Mormon Classics   |   Spalding Library   |   Cowdery's Bookshelf   |   Newspapers   |   History Vault

Dan Vogel
(1955- )
Religious Seekers...

(Salt Lake City: Signature, 1988)

  • Title-Page
  • Contents

  • Chapter 2  p. 25
  • Chapter 7  p. 159

  • Transcriber's Comments  

  • Indian Origins & BofM  |  Hayden's Disciples  |  Baxter's W. Scott  |  Whitsitt's "Rigdon"

    Entire contents of this book, copyright 1988 by Signature Books.
    Due to copyright law restrictions, only limited "fair use" excerpts are presented.


    AND  THE



    Signature Books
    Salt Lake City


    [ v ]

    Table  of  Contents

    vii  Preface

    ix  Introduction

    01  1. The Seeker Movement

    25  2. From Seeker to Finder

    49  3. The Apostasy

    67  4. The "Doctrine of Devils"

    97  5. The Restoration

    129  6. The Church

    159  7. The Fulness of the Gospel

    181  8. A New Jerusalem

    215  Conclusion

    221  Scriptural References

    217  Index


    [ 25 ]

    T W O

    Seeker  to  Finder

    Every religious Reformation has brought before the public some great, pure, and unselfish men; men who loved the truth not only more than lucre, but more than the praise of men, than place, than title, and we doubt not had they been put to the test, more than life itself. Who doubts that the intrepid Luther would have sealed his testimony with his blood, had the sacrifice been demanded, or that Wesley, who again and again serenely looked into the faces of the infuriated throngs that raged and howled around him, would have died as calmly and nobly as Polycarp, if not as triumphantly as he who said, "I am ready to be offered; I have fought the good fight?" There is equally good reason for believing that many who are yet living, and especially the venerated dead who have been prominent in the great religious Reformation of the present century, would not have counted their lives dear to themselves had they lived in an age when violent death was the proof of fidelity. The true martyr spirit has been displayed by many whose blood never was shed, as really as by those who have died at the stake, or whose life current stained the sands of the arena. Long lives of patient toil, amid scoff and scorn, of glorious labor amid privation and neglect; of poverty while



    (pp. 26-35 not reproduced due to copyright restrictions)



    Palmyra in late March 1830, Abner Cole, editor of the Palmyra Reflector, understood that it "corresponded precisely with revelations made to, and predictions made by the elder Smith, a number of years before." 48 Meanwhile Smith was busy organizing the Church of Christ.

    According to Cowdery, one of the final and most important instructions in the Book of Mormon included "the directions given to the Nephites, from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up his church." 49 In June 1829, Smith dictated a revelation instructing him and others to build up the church by following the pattern in the Book of Mormon (D&C 18:3-5, 30). When the "Church of Christ" was organized on 6 April 1830, it followed this pattern. Smith and Cowdery were first ordained apostles (D&C 21:1, 10-11; 20:2-3, 38), then they organized the church and ordained officers to minister to the members. This was also the pattern of church government for which the Seekers had waited (chap. 6).

    In 1966, Catholic scholar Mario S. De Pillis argued that early Mormonism's success in gathering converts could best be explained by its unique authority claims. According to De Pillis, "the origin and whole doctrinal development of Mormonism under the Prophet may be characterized as a pragmatically successful quest for religious authority, a quest that he shared with many other anxious rural Americans of his time, class, and place." He concluded that "historians who do not take this quest seriously enough to examine it do not take Mormonism seriously enough for rigorous historical inquiry." 50

    Early Mormon missionaries claimed to have exclusive authority from God. For instance, the Painesville Telegraph reported on 16 November 1830 that Oliver Cowdery "holds forth that the ordinances of the gospel have not been regularly administered since the days of the apostles till the said Smith and himself commenced the work." This declaration proved attractive, especially to Seekers in the Ohio Reserve.

