~ Explorations  Into  A  Little  Known  Past ~



"Sidney Rigdon, The Real Founder of Mormonism"
(pages 354 to 377 in Whitsitt's unpublished manuscript)

Dan Vogel's 1988 Remarks  |  Bryan E. Ready's 2001 Review  |  Comments

[ 354 ]



Chapter I.
John the Baptist in Pennsylvania.

In a preceding portion of this work reference has been given to the fact that Smith sometimes designated Rigdon under the name of "John the Baptist." A description was there presented of the manner in which Rigdon was studious to execute the functions of this office among his brethren of the Disciple sect on the Western Reserve of Ohio. There can be little question that the designation (D&C, 35:4) was admirably well fitted to the figure and the labors of Rigdon in the interests of Mormonism, whether under the shades of his Patmos at Bainbridge, or in the more public arena of the Mahoning Association.

In the month of May 1829 it became imperatively important that "John the Baptist" should once more show his face in Pennsylvania. It will be brought to mind that the manuscript of the Book of Mormon had been handed over to Mr. Smith on the early morning of the 22nd of September 1827. Two months after that date the Disciple sect had made an extraordinary advance in its theological teaching and position. On the 18th of November 1827 Mr. Walter Scott had stood up at New Lisbon, Ohio and introduced the long lost "ancient gospel" of baptism for the remission of sins. Rigdon would speedily come upon the trade of this innovation. Hayden says he "always caught up and proclaimed the last word that fell from the lips of Scott and Campbell" (p. 186). The same author likewise reports that "in March 1828 Rigdon

[ 355 ]

visited Scott in Warren" and gained from his own lips a full account of the "ancient gospel." That was a very highly valued discovery; Hayden declares that Rigdon "was transported" by it (p. 192).

He could not think of permitting a treasure that sat so near his heart to be neglected in the pages of the Book of Mormon; it was above everything [desireable] that the "ancient gospel" should make its appearance there.

By the terms of a conversation held with Bentley and Campbell in the summer of 1828, it has already been shown that it was a prime article of Rigdon's policy to have the doctrine of the Book of Mormon conform with exact nicety to the tenets which the Disciples were advocating. He wanted it to demonstrate that "the Christian religion had been preached in this country during the first century, just as they were at the moment preaching it on "The Western Reserve." (Patterson, p. 13).

To execute this policy, and so open a way for the work he was composing to the hearts and churches of the Disciples it was indispensable that the dogma which meanwhile had become so dear and prominent among them should be clearly proclaimed by it. It would be a disaster to exhibit to them a volume that claimed the sanction of divine origin and authority, which contained no single hint of the admired novelty.

Furthermore, information would naturally reach him by due course of mail that Mr. Cowdery was daily making rapid progress in the work of

[ 356 ]

transcribing; if he wished to accomplish his purpose it behooved him to act on the spur of the moment, Additions and alterations would be inadmissible, or at any rate inconvenient, after a few weeks had elapsed.

Somewhere near the beginning of the month of May 1829, Mr. Rigdon must have set forth from his home at Mentor, Ohio, to perform the journey to Harmony, Penn. His arrival at that place would have occurred several days before the 15th of the month. Without any loss of time he gave himself to his business. Perceiving that the Second Book of Nephi, which Oliver Cowdery had probably taken up at the close of the 27th chapter, where the handiwork of Martin Harris had recently been resigned, was now completed, Mr. Rigdon supplied Joseph with an appendix to it which fills up three chapters (31 to 33) -- in the edition of Orson Pratt. When Oliver had set down the last word of this appendix which contains the outlines of the "ancient gospel" it was then time to undertake a further procedure which is thus described in the Autobiography of Smith:

"We still continued the work of translation, when in the ensuing month (May 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, as we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and laying his hands upon us he ordained us, saying unto us "Upon you, my fellow servants, in the name of (the) Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of

[ 357 ]

angels and of the Gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness." "He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and afterwards that he should baptize me." "Accordingly we went and were baptized -- I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me -- after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood -- for so we were commanded," "The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this priesthood upon us said his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who hold the Priesthood of Melchisedek, which Priesthood he said should in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first elder and he the second. It was on the 15th day of 1824 that we were baptized, and ordained under the hand of the messenger."

If the memory of Mr. Smith had retained all the facts and incidents which transpired prior to the year 1838 when he was

[ 358 ]

here engaged in setting forth and embellishing the course of his early history, he would have suppressed the name of this messenger. The designation of "John the Baptist" points so clearly to Mr. Rigdon that it is sufficient to reveal far more than it was desirable should be made known. It was never the fashion of Joseph to take the public this unreservedly into his confidence. The present instance was indisputably an oversight; the briefest reference to the D.&C., Sec. 35:4, would have availed to prevent that kind of blunder. Indeed this latter passage was itself an oversight; for example, at D&C, 27:8, under date of August and Sept. 1830 he says: "Which John I have sent unto you, my servant Joseph Smith jun., and Oliver Cowdery to ordain you unto this first priesthood, which you have received that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron."

It was certainly stupid enough that in December of this same year he should have issued another revelation in the course of which he plainly reveals the secret who this "John the Baptist" was: "Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works, I have heard thy prayers and prepared thee for a greater work. Thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou wast sent forth even as John to prepare the way before me" (D.&C., 35:3-4).

