (p. 8).

Richardson declares (II:128) that he returned to Ohio during the year 1825. These different dates can be reconciled with the conclusion that Sidney was engaged at the tannery until near the close of the year 1825, and then made his way towards the west. Walter Scott was left in charge of the church in the court-house (Rich., II:129.) Possibly the position of Rigdon as his fellow-elder had been rendered uncomfortable by the circumstance that, despite his excellent literalistic craze, the "Scotch Baptists" of the community went beyond him in struggling after the "ancient order of things." He might have found it an uncomfortable observance to exchange the kiss of charity as often as the vogue of this fantastic organization demanded (Rich., II:129.). They also enjoyed the primitive custom of feet-washing (Rich., II:128.) and there is no proof that up to this date Mr. Rigdon had acquired any fancy for that part of the "ancient order."

But it is likewise given out that every individual member of the church had set (himself) up in person for a pope on his own account (Rich., II:128.) ;

[ 158a ]

where that is the case almost any casualty is liable to produce an explosion that might render It necessary for a pastor to grasp his wandering staff, in order to get beyond the reach of peril from the falling debris, Walter Scott, however, held his place until the year 1826, when he too found it convenient to retire as far as Steubenville in Ohio, where before very long he was again encountered by Mr. Campbell.


[ 159 ]

Chapter II.
Campbell's Evil Influence Upon Rigdon.

"Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." This was the literalistic watchword which Thomas Campbell had put forward in the summer of the year 1809, at the earliest preliminary meeting looking towards the organization of the Christian association of Washington. It was received with considerable favor especially by James Foster and those of his hearers who had already acquired strong leanings towards the methods and polity of the Sandemanians. The motto was cried up to be a panacea and specific for all sorts of divisions in the "professing world," without any reference to the circumstances that the trials which had been made of it had produced nothing else than divisions and strifes in Scotland and Ireland.

It was a brief and precise statement. The more sanguine hoped that it would speedily destroy and drive away every vestige of creeds and confessions of faith, and secure the union of all those who affected any kind of religion. But it was not half so simple and so easily applied as it was supposed to be. From the very outset Thomas Campbell had no idea of conforming to its provisions. The kiss of charity which it would command that he should perform, the anointing of the sick with oil for the healing of the body, and several

[ 160 ]

other points of the ancient order of things would have been too severe a test of his sincerity. Matters of this nature were quietly ignored. So far as the records show, nothing was spoken regarding the washing of the disciples' feet, whether as an ecclesiastical custom, or merely as a social observance, and it was not prescribed that suits at law should be adjusted by the church, without resorting to the civil courts.

The difficulties were still more apparent when Thomas Campbell undertook to "keep silence where the scriptures are silent." Accordingly, when in the autumn of l809 he was sending forth the Declaration and Address he was careful to arrange for a liberal construction of that provision of his platform. Among the different propositions there submitted as a sort of embodiment of his views the 13th is expressed in the following terms:
Lastly, that if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or differences in the observations of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church." (Memoirs of Elder Thomas Campbell, p.52).

These "human expedients" proved to be a quite convenient means of escape from the command for "silence where the Scriptures are silent," Under this 13th proposition a church edifice

[ 161 ]

was constructed at Brush Run and supplied with forms and a pulpit. It also enabled the congregation to employ a metrical version of the Psalms of David in their public worship (Rich. I:358): to hear the scriptures read from a printed bible, and at a later date to attach themselves to the Redstone Association. Nothing could be much broader than their rubric of "human expedients." Under its protection may be found ample room for the use of any kind of instrumental music in worship, as well as for choirs of any size and any pitch of fashion.

Here is space and verge enough for the most elaborate ritual and liturgy, if not also for a modest confession of faith, according as different persons, who must all have an equal right to a judgment, may decide that either or all of these are 'absolutely necessary for the observance of Divine ordinances."

In this way the champion of liberalism was compelled to contradict his own fundamental maxim, and to bestow as large a license as might be required to justify himself or any other persons who fancied it was "indispensably necessary" that they should "speak where the Scriptures are silent." Thomas Campbell was either a very incompetent and confused thinker on the one side, or on the other, he had no intention at any time of seriously observing the injunction: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."

At the period when Sidney Rigdon was made his obedient disciple, Alexander would appear to have become in some degree aware of the

[ 162 ]

inconsistency by which he was involved and to have renewed his fealty to the fetter of the Scriptures. It seemed to be his special ambition to seize each of the 'human expedient" that might be in vogue anywhere in the Christian world and incontinently to cast them out of the window.

