Clark, John A. “Gleanings by the way. No. VIII.” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia,Pennsylvania) (26 September 1840): 106–07.
Dear Brethren,—According to the intimation given in the last No. of these GLEANINGS BY THE WAY, I proceed to finish the sketch which has already occupied the two preceding numbers in relations to the Mormons. Perhaps before relating the few additional facts that I have in my possession in reference to the rise and progress of this singular delusion, our readers will be gratified to have a brief outline of the contents of that mysterious volume whose origin and history we have already given, and which, as we have seen, has excited no small influence in imparting a degree of plausibility to the claims set up by this sect, and in gaining for them among the superstitious and the credulous, hosts of converts. I have before me a copy of the BOOK OF MORMON, which I have read through in order to furnish the following analysis. Since reading this volume of nearly six hundred pages, I am more than ever convinced that there were several hands employed in its preparation. There are certainly striking marks of genius and literary skill displayed in the management of the main story—while in some of the details and hortatory parts there are no less unequivocal marks of bungling and botch work.
As I have already stated, this volume consists of fifteen separate books, which profess to have been written at different periods and by different authors whose names they respectively bear: all these authors, however, belonged to the same people, and were successively raised up by Jehovah, and by him inspired to carry on the progress of the narrative, and deposit the record when made upon metalic plates in the same ark of testimony which contained the plates handed down by their predecessors. The first book in the volume is called the Book of Nephi: it contains seven distinct chapters, and opens with an account of Lehi, the father of Nephi. Nephi, the writer of this first book, appears to be the grand hero of this epic. His father, Lehi, resided in Jerusalem—was a devout man, and one that feared God. His mother’s name was Sariah—and the names of his three brothers were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam. The narrative commences with the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. During this year the prophets of the most high God came and uttered such fearful predictions in relation to the destruction of Jerusalem, that Lehi became greatly alarmed for the city and for his people. He was so impressed with the messages which the Hebrew seers proclaimed, that he was led to go and pray with great fervency before the Lord. While in this solemn act of prayer, there came down a pillar of fire and rested upon a rock before him, blazing forth in awful majesty, and speaking to him out of the flames.
Awed and terrified by this divine manifestation, he went home and cast himself upon his bed overwhelmed with anxious thought and fearful forbodings. While he lay there thus meditating upon what he had seen, he was suddenly carried away in a vision, and saw the heavens opened, and God sitting upon his throne, “surrounded by numberless concourses of angles.” “And it came to pass,” I here use the language of Nephi, (Page 6,) “that he saw one descending out of the midst of heaven. And he beheld that his lustre was about that of the sun at noon day; and he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament; and they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass as he  read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, and he read, saying, Wo, wo unto Jerusalem! for I have seen thine abominations; yea and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof, many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.” Lehi, after this vision, became himself and prophet, and predicted the overthrow of the Holy City; on account of which he was persecuted by the Jews. While they were plotting to destroy him, he had another vision, by which he was instructed to take his family and depart into the wilderness. He immediately obeyed, leaving his house and land and gold and silver and precious things behind.
In his journeyings he came near the shore of the Red Sea, and at length pitched his tent in a valley beside a river of water. His two eldest sons were quite unbelieving, and thought it absurd that their father should leave all his comforts behind, and come dwell in a tent in the wilderness.
But Nephi who was the third son, was piously disposed, and being led to seek the face of the Lord in prayer, had a revelation from God—that he should be led to a land of promise, and become a teacher and ruler over his brethren.
After this, Lehi also had another vision, in which he was commanded to send Nephi and his brethren back to Jerusalem to obtain “the record of the Jews, and also a genealogy of his forefathers, engraven upon the plates of brass. ” This was a mission attended with great danger, and replete with sundry adventures of a marvellous character. After the three brethren had reached Jerusalem, they cast lots to decide which should go to Laban, who seems to have been the keeper of these sacred deposites, and ask for the records. The lot fell upon Laman. He was received very roughly by Laban, and had to flee from his presence for his life, without attaining the object of his wishes. The two elder brothers now determined to abandon the object of their mission and go back to their father; but Nephi, full of faith, wished to still persevere, and therefore proposed that they should go to their former residence and collect together the gold and silver and precious things belonging to their father, and endeavour to make an impression upon Laban’s mind by the offer of all these, if he would give them “the plates of brass.” Laban was pleased with the exhibition of their treasures, and determined to slay them, in order to posses their wealth. They fled however into the wilderness, and hid themselves in the cavity of a rock.
The two elder brothers now became utterly indignant with Nephi, and smote him with a rod, because he had led them into such an adventure. An angel of God, however, appeared, and rebuked them—enjoining it upon them to go up to Jerusalem again, and not to give over the enterprise upon which they had embarked—assuring them that the Lord would deliver Laban into their hands. Notwithstanding this divine reproof, the two elder brothers felt rather sorely towards Nephi, and went up again towards Jerusalem quite reluctantly. When they reached the walls of the city, they positively refused to go any farther. Nephi, however, offered to go again to the house of Laban. He proposed that they should hide without the walls, and wait till his return.
