Gleanings by the Way. No. IX


Episcopal Recorder Clark, John A. (John Alonzo), 1801-1843

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Clark, John A. “Gleanings by the way. No. IX.” Episcopal Recorder (Philadelphia,Pennsylvania) (3 October 1840): 110–11.



Dear Brethren,— The question has been frequently asked, why the sect whose history we have been in several of our last numbers attempting to sketch, are called Mormons? The answer to this question will be readily suggested to any one who has patience to wade through Mr. Spaulding’s historical Romance. From the account that we have already given of the Book of Mormon we are led to see the mode in which it is pretended that the records of one generation of the Nephites were transmitted to another, and how the history of each preceding age was preserved. These records were engraven upon plates, and the plates handed down from one prophet to another, or from one king to another, or from one judge to another—the Lord always having raised up some one to receive these plates, when the person in whose hands they had been previously placed was about to die. Mormon, who lived about four hundred years after the coming of Christ, while yet a child received a command in relation to these sacred deposites. The metalic plates which contained the record of all the generations of his fathers from the flight of Lehi from Jerusalem to his own time, ultimately came into his hands. From these plates he made an abridged record, which, taken together, in connection with the record of his own times, constitutes the BOOK OF MORMON. Thus we see why the book bears this title. For Mormon was a sort of Ezra, who compiled the entire sacred canon contained in this volume. He lived at a very eventful period, when almost all his people had fallen into a fearful apostacy, and he lived to see them all destroyed, except twenty-four persons. Himself and these sole survivors of his race were afterwards cut off with a single exception. His son Moroni, one of the survivors, lived to tell the mournful tale, and deposite the plates under the hill where Jo Smith found them. Mormon took his name from a place where the first American church was founded, of which we shall hear directly, and where the first candidates for admission into the church were baptized, some two hundred years before the commencement of the Christian era. He was very distinguished in his way, and quite worthy to be the founder of this new sect, who have brought to light his records, and rescued from oblivion such a bundle of marvels, as no one ever heard the like before.

I am sorry to say I must ask you to follow me through a labyrinth of history, if I carry out the plan of furnishing an analysis of the Book of Mormon.

We have already traced the history of the Lamanites and Nephites down to the period of King Benjamin, between three and four hundred years from the period of Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem. The father of Benjamin was Mosiah, who was warned of the Lord to migrate to Zarahemla with all his people, that he and they might not be destroyed by the Lamanites.

Zarahemla was subsequently the scene of much that is interesting in this history. It now became the dwelling place of the Nephites. Benjamin was the king of the land. He was a sort of David.

He not only fought nobly, but took great pains to establish true religion among the people. He assembled them together, and addressed to them powerful exhortations, preaching to them “repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” The people were so much affected that they fell to the earth—were converted, and became firm believers in Christ. Benjamin then thoroughly instructed them in the doctrines of Christianity, and finally died about four hundred and seventy-six years after Lehi’s flight. His son, Mosiah, reigned in his stead, who was no less eminent in kingly power and righteousness than his father. All these facts are given us in what is termed the Book of Mosiah, which contains thirteen chapters.

