THE FIFTH THEORY OF ORIGIN OF THE BOOK OF MORMON
They have committed false report;
Moreover, they have spoken untruths;
Secondarily, they are slanders;
Sixthly, and lastly, they have belied...
Thirdly, they have verified unjust things;
And to conclude, they are lying knaves.
The confusion surrounding the question of who wrote the Book of Mormon produced yet more confusion. Several other theories were spawned as critics left no stone unturned to discover an origin for the book that had no divine involvement. What many modern writers fail to recognise is the fact that new theories were invented after the previous ones had been proved to be unfounded. When it was discovered that Smith lacked the ability to write it Rigdon was named its author. A supposed similarity between Spaulding's story and the Nephite scriptures raised hopes that Rigdon could be identified as having stolen the manuscript from a printers shop into which he had never entered. When Rigdon and Spaulding proved to be dead ends other names were thrown into the ring, among them Oliver Cowdery and Parley P Pratt. As each of these alleged conspirators proved to be innocent attention turned back to Joseph Smith. All theories have been abandoned at one time or another except that of a divine origin, which remains the only one not substantially refuted. Scholars have abandoned the Spaulding theory yet Sanders maintains that this hackneyed and discredited story is true. In an outburst of intemperate assumption he alleges that Rigdon
" ... came on the old [Spaulding] manuscript, in which he saw a short-cut to fame. With this as a basis, he compiled The Book of Mormon, and with the help of Parley P. Pratt and Joseph Smith, perpetrated one of the greatest religious hoaxes of the century."
Samuel, in a superficial work which is no more than an accumulation of other writers' work, says that Pratt was a fellow-conspirator but provides no evidence for his allegation. His approach is typical of those who believe that what others have written must be true, which has the flavour of callous indifference towards a theological enemy.
Writers who research carefully have abandoned the Spaulding theory and offer no explanation for the Book of Mormon apart from stating that it is "fiction." No evidence is ever produced. Some still insist that Rigdon was in some way connected with the production of the Book of Mormon although information exists which shows this to be impossible.
Sidney Rigdon was born to William and Nancy Rigdon of Saint Clair, Pennsylvania, in 1793. His great grandfather Thomas Baker Rigdon had emigrated from Britain. Sidney's father was a farmer who lived for some time in Maryland before moving to farm in Pennsylvania where he married Nancy the daughter of Irish immigrants. Sidney followed the agricultural life on his father's farm until 1819. At age twenty-five he attended Regular Baptist Church meetings led by the Reverend David Phillips. He left farming in 1819 in response to a call to the ministry and lodged with the Reverend Andrew Clark, a Regular Baptist. Rigdon became a licensed preacher and broke with farming to devote himself to the ministry. In May 1819 he moved to Trumbell County, Ohio, and took lodging with another minister, Adamson Bentley.
In June 1819 he married Phebe Brook. His ministry among the Regular Baptists continued until he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pittsburgh in February 1822. His predesser's attitude had caused disaffection among the membership causing many to stay away or attend other churches. Rigdon was a tireless worker and an impassioned preacher who was respected for his pastoral care, his energy and his animated style of preaching.
He began to entertain doubts that Baptist doctrine was scripturally founded, a concern aggravated by a belief that the Truth was not to be found in any denomination. His dilemma was this: should he abandon the ministry of the church and risk financial ruin, or should he continue in the ministry to provide for his family, ignoring his conscience? His decision was made not on the balance of possibilities concerning failure or success but on the simple issue of Truth as he understood it. He left his pastorate in August 1824 after serving for two and a half years, honourably making know his intention to his congregation. News of his departure was received with sadness because of their sincere affection for him. Although Rigdon's separation from the Baptist ministry was honourable, attempts are made to blacken his character by claiming that he had been "unfrocked."
Through some fortuitous circumstances [Joseph Smith] was thrown into contact with an unfrocked Baptist minister, Sidney Rigdon.