It was night; and Nephi stole carefully into the city, directing his steps towards the house of Laban. As he drew near his residence, however, he found a man stretched out on the ground, drunk with wine. Upon examination, he found it was Laban himself. He was armed with a sword, the hilt of which was o”f pure gold, and the workmanship exceeding fine.” Nephi drew the sword from its scabbard, and as he held it up, he felt constrained by the Spirit to kill Laban. He had to struggle some time with the natural tenderness of his feelings, but his desire to obey God prevailed, and he therefore “took Laban by the hair of the head, and smote off his head with his own sword.” He then stript off the garments of Laban, and put them on himself, and girded himself with his armour, and “went forth towards the treasury of Laban,” and as he went, “he saw the servant of Laban that had the keys of the treasury. This servant mistook Nephi, who tried to imitate the voice of Laban, for his own master, and readily took out “the engraving which were upon the plates of brass” and carried them without the walls. When the servant discovered the mistake, he was very much frightened—but at length was prevailed upon to accompany these adventurers into the wilderness: therefore having obtained the object of their wishes, they returned to the tent of their father.
Lehi now examined, at his leisure, the records engraven upon the plates of brass, and found that they contained the five books of Moses, “and also a record of the Jews from the beginning even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, and also many prophecies spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.” He also found a genealogy of his fathers, from which he learned that he was a descendant of Joseph.
Here I cannot but remark that it is astonishing that he had not found out before this to what tribe he belonged; and it is not a little remarkable that as the sons of Joseph, Ephraim, and Manassah, were appointed to represent two tribes, in the place of Joseph and Levi, he had not told us from which of these descendents he sprang. We were all along at a loss to know what sort of officer Laban was, but here we are told at this stage of the narrative: “Thus my father Lehi did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendent of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers kept the records.” This seems to us quite a non sequitur.
But to proceed. Upon obtaining these plates of brass, Lehi began to be “filled with the spirit and to prophecy concerning his seed; that these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, which were of his seed. Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never parish; neither should they be dimned any more by time.”
Soon after this Nephi had a very wonderful vision, which he told to his sons, by way of warning the two elder, Laman and Lemuel, of whom he had great fears—as they were disposed to be unbelieving and rebellious. This vision presented an allegorical representation. Lehi declared that he saw a man dressed in a white robe, who came and stood before him, and then bade him follow him. He did so. The white robed guide led him through a long, dark, and dreary waste. After travelling on for many hours in the darkness he began to pray unto the Lord; and the Lord then led him into a large, spacious field, in the midst of which he saw “a tree whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.” He partook of this fruit, which was intensely white, “exceeding all the whiteness he had ever seen.” As soon as he had partaken of the fruit, “his soul was filled with exceeding great joy.” This led him to wish that his family should come and partake of the same. While looking around to see if he could discover his family, he beheld a river of water, which ran along near the tree of whose fruit he had been partaking. At a short distance he beheld the head of this stream, and near it his wife and two younger sons, and they stood as if they knew not whither they should go: and he called out unto them with a loud voice to approach the tree and partake the fruit thereof, and they came. And then his anxieties were awake for his two elder sons, whom at length he discovered in the distance, near the head of the stream, but he could not induce them to come to him or approach the tree. And then he beheld a rod of iron extending along the bank of the river, leading to the tree by which he stood: and also “a straight and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron to the tree. And it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world, and he saw numberless concourses of people; many of whom were pressing forwards, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which he stood.” As soon as those who were advancing entered this narrow path they encountered “an exceeding great mist of darkness,” so that many lost their way, while others caught hold of the end of the rod of iron, and pressed forward through the mist, clinging to the rod, and following it until they came into the light amid which the tree stood, and partook of its fruit. The persons who thus approached the tree, after they had partaken of the fruit, looked around and some of them seemed ashamed. “Lehi also cast his eyes round about, and beheld on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building: and it stood as it were in the air: and it was filled with people both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those which had come at, and were partaking of the fruit.”
This was what caused some who had come to the tree to be filled with shame, and to fall away.
He saw continual multitudes pressing forward towards the tree, and other towards the great, and spacious building. With all his persuasion Lehi could not induce his two eldest sons to come and partake of the fruit of the tree, therefore he had great fears in relation to them.