In the fifth chapter we have quite an episode introduced. As we have before noticed, the Nephites had left their first residence, and gone to dwell in the land of Zarahemla. Some of their number, however, desired to go back to the land where they formerly dwelt. The first party that went on for this purpose were unsuccessful, having had much dissension among themselves. The second attempt, made under a leader by the name of Zeniff, resulted in their making a settlement in that land, and building a city called Lehi-Nephi. No intercourse, however, having been kept up by this colony with their parent country, the result of their enterprise remained unknown in Zarahemla. In the reign of Mosiah, however, a number of individuals determined to go out on an exploring excursion, and to ascertain what had been the fate of their brethren, who had thus done up to the land of Nephi. The leader of this exploring party was Ammon, a man that afterwards became famous among the Nephites. This part travelled a long way through the wilderness. I suppose the wilderness, as the term is used in the book of Mormon in reference to America, means woods or forest. At length they approached the land of Shilom and Nephi. They had not proceeded far before an armed band fell upon them, and having taking them prisoners, bound them and brought them before the king of the land. His name was Limhi, and, as it appeared in the sequel, he was a descendant of Zeniff. As soon as Limhi learned Ammon’s origin and the errand on which he came, he released him and his company from their bands, and treated them with great hospitality, and invoked his and his country’s aid to assist them in extricating themselves from the oppressive power of the Lamanites. Limhi also assembled his people together, and announced to them the character of these visiters. He then brought out the records of his people, and exhibited them to Ammon and his company. Ammon read the engravings upon the plates, which in substance were as follows:—Zeniff, the founder of this people, after leaving Zarahemla, travelled a long way through the wilderness, where he encountered various trials, and at length came to the land of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom. They found this country in possession of the Lamanites. From the king of Laman, however, he obtained by treaty the privilege of occupying this land. The Lamanites, the old enemies of his nation, allowed his people to go on and build cities, and make improvements for many years, and then rose up and sought to bring them under their dominion, that they might bear the relation of serfs or vassals to them. This attempt was vigorously resisted by Zeniff and the colony he had established. During the whole life of Zeniff, who now became their king the Lamanites were invariably repulsed, and driven off. After his death the kingdom was conferred upon his son Noah, who proved to be a very bad and depraved man. Iniquity soon began to abound every where in the land, and vice to stalk shamelessly abroad with brazen front. Just at this time the Lord raised up among them a prophet by the name of Abinadi. He was very valiant for the truth. He reproved the people for their sins, and denounced the judgments of God openly against them. This fearless denunciation on the part of the prophet awaked the displeasure of the people, who determined and sought to slay the man of God. But Abinadi fled and escaped out of their hands. After about two years, however, he returned in disguise, so that they did not know that it was Abinadi. But as he continued to reprove them, and denounce heaven’s wrath against them they determined to kill him. He however was not at all intimidated, but enforced his bold reproofs by repeating to them each one of the commands contained in the decalogue. This exasperated them the more, and they sought to destroy him at once; but he defied their efforts, declaring to them they could have no power over him till he had finished his message. Accordingly he went on, and preached unto them the coming of Christ, exhibiting the whole plan of salvation as laid down in the gospel. His preaching seemed to make some impression upon the mind of the king, but the priests of the land, who were wicked and who derided the idea of the coming of Christ—succeeded in getting him put to death. He was accordingly led forth and burned at the stake.

Among those who were present, and heard Abinadi testify in reference to the coming and power of Christ, was a young man by the name of Alma, whose heart was touched by the words of the prophet. Though Abinadi perished in the flames, his spirit lived in Alma, who now became not only a firm believer, but a preacher of the doctrines which Abinadi taught. He, of course, became obnoxious both to the king and priests of Lehi-Nephi. He, however, persevered in preaching, though he was obliged to do it in a private way. His preaching was attended with great effect. And now it was, that those who believed on him resorted to a place called MORMON for baptism. The record thus states the matter. “As many as did believe him, did go forth to a place which was called Mormon, having received its name from the king, being in the borders of the land, having been infested. by times, or at seasons, by wild beasts. Now there was in Mormon a fountain of pure water, and Alma resorted thither, there being near the water a thicket of small trees, where he did hide himself in the day-time from the searches of the king.” Here the people came secretly to hear him. And Alma instructed them in the doctrines of Christ, and baptized them by immersion in the waters of Mormon. About two hundred and four souls were thus baptized. The record, having recounted these facts, proceeds to say, “This was done in Mormon: yea, by the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise for ever.” It was from this place, and these waters, that the individual took his name, from whom the sect of the Mormons derive their appellation.

Alma and his operations at Mormon, however soon became known, and created a great sensation. He and his followers were denounced as rebels, and a military force was sent out to cut them off. They had now increased to nearly five hundred souls. Apprized of the designs of King Noah, they immediately fled into the wilderness.

