Tag Archives: Spencer’s Letters

“Spencer’s Letters” Excerpt: Testimony of the Book of Mormon

The following excerpt, from Letter I of Spencer’s Letters, discusses Orson Spencer’s conversion from the Baptist faith. As we discussed last week, Spencer was a Baptist minister with two college degrees before converting and eventually becoming President of the British Mission, Chancellor of the University of Deseret, etc. 

 

While I was inquiring to know what the Lord would have me to do, many brethren of different denominations warned and exhorted me faithfully; but their warnings consisted very much in a lively exhibition of evils to be endured, if I persisted; or, in other words, they appealed to my selfish nature. But I knew too well that truth should not be abandoned through the force of such appeals, however eloquently urged. Some with whom I conversed, gave glowing descriptions of the obnoxious character of Joseph Smith, and of the contradictory and unscriptural jargon of the Book of Mormon, but it was their misfortune usually to be deplorably ignorant of the true character of either.

Of the truth of this statement many instances might be furnished, if the limits of my sheet would allow. My own solicitude to know the character of Mr. Smith, in order to judge of the doctrines propagated by him, was not so great as that of some others. My aversion to the worship of man, is both educational and religious; but I said boldly, concerning Mr. Smith, that whoever had arranged and harmonized such a system of irresistible truth, has borne good fruit. Some suggested that it would be wisdom to make a personal acquaintance with Mr. Smith, previous to embracing his doctrines; but to me the obligation to receive the truths of heaven seemed absolute, whatever might be the character of Mr. Smith.

I read diligently the Book of Mormon from beginning to end, in close connexion with the comments of Origen Bachelor, Laroy Sunderland, and Dr. Hulburt, together with newspapers and some private letters obtained from the surviving friends of Mr. Spaulding, the supposed author of that book. I arose from its perusal with a strong conviction on my mind, that its pages were graced with the pen of inspiration. I was surprised that so little fault could be found with a book of such magnitude, treating, as it did, of such diversified subjects, through a period of so many generations. It appeared to me, that no enemy to truth or godliness would ever take the least interest in publishing the contents of such a book; such appeared to me to be its godly bearing, sound morality, and harmony with ancient scriptures, that the enemy of all righteousness might as well proclaim the dissolution of his own kingdom, as to spread the contents of such a volume among men; and from that time to this, every effort made by its enemies to demolish, has only shown how invincible a fortress defends it. If no greater breach can be made upon it, than has hitherto been made by those who have attacked it with the greatest animosity and diligence, its overthrow may be considered a forlorn hope. On this subject I only ask the friends of pure religion to read the Book of Mormon with the same unprejudiced, prayerful, and teachable spirit that they would recommend unbelievers in the ancient scriptures to read those sacred records. I have not spoken of the external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon, which is now worthy of much consideration; but the internal evidence, I think, will satisfy every honest mind. As you enquire after the reasons that operated to change my mind to the present faith, I only remark that “Steven’s Travels” had some influence, as an external evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon.

My present view, after which you also enquire, is, that the evidence, both internal and external, have been multiplied. It may have caused surprise and wonder to many of my respected and distinguished friends in New England, how I could ever renounce a respectable standing in the churches and in the ministry, to adhere to a people so odious in every one’s mouth, and so revolting to every one’s natural liking; the answer in part is this:—As soon as I discovered an identity in the doctrines of the Latter-day Saints and the Ancient Saints, I enquired whether the treatment bestowed upon each was also similar. I immediately began to dig deep to find the foundation and corner-stone of the true church; I looked at the demeanour and character of those who surrounded the Ancient Saints. The result of my observation seemed to be, that even Jesus Christ had many objectionable points of character to those who observed him. Those who were reputedly most conversant with Abraham, Moses, and other prophets of the Lord, pronounced him unfit for the respect and confidence of a pious community; and why did such men find so many objectionable points in the character and conduct of Jesus Christ? for substantially the same reasons that men of high intelligence and devotion find fault with Joseph Smith and his doctrines. Those who bore down with heavy opposition to Jesus Christ were honourable men, whose genealogy took in the worthiest ancestry; they were the orthodox expositors of revealed truth. Those who now oppose Joseph Smith (a person ordained and sent forth by Jesus Christ), occupy the same high and respectable standing, and manifest a similar bearing towards the reputed impostor of the present day. The ancient worthies were the repositories of learning, and so are the modern worthies. The ancients taught many things according to truth and godliness, and verily believed they were substantially right in faith and practice; this is also true of modern religious teachers.

New Release: “Spencer’s Letters”—The Most Famous Book You’ve Never Heard Of

There’s a copy of Spencer’s Letters inside the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple; it was written by Orson Spencer, a former Baptist minister who became President of the British Mission, mayor-elect of Nauvoo, and the first chancellor of the University of Deseret. Originally published in book form in 1848 after it was exhausted in tract form, I’ve also seen editions from 1852, 1874, 1879, and 1891, and it was in Deseret Book’s 1922 catalog, so evidently it was still selling about 75 years after its first publication. This book, then, was both one of the earliest book-length works published by a member of the Church and an enduring popular classic. Though it’s typically referred to as Spencer’s Letters in later works, the full title is actually Letters Exhibiting the Most Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; in any case, it’s now available on Project Gutenberg.

Orson Spencer (1802-1855) was a graduate of Union College, New York (1824) and Hamilton Literary and Theological College (1829); he became a Baptist minister of sufficient repute that the Governor of Massachusetts invited him to “take the pastoral charge of the Church where his Excellency resided, and of which he was a member.” After his conversion his old acquaintance William Crowel (editor of The Christian Watchman, a Baptist publication) sent him an 1842 letter asking a number of questions regarding his new faith. Orson Spencer wrote one general response in 1842 and then from Liverpool in 1847 sent a further thirteen letters outlining the beliefs and history of the Church. These letters, along with a preface and a few miscellaneous items at the end, comprise the the book Spencer’s Letters.

It’s a fascinating read. The doctrine will be familiar to present-day members of the Church, but the style of its presentation won’t be; a man with two college degrees writing soon after the martyrdom, when the Church had just gone to Utah and apocalyptic sentiment was possibly at the highest levels in the history of the Church, offers a unique perspective. He knows exactly how he feels about the truth of the Gospel and the state of his old denomination, and so will you. He addresses common arguments against the Church and argues throughout that the Christian world’s reaction to new truth revealed by Joseph Smith is very similar to the Jewish world’s reaction to new truth revealed by John the Baptist, Peter, or Christ.

This is a book that should occupy a leading place in the LDS canon of great literature. It’s one of only two non-scriptural book-length works Talmage names in The House of the Lord as having been placed in the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple. (The other, A Compendium of the Doctrines of the Gospel by Franklin D. Richards and James A. Little, is on our to-do list. The two named pamphlets are A Voice of Warning and Key to the Science of Theology, both by Parley P. Pratt and available on PG.) It’s well worth a read and deserves some good press; if you’ve been waiting for a thing to share on Facebook, make this that thing.