Section 35: Sidney Rigdon Called as a Scribe
In early December 1830, shortly after his conversion, Sidney Rigdon traveled the 300 miles from Kirtland to Fayette to meet the Prophet. He brought with him Edward Partridge. Sidney Rigdon had already been baptized by Parley P. Pratt in Kirtland, but Edward Partridge, a prosperous hatter and fellow Campbellite pastor with Sidney Rigdon, wanted to shake hands with the Prophet and feel good about him before finally committing to baptism. Rigdon and Partridge also wanted to persuade Joseph to come to Kirtland so that the new Ohio converts might meet him and catch his spirit.
There is some confusion regarding the date on which Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge arrived in Fayette. Section 35 was addressed to Sidney Rigdon and was received shortly after their arrival in Fayette. Two early versions of section 35 were printed in the Ohio Star, on January 5, 1832 and in the Painesville Telegraph on January 17, 1832. These both give the date of this revelation as December 7, 1830. Lucy Mack Smith, however, states that Sidney and Edward Partridge arrived at the Smith’s new home in East Waterloo, near Fayette, the day before Edward was baptized. Since Partridge was baptized in December 11, 1830, Lucy’s account has them arriving on December 10, thus conflicting with the December 7 date. The date of section 35 in all LDS printings has been given simply as December 1830.
In this revelation Sidney Rigdon is compared to John the Baptist as one who helped prepare the way for the Restoration. Even before he became a member of the Church, he was doing the Lord’s work in preparing a group of people to receive the gospel.
At the time Joseph Smith was translating or writing his inspired revision of the King James Bible. Oliver Cowdery had been a scribe for the prophet in this project, but he was serving a mission to the Lamanites. Thus Joseph was without one of his trusted scribes. Sidney is called to act as scribe for Joseph. Sidney is also reminded that Joseph, even in his “weakness” or lack of sophistication, is the one who holds the keys for this dispensation.
1 Listen to the voice of the Lord your God, even Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, whose course is one eternal round, the same today as yesterday, and forever.
verse 1 “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end” See the commentary for D&C 19:1.
“whose course is one eternal round” The concept contained in this phrase is a rich and vital one. We are governed by God’s law. That law is absolute, completely reliable, unvarying, and its consequences are inescapable. For every action there is an identical result. These results follow without respect to person. It has always been thus, in Adam’s day just as in ours and in the eternities to come. