“President Rigdon:”

1836-06

Messenger and Advocate Barr, Oliver, d. 1853

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Oliver Barr to Sidney Rigdon. Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Kirtland,Ohio) 2, no. 9 (June 1836): 321–25.

PRESIDENT RIGDON:

Dear Sir, As the investigation in which you are now participating, first commenced with my brother Eebnezer, I consider it proper to state to you the origin of this controversy; that you may see the nature and design of the remarks, and hence the better understand them. What gave rise to my remarks on revelation and miracles, was, my brother charged me of “utterly denying that plan of salvation founded on revelation, miracles,” &c. To convince him of his mistake, I affirmed to be a believer in both, and attempted to show him the design of both revelation and miracles. I attempted to show him that we were dependent on revelation for the knowledge of God, and the plan of salvation—that the design of miracles was to confirm revelation—and that the plan of salvation (or gospel) having been fully revealed, confirmed by miracles, and recorded in the New Testament; we were to expect no more revelation, and consequently needed no more miracles.

I have attentively examined your communication, and as I do not wish to multiply words, I have endeavored to mark only the prominent features of difference; and shall now, candidly examine them.

The principal points of difference are, 1. The design of revelation. 2. The design of miracles. 3. In reference to what the gospel is. And 4. Relation to the necessity of revelation and miracles at the present day.

In my letter to my brother I stated, the design of revelation was, first, “to make known the being of God. 2. To make known his will. 3. To make known the consequences of doing, or not doing his will.” To those propositions you make no objections, excepting to the first. To that you say you “must object,” because, “revelations from God were the result of the faith of those who received them.” To sustain which, you quote, “For without faith it is impossible to please him.” [God.] I think, sir, you can but discover that this text is altogether irrelevant, and utterly fails to prove your position. It does not say, “without faith it is impossible to get revelation; but impossible to please him.”

Again you say, “That Adam had the most perfect knowledge of his [God’s] existence.” True, he had, but how did he obtain this knowledge? Did his “standing in the presence of God” give him this information? Or his seeing his face tell him, it was God in whose presence he stood—and whose face he beheld? No! surely you will say no!! He might know indeed that he saw some being— But how could he have faith that that being was his God? There is but one answer to this question, and that is “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Now if hearing comes by the word of God, God must have spoken before Adam heard; and if faith comes by hearing, Adam must have heard before he he had faith, consequently, God must have revealed himself as God to Adam, or he had not believed it. Admit “the apostolic maxim,” “that faith comes by hearing,” and you must admit that revelation was necessary, in order to faith in God.

You seem to admire consistency, come then and look at your own. You say, “it is impossible for one man to be dependant on another for his knowledge of the way of salvation;” and yet you make us dependent on the “tradition of men for the idea or knowledge of God. Why object with so much feeling, to our dependence on the veracity of men for our knowledge of the way of salvation— and yet make us dependent on tradition for our knowledge of the author of salvation? Is not revelation as necessary to make known the author, as the way of salvation?—But to conclude this point, we must reject the “Apostolic maxim,” or admit that faith in the being of God, came by hearing; and hearing by God’s word, or revelation. “For how can we believe on him of whom we have not heard?” Impossible!!

One idea more before we pass. After making mankind dependent on tradition for his ideas of God. You say, “some of them sought unto God by rea- [321] son of the faith they had in the being of God, and obtained the revelation of his will.” My dear sir, I should have thought your good sense would have caused “every feeling of your heart to object” to such an idea. What! a moral Governor of infinite wisdom, goodness and mercy hold his creatures—his subjects accountable, and subject to an awful penalty, for the non-performance of his will; and yet not reveal that will to them—till some of his subjects through “tradition, had got faith in his being”—and by reason of that faith, sought unto him and obtained a revelation of his will! This, sir, involves us in the conclusion, that, had not some men have sought unto the Lord, for to obtain a revelation of his will, that he never would have revealed it!! My views of the moral Governor, sir, are very different from those. Very different indeed, are the views given of him in the bible. That holy book represents Adam as the first man. But it does not leave him ignorant of the divine will, till as a suppliant he inquires what he must do. No! But as is reasonable to suppose he makes himself known unto Adam, (undoubtedly as his God) then fixes for him his residence, and commands him what to do, and makes known the penalty of disobedience.

