Spencer, Orson. “Letter of Orson Spencer.” Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, Illinois) 4,no. 4 (2 January 1843): 49–59.
Nauvoo, November 17, 1842.
MY DEAR SIR:—
I received yours of the 21st ultimo about a week since, but many engagements have prevented a more early reply. Your enquiries were very interesting and important, and I only regret that I have not more time and room to answer them as their importance and minuteness demand. I am not at all surprised that my old friends should wonder at my change of views. Even to this day it is marvellous in my own eyes how I should be separated from my brethren to this (Mormon) faith. I greatly desire to see my Baptist brethren face to face, that I may tell them all things pertaining to my views and this work. But at present the care of my wife and six children with the labors of a civil office forbids this privilege. A sheet of paper is a poor conductor of a marvellous and controverted system of theology. But receive this sheet as containing only some broken hints upon which I hope to am-  plify in some better manner hereafter. You have expressed confidence in my former conscientious regard for the will of God. I thank you for this, because the virtues of many good men have been disallowed upon some supposed forfeiture of public esteem. I thank God that you and many of the churches where I once labored, are more liberal.
You, more than common men, know that it is in accordance with all past history, that men’s true characters suffer imprisonment, scourging, and death, as soon as they become innovators or seceders from long established and venerated systems. Many have suffered martyrdom for literary, and also religious improvements, to whom after ages have done better justice. “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted, and slain them which told before of the coming of the just One?”—It was the misfortune of many of the former prophets that they were raised up at a period of the world when, apostacy and corruption rendered their efforts indispensable: although such efforts proved unacceptable to those who were in fault. Ancient prophets, you know, did not merely reiterate what their predecessors had taught, but often spoke hidden wisdom, even things that had been kept secret for many generations; because the spirit by which they were moved had knowledge of all truth, and could disclose and reveal as it seemed wisdom in God. The spirits that were disobedient while once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, doubtless despised the prophet that taught a universal deluge.
But Noah had a special revelation of a deluge, although the religious people of his day counted him an enthusiast. The revelation given to Moses to gather an opprest people to a particular place, was equally one side of and out of the usual course of former revelations.—John came to the literal followers of Abraham and Moses; but he escaped not persecution and death, because he breathed an uncharitable and exclusive spirit towards the existing sects of the day; still he was a revelator and seer approved of God.
And is it a thing incredible with you brother, that before the great Sabbatic era, world’s rest or millennium, God should raise up a prophet to prepare the people for that event, and the second coming of Jesus Christ? Would it be disagreeable to those who love the unity of Saints, or improbable or unscriptural to expect such a prophet to be possessed with the key of knowledge or endowed like Peter with the stone of revelation. If the many hundred religious sects of this age should hereafter harmonize into one faith and brotherhood without the aid of special revelations, it would constitute an unparalleled phenomenon. Should they become a bride fit to receive Jesus Christ at his coming, it could not be according to Paul’s gospel. For six thousand years, apostles and prophets have constituted an essential part of the spiritual edifice in which God dwells.—Paul says it is by them the church is perfected and brought to unity of faith.
I know that you and I have been taught from our childhood, that the church can be perfected without prophets: but where I ask is the first scripture to support this view.
As you kindly say, I have always been accustomed to offer a reason for my faith.
But be assured I was confounded and made dumb when asked why I taught another gospel than what Paul did; why I taught that revelation was ended when Paul did not; or why I taught that prophets were not needed when no inspired teacher ever taught such a doctrine.—Error may become venerable by age, and respectable for the number of its votaries, but neither age nor popularity can ever make it truth. You give me credit for a conscientious regard for the will of God. It was this that gave me the victory where many others I fear are vanquished. The spirit of God wrought mightily in me commending the ancient gospel to my conscience. I contemplated it with peaceful serenity and joy in believing. Visions and dreams began to illuminate occasionally my slumbering moments.
But when I allowed my selfish propensities to speak, I cursed Mormonism in my heart, and regretted being in possession of as much light and knowledge as had flowed into my mind from that source.—When I preached or conversed according to my best convictions peace reigned in my heart, and truth enlarged my understanding: conviction and reverence for the truth at such times seemed to reign in the hearts of those that heard me; at times however, some were ready to gnash their teeth, for the truth that they would not receive and could not resist.
I counted the cost to myself and family of embracing such views, until I could read it like the child his alphabet, either upward or downward. The expense I viewed through unavoidable tears both in public and private, by night and by day: I said however, the Lord He is God, I can, I will embrace the truth.
