Mormon History

Early Mormonism and Millennial Fever - 1878

The Salt Lake Daily Tribune December 5, 1878


How the Work Was Done, and the
Excitement it Produced.


A contributor to the Tribune, who has been a lifelong member of the Mormon Church, and who has made its doctrine and history a special study, asks us to publish the following extract from: "A. H. Hayden's History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve," which he offers to his brother Saints as profitable food for recollection. It is a generally accepted fact that Mormonism is made up of Hebraism, Mohamedanism, and any number of later theologies, and our correspondent, in copying the adjoined for the benefit of our readers, thinks he makes it apparent that the Mormon leaders in their eclecticism, have largely drawn from the Campbellite doctrine. Judging from this specimen of Professor Hayden's volume, we regard him as a very finished writer, and as he treats upon a topic interesting to all theological inquirers, we willingly accord him all the space he asks.

In the winter of 1827-8, Brother Scott opened, at Simmons Sackett's, Ohio, the plea of the ancient gospel. The second chapter of Acts, the opening of the Kingdom was his subject. He contended ably for the restoration of the true, original, apostolic order, which would restore to the Church the ancient gospel as preached by the apostles.

(A revelation given to Joseph Smith in March, 1829, found in the "Book of Commandments" in 1832, but eliminated from subsequent editions of the Mormon "Book of Doctrine and Covenants." contains these words: "I will establish my church like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.")

The interest became an excitement. All tongues were set loose in investigation, in defense, or in opposition. The Bibles were looked up, the dust brushed off, and the people began to read. "I don't believe the preacher read that Scripture right." "My Bible does not read that way," says another. The book is opened, and lo! there stand the very words! In the first gospel sermon, too - -the model sermon -- as what "began at Jerusalem" was to be "preached to the ends of the earth." The air was thick with rumors of a new religion, a new Bible, and all sorts of injurious, and even slanderous imputations: so new had become the things which are as old as the days of the apostles.

The bright jewel of the "ancient Gospel," as the newely discovered arrangement of its fundamental items began now to be designated, attracted universal attention. So simple, so novel, so convincingly clear, and so evidently supported by the reading of the Acts, it won friends and wrought victories wherever it was proclaimed. It spread rapidly and became the topic of excited investigation from New Lisbon to the lakes. Mr. Scott's success had so completely demonstrated the correctness of his method of the direct application of the Gospel for the salvation of sinners, that his zeal knew no bounds. He was a rapid rider. Mantled in his cloak, with a small polyglot Bible in the minion type, which he constantly studied, he hurried from place to place to tell the news; to preach the things concerning the kingdom of God

The ardor of religious awakening resulting from the new discoveries in the gospel was very much increased about the year 1830, by the hope that the millennium had now dawned, and that the long expected day of gospel glory would very soon be ushered in. The restoration of the ancient gospel was looked upon as the initiatory movement which, it was thought, would spread so rapidly that existing denominations would almost immediately be deorganized; that the true people, of whom it was believed Christ had a remnant among the sects, would at once, on the presentation of these evidently scriptural views, embrace them, and thus form the union of Christians so long prayed for; and so would be established the Kingdom of Jesus in form, as well as in fact, on its New Testament basis. All the powers in array against this newly established kingdom, whether in the churches of Protestantism or Romanism, would soon surrender at the demand of the King of kings.

The prospect was a glorious one, springing very naturally from the discovery of the complete adaptation of the gospel to the ends for which it was given. This hope of the millennial glory was based on many passages of the Holy Scripture. All such scriptures as spoke of the "ransomed of the Lord returning to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: that they should obtain joy and gladness, and that sorrow and sighing should flee away," (Isa. xxxv: 10,) were confidently expected to be literally and almost immediately fulfilled.

Many thought the day of the Lord just at hand. They prayed for it, looked for it, sung of it. The set time to favor Zion had come. The day of redemption was near. It only awaited the complete purification of his church -- which meant the removal of sects and the union of Christians on the "Bible alone." Preaching against "sectarianism" was now more frequent and vehement.