The notion of conferring the Aaronic priesthood upon Mr. Smith was the result of a literalizing (deduction) which Rigdon had perversely excogitated from the first four verses of the third chapter of

[ 359 ]

the prophecy of Malachi, where the coming of the messenger who should prepare the way for Christ is foretold. In the fourth verse it is said: "Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in the former days."

Sidney was now officiating in the character of that messenger, and this excellent consequence of his activity could never occur until the Aaronic Priesthood was reinstated; for it was clear to the dullest comprehension that "the offering of Judah and Jerusalem" would never be pleasant unto the Lord "as in the days of old," unless the sons of Levi should be brought forward to present it. This conceit was esteemed by that "diligent student of the Scriptures" as a very brilliant specimen of exegesis, and it is likely that he had already proclaimed the discovery in many Disciple conventicles on the Western Reserve.

Apart from the identity of "John the Baptist" the personality of Sidney was made sufficiently apparent by the new conceit of the Disciples "respecting baptism for the remission of sins" for the sake of which Smith and Cowdery, on the 15th day of May 1829, went into the woods "to pray and inquire of the Lord."

It is not known whether Rigdon had any trouble with Joseph regarding the introduction of immersion as the exclusive act of baptism. Methodists were and still are in the habit of accepting the rite as celebrated either by the mode of aspersion, affusion or immersion, and they were liable to be somewhat strenuous in the demand for Christian

[ 360 ]

liberty in this regard, Whatever scruples Mr. Smith, as a person inclined to favor the Methodists, may have entertained about the matter, they were all quietly surrendered, in view of the fact that it would be impossible for a leader among the Disciples to lend his hand to promote any religious organization which was not strict to exclude sprinkling and pouring as forms of administering baptism.

Neither does Joseph appear to have laid down any objections to the appellation of "Elder" with which in the above transaction he was honored. That was a very strict custom on the part of the Disciples, and though numbers of their leaders are now apparently becoming a trifle ashamed of it, in the early days they were absurdly proud of the title as a feature of the "ancient order of things." As Mr. Smith was raised to the dignity of the "first elder" in the new communion it would not be difficult fur him to content himself with this rather old-style nomenclature of Rigdon's; henceforth all the preaching force of the Mormons of whatever grade from the Prophet downwards were addressed by the name of "Elder."

[ 361 ]

Chapter II.
Further Editorial Handicraft.

It has already been shown at what a rapid rate Mr. Oliver Cowdery was progressing in the enterprise of transcribing the Book of Mormon. The entire work was completed in about a month after the baptism of Smith and his secretary, notwithstanding the interruption that was caused by the necessity of removing from Harmony Penn. to Fayette in New York, which with the arrangements that preceded and followed it must have required a space of three or four days, as the distance to be traversed was about one hundred and thirty-five miles (Joseph Smith, p. 145). Considering the active pace of Cowdery, it is probable that he was already deep in the Book of Alma when "John the Baptist" showed himself to the twain who "went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins." Conceiving that it would be wise to leave the industrious secretary ample room and verge enough, Rigdon must have allowed Smith to retain all the Book of Alma and the Book of Helaman in addition, while he took with him the books which followed these, for the purpose of inserting in them the "ancient gospel" and such other notions as in the interval had become clear to his convictions. The names of the books which he carried away with aim of subjecting them to renewed editorial revision were Third and Fourth Nephi, the book of Mormon and the Book of Ether.

[ 362 ]

It is not probable that Sidney, while engaged in this labor, sojourned in the household of Smith or even anywhere in the immediate vicinity. Emma Smith, the wife of Joseph, testifies that she never saw Rigdon until a much later period than that here involved: "I was residing at Father Whitmer's when I first saw Sidney Rigdon. I think he came there. Parley P. Pratt had united with the church before I saw Sidney Rigdon, or heard of him" (Tullidge, Life of Joseph, p. 791). There is no kind of reason to question the correctness of this witness; Rigdon and Smith alike would recognize the importance of his remaining in the background. If a person as honest as Emma Hale had been entrusted with all the secrets of the movement it would have been impossible to prevent a catastrophe; she would have become so much disgusted that she would have published the deception far and near. Sidney, it is likely, took up his residence at some farmhouse, or, preferably, at a neighboring village tavern, and kept his own counsels while strictly observing the progress of events.

When in the first days of June 1829 (Tullidge, p. 68) Joseph and Oliver were carried by David Whitmer to the home of his father, Peter Whitmer, Sr., in Fayette New York, it is probable that Sidney followed at a respectful distance, all the while keeping himself under the cover of his angelic incognito. Lucy Smith mentions an incident which is believed to refer to this proceeding: "When Joseph commenced making

[ 363 ]

preparations for the journey, he inquired of the Lord to know in what manner he should carry the plates. The answer was that he should commit them into the hands of an angel for safety, and after arriving at Mr. Whitmer's the angel would meet him in the garden, and deliver them up again into his hands. Joseph and Oliver set out without delay, leaving Emma to take charge of affairs during her husband's absence. On arriving at Waterloo Joseph received the Record according to promise" (Joseph Smith, pp. 145-6).