When I considered the weakness of the human mind and its liability to be deceived, I re-examined and held converse with the most able opposers to Mormonism, in a meek and teachable spirit. But the ease with which many wear-  ing a high profession of piety, turned aside the force of palpable truth, or leaned on tradition for inextricable difficulties, that they could not solve into harmony with their professions, was very far from dissuading me from my new views. What could I do? Truth had taken possession of my mind; plain, simple, bible truth. It might be asked if I could not expel it from my door: yes I could do it; but how would that harmonize with a sincere profession to preach and practise the truth by way of example for others? It was a crisis I never shall, I never can forget. I remember it as an exodus from parents, kindred, denomination and temporal support. Has any one ever passed such a crisis, they will say at least, be careful of Br. Spencer’s character and feelings.
Little as I supposed that I cared about popularity, competence, or the fellowship of those who were sincerely in error; when I came to be stretched upon the altar of sacrifice, and the unsheathed blade that was to exscind from all these hung over me with perpendicular exactness. Then, then, brother I cried unto the Lord to strengthen me to pass through the scene with his approbation.
While I was enquiring, to know what the Lord would have me to do, many brethren of different denominations warned and exhorted me faithfully: but their warnings consisted very much in a lively exhibition of evils to be endured if I persisted, or in other words, they appealed to my selfish nature; but I knew too well that truth should not be abandoned through the force of such appeals, however eloquently urged.
Some with whom I conversed, gave glowing descriptions of the obnoxious character of Joseph Smith, and of the contradictory and unscriptural jargon of the Book of Mormon, but it was their misfortune usually, to be deplorably ignorant of the true characters of either.
Of the truth of this statement many instances might be furnished, if the limits of my sheet would allow. My own solicitude to know the character of Mr. Smith in order to judge of the doctrines propagated by him, was not so great as that of some others. My aversion to the worship of man is both educational and religious: but I said boldly concerning Mr. Smith, that whoever had arranged and harmonized such a system of irresistible trnth has borne good fruit. Some suggested that it would be wisdom to make a personal acquaintance with Mr. Smith previous to embracing his doctrines; but to me the obligation to receive the truths of heaven seemed absolute, whatever might be the character of Mr. Smith.
I read diligently the Book of Mormon from beginning to end, in close connection with the comments of Origen Bachelor, Laroy Sunderland, and Dr. Hurlburt, together with newspapers and some private letters obtained from the surviving friends of Mr. Spaulding, the supposed author of that Book. I arose from its perusal with a strong conviction on my mind that its pages were graced with the pen of inspiration. I was surprised that so little fault could be found with a book of such magnitude, treating as it did of such diversified subjects, through a period of so many generations. It appeared to me that no enemy to truth or godliness would ever take the least interest in publishing the contents of such a book; such appeared to me to be its godly bearing, sound morality and harmony with ancient scriptures, that the enemy of all righteousness might as well proclaim the dissolution of his own kingdom, as to spread the contents of such a volume among men: and from that time to this, every effort made by its enemies to demolish, has only shown how invincible a fortress defends it. If no greater breach can be made upon it than has hitherto been made by those who have attacked it with the greatest animosity and diligence, its overthrow may be considered a forlorn hope. On this subject I only ask the friends of pure religion to read the Book of Mormon with the same unprejudiced, prayerful and teachable spirit that they would recommend unbelievers in the ancient scriptures to read those sacred records. I have not spoken of the external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is now worthy of much consideration; but the internal evidence I think will satisfy every honest mind.
As you enquire after the reason that operated to change my mind to the present faith, I only remark that Stevens’ Travels had some influence, as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon.
My present view after which you also enquire is that, the evidence both internal and external have been multiplied—it may have caused surprise and wonder to many of my respected and distinguished friends in New England, how I could ever renounce a respectable standing in the churches and in the ministry to adhere to a people so odious in every one’s mouth and so revolting to every one’s natural liking. The answer in part is this: As soon as I discovered an identity in the doctrines of the Latter-Day Saints and the Ancient Saints, I enquired whether the treatment bestowed upon each was also similar: I immediately began to dig deep to find the foundation and corner stone of the true church, I looked narrowly at  the demeanor and character of those who surrounded the Ancient Saints. The result of my observation seemed to be that even Jesus Christ had many objectionable points of character to those who observed him: those who were reputedly most conversant with Abraham, Moses, and other prophets of the Lord, pronounce him unfit for the respect and confidence of a pious community: and why did such men find so many objectionable points in the character and conduct of Jesus Christ?
For substantially the same reasons that men of high intelligence and devotion find fault with Joseph Smith and his doctrines. Those who bore down with heavy opposition to Jesus Christ were honorable men, whose genealogy took in the worthiest ancestry: they were the orthodox expositors of revealed truth. Those who now oppose Joseph Smith, (a person ordained and sent forth by Jesus Christ,) occupy the same high and respectable standing, and manifest a similar bearing towards the reputed impostor of the present day.
The ancient worthies were the repositories of learning, and so are the modern worthies.
The ancients taught many things according to truth and godliness, and verily believed they were substantially right in faith and practice; this is also true of modern religious teachers.