Around the time of Rigdon' separation from the Baptist society two others withdrew for similar reasons. They were Alexander Campbell and Walter Scott. Campbell was the former editor and publisher of a monthly journal, Christian Baptist. The three men met to discuss religious topics and principles from the Bible. They wished to understand what doctrine Christ had taught, and how Christians should conduct themselves. From this association grew "The Disciples of Christ," commonly called "Campbellites"
Rigdon, no longer a minister, worked as a tanner for two years. He then moved to Bainbridge, Geauga County, Ohio. When it became known he had been a preacher he was persuaded upon to preach. His preaching followed no particular creed, but he avoided credalism as a defective method of obtaining religious truth. He preached and taught principles which in his conversations with Campbell and Scott had been identified as closest to New Testament ideals. These centred around repentance and baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost. He is accurately described as a restorationist, looking for the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies which foretell a restoration of the "old true gospel." Rigdon advised people to abandon their creeds and to return to the Bible as the source of Christian doctrine. He continued preaching for a year, building up a large congregation centred in Mantua, Portage County, Ohio. In this place the new doctrines aroused public interest and excitement. Next he was persuaded to take up the pulpit in Mentor, some thirty miles removed from Bainbridge, where a former Baptist church was available.
But Rigdon had not pleased everyone: those who call for the abolition of traditional creeds ruffle feathers and some did speak ill of him. However Rigdon maintained his composure and faced the storm of hostility. After less than a year the locals had seen enough to know that the calumnies were without foundation. Eventually those who had opposed his appointment as their minister changed their opinions about him. Rich and poor flocked to hear him and he was invited to preach in other towns that had heard of this inspiring preacher who taught new doctrines from old scriptures. It was said that "prejudice after prejudice broke down on every hand; opposition after opposition was broken down, and bigotry was rooted from its strongholds."
Soon the churches were not large enough to contain the crowds that gathered to hear him so meetings were held in the open air. His congregation formed a committee to purchase land and erect a dwelling house, stable and barn for him. His popularity and prosperity were in the ascendant after a period of difficulty and financial insecurity. Under these pleasing circumstances he would have little thought that his attachment to truth would again see his prospects blasted, and his family reduced to a more humble situation than before.
Rigdon came to the attention of the Church during a missionary sweep of Northern Ohio in late 1830. Four missionaries of the recently formed Church of Christ travelled to Missouri where they were prevailed upon by one of their number, Parley P. Pratt, to make a detour and call upon former friends including Rigdon whom they presented with a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he was not disposed to accept on the grounds that he already had one Bible and entertained "considerable doubt" about this new book. The missionaries tried to persuade him of the divine origin of the work, but he declined saying:
No, young gentlemen, you must not argue with me on the subject; but I will read your book, and see what claim it has upon my faith, and will endeavour to ascertain whether it be a revelation from God or not.
However Rigdon did permit Cowdery and Pratt to address his congregation, following which Rigdon charged his flock not to dismiss their doctrines of "extraordinary character" but to give them their serious consideration in case they should be closing their minds to truth. This demonstrates how free Rigdon's mind was from bias toward any particular creed, and his openness to the possibility of discovering Christian principles which had not occurred to him through study.
As to his promise to read the Book of Mormon, Rigdon was as good as his word. Whenever the missionaries called on him he was engaged in reading it, praying for direction, and meditating on the things he had read. A fortnight from the time the book was put into his hands he was convinced of the truth of the work by a revelation from Jesus Christ. With the apostle of old he could cry "flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto me, but my Father which is in heaven."
Convinced that he must leave his ministry he knew the outcome. Two ways lay before him: the path of continuing comfort and enjoyment of hard-won security, or the prospect of further humiliation and poverty, the inevitable result of following his conscience. Rigdon's asked his wife if she was willing to follow him into poverty. Her response provided evidence of her faithfulness and trust in God and confidence in her husband.
I have weighed the matter, I have contemplated on the circumstances in which we may be placed; I have counted the cost, and I am perfectly satisfied to follow you; it is my desire to do the will of God, come life or come death.
The foregoing briefly charts the life, circumstances and location of Sidney Rigdon during the years he was supposed by to be elsewhere. It is fortunate that a complete record of his ministry is available.
For those still addicted to the theory that he was in any way involved in the production of the Book of Mormon, either as author, thief, plagiarist or conspirator in a fraud, historic details are introduced in the next chapter. The records from which the information is extrapolated are in the public domain and available to researchers undeterred from the quest for truth by "time consuming research," [such as Lori MacGregor's MacGregor Ministries, that was closed down by the Canadian Government as a hate group operating contrary to Candian Law].
We are indebted to E.L. Kelley a former resident of Kirtland, Ohio, who verified and arranged them.
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