It would be safer for Rigdon, who at the moment was under no suspicion, to carry the precious treasury in his portmanteau as he traveled on the stage coach than for Smith to purvey it, who was supposed by the stupidity of many to have discovered a large amount of pure gold. In addition the "plates" would be too much under the inspection of Cowdery and Whitmer in case Joseph should bring them into the wagon upon which the trio should make the journey that lay before them. But returning from this digression, it will be in order to examine some of the alterations which Rigdon appears to have introduced into the manuscript of the four books which he is believed to have taken under his charge. The appendix to the Second Book of Nephi setting forth the "ancient gospel" has been mentioned above. It was likely inserted at that place in order to bring the subject immediately to the attention of Cowdery and thus to procure his immersion. In order to come at the business, Joseph would be compelled to turn back and pretend to find in the plates something which he had overlooked. This circumstance would explain the reason why Chapters 31-33 of Second Nephi

[ 364 ]

are the only portion of the Book of Mormon which inculcate the special gospel of the Disciples until you come to the Third Book of Nephi. In other words all that portion of the work, except these three chapters, which precedes the Third Book of Nephi, teaches that particular view of the plan of salvation which the Disciples were in the custom of proclaiming prior to the 18th of November 1827. This point may be established by consulting such passages derived from that section of the volume which refer to baptism and to the design for which it should be administered. The first allusion to baptism occurs at 2 Nephi 9:23-24: "And he commandeth all men that they must repent and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy one of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. And if they will not repent and believe in his name and endure to the end they must be damned." The design for which this sacrament should be administered is often stipulated. A fair specimen of the utterances regarding that topic is found at Mosiah 18:13:

"And when he had said these words the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that we have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body."

[ 365 ]

The same sentiment is conveyed by the passage at Mosiah 21:35: "They were desirous to be baptized as a witness and a testimony that they were willing to serve God with all their hearts." Compare also the Book of Alma 7:14-15: "Now I say unto you that ye must repent and be born again: for the Spirit saith, If ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith in the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness; yea, I say unto you, come and fear not, and lay aside every sin which doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins, and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness unto him this day, by going into the waters of baptism." In accordance with the above conception in the portion of the Book of Mormon to which reference is here made, salvation was regularly represented as being conditioned by repentance and faith, without the need of any addition to the work through the agency of baptism. A fair specimen of this kind of teaching is given at Mosiah 3:12-13: "But wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God; for salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. And the Lord God sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things

[ 366 ]

to every kindred, nation and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins."

After Rigdon had been "transported with the discovery" that was communicated to him by Scott at Warren, Ohio, in March 1823, the above conditions of salvation were no longer proclaimed by him. In order to obtain the grace of remission the waters of baptism became of indispensable concern. Accordingly, prior to the instruction that was imparted by Scott the sacrament of baptism was commonly described in the Book of Mormon under the title of a baptism "unto repentance." The idea was entertained touching that subject is expressed in the Book of Alma 6:2: "And it came to pass that whosoever did not belong to the church who repented of their sins, were baptized unto repentance, and were received into the church." The phrase "baptized unto repentance" is one of the commonest to be found in the earlier section of Rigdon's work (Alma 9:27, 8:10, 5:63; Mosiah 26:22; Helaman 3:24, 5:17-19).

Opening the Third Book of Nephi, however, the reader will find that the point of view is changed, there the "ancient gospel" is everywhere in order, except in one or perhaps two passages which, through the haste of revision, might well have been overlooked (3 Nephi 7:25-26). At 3 Nephi 1:23 a feeble effort is made to mediate between the two opposing views: "And it came to pass that Nephi went forth among the people, and also many others, baptizing unto repentance in the

[ 367 ]

which there were a great remission of sins." But at other points the clearness of Rigdon's adhesion to Scott's "ancient gospel" is too apparent to admit of question. For instance compare 3 Nephi 30:2 "Come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost." At another place Sidney is at pains to obviate a popular objection, which the early Disciple preachers were often given to hear, by a fresh rendering of the commission of Christ in the sense of his Disciple brethren: "And whoso believeth in me and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned" (3 Nephi 11:33-34). It is an important circumstance that Rigdon has not yet altered Scott's ordo salutis in the Book of Mormon. That particular order was: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Remission [of sins] and the Holy Ghost. In this Third Book of Nephi, just after the manner of Scott, the gift of the Holy Ghost is several times represented as following directly upon baptism, or at least as [coming] without the necessity of any intervening condition: "And it came to pass that the Disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them: and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 26:17, cf. 3 Nephi 12:2, 19:13, 28:4; 4 Nephi 1:1 & Mormon 7:10).

After the Book of Mormon had been closed up and published, the literalizing tendency led Mormon theology still one step farther, and placed the

[ 368 ]

imposition of hands between the grace of remission and the gift of the Holy Spirit, causing the Mormon ordo salutis to stand as follows: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, Remission, Laying on of Hands and the Holy Spirit. This alteration was perhaps effected with direct reference to a custom which prevailed in the early Christian Church (Acts 8:14-17 & 19:5-6).