Noah did not seek unto God for a revelation of his will, but was warned of God to prepare an ark. Abraham was called of God to go out. Nor did Moses seek to God for a revelation of his will concerning Israel; but God appeared unto him, and declared it unto him. This, sir, is as we should expect from a wise and good Governor; and I think, sir, if you were duly to consider this subject, you would acknowledge that the design of revelation was, 1. To make known the being of God, 2. To make known his will, and, 3.

The consequences of doing or not doing it. I think, sir, your good sense will enable you to see, that God must first have declared himself as God, or Adam had not believed it, “for faith comes by hearing”—and that as a wise Governor, he would not leave him destitute of a knowledge of his will; but declare it to him, as the rule of his life.

The next point of difference I shall notice, is, the design of miracles. That Moses, and the prophets, Christ, and the apostles, wrought miracles, is evident; and that these miracles are ascribed to God is evident. But what design had God in the working of those miracles—is now the inquiry.

To point out the purpose for which miracles were wrought, we must suppose the Lord had some important purpose to answer, in thus controlling the laws of nature from their ordinary course. And if we look into the bible, we shall find that the great design was, to attest the divine mission of those whom he authorized to bear his messages to mankind. Then, “to the law and to the testimony,” and let us see if a “greater mistake than this cannot exist in the mind of any man.” Or let us see if it be a mistake at all.

From the force of bible testimony which I shall now adduce, I hope to make the design of miracles manifest, even to the most skeptical. Notice, The design of miracles was expressly declared, at the time they were wrought.

When God sent Moses to the Hebrews, to tell them that God had sent him to deliver them, Moses said, Ex. iv. 1,2,3,4,5, “They will not believe me—for they will say the Lord hath not appeared unto thee.” Now, God told him to “cast his rod upon the ground; and he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent.” And the Lord said unto Moses, put forth thy hand and take it by the tail, (and he put forth his hand and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand,) that they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers hath appeared unto thee.” V. 8. “If they will not believe thee, neither hearken unto the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.” Nothing can be more explicit than this avowal of the design of those miracles. And to convince you that they accomplished their design, read v. 39: “And Aaron spake all the words which the Lord had spoken unto Moses, and did all the signs, and the people believed.” Can you read those explicit declarations, sir, and say, that the design of those miracles was not to confirm the mission of Moses and Aaron? Once more and I have done with Moses. When God appeared unto Israel on Sinai in the fire and cloud, he said unto Moses, “I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee forever.” Ex. 19:9. There the avowed object of this sublime mir- [322] acle is to confirm the mission of Moses. Some of the prophets wrought miracles to confirm their mission; or God wrought miracles by them for that purpose. While we find the avowed object of miracles to be, to confirm the testimony of God’s messengers, and also that the miracles of some of the prophets are recorded, I think we have no just reason to suppose that they did not all work miracles for the same purpose. Elijah was answered in his request, when he prayed that it might not rain—again when he prayed for rain—He continued the oil and the meal of the widow of Zarephath—he raised the widow’s son—he brought down fire on the fifties who came to take him, that it might be known he was a man of God—he brought fire to consume the sacrifice—the wood—the water and the altar, that the people might know that the Lord was God.—Elisha caused the iron to swim—raised the dead child, and cleansed the leper; and from attending circumstances, there is no doubt but the prophets were all in the habit of working miracles.—The captive maid said, she would to God Naman was with the prophet of Israel, for he would heal him. And when Naman came to the king of Israel to be healed, Elisha said, send him to me, “and he shall know there is a prophet in Israel.” Thus plainly intimating that a prophet was known by his miracles.

But in reference to Isaiah and others you seem to be elated with your imaginary triumph, and enquire when the prophecies of Isaiah and others were confirmed by miracles, and then say, “I think sir you would be difficulted to find it, indeed there is no such thing written.” Hold! my good sir, not quite so fast, do not say it is not written that Isaiah wrought a miracle “to give credence” to his testimony, See 2, Kings 20, 9, and Isaiah said, “this sign shalt thou have of the Lord,” “that the Lord will do the thing he hath spoken,” v. 11, and he brought the shadow [of the sun] ten degrees backward.” It is not convenient sir, for me to find language to express my astonishment, that a teacher in Israel” should make statements so opposite to bible truth, as you have made, sir, in this case, and in some others. Indeed I hardly expected to be under the necessity of saying to you, “ye do err not knowing the scriptures.”

