“There was a man whose name was Sidney Rigdon, he having been an instrument in the hand of the Lord of doing much good.” That’s how John Whitmer began the story of section 35 in his history. Sidney “was in search of truth, consequently he received the fullness of the gospel with gladness of heart, even the Book of Mormon”1 John Whitmer continued, imitating the Book of Mormon:
Now it came to pass, after Sidney Rigdon, was received into this Church, that he was ordained an elder, under the hands of Oliver Cowdery. He having much anxiety to see Joseph Smith, Jr., the Seer whom the Lord had raised up in these last days. Therefore he took his journey to the state of New York, where Joseph resided.
Arriving in time to hear Joseph conclude a sermon, Sidney asked Joseph to seek revelation to know the Lord’s will for him.2 “After the Lord had made known what he wanted that his servant Sidney should do, he went to writing the things which the Lord showed unto his servant the Seer.” Joseph revised the Bible as Sidney scribed, giving us some of the most precious scripture ever revealed, including much of the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price.3
Joseph and Sidney also obeyed the revelation’s command to form a powerful companionship, with Joseph prophesying and Sidney teaching from the scriptures. They “went to the several churches preaching and prophesying wherever they went,” John wrote,
and greatly strengthened the churches that were built unto the Lord. Joseph prophesied saying: God is about to destroy this generation, and Christ will descend from heaven in power and great glory, with all the holy angels with him, to take vengeance upon the wicked, and they that know not God. Sidney preached the gospel and proved his [Joseph’s] words from the holy prophets.4
1. Book of John Whitmer, chapter 1, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.
2. Lavina Fielding Anderson, editor, Lucy’s Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith’s Family Memoir (Salt Lake City: Signature, 2001), 504–5.
3. Book of John Whitmer, chapter 1.
4. Book of John Whitmer, chapter 1, Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.
From Doctrine and Covenants Minute
In the fall of 1830, as the missionaries who were called to preach to the Lamanites traveled westward toward the frontier, one of them, Parley P. Pratt, asked if they could make a stop near Mentor, Ohio. Parley wanted to visit one of his most important spiritual mentors, Sidney Rigdon. The missionaries arrived at the Rigdon home carrying bags full of copies of the Book of Mormon. Parley presented one to Sidney, saying, “You brought the truth to me. I now ask you as a friend to read this for my sake.” Sidney’s reaction was unfavorable at first. According to his daughter he took the book and “read it and examined it for about an hour and then threw it down, and said he did not believe a word of it.” According to another account he declared the book to be a “silly fabrication.” But he also kept reading all night (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 2006, 58–59).
Sidney was not yet fully convinced, but he did allow the missionaries to preach to his congregation. At the end of the missionaries’ talks, Parley P. Pratt asked Sidney if he wanted to make any remarks. Sidney arose and told the gathering that “the information they had that evening received, was of extraordinary character, and certainly demanded their most serious consideration: and as the apostle [Paul] advised his brethren to ‘prove all things and hold fast that which is good,’ so he would exhort his brethren to do likewise, and give the matter a careful investigation; and not turn against it, without being fully convinced of its being an imposition, lest they should, possibly, resist the truth” (Times and Seasons, 4, 15 Aug. 1843, 289–90).
Sidney continued an intensive study of the Book of Mormon. His son, Wickliffe Rigdon, later recalled that his father was “so engaged in [reading the book] that it was hard for him to quit long enough to eat his meals. He read it both day and night.” Sidney spoke earnestly with Oliver Cowdery about Joseph Smith and whether it was possible that the book had been fabricated. Oliver told Sidney that Joseph was only twenty-two years old during most of the translation and had “hardly a common school education.” Sidney replied, “If that was all the education he had, he never wrote the book.” He further expressed his “utmost amazement that such a man should write a book which seemed to shed a flood of light on all the old scriptures, open all their profoundest mysteries, and give them perfect consistency and complete system,” adding, “[if] God ever gave a revelation, surely this must be divine” (Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon, 2006, 60).
Soon after speaking with Oliver, Sidney saw a vision. He later wrote, “I saw the different orders of professing Christians passing before my eyes, with their hearts, exposed to view, and they were as corrupt as corruption itself. That society to which I belonged [the Reformed Baptists] also passed before my eyes, and to my astonishment it was as corrupt as the others. Last of all that little man who bro’t me the Book of Mormon [Oliver Cowdery], passed before my eyes with his heart open, and it was as pure as an angel; and this was a testimony from God; that the Book of Mormon was a Divine Revelation” (cited in Eber Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 1834, 246–47).
In November 1830 Sidney called together a large group of his friends and neighbors to the Methodist church in Kirtland. Parley P. Pratt later wrote that Sidney “addressed them very affectionately for near two hours, during which most of the time both himself and nearly all the congregation were melted into tears. He asked forgiveness of everybody who might have had occasion to be offended with any part of his former life. He forgave all who had persecuted or injured him in any manner. And the next morning, himself and his wife were baptized by Elder O. Cowdery. . . . Most of the people were greatly affected. They came out of the water overwhelmed in tears” (Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 1838, 41).
A few weeks after his baptism, Sidney traveled to New York in the company of his friend Edward Partridge. Both were determined to meet with the Prophet who brought forth the Book of Mormon. Church historian John Whitmer later wrote that Sidney “having much anxiety to see Joseph Smith Jr the Seer . . . took his journey to the state of New York” (John Whitmer, History 1831–circa 1847, 1, JSP). Shortly after Sidney and Edward arrived at the home of the Prophet near Fayette, New York, Joseph Smith received this revelation on behalf of Sidney Rigdon.