While under the tutelage of Walter Scott and his Sandemanian community at Pittsburgh, Mr. Rigdon would become familiar with the institution which they called the "Fellowship," and with the modified form of communism which must follow in all cases where it is observed with anything like decent honesty. The principles of the Sandemanians forbade the laying up of treasure on earth, and in order to secure this end their members were expected to contribute to the "Fellowship," fund for the benefit of the necessitous, all their surplus above the actual demands of daily existence. In that portion of the Book of Mormon which precedes the Third Book of Nephi this custom was diligently explained and intently urged under the name of "equality." For Instance:

"And there was a strict command throughout all the churches, that there should be no persecutions among them, and that there should be an equality among all men" (Mosiah 27:3 cf. Jacob 2:17, Alma 4:12, 15:16 & Mosiah 18:27). After setting up this communistic community of seventeen persons in the Kirtland church, Sidney began to be enamored with the notion of

[ 369 ]

Christians holding their property in common. Possibly he fancied that was a closer approximation to the "ancient order of things" than could be obtained through the agency of the boasted "fellowship." Therefore, when he took this second redaction of his manuscript in hand he was pleased to introduce in the place of mere "equality" the idea of communism, just as it had been recently enacted at Kirtland. To carry out this project he is conceived to have inserted the following statement at 3 Nephi 26:19, where is described the condition of a model church among the Nephites: "And they taught, and did minister one to another and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly one with another." A like sentiment was advanced at 4 Nephi 1:3: "And they had all things common among them, therefore they were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free and partakers of the heavenly gift." On the contrary, when the church had become wealthy they "were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine thing of the world. And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more in common among them" (4 Nephi 1:24-25), which occurrence, it is clear, was reprobated as an unhappy change.

This alteration on the part of Sidney, by means of which the Book of Mormon was made to utter two different sentiments concerning the management of such property as members of the Mormon community might possess, was the occasion in subsequent years of an amount of perplexity and embarrassment. To sum up the result

[ 370 ]

however, in a single statement, it may be declared that the principle of communism, despite the exertions that might have been put forth by its friends, was never at any period triumphant, though for a series of years the Mormon authorities swayed back and forth between the Sandemanian plan of the "Fellowship", and the Kirtland project of a common stock.

At length, weary of the uncertainties of the situation, they finally recurred to the Old Testament expedient of tithing, both more profitable and more nearly in the line of their coarse literalism.

For proof that the Sandemanian method was at first adopted, refer to D&C, 19:34; 42:55; 49:20 & 51:3. The first note of tithing, on the contrary, is given at D&C, 64:23; the subject is again mentioned at Sec. 85:3 and Sec. 97:11; it is raised to the dignity of a permanent law of the church in Sec. 119. The provision of law and usage that "every man that cometh to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion" was decidedly communistic (D&C, 72:15, cf. 85:34).

Having now become aware that it was a custom of Joseph to appropriate the benefits of direct revelation in cases of embarrassment, Sidney was careful in his second redaction to provide for that improvement upon his original plan, At 3 Nephi 28:6 he remarks: "Wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation or by prophecy" (cf. Mormon 9:7). Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon there is no sufficient proof that provision was made for direct and immediate communications from

[ 371 ]

the Deity to persons in the existing generation. Only the claim is advanced that revelations which were made to ancient Nephite prophets are just as genuine and just as valuable as the revelations conveyed to ancient Hebrew prophets, a circumstance which entitled the Book of Mormon to occupy the same level of distinction as regards the Christian Scriptures.

An allusion to the two stones which Mr. Smith now professed to employ in translating his manuscript must have been also by Sidney interpolated into the Book of Ether, but the business was accomplished with very ill success. The language in which the Book of Ether was at first composed is there represented to have been "confounded" at the Tower of Babel (Ether 3:24), and the Lord is given out to have prepared these "interpreters" (Ether 4:5), and sealed them up along with the "twenty- four plates" where they would be handy for use "in his own due time" (Ether 3:23). Unhappily, however, in the Book of Mosiah a different version had been already supplied concerning the origin of the "interpreters." They were not found sealed up with the "twenty-four plates" of gold, which had been discovered by the servants of King Limhi. On the contrary that account assures us that there was no present means of deciphering the contents of the Book of Ether, and the fact was accomplished by resorting to King Mosiah who was the sole owner of the two stones, as well as the sole person entitled to use them. (Mosiah 8:6-21; 21:27; 28:11-19). If it had been possible for Rigdon to consult Joseph's version of the Book of Mosiah, the privilege

[ 372 ]

might have prevented him from falling into a glaring blunder.

The fact has been too often overlooked that as early as the period of this second editorial enterprise Sidney laid the basis of that evil structure of materialism which later acquired so much prominence in the theology of Mormonism. This materialism was deduced from the coarse type of anthropomorphism to which he was driven by the literalizing tendency that was his unlucky inheritance from the Disciples. In one of his conferences the brother of Jared had been suffered to behold the finger of the Lord (Ether 3:6). His curiosity was so keenly sharpened by the sight that he also desired to gain a sight of the entire person of the [Divine Ruler]. In consequence of the exhibition which followed, he was enabled to perceive "that the Lord had flesh and blood" (Ether 3:8). The Deity also informed him "that all men were created in the beginning after his own image" (Ether 3:15): "Behold, this body which ye now behold is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh (Ether 3:16). Anthropomorphic conclusions of this construction could hardly be avoided by such a "diligent student of the Scriptures" as was Sidney, especially when his thoughts recurred to the language at Gen. 1:26-7. Other but less distinct allusions to the subject may be consulted elsewhere in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 11:11 etc.) If God be a Spirit, and man was created in the image of God, it was clear to Rigdon's logic

[ 373 ]

that the divine Spirit must have a body. It was not far from this opinion to the bald materialism which claims that every spirit has a body; indeed that every spirit is composed of material substance.