    In the fall of 1830, remembered early Mormon convert John Corrill, Mormon missionaries from New York came to his neighborhood in Ashtabula, Ohio, and "professed to be special messengers of the Living God, sent to preach the Gospel in its purity, as it was anciently preached by the Apostles." They also said "they had with them a new revelation... translated from certain golden plates that had been deposited in a hill." 51 The missionaries soon moved to Mentor and vicinity to preach to a group of
    48. Palmyra Reflector 2 (14 Feb. 1831): 101.
    49. Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834): 15.
    50. Mario S. De Pillis, "The Quest for Religious Authority and the Rise of Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1 (Spring 1966): 68-88.
    51. John Corrill, Brief History of the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Commonly Called Mormons;) Including an Account of Their Doctrine and Discipline; With the Reasons of the Author for Leaving the Church (St. Louis, 1839), 7.



    former Campbellites headed by Sidney Rigdon. Here the missionaries found a "prepared people" in what would become Mormonism's Sedbergh and eventually its Swarthmore Hall.

    Rigdon 52 had separated from Alexander Campbell over what Campbell described as Rigdon's belief that "supernatural gifts and miracles ought to be restored" along with the primitive gospel. 53 Rigdon believed the restoration of the "ancient order of things" should include such spiritual gifts as tongues, prophecy, visions, dreams, and discernment of spirits. Campbell, on the other hand, declared that such gifts were "confined to the apostolic age, and to only a portion of the saints who lived in that age." 54 Campbell also opposed Rigdon's plan to establish a communal society in Kirtland. Campbell remained uncommitted on the subject of the Millennium, but Rigdon was a strict millenarian who propounded his literalist views throughout the Western Reserve. 55 Because of these and other issues, Rigdon had withdrawn his Mentor congregation from Campbellite fellowship in the spring of 1830, only months before the Mormon missionaries arrived.

    After careful thought, Rigdon finally announced to his congregation his belief that Mormonism was the restored gospel they were seeking. His congregation converted almost en masse to Mormonism. Soon, Rigdon traveled to Fayette, New York, to meet the Mormon prophet. In December 1830, Smith received a revelation for Rigdon. It touched on several points which had prompted Rigdon's separation from Campbellism:
    Listen to the voice of the Lord your God... whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever.... 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, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knewest it not. Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost. But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.... I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.... The poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming, for it is nigh at hand (D&C 35:1, 3-6, 8, 15).
    52. On the life of Sidney Rigdon, see F. Mark McKiernan, The Voice of One Crying in the Wilderness: Sidney Rigdon, Religious Reformer, 1793-1876 ([Independence, MO]: Herald House, 1979).
    53. Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell Embracing A View of the Origin, Progress and Principles of the Religious Reformation Which He Advocated, Robert Richardson ed., 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1868), 2:346.
    54. In Joseph W. White, "The Influence of Sidney Rigdon upon the Theology of Mormonism," M.A. thesis, University of Southern California, 1947, 127. See also Royal Humbert, ed., A Compend of Alexander Campbell's Theology (St. Louis, MO: Bethany Press, 1961), 67-70.
    55. White, "Influence of Sidney Rigdon," 129; Amos S. Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio: With Biographical Sketches of the Principal Agents in Their Religious Movement (Cincinnati, 1876), 186.



    Like Rigdon, other Campbell followers had sought a radical restoration which would include spiritual gifts. Lydia Partridge, a member of Rigdon's congregation, believed in spiritual gifts and converted to Mormonism because, she said, "I saw the gospel in its plainness as it was taught in the New Testament, and I also knew that none of the sects of the day taught those things." 56 Lydia's husband, Edward Partridge, shared her beliefs and had already concluded before the missionaries arrived that there was no true church on earth and that all "were without authority from God." He had further decided that it was "absolutely necessary" for God to "reveal himself to man and confer authority upon some one, or more, before his church could be built up in the last days, or any time after the apostacy." 57

    John Murdock, a Campbellite minister living near Warrensville, Ohio, also concluded prior to the appearance of the Mormon elders that a divine restoration of authority was needed. "If they are out of the way as we believe," he said, "they have lost all authority." There was only one way God's authority could be restored: "The Lord must either send an angel to baptise the first man, or he must give a special command to some one man to baptise another." 58 Murdock was not unlike other Seekers who believed in the restoration of authority but were uncertain about how it would be done. His Seekerism led him to await an outward spiritual manifestation that the Mormon missionaries indeed possessed apostolic authority:

    I said, if it be so, their walk will agree with their profession, and the Holy Ghost will attend their ministration of the ordinances, and the Book of Mormon will contain the same plan of salvation as the Bible.... I did not ask a sign of them by working a miracle... For I did not believe that the spirit would attend their ministration if the Book of Mormon was not true, neither if they were not sent forth of God.