But in reply to my own question, why the ancient religionists opposed Jesus Christ, I answer, in the first place they mistook his true character and conduct. In the second place, they were palpably ignorant of the wisdom and godliness of many things in the character and conduct of Jesus Christ: they considered that there was absolutely a wide difference in the views and conduct of Jesus Christ and themselves. The same is true of many distinguished opposers to Mr. Smith: they consider that there is an irreconcileable difference between themselves and Mr. Smith; and Mr. Smith of course is in the wrong, and they are in the right. Now let us consider first, wherein the ancients mistook the character of Jesus Christ, and modern opposers to Mr. Smith do the same of him. The true character of Jesus Christ was very imperfectly known to those who opposed him in his own time. Many impostors that had preceded, had guarded the public mind against a repetition of further abnse. He was eyed with dark suspicion wherever he went; it may well be supposed that sage precaution against him was vehemently urged, lest through his great subtelty he might mislead even some that were respectable.
And what could he do to disabuse the public mind—prejudice and calumny outrun and prepared a thorny reception for him in all places; and so thick and dark was the fog and cloud of misapprehension and falsehood that followed him, that dark suspicions and foul inferences would obtrude upon the minds even of the honest to weaken their convictions in his behalf, and shake their conclusions: the tale of calumny never lost in sharpness and effect by time nor distance. Those who had not the privilege of a personal acquaintance with Jesus, might be supposed to have no interest in favoring a personage, whose pretensions if countenanced would disturb their quietude, and impugn their motives, and threaten the prosperity of a system that they supposed as old as the days of Abraham, and teachings as orthodox as the sayings of Moses. But whatever was said or done by Jesus that could possibly be construed by prejudiced minds to his disadvantage, these things were heeded with readiness and published in the social circle and riveted by the butt of ridicule upon every mind; and those who loved a laugh at the expense of the innocent, could furnish stock for the purpose by retailing tales about the supposed impostor, that had their origin in misapprehension and falsehood. But they were well received and cheered by those who affected grave reverence for the Supreme Deity, while they could trample with scorn (unconsciously) upon the brightness of his glory in the person of his Son.
Now let me ask if the character and conduct of Mr. Smith, is not equally misunderstood by modern religionists—Mr. Smith only claims to be a prophet raised up to usher in the last dispensation: while Jesus Christ was more obnoxious in proportion to the superior magnitude of his claims as the Son of God. How difficult it is for persons in the present age, to form a correct estimate of the true character and views of Mr. Smith.
The public mind is always forestalled concerning him. It is taken to be sound orthodoxy that there is no more need of prophets or revelations; the canon of scripture is full: consequently the man that will claim to be a prophet or revelator and seer, must be a base impostor and knave. With this educational prejudice sanctioned by the best men for a thousand years past, and riveted by solemn vows to abide in orthodoxy, they see as though they saw not, and hear as though they heard not. If excellent things are taught by Mr. Smith, it is considered by prejudiced minds as a good bait employed to cover a well-barbed hook; by many he is considered more detestable and dangerous, because say they, if he did not mix so much good with his system he would not be so dangerous and so likely to deceive. Again, can the people of this  country obtain a correct knowledge of the prophet through the religious prints. I apprehend they never will. Those who control the religious prints conceive they know in the premises, that God has not raised up such a prophet; therefore they will not tarnish the columns of their periodicals by publishing any thing favorable to him. While they feel bound to withhold whatever might commend the prophet, to the favorable regards of impartial men, they feel solemnly constrained to advertise the public of all rising heresies. Thus, while our supposed heresies are published from very questionable data, our real virtues are buried in oblivion—We do not murmur: if Jesus the master could not be known in his true character: but said with mingled pity and forgiveness, they know not what they do; we cannot expect better treatment from those who know but little of us while they say much to disadvantage. Paul did the ancient Saints much harm, and wasted them greatly; being ignorant of their true character, and unbelieving as to their doctrines. It is certain that Latter Day Saints have received much harm from those who are ignorant of their character, and unbelieving as their doctrines. Religious Editors generally know very little of us except what they have learnt from our enemies. Jesus Christ was entirely stripped of his reputation by his enemies, and was put to death by learned yet ignorant zealots who were too self-wise to be taught by one whom they knew to be an impostor in the start; but those men were mistaken in the character of our Lord; and so are our enemies mistaken in the character and views of the modern prophet. My own personal observation teaches that it is a very difficult matter to instill into the minds of Sectarian Churches a true knowledge of the faith and practice of Latter Day Saints. Though one should go among them that was once highly esteemed by them, they are alarmed at his approach; and his virtues are concerned to render him more deserving of a repulse. His influence say they may be formidable, we must not bid him God speed; consequently he is not asked to pray in the family, or public meeting. If he can by great effort get an opportunity to preach, it not thought advisable for any body to go to hear him, lest they should be led away by his errors. Thus, you see Br., how difficult in former and latter days to bring the true faith to the knowledge of men through prejudice. They have