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- The Story of "Mormonism" - 2/14 -


men, and which demonstrated the great fact that humanity is the child of Deity, he was visited by an immortal personage who announced himself as Moroni, a messenger sent from the presence of God. The celestial visitor stated that through Joseph as the earthly agent the Lord would accomplish a great work, and that the boy would come to be known by good and evil repute amongst all nations. The angel then announced that an ancient record, engraven on plates of gold, lay hidden in a hill near by, which record gave a history of the nations that had of old inhabited the American continent, and an account of the Savior's ministrations among them. He further explained that with the plates were two sacred stones, known as Urim and Thummim, by the use of which the Lord would bring forth a translation of the ancient record. Joseph further testifies that he was told that if he remained faithful to his trust and the confidence reposed in him, he would some day receive the record into his keeping, and be commissioned and empowered to translate it. In due time these promises were literally fulfilled, and the modern version of these ancient writings was given to the world.

The record proved to be an account of certain colonies of immigrants to this hemisphere from the east, who came several centuries before the Christian era. The principal company was led by one Lehi, described as a personage of some importance and wealth, who had formerly lived at Jerusalem in the reign of Zedekiah, and who left his eastern home about 600 B.C. The book tells of the journeyings across the water in vessels constructed according to revealed plan, of the peoples' landing on the western shores of South America probably somewhere in Chile, of their prosperity and rapid growth amid the bounteous elements of the new world, of the increase of pride and consequent dissension accompanying the accumulation of material wealth, and of the division of the people into factions which became later two great nations at enmity with one another. One part following Nephi, the youngest and most gifted son of Lehi, designated themselves _Nephites_; the other faction, led by Laman, the elder and wicked brother of Nephi, were known as _Lamanites_.

The Nephites lived in cities, some of which attained great size and were distinguished by great architectural beauty. Continually advancing northward, these people in time occupied the greater part of the valleys of the Orinoco, the Amazon, and the Magdalena. During the thousand years covered by the Nephite record, the people crossed the Isthmus of Panama, which is graphically described as a neck of land but a day's journey from sea to sea, and successively occupied extensive tracts in what is now Mexico, the valley of the Mississippi, and the Eastern States. It is not to be supposed that these vast regions were all populated at any one time by the Nephites; the people were continually moving to escape the depredations of their hereditary foes, the Lamanites; and they abandoned in turn all their cities established along the course of migration. The unprejudiced student sees in the discoveries of the ancient and now forest-covered cities of Mexico, Central America, Yucatan, and the northern regions of South America, collateral testimony having a bearing upon this history.

Before their more powerful foes, the Nephites dwindled and fled; until about the year 400 A.D. they were entirely annihilated after a series of decisive battles, the last of which was fought near the very hill, called Cumorah, in the State of New York, where the hidden record was subsequently revealed to Joseph Smith.

The Lamanites led a roving, aggressive life; kept few or no records, and soon lost the art of history writing. They lived on the results of the chase and by plunder, degenerating in habit until they became typical progenitors of the dark-skinned race, afterward discovered by Columbus and named American Indians.

The last writer in the ancient record, and the one who hid away the plates in the hill Cumorah, was Moroni--the same personage who appeared as a resurrected being in the nineteenth century, a divinely appointed messenger sent to reveal the depository of the sacred documents; but the greater part of the plates since translated had been engraved by the father of Moroni, the Nephite prophet Mormon. This man, at once warrior, prophet and historian, had made a transcript and compilation of the heterogeneous records that had accumulated during the troubled history of the Nephite nation; this compilation was named on the plates "The Book of Mormon," which name has been given to the modern translation--a work that has already made its way over most of the civilized world. The translation and publication of the Book of Mormon were marked by many scenes of trouble and contention, but success attended the undertaking, and the first edition of the work appeared in print in 1830.