    When he questioned some of their converts, he found that the "manifestation of the spirit attended the ministration of the ordinance of laying on hands." After reading the Book of Mormon, Murdock recalled, "the spirit of the Lord rested on me, witnessing to me the truth of the work." On 5 November 1830, Murdock was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in the Chagrin River:

    And the spirit of the Lord sensibly attended the ministration, and I came out of the water rejoicing and singing praises to God and the Lamb. An impression sensibly rested on my
    56. Extracts from Lydia Partridge's Writings, Family History of Edward Partridge, Jr., 5, in Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Impact of the First Preaching in Ohio," Brigham Young University Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 490.
    57. Edward Partridge Papers, 26 May 1839, LDS church archives, in Milton V. Backman, Jr., "The Quest for a Restoration: The Birth of Mormonism in Ohio," Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Summer 1972): 362-63.
    58. Journal of John Murdock, 9, in Backman, "Quest for a Restoration," 362.



    mind that cannot by me be forgotten.... This was the third time that I had been immersed, but I never before felt the authority of the ordinance. But I felt it this time and felt as though my sins were forgiven. 59

    As a child, Parley P. Pratt, one of Rigdon's converts, had been taught by his father "to venerate our Father in Heaven, Jesus Christ, His prophets and Apostles, as well as the Scriptures written by them." However, Pratt reported that his father "belonged to no religious sect, and was careful to preserve his children free from all prejudice in favor of or against any particular denomination, into which the so-called Christian world was then unhappily divided." At age eighteen Pratt joined the Baptists but felt uneasy about their denial of spiritual gifts. Later, in about 1827, he converted to Campbellism after hearing "the ancient gospel in due form" preached by Rigdon. Although Pratt believed Rigdon preached the true gospel in "form," he was concerned about the lack of spirit and authority:

    But still one great link was wanting to complete the chain of the ancient order of things; and that was, the authority to minister in holy things -- the apostleship, the power which should accompany the form. This thought occurred to me as soon as I heard Mr. Rigdon make proclamation of the gospel.... These Reformers (Campbell and Rigdon) claimed no new commission by revelation, or vision from the Lord, while they had not the least shadow of claim by succession.

    "As none could claim the power, and authority, and gifts of the Holy Ghost -- at least so far as we knew," Pratt joined the Campbellites, "thankful for even the forms of truth." 60 However, when he discovered in 1830 that the Mormon gospel fulfilled his expectations of the restored church, he was baptized. It was Pratt who directed the Mormon missionaries to Rigdon's group in Ohio.

    Given that Seeker seeds had been sown by one as influential as Rigdon, it is not surprising that the preaching of the Mormon missionaries quickly bore fruit. Their success in Ohio profoundly effected the newly organized church. As Mark McKiernan has observed, "Rigdon's conversion and the missionary effort which followed transformed Mormonism from a New York-based sect with about a hundred members into one which was a major threat to Protestantism in the Western Reserve." 61
    59. John Murdock, Autobiography, 12, 15, 16, in Anderson, "Preaching in Ohio," 482-83.
    60. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 19, 26, 31-32.
    61. F. Mark McKiernan, "The Conversion of Sidney Rigdon to Mormonism," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5 (Summer 1970): 77.



    Campbell was losing followers to the Mormon gospel, not because of the similarities but because of the differences. Mormonism attracted those who, as historian Jan Shipps notes, "followed Alexander Campbell into the Disciples of Christ (Campbellite) restoration and, shortly thereafter, found themselves to be the members of just one more Protestant denomination." 62 Campbell found his followers moving toward a more radical kind of restoration that mirrored Seekerism elsewhere.