The Lord did not allow the wickedness of the people of Lehi-Nephi to go unpunished.

The Lamanites soon came upon them, and reduced them to a state of vassalage. They were still allowed, however, to keep up the shadow of a government, and Limhi succeeded Noah in the kingdom. They were not only made tributary to the Lamanites but repeated efforts were made on the part of the Lamanites to cut them off, and this held them to be always in a warlike posture.

They were also exposed to assaults continually from a banditti that at times came up from the wilderness, and fell upon them. When Ammon and his party were seized by the armed forces of Limhi they were supposed to be one of these marauding bands. This explains the cause of the treatment which they at first received.

Limhi, having thus explained matters to Ammon, proceeded to tell him that a short time before, a small party, having been sent out by him to search for the land of Zarahemla, missed the object of their search, but stumbled upon a country, filled with the ruins of ancient buildings, the remains of decayed and rust-cankered armour, and the bones of men and beasts. Here, also, were found the records of this extinct race, “engraven upon plates of ore.” These plates, which were twenty-four in number, and of pure gold, they brought a way with them, but the writing was in a language which neither Limhi nor any of his people understood. They applied, therefore, to Ammon to see if he could translate it, but he could not. Ammon, however, told them that he knew one who could interpret these engravings, “even the king of the people which is in the land of Zarahemla.” He remarked, “he hath wherewith he can look and translate all records that are of ancient date, and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he had not ought, and he should perish.” I suppose these must have been the spectacles handed down with the plates through which Joseph Smith looked to read and translate the book of Mormon. Ammon, in his discourse to Limhi, greatly magnified the office of such a looker: “whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer. A seer is a revelator, and a prophet also. A seer can know of things which has past, and also of things which is to come: and a gift which is greater can no man have.” The preceding quotation will give an idea of the grammatical correctness and style of this book.

Limhi of course was very happy at the idea of having the historic facts veiled under these mysterious characters, constituting the written language of an extinct race, brought to light. In this he was gratified, as we shall subsequently see.

But the great matter, which just at this time weighed most upon Limhi’s mind, was, how he could extricate himself from the iron meshes of the net which the Lamanites had cast over his people. Ammon, however, devised an expedient by which the whole people could flee secretly from Lehi-Nephi. They watched the opportunity and took their flight and found a secure asylum in Zarahemla, where they were received by Mosiah with joy, who also received their records, and the record which they had found in the country of the extinct people before noticed. Here this episode should end. But appended to this is a sub-episode in relation to the people, which were driven into the wilderness by the people of king Noah. The followers of Alma, who were organized into a church at Mormon, and fled for their lives, travelled eight days through the dense forests, till at length they came to a very beautiful and pleasant country. Here they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground and erect buildings. They offered to make Alma their king, but he declined the honour, and dissuaded them from the idea of having a kingly government. He was already the founder of their Church, and filled among them the office of high priest. No irregularities were allowed in ecclesiastical discipline, as we are expressly informed that “none received authority to preach, or to teach except it were by him from God.

Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers.” The deep secluded glen which they inhabited was at length, discovered by the roving tribes of Lamanites, who immediately subjected them to a bondage that was peculiarly oppressive. They soon contrived, however, to escape from their hands, and fled to the land of Zarahemla, which was now becoming a refuge for the oppressed. They were there kindly received by Mosiah, shortly after the arrival of Limhi and his people. Thus ends this episode.