After relating this vision, Lehi began to prophecy in relation to the Saviour, and told very distinctly what is related in the New Testament about him. Nephi, however, became very anxious to see the tree of which his father had told, and at length he was gratified. The same vision was repeated to him, and he obtained also from the spirit of the Lord the interpretation thereof. The spirit commanded him to look. He did so, and first he beheld Jerusalem—then Nazareth, and “in the city of Nazareth, a virgin, exceedingly fair and white.” And then he saw the heavens open, and an angel came down, and stood before him and said “the virgin which thou seest, is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh.” She was carried away in the spirit, and after awhile she returned bearing a child in her arms, and the angel said to him, “Behold the Lamb of God, yea even the eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God.” Afterwards he looked and saw the son of God going forth among the children of men. He then saw in succession all the miracles of Christ—all the events of his life—the scenes that followed his crucifixion—and the whole history of the Christian Church up to the present time— beyond which the deponent Nephi sayeth not.
The tree was the love of God in Christ—the rod of iron leading to it was the word of God—the mist and darkness, that blinded the eyes of those going to the tree, were the temptations of the devil—the large and spacious building was the pride and vain imaginations of the children of men.
After this protracted vision, Nephi returned to the tent of his father, and found his brethren disputing about the allegorical sense of the vision of their father Lehi. He of course was now prepared to enlighten them. They asked him “what meaneth the river of water which our father saw?” and he replied, “The water was filthiness. So much was my father’s mind swallowed up in other things, that he beheld not the filthiness of the water, and I said unto them, that it was an awful gulf which separateth the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God—a representation of hell.”
I have neglected to mention that previous to Lehi’s vision, Nephi and his brethren were commissioned to go up to Jerusalem the second time, to persuade Ishmael and his five daughters to join his father in the wilderness. The fifth chapter opens with a tender scene, in which Nephi and his brethren are married to the daughters of Ishmael. Immediately after, Lehi received a command to strike his tent and journey on into the wilderness. And when he arose the next morning and went forth to the tent door, “to his great astonishment he beheld upon the ground a round ball of curious workmanship, and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.” They traveled on “for the space of four days nearly a south east direction.” Various trails occurred in their journey. The elder brother uniformly murmured, and Nephi was uniformly submissive. When in extremity the brass ball was their guide, pointing out the way, and exhibiting inscribed on its sides the various intelligence they needed visible at proper times. Ishmael died in the wilderness, where they sojourned for the space of eight years. At length they pitched their tents by the sea shore. Here Nephi was called to ascend a high mountain. There the Lord met him, and commanded him to construct a ship to carry his people across the waters to the promised land.
He commenced the construction of this ship in the face of much opposition, and of many difficulties, being quite ignorant of the art of ship building, and his brethren at the same time ridiculing and opposing him. But the Lord helped him, so that ultimately his brethren not only desisted from their opposition, but united in assisting him to complete it; and then they embarked with all their stock of seeds, animals, and provisions. During the voyage Nephi’s elder brothers began again to be rebellious. They bound him with cords, and treated him with great cruelty.
They, however, soon encountered a terrible gale, and were driven back from their course. The brazen ball which had miraculously guided them through the wilderness, and which was now a compass to steer by, ceased to work, and they were in the most awful peril. For a long time their fate seemed suspended, and their destiny doubtful; but the power of God at length softened the hearts of Laman and Lemuel, who released Nephi from his confinement, and then again every thing went on smoothly and they soon reached the land of promise, which of course was America, where “They found beasts of every kind in the forest, both the cow, and the ox, and the ass, and the horse, and the goat, and the wild goat, and all manner of wild animals for the use of men.” And all manner of ore, both of gold and silver, and copper. Nephi by the command of the Lord made metalic plates soon after his arrival in American of this ore, on which he recorded their perigrinations, adventures, and all the prophecies which God gave him concerning the future destinies of his people and the human race. These plates were to be kept for the instruction of the people of the land, and for other purposes known to the Lord.
The second book of Nephi consists of fifteen chapters. It opens with an account of Lehi’s death, who, previous to his decease, calls all his children around him and their descendants, and reminds them of God’s goodness in having brought them to the promised land, and gives each a patriarchal blessing, uttering sundry predictions in reference to their future destinies. After the death of Lehi, Laman and Lemuel undertook to destroy Nephi, who thereupon fled into the wilderness, taking along with him his own family, his brother Sam, and his younger brothers, Jacob and Joseph, who were born after his father went out from Jerusalem and their families. He also took along with him the plates of brass, and the ball that guided them in their former wandering in the wilderness by the Red Sea, and was their compass to steer by across the country. Being thus separated they became the heads of separate tribes. The Nephites soon grew into a numerous people, and built a temple “like unto Solomon’s.” They, like their father Nephite, for many generations were good Christians, hundreds of years before Christ was born, practising baptism and other Christian usages. Nephi here accounts for the color of the aborigines. It was the curse of God upon the descendants of his elder brothers on account of their disobedience. “Wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, therefore the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” A curse was also pronounced upon intermarriages with them. Nephi also declares that on account of the curse of God upon them “they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.”