    The Mormon gospel also attracted others of a similar disposition. Martin Harris said that in 1818 "the Spirit told me to join None of the churches for none had Authority from the Lord.... The Spirit told me that I might just as well plunge myself into the Water as to (let) eny of the Sects Baptise me so I Remained until the church Was organised by Joseph Smith the Prophet." 63 At age fifteen, Joel Hills Johnson "read the Bible with much attention, and joy would spring up in my heart with a testimony that the time would come when I should come in possession of... the faith once delivered to the Saints." 64 Wilford Woodruff would not join any church until his conversion to Mormonism in 1833 "for the reason that I could not find any denomination whose doctrines, faith and practice agreed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the ordinances and gifts which the Apostles taught." 65 William Huntington withdrew from the Presbyterians in 1832 because he believed "they had a form of Godliness but denied the power thereof." He came to this conclusion after he had "searched the scriptures daily and found the faith once delivered to the Saints was not among men." 66 Solomon Chamberlain said that an angel told him "all Churches and Denominations on the earth had become corrupt; and no Church of God (was) on the earth but that he would shortly raise up a Church, that would never be confounded nor brought down and be like unto the Apostolic Church." 67

    Mormon historian Marvin Hill identified many of those in the larger primitive gospel movement who were attracted to Mormonism's radical authority claims. He justifiably argues that "there were too many of the important leaders of early Mormonism who expressed allegiance to primitive gospelism before joining the Saints for it to be a matter of chance, or of no consequence." 68 Indeed, Joseph Smith quickly discovered the truth of the declaration, which appeared repeatedly in his early revelations: "Behold the field is white already to harvest" (D&C 4:4, 11:3, 12:3, 14:3).
    62. Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 85.
    63. Testimony of Martin Harris, 4 Sept. 1870, LDS church archives. See also Ronald W. Walker, "Martin Harris: Mormonism's Early Convert," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 19 (Winter 1986): 33-34.
    64. "Diary of Joel Hills Johnson, 1802-1882," 1:2-3, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
    65. "History of Wilford Woodruff," Millennial Star 27 (March 1865): 167.
    66. "Diaries of William Huntington," 1:2, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
    67. Solomon Chamberlain, "A Short Sketch of the Life of Solomon Chamberlain," Beaver City [Utah], 11 July 1858, in Larry C. Porter, "Solomon Chamberlain -- Early Missionary," Brigham Young University Studies 12 (Spring 1972): 314-18.
    68. Marvin S. Hill, "The Role of Christian Primitivism in the Origin and Development of the Mormon Kingdom, 1830-1844," Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1968, 59-60. Evidence for the primitivistic leanings of some of the early Mormon converts is provided on pages 56-59.



    Because of the similarity between Mormonism and some of the teachings of Alexander Campbell, some writers have suggested that Smith purloined his primitive gospel from the Campbellites via Sidney Rigdon. 69 This assertion suffers on several counts. First, it fails to recognize the differences between Campbell's and Rigdon's views. Second, Joseph Smith was exposed to Primitivism and Seekerism early in life through his parents and others. And third, Gospel Primitivism and Seekerism appeared in the Book of Mormon long before Rigdon came in contact with Mormonism. Thus Hill counters that the similarity between Mormons and Campbellites is because both groups "shared a common background and a common experience within the burgeoning pluralistic society that emerged in early nineteenth century America." 70

    However, Rigdon did influence Mormonism after his baptism in November 1830. The revelation given through Smith in December 1830 defined Rigdon's role as follows: "Behold, it shall be given unto him [Smith] to prophesy; and thou shalt preach my gospel and call on the holy prophets (i.e., scriptures) to prove his words, as they shall be given him" (D&C 35:23). 71 Smith was to receive revelation; Rigdon to interpret, defend, and elaborate on them. Moreover, the influx of Rigdon's followers and other Seekers provided the context within which Smith's definition of restoration would emerge (see chap. 5).
    69. See, for example, William Alexander Linn, The Story of the Mormons: From the Date of the Origin to the Year 1901 (New York and London: MacMillan Co., 1923), 64-65, and George B. Arbaugh, Revelation in Mormonism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932), 9, 12.
    70. Hill, "The Role of Christian Primitivism," 60.

      Entire contents of this book, copyright 1988 by Signature Books.
    Due to copyright law restrictions, only limited "fair use" excerpts are presented.

    [ 159 ]

    S E V E N

    Fulness  of  the  Gospel

    The founding document of the Mormon church, its "Articles and Covenants," declared that the Book of Mormon contained "the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also" (D&C 20:8-9). This fulness, according to the Book of Mormon, consisted of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost (3 Ne. 11:28-41). Mormonism's restoration of charismatic apostolic leadership predisposed the movement towards theological development. The Bible was not necessarily the last word on theological issues. Thus Mormons shared the expectation of an open canon of scripture with Seekers.