Mr. Rigdon's faith in the possibility of working miracles after the same manner as they were performed in the apostolic times had been strongly confirmed by his experiences and reflections since the date when he first delivered the manuscript of the Book of Mormon into the hands of Smith, and he now feels here of consequence to urge his convictions at greater length. These topics had likely been often treated by him in Disciple pulpits. Richardson (also) gives him credit for having "sought especially in private to convince certain influential persons, that along with the primitive gospel, supernatural gifts and miracles ought to be restored" (Memoirs of A. Campbell II:346). Apparently for this special use and behoof of these same influential persons and for any besides, who might be disposed or persuaded to peruse the Book of Mormon, he is believed to have interpolated the following observations upon his darling theme: "And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretations of tongues. Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things, knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea he has not read the Scriptures; if so he does not understand them. For do we not read that God is the same

[ 374 ]

yesterday, to-day, and forever; and in him there is no variableness, neither shadow of changing? And now if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a God who doth vary, and in him there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a God who is not a God of miracles. But behold I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the Cod of Jacob; and it is the same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are" (Mormon 9:7-11). After pressing as far as he desired this view of the subject, he is also at pains to present the same argument which Alexander Campbell had used so much care to answer in the month of August 1824 (C.B., pp. 85-6): "For behold thus saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, unto his disciples who should tarry; yea and also to all his disciples in the hearing of the multitude, Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: in my name shall they 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," (Mormon 9:22-24). The above argument derived from Mark 16:16-18 must have been a special favorite in the eyes of Sidney, and to a person of his literalistic leanings it was conclusive. Mr. Campbell had endeavored to break the force of it by insisting that the Savior's commission

[ 375 ]

as it was here directed to the eleven apostles, could be rightly applied to them alone, hence the power to perform miracles that was affixed to the commission was a power that was assigned exclusively to the eleven. (C.B., p. 86). But this was in no sense a conclusive supposition to the mind of Mr. Rigdon; he was likewise, at a later period, enabled to persuade a goodly number of his Disciple brethren that the gifts and powers were designed to be as enduring as the commission and the kingdom of the Master.

In a previous chapter it has been shown that Mr. Campbell at the opening of his career in America was much disposed to favor the Sandemanian conceit that no persons should be admitted to worship with the church except those who were members of the church, The church at Brush Run on being reorganized after the immersion of its members seems to have been very strenuous touching this point (Rich. I:454). Possibly Sidney was given to hear a large amount of this nonsense in the Sandemanian community over which Scott and himself presided at Pittsburgh. At several places in the Book of Mormon, but especially in the portion which received this second redaction he was careful to present stipulations that should provide against this abuse, to which it seems evident he was not kindly disposed.

With reference to this business the passage at 3 Nephi 18:22-24 is worthy of citation: "And behold ye shall meet together oft, and ye shalt not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall

[ 376 ]

meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not; but ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out and if so be that they come unto you oft, ye shall pray for them unto the Father in my name."

This concern was likely a point of so much interest that Mr. Rigdon considered it would be of service to supply a few arguments in favor of his own view and practice; accordingly he proceeds to exhort his readers as follows: "Therefore hold up your light that it may shine unto the world, Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up -- that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye have seen that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed" (3 Nephi 13:24). This passage refers to the fact that Jesus who is represented as the speaker, had just previously both taught and prayed in a promiscuous audience, without requiring unbelievers to depart from the company. Nay the argument is pressed still further by the following words which are invented for the mouth of the Savior: "And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel me and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation" (3 Nephi 18:25). The last clause was a neat and rather direct stroke against Mr. Campbell and his ultra Sandemanian vagary.

Somewhat farther on Sidney makes a distinct allusion to the divisions that were occasioned among the early Disciples by this issue: "And I give you these

[ 376a ]

commandments because of the disputations which have been among you. And blessed are ye if ye have no disputations among you" (3 Nephi 18:34). The same topic is further touched at 2 Nephi 26:26 and Alma 6:5-6.

It is possible that the early scruples of Mr. Campbell touching the propriety of family prayer (Rich. I:448-9) were not yet entirely abated. At least proof may be supplied from the year 1823 that they were still in existence (C.B., p.29). There is nothing unreasonable in the supposition that Mr. Rigdon had encountered some of this literalistic prejudice among the followers of Mr. Campbell on the Western Reserve, and it is conceivable that an injunction favoring the duty of praying in the family was inserted for the benefit of such objectors. This precept may be found in immediate connection with the one just mentioned at 3 Nephi 18:21: "Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed."