prejudged a matter of which they are almost entirely ignorant. This same notion of treating new matters has veiled the Sun in darkness and hung the Prince of Life in agonies. How long shall this treatment of the Saints be persisted in? How long shall prophets be persecuted and slain without being fully known, and the servants of God be excluded from an impartial hearing, when they seek to publish good tidings, even salvation to the inhabitants of the earth? Now let me ask my former friends in the Eastern Churches, with whom I once held sweet intercourse, how it is possible for the latter day Saints to introduce their views among the sectarian churches and the world, with any more favorable reception than the ancient Saints had in introducing theirs. Prejudice and persecution faced them down always, and so it is in these days. It is certainly a mistaken idea to suppose that people are much better now than they were anciently when the true gospel was misunderstood and its promoters sincerely accounted disturbers and heretics worthy of exemplary punishment, But say the wise and great men among the Sectarian Churches, “we do understand the true gospel, and have already embraced it; and it is only error and heresy that we oppose, and the weight of our contempt and ridicule is hurled at impostors and knaves who palm off gross deceptions upon the public and lead captive ignorant zealots by pretended revelations and spurious miracles. But do they not know that substantially the same charge was brought against Jesus Christ and the primitive disciples. But let it be proved that we are what our enemies call us; let us file our respective pleas and come to a speedy and impartial trial; to this our opposers will not consent; they intend to employ all the advantage of education and prejudice to exclude us from a hearing, so did the opposers of the ancient Saints. But I solemnly ask whether it has ever been necessary in any moral enterprize, for those who have the truth on their side, especially gospel truth, to defend that truth by foreclosing discussion, and shunning public investigation; and then carry on their depredations by the use of such small arms as ridicules and preconceived objections that need only to be brought to the light, to be dissipated like fog in the meridian Sun.
Do Temperance Lecturers, Bible and Education Agents and other moral reformers find it necessary to carry on their enterprizes by such means? Do they seek to avoid an open and frank discussion with the intemperate portions of community? Do they avoid a manly investigation because the intemperate portions of community combine in their life and conduct beastly sottishness, unprovoked abuse to wives and children a prodigal waste of competence, and ample fortunes, and the overthrow of intellect, and the dissolution of all moral ties? No, by no means! They seek the broad day light  of public discussion, because they know the truth and power of that side of the cause which they have espoused. They know that intemperance cannot survive the impartial observation of good men. All we ask is that the word of God may have free course. We wish that it may come distinctly to the knowledge of men that they may sit in impartial judgment upon it. By word of God we mean not only what was revealed for the ancients specially, but also what is now revealed for this generation. Oh, says the objector, he wants to have the word of Jo Smith have a free circulation, and this we oppose, because it is blasphemous and preposterous. Yes, we want the word of God by Joseph Smith, to be known and read of all men, because it is written not with ink, but the spirit of the living God. What were Peter, Elijah, or Moses, but earthen vessels by whom God communicated his own knowledge, and power, and glory. Does not the word by Joseph commend itself to every man’s conscience where it is heard with due candor. I have never seen that person who had read the Book of Mormon and the Book of doctrine and Covenants entirely through, with an earnest desire to know whether it was of God or not, who could raise any worthy objection against them, A few isolated portions of these Books are often selected out and made to speak some other besides their true meaning, and thereby a dislike for these books is created, consequently some refuse to read them at all, while some others read only to confirm their preposessions and prejudices. And superficial enquirers hear with credulity that such a minister, Editor or, Professor of some College, has published an expose or refutation of Mormonism that will inflict a fatal wound upon this glaring and blasphemous heresy.—Now it is well known that the novelties of this age are so many and various, that no man has time to examine into them all; and many consider that a hint from a pious Editor or distinguished Reviewer against, Mormonism is sufficient apology for them not to examine it. Now, under these considerations it is easy to divine that the doctrines of Latter-day Saints must travel through obstacles and difficulties of the greatest magnitude. And I am ready dear Br., to mourn over the prospect, because many bad men, and some good men will fight against the faith not knowing what they do. My bosom heaves with the deeper concern, because I know this to be the true gospel, and that it will prevail, even though the foe should be so great and powerful as the Lords enemies were in the days of Noah. Pardon my assurance when I say that those beautiful systems called benevolent operations, must come to nought; not because they are not honestly designed for some good effect, but because they are a mixture of human device with the wisdom of God or the gospel perverted. I know too, that these beatiful systems, together with the various orders of sectarianism cannot well be vanquished without a desperate struggle ensues. Sectarianism is old and venerable, and having undergone many costly repairs without much substantial improvement; it can never be demolished without violent resistance. There is an air of sacredness around it that will stimulate its votaries insensibly. And when they are assailled by the strong hand of eternal bible truth, rather than to see their fortress taken by the illiterate followers of the despised prophet, will summon to their aid the worst passions and push matters to the greatest extremities.
