Wild Vagaries Of The Converts

The scenes at Kirtland during the first winter of the church

there reached the limit of religious enthusiasm. The younger

members outdid the elder in manifesting their belief. They saw

wonderful lights in the air, and constantly received visions.

Mounting stumps in the field, they preached to imaginary

congregations, and, picking up stones, they would read on them

words which they said disappeared as soon as known. At the

evening prayer-meetings the laying on of hands would be followed

by a sort of fit, in which the enthusiasts would fall apparently

lifeless on the floor, or contort their faces, creep on their

hands or knees, imitate the Indian process of killing and

scalping, and chase balls of fire through the fields.*

*Corrill's "Brief History of the Church," p. 16; Howe's

"Mormonism Unveiled," p. 104.

Some of the young men announced that they had received

"commissions" to teach and preach, written on parchment, which

came to them from the sky, and which they reached by jumping into

the air. Howe reproduces one of these, the conclusion of which,

with the seal, follows:--

"That you had a messenger tell you to go and get the other night,

you must not show to any son of Adam. Obey this, and I will stand

by you in all cases. My servants, obey my commandments in all

cases, and I will provide.

"Be ye always ready, Be ye always ready, Whenever I shall call,

Be ye always ready, My seal.

"There shall be something of great importance revealed when I

shall call you to go: My servants, be faithful over a few things,

and I will make you a ruler over many. Amen, Amen, Amen."

Foolishly extravagant as these manifestations appear (Corrill

says that comparatively few members indulged in them), there was

nothing in them peculiar to the Mormon belief. The meetings of

the Disciples, in the year of Smith's arrival in Ohio and later,

when men like Campbell and Scott spoke, were swayed with the most

intense religious enthusiasm. A description of the effect of

Campbell's preaching at a grove meeting in the Cuyahoga Valley in

1831 says:--

"The woods were full of horses and carriages, and the hundreds

already there were rapidly swelled to many thousands; all were of

one race-the Yankee; all of one calling, or nearly, the

farmer.... When Campbell closed, low murmurs broke and ran

through the awed crowd; men and women from all parts of the vast

assembly with streaming eyes came forward; young men who had

climbed into small trees from curiosity, came down from

conviction, and went forward for baptism."*

* Riddle's "The Portrait."

It is easy to cite very "orthodox" precedents for such

manifestations. One of these we find in the accounts of what were

called "the jerks," which accompanied a great revival in 1803,

brought about by the preaching of the Rev. Joseph Badger, a Yale

graduate and a Congregationalist, who was the first missionary to

the Western Reserve. J. S. C. Abbott, in his history of Ohio,

describing the "jerks," says:--

"The subject was instantaneously seized with spasms in every

muscle, nerve and tendon. His head was thrown backward and

forward, and from side to side, with inconceivable rapidity. So

swift was the motion that the features could no more be discerned

than the spokes of a wheel can be seen when revolving with the

greatest velocity.... All were impressed with a conviction that

there was something supernatural in these convulsions, and that

it was opposing the spirit of God to resist them."

The most extravagant enthusiasm of the Kirtland converts, and the

most extravagant claims of the Mormon leaders at that time, were

exceeded by the manifestations of converts in the early days of

Methodism, and the miraculous occurrences testified to by Wesley

himself,*--a cloud tempering the sun in answer to his prayer; his

horse cured of lameness by faith; the case of a blind Catholic

girl who saw plainly when her eyes rested on the New Testament,

but became blind again when she took up the Mass Book.

* For examples see Lecky's "England in the Nineteenth Century,

Vol. III, Chap. VIII, and Wesley's "Journal."

These Mormon enthusiasts were only suffering from a manifestation

to which man is subject; and we can agree with a Mormon elder

who, although he left the church disgusted with its

extravagances, afterward remarked, "The man of religious feeling

will know how to pity rather than upbraid that zeal without

knowledge which leads a man to fancy that he has found the ladder

of Jacob, and that he sees the angel of the Lord ascending and

descending before his eyes."

When Smith and Rigdon reached Kirtland they found the new church

in a state of chaos because of these wild excitements, and of an

attempt to establish a community of possessions, growing out of

Rigdon's previous teachings. These communists held that what

belonged to one belonged to all, and that they could even use any

one's clothes or other personal property without asking

permission. Many of the flock resented this, and anything but a

condition of brotherly love resulted. Smith, in his account of

the situation as they found it, says that the members were

striving to do the will of God, "though some had strange notions,

and false spirits had crept in among them. With a little caution

and some wisdom, I soon assisted the brothers and sisters to

overcome them. The plan of 'common stock,' which had existed in

what was called 'the family,' whose members generally had

embraced the Everlasting Gospel, was readily abandoned for the

more perfect law of the Lord,"*--which the prophet at once


* Millennial Star, Vol. XIV, Supt., p. 56.

Smith announced that the Lord had informed him that the ravings

of the converts were of the devil, and this had a deterring

effect; but at an important meeting of elders to receive an

endowment, some three months later, conducted by Smith himself,

the spirits got hold of some of the elders. "It threw one from

his seat to the floor," says Corrill. "It bound another so that

for some time he could not use his limbs or speak; and some other

curious effects were experienced. But by a mighty exertion, in

the name of the Lord, it was exposed and shown to be of an evil


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