The fact that denunciations against secret societies are especially numerous and direct in this portion of the Book of Mormon gives room for the suspicion that Mr. Spalding's original prejudice against organizations of that sort was in some instances re-enforced by the violent Anti-Masonic excitement that was astir in

[ 377 ]

Western New York during the summer of 1829, when Sidney was engaged upon this second revision. One or two rather distinct allusions to the alleged murder of William Morgan at the hands of Masons are supposed to confirm that conception of the phenomena (Mormon 8:27; Ether 3:22-24).

read the entire text

Editorial Comments

by Dale R. Broadhurst

As may be seen in the above Whitsitt excerpt, the writer credited a major portion of the Book of Mormon to Sidney Rigdon's pen. In conducting his research for a Rigdon biography, Dr. Whitsitt became convinced that Reformed Baptist Elder Rigdon had turned over the text of his Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith in September, 1827 -- only to realize a few months later that the "Nephite Record" required a major theological revision. Whitsitt argues effectively that an 1829 "redaction" was carried out in order to incorporate into the Book of Mormon Sidney Rigdon's version of some important new Campbellite doctrinal innovations, just then being put into practice on the Ohio Western Reserve.

Of course there was another, more evident need for additional work upon the Nephite text, and that difficulty entailed the June 1828 loss of the "Book of Lehi" and the subsequent necessity of replacing those lost initial pages of the Book of Mormon. This complication was precisely contemporary with Sidney Rigdon's first successes in implementing his adoption of Elder Walter Scott's "ancient gospel" conversion system in northeastern Ohio. Whitsitt's theory has Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery laboring over the "translation" of 2nd Nephi as late as "May 1829," when Rigdon supplied them with "an appendix to it which fills up three chapters (31 to 33)" in the modern Book of Mormon. Whitsitt's chronology necessitated Rigdonite additions to the original Book of Mormon, both in 1828 and 1829 (to replace 116 lost pages and to complete the "ancient gospel"). Whether the successful Campbellite-Rigdonite theological innovations in the west led to the abandonment of the "Book of Lehi;" or whether the neccesity of writing that book's replacement text simply allowed Rigdon an opportunity to update incipient Mormonism, is not a matter of primary concern here. No matter why the textual revision(s) came to be, the challenge presented by Dr. Whitsitt's theory, is to determine what evidence (if any) can be uncovered to confirm or refute that theory.

A Three Part Structure

It will be admitted by any reader that the Book of Mormon universally exhibits a great concern with Christian conversion and the means by which that conversion is properly implemented. Early in its narrative the ordinance of baptism is elevated to a pinnacle position in the book's evangelical message. Dependence upon a proper Christian baptism is made so uniquely important, that the practice is anachronistically inserted into the religion of preColumbian Americans centuries before the preaching of John the Baptist.

In his 1993 paper The Priority of Mosiah, Brent Lee Metcalfe makes these interesting statements:

Joseph Smith depicted Christian awareness in the Book of Mormon as gradually maturing. Ideas on baptism, for example, develop according to the Mosian dictation sequence [i.e., Mosiah dictated first]. Alma's baptism appears to be a more primitive cleansing ritual than that described in 2 Nephi. In Mormon's abridgment from Mosiah to 3 Nephi 10, baptism helps to effectuate repentance; from 3 Nephi 11 through the dictation of the replacement text, the emphasis is on Jesus Christ...

The Book of Mormon followed the evolving baptismal model of the KJV. Like Alma, John the baptizer performed primitive baptism "unto repentance." After Jesus's death, Christians baptized "in the name of the Lord Jesus;" so do their Nephite counterparts...

The jist of Metcalfe's contention is that the theology of baptism in the Book of Mormon follows a planned evolution, copied from the "model" presented in the Gospels. If this view is correct, then it is a point that Whitsitt neglected to mention: a point which might even undermine Whitsitt's theory. On the other hand, in the same paper Metcalfe documents a major textual discontinuity at the juncture of the so-called "small plates" and "large plates," in which the text comprising Mosiah and subsequent books must have been composed (or at least dictated) prior to the text comprising 1st Nephi, 2nd Nephi, etc. Given the evidence now available for examination, Whitsitt would have probably agreed with Metcalfe's conclusion.

Whitsitt's own theory had the effect of separating the Nephite text into three divisions -- a beginning section, including 1st and 2nd Nephi; a middle section, largely free of late 1820s Campbellite-Rigdonite theological innovations; and an end section, (starting in 3rd Nephi) theologically similar to the book's beginning. Whitsitt said:

"Chapters 31-33 of Second Nephi are the only portion of the Book of Mormon which inculcate the special gospel of the Disciples until you come to the Third Book of Nephi. In other words all that portion of the work, except these three chapters, which precedes the Third Book of Nephi, teaches that particular view of the plan of salvation which the Disciples were in the custom of proclaiming prior to the 18th of November 1827."

This separation of the text, Whitsitt would have argued, allowed for a revised Campbellite tenet of baptism for the remission of sins to be articulated in 2nd Nephi; but to be missing from the Alma baptisms in the later Book of Mosiah. Baptism for the remission of sins is taken up anew in 3rd Nephi. The rational conclusion would be, that if Sidney Rigdon was contributing to the Nephite text, he saw no need to interject revised Campbellite tenets into the books of Mosiah, Alma and Helaman (which he had already placed in Joseph Smith's hands), because an "evolving baptismal model" was already in his mind -- it was already hinted at in those pages of the Nephite Record previously entrusted to Smith and Cowdery. All that was needed, in 1828-29, was for Rigdon to improve upon his pre-written baptismal methodology, so that his own version of baptism for the remission of sins was clearly stated in the text by the time of Christ's advent in 3rd Nephi.