These glowing expectations formed the staple of many sermons. They were the continued and exhaustless topic of conversations. They animated the hope, and inspired the zeal, to a high degree, of the converts, and many of the advocates of the gospel. Millennial hymns were learned and sung with a joyful fervor and hope surpassing the conception of worldly and carnal professors. One of these hymns, better in its hope than poetic merit, opened as follows:

"The time is soon coming by the prophets foretold,
 When Zion in purity the world will behold,
 For Jesus' pure testimony will gain the day,
 Denominations, selfishness will vanish away."

The Scriptures, especially the prophetic writings, were studied with unremitting diligence and profound attention. It is surprising even now, as memory returns to gather up these interesting remains of that mighty work, to recall the thorough and extensive Bible knowledge which the converts quickly obtained. Nebuchadnezzar's vision of the four great monarchies, with the accompanying vision of the kingdom of the stone (Daniel) and the visions of that prophet himself (chapters 7 and 8), became generally familiar, and were, in the main, it is presumed, correctly understood. Many portions of the Revelation were so thoroughly studied that they became the staple of the common thought. The "two witnesses," their slaughter, their resurrection after three and a half days; their ascent in clouds to heaven in the sight of their enemies; the woman that fled into the desert from the flood of persecution poured out to engulf her; her abode and nourishment there for a "time, times and the dividing of time;" her blissful return from her wilderness retreat, and the prophetic acclaim: "Who is this that comes from the wilderness leaning on the arm of her beloved, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners?" all these and many others constituted a novel and voluminous addition to the stinted Bible knowledge and the stereotyped style of sermonizing which then prevailed.

Some of the leaders in these new discoveries, advancing less cautiously as the ardor of discovery increased, began to form theories of the millennium. The fourteenth chapter of Zechariah was brought forward in proof -- all considered as literal--that the most marvelous and stupendous physical and climatic changes were to be wrought in Palestine: ("In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses, holiness unto the Lord;  *  *  *  yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of Hosts." Zechariah XIV, 20,21,.) and that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, was to reign literally" in Jerusalem and in Mount Zion, and before his ancients, gloriously." The glory and splendors of that august millennial Kingdom were to surpass all vision, as the light of the moon was to be made equal to the light of the sun, and the light of the sun would be augmented "sevenfold." Brother Scott then, with great fluency, descanted upon the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, relating to the return of the Jews and their re-establishment in the Holy Land. Rigdon, who always caught and proclaimed the last word that fell from the lips of Scott or Campbell, seized these views, and with the wildness of his extravagant nature, heralded them everywhere.

Many sagacious brethren perceived with regret the new turn things were taking, and rightly judging that these Millennial theories would not tend to develop the work so auspiciously begun, but rather divert the minds of the people from it, they began prudently and cautiously to correct the aberration, and draw attention away from untaught questions and visionary anticipations of the future to the real purposes of the work of Christ now on hand, the preaching of the gospel for the salvation of sinners, and building up of the saints on the most holy faith.

Note 1: The contributor of this extract was almost certainly James Thornton Cobb (1833-1910) of Salt Lake City. Cobb was the adopted son of Brigham Young, but, according to Joseph Smith III, he was "the son of the woman known as Brigham Young's Boston wife. He was an inmate of Brigham's family and partaker of his bounty, and a member of the church in Utah... His domestic life was poisoned by the defection of his own wife; and subsequently still, his daughter [into polygamous LDS families]... For these reasons he is an intense hater of Mormonism." In a letter written by RLDS President Joseph Smith III to James T. Cobb, dated Feb. 14, 1879, Smith says: "Yours of the 9th inst. is at hand opportunely. Thank you for the reading of A. S. Hayden's letter. I reenclose it to you..." It seems that the historical reconstructions of Rev. Hayden were very much on Cobb's mind at this time, and that he had taken the trouble to obtain a letter from that historian and to loan it to the RLDS President. The unnamed Tribune correspondent feels that "the Mormon leaders," in constructing their religion, "have largely drawn from the Campbellite doctrine." This is a sentiment Disciples of Christ historian Amos S. Hayden might not have put so bluntly, but it does correspond closely with various other statements regarding the origin of Mormonism voiced by James T. Cobb.