These remarks are amply supported by the history of the past, both in respect to former and Latter Day Saints. See the ancient Jew of our Lord’s day—his piety was scrupulously exact. He knew the worth of his religion by the pains and expense it had cost him Every thing had with great trouble been fashioned into a system of sacredness. They had been striving hard for a beautiful system of perfection that would commend them to God, and mourned that any of Abraham’s children should teach that there was no resurection &c. and not harmonize with them in bearing heavy burdens in order to save men’s souls; and when an obscure personage sprung up, and broke over their rules of piety, and mingled with the profane without ceremonious washing, and was seen to drink wine probably, and eat with the boisterous and odious classes of society, without pretending to wash away the contagion that accrued, and to travel on the sabbath day, and to pluck ears of corn without any signs of confession, and to heap harsh soundings and heavy anathemas upon the most intelligent and devoted men of the age, and claim to be a prophet, while he ignorantly conversed with an adulterous woman:—All this; the scrupulous Jew could not and would not bear; And his anger was heightened to madness when he found that many adhered to the new Teacher, and occasionally a person of wealth and standing was won over to the imposter by his artifice and juglery. And as the influence of this odious personage spread especially among the common people who had not sufficient sagacity to detect his fraudulent tricks; and as the orthodoxy and piety of the children of Abraham and Moses began to be suspected and even preached in synagogues that were too holy for such pollution, the devoted children of Abraham became exasperated; if we  let him alone say they, all men will believe on him; fearful to use the rod and power by reason of the Romans to the utmost rigor; they at first sought to render him obnoxious to Cæsar; but as measures successively failed, they thirsted for his blood until their pious malice was glutted in his expiring agonies. Then thought they, every body may know that his miracles are all a humbug because he could not save himself. Now brother, I ask you to stop and make a full pause by way of reflection. How do devoted sectarians entertain the Latter Day Saints? Not surely by a candid exposure of our errors coupled with a patient effort to reclaim us. By no means. Said a highly respectable Deaconess: “Br. Spencer, I would rather have heard that you were dead.” She knew in the general that I had embraced Mormonism. But of the true character of mormonism she was grossly ignorant; and she was actually driven into fits when she found I defended the doctrines of Latter Day Saints. Look at the conduct of devoted sectarians towards the Latter Day Saints, and mark the resemblance to that of ancient Jews to former Saints. The same proscriptive spirits reigns now as then. The same spirit that dictated expulsion from the sysnagogue then, now closes the doors of meeting houses against us. The same spirit that closed men’s ears against the burning eloquence of Stephen then, counsels men not to hear or go nigh Mormon preachers now.
You ask if the Latter Day Saints are persecuted; if so, by whom are they persecuted? The answer is a painful one; because it inculpates those who were bound by many tender ties. As a people we have been truly persecuted from the beginning. From the moment we embrace this doctrine, in most cases we are virtually banished from friends, and rank, and station, and business. Says the venerated father, “if you have embraced that doctrine my son, I never want to see your face any more.” Says the partner in trade, if you are a Mormon, we must dissolve partnership forthwith. If such an one occupying an important office of profit and honor does not give up his Mormonism, we will sue him at the law, and calumniate him and embarrass him until he is ousted and broken up, and obliged to leave our village. We are separated from men’s company while the licentious, and profane and intemperate are suffered to dwell in peace.—While our opposers cherish to their bosom the rankest infidels, they repulse us with disdain; though none can point out ought wherein we differ from the ancient apostles and prophets.
Almost daily my eyes behold those who have suffered too much to mention. But I would rather refer you to printed documents than to attempt a description of the sufferings of our people in Missouri. From forty to sixty of our brethren suffered death by violent hands, in Missouri, and as many more in consequence of the abuse and privations to which they were exposed by an infuriated, and blood-thirsty mob; and the disappointment, privation and homeless condition of survivors was very great. Many widows and orphans knew not what to do, having just begun to live in a comfortable and thriving manner. They had almost forgotten their first sorrow of parting from early friends and possessions, when lo! the hideous mob came upon them; at one blow their homes were made desolate: in some instances father and son were no more: their sufferings in planting themselves anew in this state without means or friends though I have often heard them told, I will not attempt to rehearse. Perhaps some will say we understand the Mormons were in fault in that matter and brought merited sufferings themselves by their misconduct. The same has always been understood to be true of all persecuted Saints. The greater part of people probably thought Stephen deserved the punishment that terminated his life.