All the people of Nephi were now assembled together, and also the people of Limhi and Alma, and in their hearing Mosiah read the records both of Zeniff and of Alma, and the Nephites were filled with amazement and joy. Alma was called out to address the mighty concourse of these gathered tribes. King Limhi and all his people at once became converts to the doctrines of Alma, and desired baptism. And we are told: “That Alma did go forth into the water, and did baptize them; yea, he did baptize them after the manner he did his brethren in the waters of Mormon; yea, and as many as he did baptize, did belong to the church of God; and this because of their belief on the words of Alma. And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. Now this was done because there was so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches, every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma; and thus, notwithstanding their being many churches they were all one church; yea, even THE CHURCH OF GOD!!” The people had generally, especially those who had lived in the land of king Benjamin, become very pious Christians. But many of the children who were now growing up to man’s estate, being still unregenerate, were full of unbelief; and some of them became awfully depraved. Among the number were the sons of the king, and also a son of Alma, who bore the name of his father. They were not only profligate in their lives, but bitter and scoffing infidels. While this young Alma, like Saul of Tarsus was laying waste the church of God, an angel of God appeared to him by the way, and descending in a cloud spoke to him in a voice of thunder which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood. He instantly fell to the earth, being struck dumb and entirely senseless. He continued in this state for two days and two nights, and then rose up a perfectly changed and converted man, and became a most zealous preacher of righteousness. Four of the sons of Mosiah were also converted, and became preachers. These sons of the king were so zealous, that they embraced the idea of going on a mission to see if they could not convert the Lamanites. The plan having been approved by their father, they set off. We shall in due time hear what was the result of their efforts. But years passed away without any intelligence being received of them. Their father was growing old, and he had no one on whom to confer the kingdom. He therefore committed the records of his people for transmission to young Alma, who had now become so pious. He did not do this, however, till he had translated the records of the extinct nation found by the people of Limhi, engraven upon the twenty-four plates of gold.

These records form what is called the book of Ether, in the BOOK OF MORMON, which is placed by Mormon nearly at the end of his volume. The substance of this record is as follows: The people who inhabited these regions, were descendants of Jared and his brother, who were among those that were engaged in building the tower of Babel. When Jared and his brother saw that God was confounding the language of all the builders, they cried unto him that he would have compassion on them and not confound their language. He did so. They also besought him to show them into what part of the earth he would have them go. He gave them a satisfactory response, guided them a long way through the wilderness, and instructed them to build barges to cross the sea. These were made air tight. A breathing hole was made in the top. To dissipate the darkness, they were instructed to obtain sixteen molten stones, which were touched by the finger of God, and thus these molten stones became in the dark barges like so many stars to enlighten the passengers. They embarked in these barges and were miraculously conducted over mountain waves to the promised land—which was America. Here they became might nations—built cities—cultivated the arts—and finally an account of their wickedness became exterminated by dreadful wars between themselves.

The following description is the account given of Mosiah’s mode of translating these records: “He translated them by the means of those two stones which was fastened into two rims of a bow. Now these things was prepared from the beginning and was handed down from generation to generation for the purpose of interpreting languages; and they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord; and whosoever has these things is called seer.” The same spectacles, as we have seen, came down as an heir loom to Jo Smith.

We have now reached the five hundred and ninth year after the flight of Lehi. Here the book of Mosiah ends giving an account of the termination of the reign of the kings, and the commencement of a sort of republican government, or what is called the reign of the judges. This change was brought about because none of the sons of Mosiah would accept the kingdom. Alma was made the first chief judge. The Book of Alma, here follows which contains twenty-nine chapters, and occupies nearly two hundred pages of the BOOK OF MORMON. It is principally filled with details of the events that happened under the reign of the early judges, of the wars and contentions among the people, of the efforts of Alma and others to establish the church, and an account of a war between the Nephites and the Lamanites. One of the first cases brought before Alma, after he sat upon the judgment-seat, was that of Nehor, a very large man, and noted for his great strength. He preached strange doctrine to the people, declaring “that every priest and teacher had ought to become popular; and they ought not to labour with their own hands, but that they had ought to be supported by the people. This was one of his heresies. The other was the doctrine of the of the universalists, “he testified unto the people that all mankind should be saved at the last day, and that they need nor fear nor tremble, but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice; for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men: and in the end all men should have eternal life.” Gideon opposed him, and thereupon Nehor became wroth and slew him. He was accordingly brought before the judgment-seat, and doomed to die. After about five years Amlici, a cunning, shrewd man, of similar sentiments with Nehor, rose up, and tried to lead away the people. He at length was so successful that, he proposed himself as the king of the nation. The question whether he should be king was decided by popular vote, and he was defeated. His adherents however still clave to him, and anointed him king, and immediately hereupon there commenced a civil war. The insurgents were defeated in battle, and fled to the Lamanites, who now came in like an inundation upon Zarahemla. But the people of Zarahemla cried unto the Lord, and went forth in his strength and utterly defeated them. The grotesque appearance of the Lamanites at this time is thus described. “The heads of the Lamanites were shorn; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins, and also their armor, which was girded about them, and their bows, and their armour, and their stones and their slings. And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression, and their rebellion against their brethren.”