    Primitivists advocated a closed canon of scripture. Apostasy for them had occurred because Christians had not followed the Bible. In contrast, Seekers not only had doubts about the condition of the Bible, but their emphasis on charisma caused them to limit the role of scripture. Apostasy, in their view, had occurred in the absence of charismatic authority. The sought-for restoration of the apostleship would insure the restoration of inspired, authoritative utterances that would be as binding as those given by ancient apostles. Hence, for Seekers, the canon of scripture was open.

    Spiritualistic Seekers believed the Bible was a record of the workings of the Spirit and was not to be taken literally. 1 Quakers continued in this tradition by placing spiritual experience above the Bible. 2 Literalistic Seekers believed in the literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy, but they emphasized that the restoration would bring a greater knowledge of the things of God than ever before. Both types of Seekers were accused of being "anti-scriptural" by contemporaries.

    Asa Wild concluded that "if we cannot in these days, as well as anciently, enjoy the unerring guidance and teaching of the divine
    1. William Dell, The Tryall of Spirits Both in Teachers and Hearers (London, 1653), 19; John Saltmarsh, Sparkles of Glory (London, 1647), 270; Thomas Collier, A General Epistle to the Universal Church of the First Born (London, 1648), 38.
    2. See, for example, George Fox, A Journal, ed. Margaret Fox (London, 1694), 89, 102, 203, 264, 359, 397.



    Spirit, then the very essence of religion is lost, or essentially changed; and christians are unavoidably left to wander in the dreary maze of unsatisfied anxiety, and precarious conjecture; not only as to the particular duties to be performed, and truths to be believed; but whether they be christians or not; and consequently, whether they are travelling to heaven or to hell." The true followers of Jesus Christ, according to Wild, advocate "the glorious doctrine of infallible inspiration, or direct communication with God; by which we understand and know the will and truths of God." 3

    Wild himself enjoyed "infallible inspiration" and received a revelation in 1823 about the end of the world, which, according to the title page of his book, was "written and published, by the express and immediate command of God."

    Seeker Erastus Hanchett also proclaimed a gospel of immediate revelation. "It is upwards of eight years," he recalled in 1825, "since I have been called into the school of Christ, under the immediate instructions of his blessed Spirit, without any dependence or instructions from man." Hanchett believed God "is only known, and that his revelation is only known by immediate revelation." 4 His epistle, published in the Wayne Sentinel on 23 February 1825, ended with the statement that it had been "given forth by the immediate revelation of the Spirit of God, through his Servant, ERASTUS HANCHETT. Salem (Massachusetts), the 11th of the 1st mo[nth] 1825; written between the hours of 2 and 5, this morning."

    Similarly, the Book of Mormon warned those in the last days who denied continuing revelation. Nephi writes:

    Wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!... Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost (2 Ne. 28:26, 29-31).
    3. Asa Wild, A Short Sketch of the Religious Experience, and Spiritual Travels of Asa Wild, of Amsterdam, N.Y. Written by himself by Divine Command, and the most infallible Inspiration (Amsterdam, NY: printed for the author by D. Wells, 1824), 55, 56, 83, 81.
    4. Erastus Hanchett, A Serious Call in Christian Love (Boston, [1825]), 19, 9.



    The Book of Mormon explicitly addresses those who believe the canon of scripture is closed. Nephi writes, "Because my words shall hiss forth -- many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible" (2 Ne. 29:3). "Because that I have spoken one word," God states, "ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever. Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written" (vv. 9-10).

    That the restored Church of Christ would proceed on grounds of continuing revelation was established at the outset. When the church was organized on 6 April 1830, Smith dictated a revelation which commanded the church to "give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them,... for his would ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith" (D&C 21:4-5). Another revelation declared that the Lord had "given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed" (28:7). The element of continuing revelation insured a gradual unfolding and canonization of various doctrines.