He could find nothing in the apostolic model just like the monthly concerts for prayer that were then much in favor among various circles of religious people (Christian Baptist p.6). Missionary societies of every sort were his darling abomination (C.B., p.17). An enthusiastic friend writing from Mason county Kentucky, under date of Feb. 16, 1825, with evident pride in the feat, informs him that "his paper had well nigh stopped missionary operations in the state" (C.B., p.144). Bible societies did not escape a share of his hostility, and education societies were in nothing more fortunate (C.B., p.6). It was a matter of course that "singing choirs" should be proscribed (C.B., p.8). Theological schools likewise were his particular aversion, and even the Sunday School was not spared (C.B., p.7). All of these were "hobbies of modern times" (C.B., p. 6): "mere humanisms" that deserved no batter fate than reprobation. The imparting to candidates for the ministry a classical education was very little to his notions (C.B., p. 8). Persons who might be impressed with the duty of going forth to the heathen world should not rely upon their brethren at home for a support; they should rather

[ 163 ]

discharge the costs of such an enterprise out of their own private means. In case no resources for this purpose were in their possession, they should regard that deficiency as a providential indication that they had not been called to this kind of service (C.B., p. 54). Indeed, they should remain at home, even in the event they were able to assume the charges of the undertaking, until the power of working miracles might be divinely bestowed upon them. It was "the capital mistake of modern missionaries" to fancy that they could ever succeed in establishing Christianity in any heathen land without the power or working miracles after the pattern of the missionaries of apostolic ages (C.B., p. 15). Mr. Campbell was not ashamed in the same place to declare that "The bible gives us no idea of a missionary without the power of working miracles. Miracles and missionaries are inseparably connected in the New Testament."

The Christian Baptist which he published from 1823 to 1830 is a cabinet of rare and fantastic curiosities in this way. There is nothing in its pages, indeed, that is equally preposterous as the command of the Apostolic Brethren of Luther's age, that every minister of religion should perform his preachments from a pulpit on the housetop, but many of its conceits were sufficiently literalistic to supply excellent example and encouragement to Mr. Rigdon to go just a few degrees beyond his master and to develop the somewhat more strenuous literalism of the Mormon movement.

[ 164 ]

For example, upon the occasion of a communion service being presented to Bishop Chase of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio for the benefit of the students worshipping in the chapel of Kenyon College, Mr. Campbell remarks: "One thing is incontrovertible, that neither the founder of the Christian Institution, nor any of his immediate followers, ever saw such a flagon, two chalices, two patens, and collecting plate" (C.B., p. 137). A frequent and persistent charge against "the populars" is sought in the custom they have of awarding a decent support to the pastors who watch over them in the Lord. In the, societies that might be formed in accordance with this ideal a different state of things was to be observed. "Their chief guide" he remarks "is not distinguished by his dress, as our priests, nor does he like them live upon the sweat and sacrifice of the people. He works with his own hands, as those who meet with him in their assembly" (C.B., p. l6. cf. pp.43 & 91). It was reprehensible to incorporate a Christian society by the act of a legislative body (C.B., p. 14). His principles forbade the receiving of money for missions or for other ecclesiastical uses from persons who were not themselves members of the church (C.B., p. 14). There can be nothing like a special call to the ministry of the church without a special divine attestation of the same whether by means of miracles or otherwise. Therefore, since the cessation of miracles, there has never been imparted anything like this special call. Every person who claims to have received such a distinction is engaged to

[ 165 ]

demonstrate the reality of his vocation, by healing the sick, casting out demons, cleansing the lepers and raising the dead, as also by speaking with infallible inspiration (C.B., p. 20). No person has been sent of God since the time of the apostles, and only the apostles were ever entitled to consider themselves in the light of ambassadors for Christ. The great commission was directed exclusively to the 12 disciples of the Lord, and neither itself nor the promise of the divine presence which was graciously appended to it is extended to any in our times (C.B., pp.87-88).

These absurd perversions of the formal principle of Protestantism, this shocking abuse of the sacred writings, could hardly fail to bear fruit in one way or another. Mr. Campbell had no reason whatever to be surprised when the monster of Mormon literalism rose in the path before his eyes, He had sowed too much to the wind to escape reaping a harvest of whirlwinds. Signs of the approaching disaster were apparent already during the residence of Rigdon in Pittsburgh. In the issue of the Christian Baptist for the month of August 1824 appeared a passage of the highest significance. It was composed in these words:

The, following queries came from the pen of a diligent student of the Bible. We wish our readers to attempt, each, to answer them for himself. '1st. The order of the first churches when supernatural gifts were abundant, being discovered; what if any example will it form to us who live in these last days when supernatural gifts have ceased?'" (C.B., p. 867).