This Rigdonite plan might have worked out well in the Nephite narrative (albeit a little clumsily), had Rigdon been content to emulate the Bible's doctrine of a single Gospel Dispensation. Had he done so, then his joining of baptism and remission set down in 2nd Nephi could have been clearly stated as oracles for a distant future. Instead, the clear impression is given in that text, that King Nephi and his contemporaries are personal professors and recipients themselves of that blessed ordinance.

To his credit, Metcalfe did recognize this oddity and assigned 2nd Nephi 9:23-24 and 31:11-12 to the profession of a more highly evolved "Christocentric Baptism." He also noted that Joseph Smith allowed for the doctrinal discontinuity coinciding with the textual revamping occasioned by the loss of the first 116 pages: "Ignorance of Nephi's prophecies, especially in a record-keeper and prophet of Alma's stature, is explained by Mosian priority."

Distribution of "Wherefore" shows the Mosiah Discontinuity - (click on image to view full size)

Again, these explanations might pass, were it not for the very early LDS tenet of gospel antiquity. In that model of sacred history there have been seven Christian dispensations, and in all but one of them, the "fulness of the gospel" was at first enjoyed, but later was lost due to apostasy. Thus, in Joseph Smith's "Book of Moses" we see Father Adam being immersed in a Christian baptism and Enoch preaching something like trinitarianism. If all the world's baptisms prior to Jesus' day (supposing there were any) were deficient (lacking remission and the Holy Ghost), then a great many additional LDS proxy baptisms for the dead should probably be scheduled.

There is a curious hint of this sort of expediency in 3rd Nephi, where we are told: "And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized [by Christ]." So, if the lead disciple among the Nephite Twelve needed baptism (re-baptism?) for the remission of sins, that would seem to be a universal requirement.

Campbellite Theologizing?

Thus far along, it can be seen that Whitsitt and Metcalfe do not necessarily disagree upon the structure of the text and its theology. And even Metcalfe would agree with Whitsitt that the 2nd Nephi references to baptism for the remission of sins are late additions to the text. The remaining question, then, is whether such "late additions" had anything to do with Sidney Rigdon and Campbellite conversion techniques from the post-1827 era? In 2001 Rev. Bryan E. Ready was convinced of the purported linkage:

On November 18, 1827, two months after Rigdon had given Smith the manuscript, Walter Scott preached his first sermon on the long lost "ancient gospel" of baptism for the remission of sins in New Lisbon, Ohio. Contemporaries of Rigdon said he was immediately infatuated with this idea and spent a great deal of time studying the subject. In 1828, Rigdon visited Scott and discussed the subject in detail. It is likely that Rigdon felt compelled to include this information in the Book of Mormon. Whitsitt writes, "He could not think of permitting a treasure that sat so near his heart to be neglected in the pages of the Book of Mormon; it was above everything... that the "ancient gospel" should make its appearance there." -- This forced Sidney to make further changes to the manuscript.

However, it can easily be argued that baptism for the remission of sins was not a uniquely Campbellite tenet, either before or after 1827. Some version of the teaching can be found in the second chapter of Acts and in the first chapter of Mark. Alexander Campbell was not the only Christian reformer paying attention to those biblical verses during the late 1820s: his subsequent co-religionist, Rev. Barton W. Stone was also preaching a similar doctrine during the same period.

What was unique about the baptismal doctrine of the Campbellites after 1827, is that it was one segment of a five-part conversion methodology which offered Christian church membership to practically any conversion candidate, merely upon his or her confession that "Jesus is the Christ." The profession that adult immersion was necessary for the regeneration of the Christian convert was not invented in 1827, but it was effectively joined to the innovation of an "altar call," by which sinners could be brought to an immediate Christian confession, baptism, confirmation and church membership.

In contradistinction to this late-1820s preaching of the "Reformed Baptists," Dan Vogel has argued that Book of Mormon baptismal teachings amount to something different from those promoted by the post-1827 Campbellites:

Both Walter Scott and Alexander Campbell began teaching that water baptism was for "the remission of sins." "To call the receiving of any spirit or any influence, or energy, or any operation upon the heart of man, regeneration," argued Campbell, "is an abuse of all speech, as well as a departure from the diction of the Holy Spirit, who calls nothing personal regeneration except the act of immersion."

This distinctive doctrine of baptismal regeneration was rejected by Seekers and most others... Early Mormons also rejected Campbell's notion of "baptismal regeneration." In the Book of Mormon baptism is part of the process of repentance -- thus the expression "baptism unto repentance" (Al. 5:62; Moro. 8:11, etc.). Baptism is never for the actual remission of sins, as Scott and Campbell taught. Rather, regeneration takes place through the reception of the Holy Ghost. Nephi teaches: "The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost" (2 Ne. 31:17).

And again,
Seekers, Primitivists, and Mormons thus more or less agreed about issues related to baptism. However, the nature of the gift of the Holy Ghost was a matter of contention between Primitivists such as Alexander Campbell and those seeking a more radical restoration of primitive Christianity. Campbell taught that receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost did not imply receiving the spiritual gifts manifested in the ancient church. Rather, those who received the Holy Ghost would be blessed with the fruits of the Spirit, which included such things as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance.