    Although Seekers and Primitivists disagreed on the source of authority necessary to perform baptism, both believed in the total immersion of adult believers, as did Mormons. The Seekers of sixteenth-century Europe and England had begun to raise questions about traditional forms of baptism. Although they believed they lacked the authority to perform the ordinance, Seekers asserted that baptism should be performed "in the name of Christ" or "of the Lord Jesus." 5

    Roger Williams, although he was rebaptized by the Anabaptists by "dipping," confessed in 1649 that he had confidence "neither in the authority by which it is done, nor in the manner." 6 Williams was apparently evolving towards the doctrine of baptism by immersion.

    Most Primitivists were immersionists. Alexander Campbell, for example, said in 1820 that "immersion in water is a beautiful and striking representation of our faith in the death and burial of Christ; and our emerging out of it, a suitable emblem of his resurrection from the grave, and of our obligations to a new life so that the sprinkling of a few drops of water has no analogy to the things signified in Baptism." 7 Those who left Campbell's movement for Seekerism probably retained their immersionist ideas.
    5. See Samuel Macauley Jackson, et al., eds., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 12 vols. (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1908-12), 10:235.
    6. John Russell Bartlett, ed., "Letters of Roger Williams, 1632-1682," in The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, 7 vols. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963), 6:188.
    7. Royal Humbert, ed., A Compend of Alexander Campbell's Theology (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1961), 198.



    The Book of Mormon also subscribes to this mode of baptism. When Alma baptized Helam, they both "stood forth in the water" and, having said the baptismal prayer, "both Alma and Helam were buried in the water" (Mos. 18:12, 14). So that "there shall be no disputations," Jesus gave explicit instructions concerning the proper mode of baptism: "Ye shall go down and stand in the water, and in my name shall ye baptize them... And then shall ye immerse them in the water, and come forth again out of the water" (3 Ne. 11:23, 26).

    Seekers and Primitivists differed somewhat in how they conceived the function of baptism. 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." 8

    This distinctive doctrine of baptismal regeneration was rejected by Seekers and most others. Seekers were charismatic and emphasized the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

    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).

    After Alvin Smith's death in 1823, the Smith family was forced to worry about his eternal status when a minister implied that he had gone to hell because he was unchurched and probably unbaptized. 9 Joseph Smith, Jr., must have brought the family great comfort when he dictated the words of King Benjamin that Jesus' "blood atoneth for the sins of those... who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned" (Mos. 3:11; 15:24). Seven years later, on 21 January 1836, Smith received a revelation that "all who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of
    8. Alexander Campbell, The Christian System, 6th ed. (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing Co., n.d.), 174. Originally published in 1839.
    9. Lucy (Mack) Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: S. W. Richards), 91; William Smith interview with E. C. Briggs and J. W. Peterson in Deseret News (Salt Lake City), 20 Jan. 1894.



    God." 10 Later, in 1840, when Smith instituted the doctrine of baptism for the dead in Nauvoo, his brother Hyrum was baptized for Alvin. 11

    Both Seekers and Primitivists rejected infant baptism, which the Roman church had long maintained. Their rejection is best understood within the context of the general revolt against Calvinism. Under the Puritan system, children were included in the covenant of their parents, being "born in the covenant." When Puritan infants were baptized, it was not for a remission of sin, though the rhetoric of Puritans who defended infant baptism by referring to the doctrine of "original sin" would have led opponents to think otherwise. 12 Rather, infants were baptized as a "seal" of the covenant of grace into which they were born by virtue of the faith of their parents. "The faith of the parent," John Cotton explained, "doth bring the Children and household of a Christian, even now in the days of the new Testament, under a Covenant of salvation, as well as the faith of Abraham brought his household of old under the same covenant." 13

    In fact, it was argued that the baptism of infants was justified on the grounds that baptism had replaced the circumcision of infants under the old law. 14

    As children they were regarded as members of the church but were not permitted to partake of the communion or assume the duties and privileges of covenant members until they could demonstrate a "saving faith" in their lives. However, because the second generation's spirituality seemed to lag behind that of their parents, the Half-Way Covenant was developed in 1662 to allow the unconverted children of church members to retain their incomplete membership after becoming adults. Thus the "unregenerated" children of covenant members could have their own child baptized if they would publicly declare to "own the covenant" into which they had been born and which had been sealed upon them by baptism.