The same might be said of John the Baptist, who meddled with the matrimonial concerns of those who did not acknowledge his ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The prophet Elijah was designated to death because he troubled Israel. Daniel refused lawful obedience to the established Governor of the realm. In short, persecutors in every age, have always had a plausible pretext for their doings, in the popular estimation of their own day and age. You ask by whom we are persecuted? In reply, I could mention as instigators of mobs, the names of a Baptist missionary, a Methodist and Presbyterian minister. You may also be apprised that ex-gov. Boggs, of Missouri, made affidavit that Joseph Smith was accessary to an attempt to murder him; and that Gov. Carlin, of Illinois, in the face of Superabundant testimony, and law, gave a warrant to arrest him, (Joseph Smith) on that affidavit. A heavy reward has been offered for his apprehension. And bold menaces are occasionally hung over our heads, that we as a people shall be driven from the state.
These things have a tendency to check our prosperity. In one instance some of our brethren were kidnapped by Missourians, from this state, and put to shame and scourging.
The malignant and vexatious lawsuits to which our people have been subject, are exceedingly numerous, and owing to our impoverished condition, rendered sometimes distressing. But none of these things  move us, because we know that if they have hated the Master they will also hate the disciples. Such as are born of the bond woman will persecute them that are born of the free woman. But it seems like a discouraging effort to attempt to convince our opposers that we are persecuted, because editors and other philanthropic men are reluctant to tell to the public our side of the matter. They themselves would thereby become suspected of espousing our cause. Men are so sensitive on the subject of our religion that whoever speaks peaceably of it perils his influence and reputation. But hireling editors and priests will speak and publish against us.
You ask me to give an account of the faith which I have embraced. I believe that Jesus Christ is God, co-eternal with God the Father, and that such as have the knowledge of the gospel and believe upon him will be saved; and such as believe not will be damned. I believe the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God. I believe that every person should be born, not only of the spirit, but also of the water, in order to enter into the kingdom of God. There are three that bear witness on earth, as there are three that bear record in heaven.—The spirit, the water, and the blood, bear concurrent testimony to our obedience on earth; for the want of any one, or all of these witnesses on earth, in our favor, there will be no registry of our perfect acceptance in heaven. Hence the baptism for the dead. The righteous dead have a merciful provision made for them in the testimony of the three witnesses on earth, which secures a record of their perfect acceptance in heaven, without which they cannot attain to the highest glory. I believe in the resurrection of the dead, the righteous to life eternal, and the wicked to shame and everlasting contempt. I believe that repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, are among the elementary and cardinal truths of the gospel.
In some, and indeed many respects do we differ from sectarian denominations.
We believe that God is a being that has both body and parts, and also passions. Also in the existence of the gifts, in the true church, spoken of in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians I believe that every church in gospel order has a priesthood, consisting of Prophets, Apostles, Elders, &c., and that the knowledge and power of a priesthood, ordained of God, as the ancient priesthood was, is indispensably necessary to the prosperity of the church. I do not believe that the canon of sacred scripture was closed with the revelation of John; but that wherever God has a true church there he makes frequent revelations of his will; and as God takes cognizance of all things, both temporal and spiritual, his revelations will pertain to all things whereby his glory may be promoted, and the temporal and spiritual well being of his people is advanced. Any people that are destitute of the teachings of prophets and apostles, which come by immediate revelation, will soon fall into divisions and strifes, and depart from the truth as it is in Jesus.
You wish to know “what is the personal character and influence, doctrines and claims of him who is called the leader, Joseph Smith.—Joseph Smith, when the great designs of heaven were first made known to him, was not far from the age of seventeen.
From that time to this he has had much said about him, both of a favorable and unfavorable nature. I shall only speak of his character as I believe it to be from an intimate acquaintance of more than one year; and from an intimate acquaintance with those who have been with him many years. No man is more narrowly watched by friends and enemies than Joseph Smith; consequently, if he were as as good a man as any prophet that has preceded him, he would have as violent enemies as others have had. But I hasten to give my own opinion. I firmly avow in the presence of God, that I believe Mr. Joseph Smith to be an upright man, that seeks the glory of God, in such a manner as is well pleasing to the Most High God. Naturally, he is kind and obliging, pitiful and courteous; as far from dissimulation as any man; frank and loquacious to all men, friends or foes. He seems to employ no studied effort to guard himself against misrepresentation, but often leaves himself exposed to misconstructions, by those who watch for faults. he is remarkably cheerful for one who has seen well tried friends martyred around him, and felt the inflictions of calumny—the vexation of law suits—the treachery of intimates— and multiplied violent attempts upon his person and life, together with the cares of much business. His influence, after which you inquire, is very great. His friends are as ardently attached to him as his enemies are violently opposed. Free toleration is given to all opposing religions, but wherever he is accredited as a prophet of the living God, there you will perceive, his influence must be great. That lurking fear and suspicion that he may become a dictator, or despot gradually gives place to confidence and fondness, as believers become acquainted with him.