A season of universal prosperity to the church followed this expulsion of the Lamanites, three hundred and fifty persons having been baptized by Alma during the seventh year of the reign of the judge. At the end of the eighth year there was a sensible decline in spiritual things.

So alarming was the state of things, that Alma who had hitherto held the office of chief judge and high priest, laid down altogether the ermine, and took up the crosier, devoting himself wholly to the business of preaching, with a view to revive and establish the churches. We have sundry specimens of his sermons, which show that he was a perfect Boanerges, a real son of thunder, with which few modern preachers, however versed in the doctrines of Christianity, or skilled in the tactics of Arminian theology, would venture to compete. Great effects attended his preaching generally in the various cities he visited, but when he reached the city of Ammonihah he could make no impression upon the minds of the people. He therefore gave them up in despair; but as he was departing an angel of God met him and told him to go back, and make another effort. He did so, and Amulek, a young man of some distinction, was converted, who labroued with him in the ministry. But the lawyers opposed them, and tried to stir up the people against them. Alma, however, waxed mighty in spirit, and confounded, and perfectly silenced Zeezrom, the most distinguished of the lawyers. Zeezrom himself was ultimately converted, and suffered much persecution for his new faith. Alma and Amulek were imprisoned, abused and every way insulted, but their prison doors were broken open, and they delivered in the sight of all the people. Among the most prominent topics of Alma’s preaching was the speedy coming of Christ. He declared he would appear in this land—in America, after his resurrection. Before dismissing the subject of Alma and his preaching, who is one of the most distinguished characters in the book, I cannot refrain from transcribing a passage from his address to the people of Ammonihah. “And now, my beloved brethren, for ye are my brethren, and ye had ought to be beloved, and ye had ought to bring forth works which is mete for repentance, seeing that your hearts have been grossly hardened against the word of God, and seeing that ye are a lost and a fallen people.”

We have next an episode, giving an account of the missionary adventures of the sons of Mosiah, in their attempts to evangelize the Lamanites. These four sons most unexpectedly made their appearance in the land of Zarahemla after an absence of fourteen years. After they first reached the land of the Lamanites, they were seized and made slaves in the service of several Princes that reigned there. Ammon, whose adventures are related with the most minuteness, was a perfect Guy of Warwick. He could encounter and overcome by his single arm, hundreds of men, all trying at the same time to overpower him. He gave a specimen of his prowess in this way, in protecting the king’s flock, which he was leading to water, against the efforts of a band of hostile shepherds who tried to scatter and disperse the flock. The fame thereof came to the king. He was called into [110] his presence. This opened the way for him to preach the Gospel to him. While he was speaking the power of the Holy Spirit was displayed in such a way that the king fell to the ground, and his wife and servants. They were, of course, all converted. Ammon now became a great man, and though he encountered much opposition, and many trials, he and his brethren succeeded in converting all the Kings and Queens, and most of the people of the Lamanites. They seem generally, previous to their conversion, to have had, what in modern times is called the power. They were most generally struck down under the word, and after remaining insensible awhile, they rose up and began to shout praises to the Most High, being perfectly transformed. These converted people were called Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Soon the more fierce tribes of the Lamanites who still remained unconverted, made war upon these; and as they seem with their new views to have adopted the doctrine of non-resistance, they were in danger of being exterminated. Hence by the suggestion of the four missionaries, they determined to emigrate to Zarahemla. They had already reached the border of the land, and when the king’s sons met Alma, their principal errand was to ask permission for this people to dwell in the land of the Nephites. This request was of course granted.