    Primitivists and Seekers responded to the Puritan system of infant baptism. Alexander Campbell said in 1828 that "the question of infant baptism is now generally discussed all over the land." 15 The Campbellites held infant baptism, no matter the reason, to be nothing but a popish "corruption." 16 Campbell, a former Presbyterian, declared on 5 May 1828: "If baptism be connected with the remission of sins, infants require it not; for they have no sins to be remitted -- at least the Calvinists and Arminians teach
    10. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1964), 2:380-81, hereafter HC; cf. D&C 137:7.
    11. "Nauvoo Baptisms for the Dead," Book A, Church Genealogical Society Archives, in Larry C. Porter, "Alvin Smith: Reminder of the Fairness of God," Ensign, Sept. 1978, 67n7. See also Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story," Ensign, Aug. 1987, 72n76.
    12. See, for example, Jonathan Dickinson, Remarks upon Mr. Gales Reflections on Mr. Walls History of Infant Baptism ([New York], 1721), 41, 56; and Joseph Morgan, The Portsmouth disputation examined, being a brief answer to arguments used by the anti-Paedo-Baptists (New York, 1713), 10.
    13. John Cotton, The Grounds and Ends of the Baptisme of Children of the Faithfull (London, 1647), 48.
    14. See, for example, Dickinson, Remarks, 41, 51-52, 54; and Morgan, Portsmouth disputation, 42ff.
    15. Christian Baptist 5 (7 Jan. 1828): 138.
    16. Christian Baptist 4 (3 Dec. 1827): 109, 116; 3 (3 April 1826): 181.



    this doctrine; for they say that `original sin' is all that is chargeable upon infants." 17

    In 1824, Campbell also wrote: "Can the rite of sprinkling an infant with consecrated water, O! Calvinist! alter the decree of heaven?... Can the neglect of a parent to bring to you their infant offspring, seal the destruction of that infant? Who gave you the right of thus consigning to endless woe unsprinkled infants, and of opening heaven by a few drops of water to those impaled in your fold?" 18 Campbell believed that "all infants dying shall be saved." 19 Seekers in Europe and England also questioned the necessity of baptizing children, 20 as did George Fox and the Quakers, and, in America, Roger Williams. 21

    For Alexander Campbell the Book of Mormon's discussion of "infant baptism" was suspiciously modern. 22 Infant baptism becomes an issue among the Nephites after the coming of Jesus Christ when circumcision is done away. Mormon writes to his son Moroni:

    There have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children. And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you... The word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying: Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance [cf. Matt. 9:13]; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me (Moro. 8:5-8).

    Those opposing infant baptism in Joseph Smith's day were familiar with Mormon's argument. 23

    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 (Gal. 5:22-23).
    17. Christian Baptist 5 (5 May 1828): 231-32. On Campbell's rejection of infant baptism, see William D. Carpe, "Baptismal Theology in the Disciples of Christ," Lexington Theological Quarterly 14 (Oct. 1979): 65-78.
    18. Christian Baptist 1 (5 April 1824): 183.
    19. Christian Baptist 3 (6 Feb. 1826): 141.
    20. See The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 10:235. See also John Wilkinson, "A reproof of some things written by John Morton (Murton), and others of his Company and followers, to prove That Infants are not in the state of Condemnation; And that therefore they are not to be Baptised," published posthumously in William Arthurbury, The Sealed Fountain opened to the Faithfull, and their Seed: or, A short Treatise, shewing, that some Infants are in the state of Grace, and capable of the seals, and others not, Being the chief point, wherein the Separatists doe blame the Anabaptists (London, 1646).
    21. George Fox, A Journal, ed. Margaret Fox (London, 1694), 24; W. Clark Gilpin, The Millenarian Piety of Roger Williams (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 52-54.
    22. Alexander Campbell, "The Mormonites," Millennial Harbinger 2 (Feb. 1831): 93.
    23. See, for example, Dickinson, Remarks, 41, 43, 51-54, who defends infant baptism using arguments of original sin and circumcision, and Morgan, Portsmouth disputation, 10, 42, 47ff., who mentions that the antipedobaptists argued against original sin and baptism replacing circumcision.