In this book is also introduced “the words of Jacob, the brother of Nephi, which he spake unto the people of Nephi.” He predicts the coming of Christ, and the return of the Jews from dispersion upon embracing the gospel. Nephi then takes up the subject, and transcribes several chapters from Isaiah by way of corroboration. This is followed by a long harangue, setting forth all the peculiar theology of the New Testament. He then predicts the appearance of a great prophet, and a marvellous book which he shall bring to light. The book of course is the golden Bible, and the prophet Jo Smith. “Wherefore,” continues he, “at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it, save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered: and they shall testify to the truth of the book, and the things therein.” This would seem to be directly in the teeth of what actually happened, for as we have seen in a former number there were eight other witnesses besides the three, who declared that they saw these mysterious plates. To elude this difficulty a saving clause is thrown into this chapter to this effect. “And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few, according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men.” The reason is also here assigned why the plates are not spread before the learned—it is to teach them humility! An unlearned man is chosen to transcribe the hieroglyphics, or words of the book, that the learned may read them. The learned refuse to read the hieroglyphics, unless they can see the plates whence they are taken. This God will not permit. He has no need of learned men. He is able to do his own work. He will therefore make use of the unlearned to bring these hidden things to light. The prophet, though an unlearned man, will be competent through the power of God, not only to transcribe but to translate the book.
Nephi discards altogether the idea that our present revelation is complete, or that our sacred books contain the while cannon of Scripture. He predicts that the Book of Mormon will meet with opposition,—that many of the Gentiles would say upon its appearance,—“A Bible, a Bible, we have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. Thou fool, that shall say, a Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Knew ye not that I the Lord, your God have created all men, and that I remember they which are upon the Isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea even upon all the nations of the earth? Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together, the testimony of the two nations shall run together also. And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday to day and forever, and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word, ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished, neither sall it be until the end of man; neither from that time henceforth and forever. Wherefore because ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye to suppose that I have not caused more to be written; for I command all men both in the east and in the west, and in the north and in the south, and in the Islands of the sea, that they shall write those words I speak unto them. Behold I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it,—unto the Nephites, and they shall write it,—unto the other tribes of the house of Israel which I have led away, and they shall write it; and unto all the nations of the earth and they shall write it. And the Jews shall have the words of the Nephites, and the Nephites the words of the Jews. And the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel, &c.” This we consider one of the most pernicious features of this HISTORICAL ROMANCE,—that is claims for itself an entire equality in point of divine authority with the sacred cannon. It is not only calculated to deceive and delude the credulous, and marvel loving, but to strengthen the cause of infidelity.
The only remaining thing worthy of note in this second Book of Nephi, is the prediction of the ultimate conversion of the Indians, who are a part of the lost tribes of Israel, or descendants of Nephi to Christianity, through the influence of Mormonism, and that soon after this event they would change their colour, and become “a white and delightsome people.” The period occupied by the events related in the new Book of Nephi, is fifty-five years.
The next book in course is the Book of Jacob; one of the younger brothers of Nephi; which contains five chapters. This book gives an account of the ordaining of Jacob by Nephi, to be priest over the people, and the particulars of Nephi’s death. It also relates the circumstance of Jacob’s confounding a man who rose up among them and sought to overthrow the doctrine of Christ; and contains a specimen of Jacob’s preaching. One of the arguments by which he endeavoured to reclaim the Nephites from certain prevailing sins, was that if they did not repent, the course of God would light upon them, and they would become as dark coloured as the Lamanites. Sundry efforts were made by the benevolent Nephites “to reclaim and restore the Labanites to the knowledge of the truth.” But it was all to no purpose; they continued to delight in wars, and bloodshed, and cherished an eternal hatred against their brethren. To ward off their incursions, the people of Nephi had to fortify and protect their land with a strong military force.
Jacob, who had brought up his son Enos “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” when he saw his own decease approaching, gave him the plates, and let him successor in office over the people of Nephi.
The Book of Enos is short, as is also the two following books of Jarom and Omni, containing little except an account of the transmission of the plates from one generation to another till the time of king Benjamin, about 320 years after the flight of Lehi from Jerusalem.
During the latter part of this period, many wars took place between the people of Nephi and the Lamanites; so that Mosiah, then king, was warned to emigrate into a new region, or district of the wilderness—into a land called Zarahemla. After reaching there, they discovered that the people of Zarahemla were also Jews who came from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon, and that they were also brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters. The Lamanites at this period are described as “a wiled, ferocious, and blood-thirsty people, wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girded about their loins, and their heads shaven, and their skill was in the bow and the scimitar and the axe. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat.”
But I must stop. I had hoped to have completed in the present No. this analysis, and also what I had further to offer in relation to the Mormons. I must, however, defer what remains till next week.
Yours, J. A. C.