[ 166 ]

Here was the first note of the new movement, the birth-cry of Mormonism. The enthusiastic and excitable Rigdon had now been stirred to a pitch of literalizing insanity, that was a trifle in advance of the perverseness of his master in that regard. He could not perceive any reason why the "ancient order of things" in respect to spiritual gifts and miracles should not be restored as well as in respect to the weekly observance of the supper, the plurality of elders, and the keeping of Sunday not as a Sabbath but merely as the Lord's Day. These supernatural gifts had ceased, indeed, but the fault lay solely at the door of the Christian community who had lost the strength and fervor of the primitive faith. If this were once restored it would be perfectly in order for men of modern days to perform miracles. In that case the dissimilarity existing between the "Former Day Saints" on the one part and the "Latter Day Saints" on the other, would be completely obviated. Mr. Campbell might prate as much as it liked him touching the "ancient order," but this would never be renewed in the earth until these phenomena of the apostolic age should become as common among us as they were in the earlier portions of the Christian era.

In this connection he was in the custom of pleading the promise of Jesus to his disciples in connection with the last commission, "And these signs" said the master, "shall follow them that believe in my

[ 167 ]

name, (they shall) cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover" (Mark XVI:17- 18).

Nothing could be plainer than that Mr. Campbell was now beaten at his own game. He had raised up a man whose literalism was not content with just those points upon which the editor of the Christian Baptist was wont to insist as the articles of a standing or falling church. Mr. Rigdon confidently affirmed that Christianity would never be "restored" until the power of speaking with tongues and working all kinds of miracles was also restored.

Campbell was aware of the gravity of the situation. This strict application of his own principle: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak," by one of his most prominent adherents, was a matter of concern to his mind. His endeavors to lay [to rest] the ghost which by his perversion of Protestantism he had conjured forth were immediate and active. Shrewdly perceiving that a direct issue with Rigdon was in danger of provoking a painful outbreak, he employed all his adroitness to avoid this kind of a disaster. The above inquiry regarding supernatural gifts as a portion of the "order" of the first churches, was simply

[ 168 ]

commended to his readers with a suggestion that the ingenuity of each of them might be exercised upon the problem. In another part of the same issue, however, he lays his own hand to the task in such a way as to avoid the appearance of antagonism against the more stringent advocates of the "ancient order of things." The occasion which he embraced was found in the second part of "A Familiar Dialogue between the Editor and a Clergyman." There in setting forth the singular grounds upon which he denied the possibility of any special call to the ministry, he takes an opportunity to deal with the commission, and positively affirms that the command of the Savior In this instance applied to no other people than those who were numbered in the circle of the disciples who then heard his voice. As a natural consequence the promise of his presence and support even to the end of the world had no wider application, and it was fully performed when the last of these was carried to his grave, that event marked the end of the age to which the departing Lord had reference. Especially does he insist that the passage from the gospel of Mark cited above, which was perhaps always on the tongue of Rigdon, was subject to the same limitation as the commission, and that none of Christ's people could have the gift of working miracles after the apostolic times (Christian Baptist, pp. 85-6).

It must have been as clear to Mr. Rigdon as it was to the average reader that this exegesis was painfully forced. It can scarcely be

[ 169 ]

considered in any other light than as a concession of the embarrassment of his situation.

In the month of October 1824 Mr. Campbell again undertakes the task of giving satisfaction to the advocates of a restoration of miraculous powers. There the subject of "spiritual gifts" is examined at length, and various intimations were put forward to show that according to the original intention it was provided that supernaturally endowed prophets, apostles, evangelists and pastors and teachers should continue only for a limited period of time (C.B., pp.95-73). But unhappily for him it was not in his reach to produce a "Thus saith the Lord" to that effect, and Rigdon in strict harmony with the teachings of his master was resolved to be content with nothing less than an express precept or an approved precedent. As often, therefore, as the arguments of Mr. Campbell were renewed, his disciple might appeal to the guiding principle of their sect and exclaim: "Where the Scriptures are silent we are silent." The Scriptures gave no definite instructions regarding the cessation of spiritual gifts, and by consequence we should maintain that these were only placed in abeyance by means of the unworthiness of the persons who for so long a period have had the cause of Christ in their keeping.