    Campbell declared that the miraculous work of the Holy Ghost was "confined to the apostolic age, and to only a portion of the saints who lived in that age." 24

    Much as the Puritans and Anglicans had argued with English Seekers, Campbell asserted that miracles which accompanied the ministry of the apostles confirmed the new religion and proved its divine origin, but that the miraculous preaching of the gospel was for a "limited time" and that time had "expired." 25

    Seekers waited for the gifts of the spirit. They believed in the literal fulfillment of Jesus' words: "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" (Mk. 16:17-18). 26

    If spiritual manifestations were absent, so was the Holy Ghost, according to Seekers. Without the Holy Ghost there was no salvation. The absence of spiritual gifts indicated that the first step of faith had not been completed. Without saving faith, baptism was a dead work. For Seekers, then, the outward spiritual manifestations were indications that the inward work of salvation had been completed.

    Asa Wild argued that only apostate Christianity denied spiritual gifts and that "whosoever denies these gifts to be the common privileges of all christians, `taketh away from the Book of God, and God shall take away his part, out of the Book of life, and out of the Holy City' (Rev. 22:19)." Wild further asserted that "christians may, in these days, possess the `discernment of spirits,' immediate and infallible inspiration, power to `baptise with the Holy Ghost,' &c. &c." 27 Without the workings of the spirit, one could not even be regenerated and cleansed from sin, Wild argued. But through the Spirit, the Christian is "perfectly restored to the image of his heavenly Father." 28

    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." 29 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,
    24. In Joseph W. White, "The Influence of Sidney Rigdon upon the Theology of Mormonism," M.A. thesis, University of Southern California, 1947, 127.
    25. Christian Baptist (reprint; Cincinnati, 1835), 89-91, 95, in Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 16, 395n37.
    26. There is no parallel passage in any of the other gospels, and it is generally held by New Testament scholars that the closing section of the gospel of Mark (16:9-20) was added in the second century.
    27. Wild, Short Sketch, 45, 50.
    28. Ibid.,15-17, 19, 21.
    29. Alexander Campbell, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell Embracing a View of the Origin, Progress, and Principles of the Religious Reformation Which He Advocated, ed. Robert Richardson, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1868), 2:346. See also John Murdock, Autobiography, 16, in Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Impact of the First Preaching in Ohio," Brigham Young University Studies 11 (Summer 1971): 482-83; and Parley P. Pratt, Jr., ed., Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 26, 31-32.



    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).

    In his closing words, Moroni asks: "Have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?" (Moro. 7:27). He then answers his own question. "It is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain. For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also" (Moro. 7:37-38).

    The Book of Mormon also connects the outward manifestation of spiritual gifts with the inward reception of the Holy Ghost. Thus, Nephi promises, "Yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel" (2 Ne. 31:13). As if speaking to latter-day Primitivists, Nephi says, "Ye ponder somewhat in your hearts concerning that which ye should do after ye have entered in by the way (of baptism)... If ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do" (32:2-5).

    When Joseph Smith passed through Cincinnati in June 1831, he spoke briefly with Walter Scott, one of the founders of the Campbellites. "Before the close of our interview," Smith reported, "he (Scott) manifested one of the bitterest spirits against the doctrine of the New Testament (that 'these signs shall follow them that believe,' as recorded in Mark the 16th chapter,) that I ever witnessed among men." 30 At the funeral of King Follett on 7 April 1844, nearly thirteen years later, Smith declared: "(One) must be born of W(ater). & Sp(irit) in order to get into the K(ingdom) of God.... John (the Baptist) says I bap(tize) you with Water but when J(esus) comes who has the power he shall adm(inister) the bap(tism) of F(ire) & the H(oly) G(host).... Alex Campbell --
    30. HC 1:188.



    how are you going to save them with water -- for John s(ai)d. his bap(tis)m. was nothing with(out) the bap(tism) of J(esus) C(hrist)."...

    (remainder of text not reproduced due to copyright restrictions)


    Transcriber's Comments
    Dan Vogel's "Religious Seekers"

    (under construction)

    Return to top of the page

    Sidney Rigdon "Home"   |   Rigdon's History   |   Mormon Classics  |  Bookshelf
    Newspapers  |  History Vault  |  New Spalding Library  |  Old Spalding Library

    last revised Feb. 13, 2006