In doctrine Mr. Smith is eminently scriptural. I have never known him to deny or depreciate a single truth of the Old and New Tes-taments; but I have always known him to explain and defend them in a masterly manner.—Being anointed of God, for the purpose of teaching and perfecting the church, it is needful that he should know how to set in order the things that are wanting to bring forth things new and old, as a scribe well instructed. This office and apostleship he appears to magnify; at his touch the ancient prophets spring into life, and the beauty and power of their revelations are made to commend themselves with thrilling interest to all that hear.
You inquire, Does he claim to be inspired? Certainly he does claim to be inspired.
He often speaks in the name of the Lord, which would bo rank hypocrisy and mockery, if he were not inspired to do it. It seems very difficult for those who stand at the distance of many generations from the true prophets, to realize what prophets are, and what ought to be expected from them. I do not chide them for their ignorance and folly, however, because I have nothing to boast of previous to embracing the faith of the Latter Day Saints. I understand that prophets may speak as they are moved by the Holy Ghort, at one time, while they may be very far from being moved by the Holy Ghost as they speak at another. They may be endowed with power to perform miracles and mighty deeds at one time, while they have no authority, and there is uo suitableness in doing the same at another time. You ask, Is he a man of prayer? of a pure life? of peace?—Does he appear at the head of his troops as a military commander? These questions I answer according to the best knowledge I have, in the affirmative. As a people we perform military duty, as the laws of the State of Illinois enjoin and require. The Legion answers the purpose to keep the lawless and mobocratic at a respectful distance; and the more “earthquake and storm” our enemies raise about the Nauvoo Legion, and a military chieftain, like the ancient Mahomet, the greater fear and dread of us will be conveyed to ths minds of the lawless, who watch for prey, and spoil, and booty. I can assure you that neither Mr. Smith, nor any other intelligent Latter Day Saint, ever intends to make one convert by the sword. Neither are we such teetotal peace-makers that any savage banditti of lawless depredators could waste our property, violate virtue and shed innocent blood, without experiencing from us a firm defence of law, of right, and innocence.—We are to this day very sensitive to a repetition of past wrongs, that we still smart under. The Lord our God, who was once called (by a man after his own heart,) a “man of war,” we trust will be our defence and strong tower in the day of battle, if our country should ever call us to scenes of carnage and blood.
You ask, What is the nature of the worship among you, and wherein does it differ from that of religious people with whom you have been acquainted elsewhere? On the Sabbath some person usually preaches a sermon, after prayer and singing, and perhaps reading some scripture. We have also frequent prayer meetings, in which all that are so disposed may join.—The gifts are variousty exercised, sometimes in the way of prophecy, or in tongues; sometimes in discerning of spirits, or interpretation of tongues.
The ordinance of baptism, together with the imposition of hands, for the gift of the Holy Ghost is administered as occasion may require. Thus you will perceive that our worship differs from what we both have been accustomed to in time past. Anxious seats, and enquiry meetings, &c. are not in use at all with us; although converts to our faith have swelled our numbers greatly in every year that is past, yet we are very far from employing any blustering efforts to convert men. The spirit of God attends the truth with sufficient power to save the upright, while those that hold the truth in unrighteousness, and contend with it, are beyond the legitimate exercise of divine power to save, and are led captive by the devil at his will. Our worship differs from that of other religious people, inasmuch as we have the knowledge of God, and the true doctrine and order of his kingdom beyond all perplexing doubt and diversity of opinion. It is utterly impossible for intelligent and devoted sectarian clergy to lead their hearers into any considerable knowledge of God, for this very potent reason, that they neither know much of him themselves, nor indeed have they the means of knowing him. For this they are not at all culpable,; but the fact is nevertheless incontrovertible. I do not speak now to please men, nor to mortify them; but I know it to be true, my brother, and therefore speak it boldly.
Are you offended? will you stop here and throw down my letter with contempt, as though an ignorant upstart had abused you? If I write plainly it is with deep and painful emotions.—While writing I can hardly suppress a flood of tears. I know the dilemma in which many of my religious brethren are placed, and the extreme difficulty of approaching them, but whether they hear or forebear, I must tell them that it is out of their power to attain to any considerable knowledge of the true and living God. But say they, have we not got the good old bible, which makes men wise unto salvation? You have indeed those venerable truths which have many ages since made men wise unto salvation; and those truths will teach you, if you take heed to them, that the Gentiles have been broken off from the covenant favor of God, as the Jews were; But those scriptures cannot impart to you the gifts of the Holy Ghost; they cannot ordain and qualify you to teach and preach the gospel, and administer the ordinances; they cannot give you promises and revelations that are expresly for you.