Here was truly a sad, but in the nature of the case an almost unavoidable, catastrophe. To the boast which Mr. Campbell and his adherents put forward regarding "Christianity Restored," the answer was returned that this claim was by necessity fraudulent,

[ 170 ]

since the Disciples persistently refused to "Speak where the Scriptures speak" in the matter of various spiritual gifts, to say nothing about the community of goods, inspiration and other points that were conceived to be of equal consequence as the practice of weekly communion or the avoidance of Sunday schools and missionary societies.

It might have been possible for a leader of the power which Mr. Campbell possessed in the way of controlling men to have kept Rigdon in subjection, but for the fact that he had unwarily surrendered one of the chiefest means that he might have employed for that purpose. His followers are not ashamed to assign to their leader a position in advance of that which Luther occupies in the determination of the Christian world. Prof. Richardson in amusing exultation declares that "The German Reformer gave to the people the opportunity of reading the Scriptures. It was the part of Mr. Campbell to teach them that they could comprehend it -- a truth which however plainly asserted in Protestant standards, the clergy of no prominent Pedo-baptist party were willing at this period practically to concede," (II:42). Whatever opinion may be formed touching either the correctness or the modesty of this extraordinary claim, there can be no kind of question that the manner in which Mr. Campbell found it convenient to flatter the vanity and feed the conceit of such ignorant men as Mr. Rigdon, cost him

[ 171 ]

dearly in the end. In the progress of the debate which he held at Mt. Pleasant, after denouncing the clergy in terms that were sufficiently round, he had counseled the people to turn away from their guidance and trust entirely to their own capacity for comprehending the meaning of the sacred writings. (Rich. II:27). This was all well enough as long as in turning away from their former spiritual advisors, the people were content to understand the Bible just as it was taught by Mr. Campbell. He could have no objection if they should merely consent to a change of leaders, but when, like Rigdon, they took him at his word, and denounced the authority of Mr. Campbell along with that of the other clergy, the affair assumed a different phase. In the career of Rigdon the clergy obtained the most ample revenge upon the would-be-thought Reformer, for all the denunciations which he had leveled against themselves and their position. It was impossible for him to control an untutored creature who had been systematically instructed that his stupid notions were to the full as valuable and important as those which Campbell or any other person in the whole world, after years of patient, prayerful study, might entertain and advance.

In the case of Campbell however, the difficulty of restraining Mr. Rigdon would be particularly serious, from the circumstances that the differences between the two did not refer to any question of principle, Both of them were agreed respecting the value and importance

[ 172 ]

of the principle of literalism. The only diversity that appeared was a difference of opinion as to how far it might be wise to apply this principle. Rigdon was clear in the judgment that they should "speak where the scriptures speak" in respect to the matter of "spiritual gifts," while Mr. Campbell was of the opinion that this task should not be attempted, Another point may be cited in which the influence of Mr. Campbell upon Rigdon was very manifest. During the month of March 1825, when Campbell had already become inflated with the idea that he was a Reformer, it occurred to his mind that it would be seemly for him to follow the fashion of other great Reformers in respect to the business of translating the Scriptures. He says (C.B., p. 136).

Two remarkable facts in the history of the first translators of the scriptures are worthy of particular notice. The first is that all who attained to the honor of first reformers attempted to give a translation of the scriptures in the vulgar tongue of the people they (led) to reform. Peter Waldus, A.D. 1160, attempted a translation of the four Gospels into the French language. John Wickliffe, A.D. 1367, translated the New Testament into English, Martin Luther gave a translation of the Bible into German. Olivetan translated into French, and Buza, the friend and companion of Calvin, rendered the New Testament into Latin."

In order that he might stand with honor in the ranks of these men

[ 173 ]

he shortly afterwards sent forth a translation of the New Testament, but as his own "erudition" was not equal to the task he was content with the ridiculous spectacle of republishing the translations which George Campbell of Edinburgh, and Doddridge and Macknight had made of separate portions of the book which were merely combined by himself into one whole.

Immediately after the date when Rigdon had publicly signified his adhesion to the Mormon movement, he too aspired like his old Master to stand in the ranks of the mighty Reformers, and it was one of the earliest cares of his new estate to produce a translation of the Bible. In company with Joseph Smith he submitted himself with the liveliest devotion to the task, which in due course of time and struggle was completed, but the work was not published in full until a period of years had elapsed. No Reformer could afford to pass away without leaving a legacy of this sort for the benefit of mankind.

continue reading on: p. 174

Return to top of the page

Return to: Beginning of the Book   |   More about:  William H. Whitsitt
Return to: Sidney Rigdon Home Page   |   Rigdon's History   |   Mormon Classics E-Texts

last revised July 10, 2008