Sidney Rigdon to Oliver Barr, 15 November 1836. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland, Ohio) 2, no. 5 (February 1836): 258–63.
Elder O. BARR,
DEAR SIR:— A letter written by you to your brother of this place, was put into my hands by him some time since, with a request that I should answer it. A press of business prevented me of doing it until now.
I can say that it is with a degree of pleasure, that I avail myself of the opportunity of forming an acquaintance with a stranger, by investigating an item of our holy religion, believing that there is nothing in this world, which could profit us more, than a fair and candid investigation of the subject of revealed religion: being myself a firm believer in revelation.
Before I proceed to answer your four principal queries, I will notice some things said in the preceding part of your letter. You say, “The design of revelation, was, then, 1st To make known the being of God.” To this I must object, and my reasons for so doing are the following. Revelations from God were at all times the result of the faith of those who received them; for without faith it is impossible to please him.” [God] Now if revelations were the result of the faith of those who received them, this faith could not exist, without the persons  having it, had personally an idea of the being of God.
“For how can they believe on him of whom they have not heard” is an apostolic maxim, founded both in reason and revelation. This being the fact, no revelation could come only through those who previously had the idea of the being of God.
With regard to the idea of the being of God, it has doubtless been a matter of tradition, since the creation of Adam our common parent, who at this creation stood in the presence of his God, and beheld him face to face, and had the most perfect knowledge of his existence; and having this knowledge, he communicated it to his posterity, and thus the idea of the being of God came among men. And this idea being among men, some of them sought unto God by reason of the faith they had in the being of God, and obtained the revelation of his will.
You ask, “How was the revelation made to man? Was it made directly to every individual for whose benefit it was designed, or was it made to individuals, who were chosen and commissioned to instruct the rest of mankind? That it was not made to every individual it needs no argument to prove. It follows then that it was made by individuals chosen and commissioned to instruct the rest of the human family.— On their veracity then we are dependant for our knowledge of the way of salvation.”
If I understand you in these last expressions “That we are dependant on the veracity of some men for our knowledge of the way of salvation” I must object to it with every feeling of my heart. Indeed sir, I consider the assertion a contradiction in terms. It is impossible for one man to be dependant on another for his knowledge of the way of salvation. The first idea that a man has of the way of salvation, he may have, by reason of the credence he gives to the word of others; but his knowledge of the way of salvation depends on something very different from this. Nothing less than a revelation from God directly to ourselves can give us knowledge of the way of salvation; however strong our faith may be in it, still, it is a very different thing to have knowledge of it.
While I am on the subject of revelations, and by way of reply to your observations on that subject,—Let me observe, that though there were men chosen of God through whom he gave revelations to the world, yet it does not follow of necessity, that those for whose use the revelations were given, had no other way of testing their truth, but the veracity of those through whom they came. This would to all intents be staying ourselves on man, and making flesh our arm; which is strictly forbidden in the word of the Lord.
I conceive Sir, that the heavens have always been accessable to the saints of God, and that God who gave revelations would also give testimony to the truth of them by his spirit, to those who sought it in sincerity and truth. So that the saints at no period of the world, were indebted to the veracity of inspired men alone for their firm reliance on revelations.
You ask again, “How can we know that their communication is a revelation from God? Will their bare assertion satisfy us that God speaks by them? I say no. We must have evidence or we cannot believe. But what evidence will satisfy? Nothing short of a miracle can.”
To the idea of our being confined to a miracle, to know that a communication was or is a revelation, I must object; for it would justify the Jews in rejecting the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and others; for we have no account of their ever working a miracle to prove to the Jews that their communications were a revelation from God. The Jews must have found it out some other way, and if they could not have done it, they were justified in rejecting them as imposters, and not sent of God. I think Sir, if you were to consider this subject again, you would find that according to the faith of all believers in the old and new testament, you have espoused an untenable ground, in saying that a miracle is the only way by which we can determine that a communication is a revelation from God; for there are a great many things in the scriptures, that the persons delivering them never confirmed them by a miracle.
The Jews on this principle, were surely justifiable in refusing to acknowledge Jeremiah as a prophet of God, and his communication, as revelation: for he never pretended to confirm them by a miracle; though he was greatly abused by the Jews and insulted, (at  one time cast into a pit, at another incarcerated;) but no miracle was wrought to prove to the Jews that they were persecuting a prophet of the living God, and that he was delivering to them the word of the Lord; and if mankind are justifiable in rejecting every thing as a revelation only what is confirmed by miracles, they were surely justified also.
This is a conclusion Sir which I conclude is at war with both your faith and practice, yet, it is fairly deductible from your premises, and the only one that can be deduced from them. So that your own faith and practice are at war with your assertion contained in your letter.
On the subject of confirming revelations by miracles, you descend to particulars.