I do not pretend that we have positive testimony that each one of the prophets wrought miracles, but we have positive evidence that many did, and circumstantial in favor of all.—Neither have I said that miracles was the only testimony. But I have said and proved, that Moses and some of the prophets wrought miracles, and that to attest their mission.

That Christ and the apostles wrought miracles, I need not prove, because you do not deny; but you deny the design to be, to attest their mission, once more then I must call your attention to the bible, where you will find the Son of God appealing to his miracles to prove the propriety of his claims. He says. “if I do not the works of my father believe me not, but if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works;” again, “believe me for the very works sake.” Once more he vindicates his divine authority by an appeal to the testimony of John, and then to his miracles, “But I have greater witness than that of John, for the works which the father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.” “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this Book, but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.”—Can you say sir in view of all this testimony, and more too, that the design of miracles was not to confirm the mission of God’s messengers?

In reference to the Apostles you make this wonderful remark, “mark then dear sir, particularly, that these signs were not to follow the apostles themselves. Bear with me sir, while I call your attention once more to the bible, which you have the misfortune to differ so much from. Paul appeals again, and again to his miracles as the infallible evidence of his apostleship. To the Romans, he appeals to the “mighty signs and wonders” which Christ wrought by him. To the Corinthians he says, “truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you, what were the signs of an apostle? Paul says “they were signs & wonders and mighty deeds,” the same followed all the apostles. “God also bearing [323] them witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.” But what were the signs which were to follow the apostles? Look at the commission, “these signs shall follow them [apostles] who believe, in my name shall they cast out devils” &c; and this they did, the devils bear witness, saying “Paul we know” &c. I hardly know what to think of you sir, for almost every stap I advance, I find your remarks clashing with the bible.

But I am inclined to think it is because you have not “duly considered the subject.” You say these signs “shall not follow the apostles.” The bible says they shall, and says they did.—You say again, “these signs should follow them who believed the apostles, word, both men & women, no exception. But Paul says “are all workers of miracles?” Paul denies that all had this power of miracles. When speaking of the spiritual gifts, where he says is given by the same spirit, to one the word of wisdom, to another knowledge, to another miracles, thus affirming that all had not this gift, making very particular “exceptions.”

Having thus shown beyond all successful controversy, that Moses and the prophets, Christ and the apostles, all wrought miracles, and that to attest their mission, I shall notice one idea more and then pass to, what is the gospel?

You say, “that there can be no churches of Christ, unless they can prove themselves so by miracles”.— I think then sir, that you are prepared to say, Christ has no church; nor ever had: if to be his church every member, “men and women” “without exception” must work miracles; For surely you “would be difficulted” to find one in the apostles days, every member of which “without exception” wrought miracles. Indeed we have no record of such a Church. I should not deviate from the truth, to say, there is no such church among all the sects of the present day. And you sir, will not be so presuming, I think, as to say you belong with such a church. If you should, I can prove to the contrary by more than 500 witnesses.

The third point of difference I shall notice, is, What the gospel is. That Christ & his apostles preached the gospel, and the whole gospel, we both agree, and that the “world has departed from the gospel,” I shall not deny; but believe it has been made void by the traditions of men,” and is in some measure to this day; not excepting yourself sir.

You say, “this then, is what I contend for, that the gospel as preached by the Savior and his apostles, and as written in the new testament has disappeared”

This question will be determined by ascertaining what the gospel is.

I have asked you, “is that which is now written in the New Testament the gospel.”

You say the gospel is the power of God. Well, what is the power of God? You say it is “God’s scheme of saving men.” What then is God’s scheme of saving men? You say “it is putting men into possession of the power of God.” Now look at it. The gospel is the power! The power is the scheme!! and the scheme is the putting men into possession of the power!!! This is like the boy’s answer to his father, when he asked him, where is the chain, he said the chain is with the plow. Where is the plow? He said, it is with the drag.