When the apostle Paul was in danger of being shipwrecked with his crew, (see acts of Apostles,) it would have been poor consolation to him to read the ancient history of Jonah’s shipwreck, and pray over the subject, in order to know how the voyage would result to him; but how much greater his consolation, and how much more certain his knowledge, when God ministers to him by visions and angels, and promises both him & the crew preservation.Philip wanted no better assurance of his duty to go to Gaza, than for an angel of God to tell him to go; but if he had pored over ancient revelations with prayerful anxiety in order to know the same, it would have been a poor guide. The New Testament saints did not lean upon Old Testament revelations for the knowledge of present duties, or for aid in their present contingencies. They looked directly to God for present, fresh instruction and aid—they obtained what they looked for. The ancient Jews, (cotemporary with Christ,) that leaned on the venerated sayings of Abraham and Moses, and other eld prophets, abode in darkness, and became the prey of foul spirits, while the advocates of present revelations were mighty through God, in signs and wonders, and marvellous deeds. Now let the religious people of this day depend exclusively upon the ancient scriptures, rejecting present revelations and they will be filled with ignorance, and the spirit of unrighteousness will possess them; and they cannot act with that certainty and power that those can who know for themselves, by immediate revelation. But I have said it is impossible for them to know much of the true God. The careful observer knows that what one sect or denomination teaches for doctrine, another will controvert and deny.—There is not that power in the doctrine of any one sect that gives them much ascendancy over any other sect. The doctrines of all sects, though adverse to each other, are about equally weighty and plausible; no one gets any considerable ascendancy. If there appears to be light in one sect over another sect, it shows an equal amount of an opposite character.
It is an acknowledged duty of parents, in this church, to teach their children the elementary principles of religion, training them up in the way they should go. You ask if they are instructed in learning. As a people we aim most diligently to give our children learning.—Our persecutions, oppression, and poverty have operated greatly to the disadvantage of our children: still we have a chartered University, that promises much benefit to us; and common schools are extensively multiplying throughout the city.
The present population of the city is from ten to twelve thousand. You ask, What is their condition, occupation, and general character? The condition of the people is as prosperous as circumstances will permit. Many of them, like Jacob of old, have left a good patrimony at home that they are not benefitted from, by reason of their being every where spoken against. But though they had nothing but their staff in hand and a little bundle upon their back when they came, they have now in many instances a comfortable cottage, a flourishing garden, and a good cow. There are many instances of families being subject to privations, beyond what they were accustomed to in early days; and there are some instances of deep penury, through sickness, persecution, and other uncontrolable causes; and there are also instances of wealth, but be assured, sir, there is not a more contented and cheerful people to be found. Families will consent to let father and brother go out to preaching, when their daily bread is barely supplied for a few months. Believing as we do, that these are the last days, and that signal matters await this generation: and that the harvest must be gathered soon, if at all, you must not marvel if we do not all at once become rich, and build large houses, and enclose productive farms.—If riches were our object, we might readily gratify the most ambitious grasp. We possess every facility for being rich; but we long to behold the beauty of the Lord. and enquire in his holy Temple. The place of His sanctuary, which we greatly desire to beautify, is a site of surpassing natural beauty. Upon it stands the incomplete structure of a Temple—in dimension a little over one hundred and twenty eight feet long, by eighty eight feet wide, to be elevated in height a little under fifty feet; the walls are made of well wrought, handsome stone. The inhabitants are very industrious; being occupied in agriculture and the various mechanic arts. Our people are mostly the working classes of community, from the United States and Great Britain and her Provinces. They are a very intelligent people, especially so far as common sense and a general knowledge of men and things are concerned. Our elders are versed in religious  polemics, from discussion in the pulpit, stage, bar-room, canal and steamboat, of the fireside, and high-way side: and perhaps you are not aware that many, very many, are from the most enlightened portions of New England; men that have been rocked in the cradle of orthodoxy and liberty; accustomed to fatigue, privation and opposition; and knowing that their religion has more light and truth, and the power of the Holy Ghost to support it, than any other that has existed since the days of the apostles; they are prepared to endure all things with the assurance that their reward is great in heaven. You wish to know the general character of the people. There is probably less profanity, drunkenness, lewdness, theft, fighting, gambling and tavern haunting than in any other city of the same magnitude.
But I must close my answer to your many and minute inquiries, having already protracted them beyond my original design. Your letter contains many important enquiries similar indeed to what I have received from other distinguished friends from different parts of the Union; and you will accept my apology for not answering at an earlier date; and though I design this epistle to be a general answer to all similar enquiries, yet shall hereafter readily reciprocate all private communications in the usual method of friendship and affection.
Most sincerely and truly yours,
Brother Spencer is a graduate of Union College, New York, and has for many years had a respectable standing as a minister in the “Baptist Church;” and as he is generaly known in the New England States, we presume that the above logical and conclusive expose of our principles, will be read with interest, by his numerous friends, and by all the Saints.—ED.]