You say, “If a person should say that he had a communication from God, and then to convince us that God did speak by him, should say to a dead man, arise! and he should rise up.—Or should command the elements, and they should obey him, the wind should cease to blow, and the waters to flow, these miracles done, would be sufficient evidence that God spoke by him. But these miracles would need to be done publicly, in the presence of friends and foes, that there might be no ground for cavil. And these miracles would need to be continued until the revelation was completed, and no longer.”
All the reply I wish to make to this lengthy quotation is this. Where is it recorded, that the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, Zachariah, Zephaniah, Joel, Haggai, Micha, with a number of others were ever established as you have said a revelation must be confirmed, in order to receive credence. I think Sir, you would be perplexed to find it, indeed there is no such thing written, and yet, you believe these prophecies to be a revelation, and consider the Jews to have been bound by them, at the time they were written, notwithstanding they were unattended with the evidence necessary to give them the character of revelations, if your assertions in the above quotations are correct.
I must confess Sir, believing as you do, I cannot see the consistency of your course. It does seem to me, that in order for you to be consistent with yourself, you must exclude from the canaonical books all those which have not the evidence above required, and if you do this, you will certainly lessen the quantum of our revelation very much.
As to Moses and some of the prophets performing splendid miracles there is no dispute. Neither as to Christ and his apostles: but to use the prophets indiscriminately, it cannot be done in truth; for there are some of them of whose miracles we have no account, neither have we evidence that they wrought any. But the most objectionable part of this assertion is the conclusion which you draw from them, and that is, because Moses and some of the prophets wrought miracles, and Jesus Christ and his apostles did so also, that from these facts you draw the sweeping conclusion, that we are not authorized to receive a communication as a revelation, unless it is confirmed by such miracles as you are pleased to mention. But to pass on to your four queries.
They stand thus. “1. Did not Jesus Christ and his apostles declare the gospel, and the whole gospel to the world? 2. And did they not receive it by revelation from God? 3. Will not the miracles they wrought expressly to convince the world that they were divinely authorized teachers, and that what they taught was from God?—4. And were not the miracles which they wrought abundantly sufficient to confirm the fact that God spoke by them?” On these four principle queries you ask the following questions. —1. “If they delivered the whole gospel, What more is there to be revealed?―Or what reasons have we to expect more revelations? 2. And if no new revelation is to be made, Why should miracles be continued?”
In order to reply to these queries, I will in the first place correct a singular mistake, which runs through your whole letter upon the subject of miracles. You seem to think that the object of miracles was to confirm revelation, at least take this thought away from your letter and what you have said would be without meaning. Now a greater mistake than this, could not exist in the mind of man. You talk about Moses and the prophets, Jesus and the apostles working miracles, to confirm the scriptures as though there were no other characters in the world  who had wrought miracles but them.
I should think from your writings that you had never duly considered the commission given to the twelve apostles. Which reads thus. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe, not the apostles, but those that believed on their word. They were to lay hands on the sick. They were to take up serpents. If they were to drink any deadly thing it should not hurt them. Mark then dear Sir particularly, that the signs were not to follow the apostles themselves; but those who should believe on their word: there is no exception, here both men and women were alike included.—These signs shall follow them that believe, making no exceptions.
Now if Jesus and the apostles wrought miracles to prove that they were Messengers sent of God, and that God spoke by them; for what purpose do you think those wrought miracles, who believed on their word? was it to prove to themselves that the apostles were men of God? Not so most assuredly, but something else, and what was that something? Why to prove to the world, that they were the churches of Jesus Christ.
Now Sir as you argue that there can be no apostles and revelators unless they can prove their mission to be divine by miracles, so, upon the same principle I argue that there can be no Church of Christ unless they can prove themselves to be so by miracles; and the very same evidence which is brought to prove one of these things will prove the other.
And there is no reasonable man, who is conscienciously convinced that there can be no apostles unless they can prove their mission by miracles, but must also be convinced that there are no Churches of Christ unless they prove it by miracles also. For argue that the ancient apostles did so, and the argument is equally as strong that the ancient churches did so also, and the rule will quadrate: it will meet at every corner.
I have been no little surprised to to hear men contending with all the zeal of their nature to guard the world against receiving any man as a messenger of heaven unless he can prove his mission by miracles; and yet call any thing and every thing the church of Christ, miracles or no miracles.—There is nothing in the world more pleasing than consistency (I mean to the candid mind) and no man can be consistent with himself, who says that he is forbidden to receive any man as an apostle unless he can work miracles, and yet say that he is authorized to acknowledge a society as the church of Christ, without that society having the gifts which were in the ancient churches.
After saying so much upon the subject of miracles, I shall return to your queries.
Having seen then, that the power of miracles as it existed among the former day saints was of such a nature as to put it as much out of our power to claim the right of being churches of Christ as for us to claim apostleship, your queries will be very easily answered.