The question, "What is the Book of Mormon?"--a very pertinent one on the part of every earnest student and investigator of this phase of American history--has been partly answered already. The work has been derisively called the "Mormon Bible," a name that carries with it the misrepresentation that in the faith of this people the book takes the place of the scriptural volume which is universally accepted by Christian sects. No designation could be more misleading, and in every way more untruthful. The Latter-day Saints have but one "Bible" and that the Holy Bible of Christendom. They place it foremost amongst the standard works of the Church; they accept its admonitions and its doctrines, and accord thereto a literal significance; it is to them, and ever has been, the word of God, a compilation made by human agency of works by various inspired writers; they accept its teachings in fulness, modifying the meaning in no wise, except in the rare cases of undoubted mistranslation, concerning which Biblical scholars of all faiths differ and criticize; and even in such cases their reverence for the sacred letter renders them even more conservative than the majority of Bible commentators and critics in placing free construction upon the text. The historical part of the Jewish scriptures tells of the divine dealings with the people of the eastern hemisphere; the Book of Mormon recounts the mercies and judgments of God, the inspired teachings of His prophets, the rise and fall of His people as organized communities on the western continent.

The Latter-day Saints believe the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to have been foretold in the Bible, as its destiny is prophesied of within its own lids; it is to the people the true "stick of Ephraim" which Ezekiel declared should become one with the "stick of Judah"--or the Bible. The people challenge the most critical comparison between this record of the west and the Holy Scriptures of the east, feeling confident that no discrepancy exists in letter or spirit. As to the original characters in which the record was engraved, copies were shown to learned linguists of the day and pronounced by them as closely resembling the Reformed Egyptian writing.

Let us revert, however, to the facts of history concerning this new scripture, and the reception accorded the printed volume.

The Book of Mormon was before the world; the Church circulated the work as freely as possible. The true account of its origin was rejected by the general public, who thus, assumed the responsibility of explaining in some plausible way the source of the record. Among the many false theories propounded, perhaps the most famous is the so-called Spaulding story. Solomon Spaulding, a clergyman of Amity, Pennsylvania, died in 1816. He wrote a romance to which no name other than "Manuscript Story" was given, and which, but for the unauthorized use of the writer's name and the misrepresentation of his motives, would never have been published. Twenty years after the author's death, one Hurlburt, an apostate "Mormon," announced that he had recognized a resemblance between the "Manuscript Story" and the Book of Mormon, and expressed a belief that the work brought forward by Joseph Smith was nothing but the Spaulding romance revised and amplified. The apparent credibility of the statement was increased by various signed declarations to the effect that the two were alike, though no extracts for comparison were presented. But the "Manuscript Story" was lost for a time, and in the absence of proof to the contrary, reports of the parallelism between the two works multiplied. By a fortunate circumstance, in 1884, President James H. Fairchild, of Oberlin College, and a literary friend of his--a Mr. Rice--while examining a heterogeneous collection of old papers which had been purchased by the gentleman last named, found the original manuscript of the "Story."

After a careful perusal and comparison with the Book of Mormon, President Fairchild declared in an article published in the New York _Observer_, February 5, 1885:

The theory of the origin of the Book of Mormon in the traditional manuscript of Solomon Spaulding will probably have to be relinquished. * * * Mr. Rice, myself, and others compared it [the Spaulding manuscript] with the Book of Mormon and could detect no resemblance between the two, in general or in detail. There seems to be no name nor incident common to the two. The solemn style of the Book of Mormon in imitation of the English scriptures does not appear in the manuscript. * * * Some other explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon must be found if any explanation is required.

The manuscript was deposited in the library of Oberlin College where it now reposes. Still, the theory of the "Manuscript Found," as Spaulding's story has come to be known, is occasionally pressed into service in the cause of anti-"Mormon" zeal, by some whom we will charitably believe to be ignorant of the facts set forth by President Fairchild. A letter of more recent date, written by that honorable gentleman in reply to an inquiring correspondent, was published in the _Millennial Star_, Liverpool, November 3, 1898, and is as follows:

OBERLIN COLLEGE, OHIO, October 17, 1895.

J. R. HINDLEY, ESQ.,

Dear Sir: We have in our college library an original manuscript of Solomon Spaulding--unquestionably genuine.

I found it in 1884 in the hands of Hon. L. L. Rice, of Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands. He was formerly state printer at Columbus, Ohio, and before that, publisher of a paper in Painesville, whose preceding publisher had visited Mrs. Spaulding and obtained the manuscript from her. It had lain among his old papers forty years or more, and was brought out by my asking him to look up anti-slavery documents among his papers.


The Story of "Mormonism" - 2/14

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