Alma gave very long lectures or charges to his sons, and especially to Helaman, to whom he committed all the sacred plates, the interpreters, and the director which guided Lehi through the wilderness. To him he also uttered this prediction, “Behold I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, according to the spirit which is in me, in four hundred years from the same time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief; yea, and then shall they see wars, and pestilences, yea, famines and blood-shed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct.”

Alma, after uttering this prophecy, disappeared in the same mysterious way that Moses did, and no man knoweth his grave unto this day. At this period all who believed in Christ took upon them the name of Christians. Various wars now raged between the Lamanites and Nephites.

The people of Nephi erected many forts and high mounds to secure themselves from the invasion of their enemies.

The Book of Helaman which consists of five chapters, opens with the fortieth year of the reign of the Judges. It details sad accounts of dissensions and war, and strange alternations of prosperity and adversity to the church. A man by the name of Nephi who was now chief judge, imitated Alma, and laying down his civil office, became a great preacher and prophet, performing miracles and mighty wonders. He went in to the Lamanites, and was so successful in converting them that he arrested the tide of war and restored peace to the land. The earth shook, and the heavens were opened, and angels came down to his voice. After Nephi, rose up Samuel, a Lamanite, who predicted that Christ would come in five years, and that on the day that he was born, though the sun would go down as usual, there would be no night—it would continue as light as day. This was to be the sign. Another sign to attend his death, which was to take place in the thirty-fourth year after his birth, was three whole days of darkness, in which there were to be thunderings and lightening, and earthquakes, and the rending of rocks, and cleaving of hills.

According to the testimony in the next book, at the end of five years, the sign of his birth occurred two days succeeding each other without any intervening night. The Nephites, therefore, knew that Christ had come. They accordingly reckoned their time from this period, regarding it as the commencement of a new era. The Lamanites that were converted now became white as the Nephites. At the end of thirty-three years, the signs that were foretold would accompany the death of Christ, appeared. There was a great tempest, and terrible thunder; the earth shook, as though about to divide asunder. Vivid lightning ran along on the ground, cities were overturned and buried in the midst of the sea—and a terrible darkness came over the land for three days— and a great mourning and howling and weeping among the people. The voice of Christ was heard, amid the awful tempest, denouncing woes upon sinners, and offering grace and salvation to all who would repent and believe. After this Christ made his personal appearance on the earth, coming down from heaven with great glory. There were several occasions on which he appeared, at which times he delivered to the assembled thousands all the instruction, and performed nearly all the miracles recorded in the New Testament, and then he was again taken up out of their sight. He ordained twelve apostles and gave them singular gifts. He instituted baptism and the Lord’s Supper, blessed the children and healed the sick, but I am obliged to pass over the details of these as this article is already so long. Now all were baptized in the name of the Trinity. All the Nephites, and nearly all the Lamanites became converted. For about fifty years the earth was almost a perfect paradise. But then the love of many began to wax cold, and iniquity to abound.

Terrible wars ensued. The Nephites apostatized more and more from the faith, till at the end of four hundred years after Christ they became entirely destroyed, and Mormon, as we have said, was one of the last of his race, who committed the records of this people to his son, Moroni, who deposited them in the hill, where Joseph Smith found them. This is an outline of this historical romance, which the deluded Mormons now regard as a revelation from God. In this brief sketch we have been obliged to omit many things that attracted our attention; but I suppose that our readers are exceedingly glad we have reached the end, as the writer of this sketch certainly is although a few words about the Mormons may follow next week.


J. A. C.

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