Let it be observed then, that there is no dispute, as to the apostles having fully preached the gospel, and of their having proved themselves to be messengers sent of God; but the point of difference, if any, is this, that the whole religious world have departed from the gospel as preached by Christ and his apostles; and what the world now preaches is not the gospel, which was preached by the Savior and his apostles; and that the whole religious world without excepting one sect, is in danger of the curse which Paul pronounced on the head of those who preach another gospel, as there is not one single sect of all the sects who preach the gospel that Paul preached, and the Galatians received, and as you said, so say I, “I awfully fear for those false Prophets and false teachers, who are publishing to the worth for gospel what Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles never taught, may God pity them and save them from the delusion.”
I wish you to understand distinctly that I believe as much as you can believe, that Christ and his apostles preached the gospel, and the whole gospel; but I also believe that it was a very different thing from what is now preached for gospel in the world. Let me invite your attention to some of the differences between the gospel of Christ and what is now proclaimed  in the world.
The first difference that I shall mention is that of the priesthood. That gospel had a priesthood attached to it, which had the power of getting revelations, and obtaining visions, as well as the ministering of angels. They had power to administer in the name of the Lord Jesus to the sick, and in his name to rebuke diseases of all kinds; they had also power to give the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands; they obtained revelations, not only for their own direction in the world, but for that of the churches also that they raised up. So that they were truly ministers of Christ sent forth to minister in his name to all who would believe, and by means of this ministry, and power, they could built up the kingdom of Christ among men, and establish his cause in the world. The gospel that men preach in these days have no such ministry or priesthood: the priesthood of modern times has no such power or authority. No revelations; no ministring of angels; no heavenly visions; no ministering of the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands; and yet claim to be the ministers of Christ acting under the same commission, and the same authority as they did. Surely the disparity is too great not to be seen by the least discerning. Will you be so kind as to show me how this great difference can exist, and yet the two priesthoods be the same priesthood, acting under the same commission, and the priesthood of the same gospel? For take the priesthood away by which the gospel was administered, and of what avail is the gospel? the answer is, it is of none; for the gospel is only of use to men, when there is somebody to administer it to them.
The second grand difference is the different effects which are produced by the two. The gospel preached by the Savior and his apostles produced the most marvelous effects, the persons who were administered to by the priesthood of that gospel, found themselves in possession of something very different from the rest of mankind. They too could lay hands on the sick and they would recover, they could take up serpents and they could not hurt them, they could drink any deadly thing and yet be unhurt. They also had the power of getting revelations, of seeing visions, of prophesying of enjoying the ministering of angels as well as many other marvelous things, which are no where found among those who embrace the gospel of Modern times, but enjoyed by all those who received the gospel administered by the apostles.
Now Sir, I should be glad to know how it is that the same gospel can be preached by the same authority, and the effects be in every respect different? The gospels which are now preached possess not one single characteristic which distinguished the gospel preached by the Savior and his apostles. Neither is there the least resemblance between the effects of the two. One was attended by power, and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The other is unattended by power, or by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Both those who preach them, and those who receive them, reason as you have done in your letter, to prove that both the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit which always attended the gospel, are done away; but still contend for the same gospel they say, and for the same commission, and yet declare that the effects of both have ceased. This surely is marvelous, a great deal more so, than that there should be revelations in the last days.
If I should ask by what power did the former day saints heal the sick, cast out devils, raise the dead, take up serpents, drink deadly things and yet not be hurt, work miracles, speak with tongues, interpret tongues, prophesy, dream dreams, see visions, &c.
&c.—The answer would be, that it was by the power of the gospel by which they did such things, as administered by the Savior and his apostles. And this is what is proposed in the gospel as proclaimed by the former day saints, and if those who received it did not enjoy these blessings, they did not receive the blessings proposed to them in the gospel.
This then, is what I contend for; that the gospel as proclaimed by the Savior and his apostles, and as written in the new testament has disappeared with the ministry thereof; and this is the reason why revelation has ceased, and the power of the Holy Spirit known no more. If the gospel of the new testament was proclaimed, all the effects of it would follow those  who received it,—So that the same order of things would be on the earth now, as was then.
You ask “If they revealed the whole gospel, what reason have we to expect any more revelation.”
Let me ask a question in connection with this If the world has departed from the gospel revealed by the Savior and his apostles so as to lose both its ministry and its effects? How will the God of heaven restore it to them again, but by revealing unto them that they are wrong, and showing to them and that by revelation too wherein they are wrong, that they may repent and turn to him and obtain forgiveness:—Or can you show me when it was, that a generation of people had apostatized from the truth, and ever turned back to it again without revelation being given unto them?
When you answer these questions I will answer yours.
Now Sir, having noticed every thing in your letter which I consider of importance I submit it to your inspection, desiring that you would reply as fully as the case requires, hoping that this communication will be received in as good feelings as it was written.
In consideration of high respect, I subscribe myself your friend and well wisher, SIDNEY RIGDON.