While Vogel may be technically correct in his statements, he ignores the fact that Campbellism was beginning to fracture at the end of the 1820s. As Parley P. Pratt stated in 1838: "About A. D. 1827, Messrs. A. Campbell, W. Scott, and S. Rigdon, with some others residing in Virginia, Ohio, &c., came off from the Baptists..." But in the same sentence Pratt explained that some of these "Reformed Baptists," were then called "Ridgonites." Although Rigdon adhered to the same "Baptism of Repentance, for Remission of Sins," as did Campbell and Scott, he (Rigdon) "in particular, held to a literal fulfilment and application of the written word; and by this means he was an instrument to turn many from the false notions of Sectarian Traditions." Campbell, Scott and Rigdon were all biblical literalists, but Rigdon "in particular," carried this tenet to radical extremes. According to Pratt, "Many hundred disciples were gathered by his ministry, throughout the Lake Country of Ohio; and many other preachers stood in connection with him in those principles."

The evolving theology of some of the Ohio "Reformed Baptists" (including the "Rigdonite" splinter group) did not precisely match the teachings of Elders Campbell and Scott. For example, one of Campbellites harshest critics (and Sidney Rigdon's replacement in the Pittsburgh Baptist pastorate) addressed these interesting remarks to Alexander Campbell in 1836:

some of your converts, (Tate, of Warren, for instance,) have rushed out of their houses at night, exclaiming in the streets and high-ways, 'I have got it, I have got it' -- in allusion to the Holy Ghost, which your bishops, their dippers, had promised to them, if they would be immersed: and which converts ran... all night, calling on the people to got up, and go and be immersed, for the gift of the Holy Ghost!... you have forged stories of supernatural illuminations having attended your administration of the ordinance of baptism.... some of your female converts, having been baptized, with the promise from their dippers, that they should have the Holy Ghost given to them at such a time after being dipped -- but not receiving the Holy Ghost by the time specified... those female converts gravely inquired, if they could not send the Holy Ghost down to them by the stage!... your female converts have been a little in advance of time, 'as ladies like to be who love their lords;' and that therefrom, the wags and wits were wont to say, that they were enciente by Scott, Rigdon, Bentley, or Campbell's holy ghost.

Of course the staid Alexander Campbell cannot be held accountable for what some of his more radical former disciples had been preaching in Ohio, regarding the bestowal of the Holy Ghost following a convert's immersion -- but that is precisely the point. A dissenting religious advocate who had been a follower of Campbell throughout most of the 1820s might not have agreed with him on the doctrine of the "baptism of fire;" and certainly would not have injected a carbon copy of 1820s Campbellism into the revolutionary 1830 Book of Mormon. Vogel practically supplies his own answer to this mystery on a later page of his 1988 book:

Among former Campbellites, Sidney Rigdon led the opposition to Campbell's version of the restoration. Rigdon argued that "along with the primitive gospel, supernatural gifts and miracles ought to be restored." Early Mormonism also stressed the importance of the gift of the Holy Ghost in achieving salvation. Christ declares to the Nephites:

"No unclean thing can enter into his (God's) kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day" (3 Ne. 27:19-20).

If the argument is to be made, that baptismal teachings in the Book of Mormon are not exactly those of Alexander Campbell, then by what criterion is Sidney Rigdon excluded from the possible innovators of that same Book of Mormon theology? Certainly not on the basis that in 1829-30 he agreed with Campbell exactly on what constituted baptism for the remission of sins, or what it meant to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost in confirmation of water baptism. All of this still leaves Rigdon as a likely (but not a proven) contributor to the Book of Mormon.

Matters for Future Investigation

Recently Craig Criddle has taken up the issue of revised Campbellite doctrine in the Book of Mormon. He has generally followed Whitsitt in his conclusions, but has matched the distribution of probable "Rigdonite" language in the Book of Mormon with the three textual divisions first pointed out by Whitsitt. For example, in his web-paper "Sidney Rigdon: Creating the Book of Mormon," Criddle has published the following chart:

"Came to pass" and "children of men" occurrences in The Book of Mormon - view recent update

Although not definitive evidence for a beginning-middle-end Book of Mormon tricodemy, Criddle's chart is an encouraging beginning for the advocates of Whitsitt's old redaction theory. As Criddle himself points out, "William Whitsitt concluded that Rigdon wrote both 2 Nephi 31-33 and Moroni, and proposed that 2 Nephi 31-33 was added as a kind of Appendix to 2 Nephi." This leads to the possibility (as Criddle puts ) of a "near simultaneous composition of Moroni and the end of 2 Nephi." In other words, the "beginning" and "end" parts of the tricodemy would resemble each other because they were written by the same people, at about the same time, and for the same purpose. If the Solomon Spalding contribution to the Book of Mormon is given credence, then we might expect to find his writings concentrated in the middle section of the Book of Mormon, but less appearing frequently (and perhaps as disjointed, paraphrased fragments) in the remainder of the text.

Additional study of the text may provide better examples, in support of Whitsitt's theory; and Criddle is currently preparing more charts to bolster his own conclusions. It appears to be a promising field for further inquiry.

Go to top of this page

    Last Revised:Nov. 12, 2009