Now when the father can find out where the drag is, he can find where the chain is also: So with me, when I can learn the last, I shall know the first.

But sir, leaving your vague and indefinite answer; in revieving your whole communication, I conclude that what you call the gospel is that power by which the sick are healed— miracles wrought &c. And that this power to work miracles—confer the Holy Spirit, speak with tongues &c. has disappeared, I agree with you. But sir, I hope to show you that that power is one thing, and the gospel another.

The gospel then, is the glad tidings of a Savior, and of salvation to all nations.

This is the gospel which was “preached before unto Abraham, saying in thee shall all nations be blessed,” see Gal. iii. 8. This gospel is called “the word of truth” Eph. i.13. “ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” When Christ says, “go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,” he means the same as, “go teach all nations and in teaching (or preaching) the gospel they were to “preach the word,” “the word which God sent by Jesus Christ,” this word is called the New Testament, or gospel, and is written in the Bible. This [324] is the gospel which Paul preached—which “he received by revelation of Jesus Christ,” hence every man that has got a Bible, has got the gospel, and the whole gospel. Hence the gospel has not disappeared.

He then, who preaches that word which is written in the New Testament, preaches the gospel; and I can but say sir, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed unto another gospel,” “which is not another.”

One of two conclusions sir, you must come to. You must say that what is written in the New Testament is not the gospel, or the whole gospel; or you must say that your visions, revelations and prophecies are no part of the gospel. If the whole gospel was revealed by Christ and his apostles— and that gospel is written in the New Testament, then sir, no after revelation can be any part of the gospel; and if you, or I, or an “angel from heaven, preach any other gospel,” than that the primitive saints received, Paul says, “let him be accursed.” If you preach what Christ and the apostles preached, you preach the gospel; but if you preach any thing they did not, you do not preach the gospel, or you preach “another gospel.” And if you preach only what they did, you reveal nothing, you only proclaim what was before revealed.

But perhaps you will wish to plead, that, as the gospel is “power,” that the word is not the gospel; but sir, “where the word of a king is, there is power.” “The word of God is quick and powerful.” “The scriptures are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith.” But “the word did not profit, when not mixed with faith. See 1. Thes. ii. 13. “The word of God which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” Thus you see, “the gospel (or word) is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”

You say “the gospel is only of use to men, when there is somebody to administer it to them.” To this sir, “I must object with every feeling of my heart:” for to all intents it makes us dependent on men for salvation. I pity the world if they are dependent on the caprice of men for their salvation. I think sir, there would be “but few saved.”

This is not the gospel the apostle taught; he said, “it should come to pass that whosoever called on the name of the Lord should be saved.”

I think I have proved to the satisfaction of the candid, that the whole gospel has been revealed, and is now recorded in the New Testament; hence not lost, but in our possession. It follows then, that if we have got the gospel, there is no need of further revelation. We do not want another gospel. If the gospel was in the apostles’ days able to save sinners, it now is. If it was then a sufficient rule of life, it now is. If it was then perfect, it is now. And if the primitive disciples needed no more to make them wise unto salvation; neither do we. Why then dear sir, do we need more revelations?— Surely we do not: then we need not expect it.

As I have abundantly shown that miracles were to attest the mission of God’s messengers—and that their mission has been thus abundantly tested; it follows then, that as we need no more revelations, neither do we need any more miracles: and this is the reason why we do not have them.

Now sir, if you say the gospel is now written in the New Testament, then you must say it has not disappeared But if the gospel has disappeared, then that which is now written is not the gospel—and if not the gospel, what is it?

While I thus plead that we have the gospel, I admit that the sects, (not excepting your own) have departed from its order. You ask, “if the world has departed from the gospel, how is it to be restored but by revelation?” I answer, the gospel does not need to be restored to the world. Let the world return back to the gospel, and its order, and all will be well.

I will now conclude this letter, by requesting you to reflect what further light you can on this subject.

And subscribe myself Yours in Christian kindness,

OLIVER BARR.

PRESIDENT S. RIGDON,

Kirtland.

Conneaut, May 24th, 1836.

P. S. As you have published our correspondence thus far, I shall expect you will publish this also, and entire.

O. B. [325]

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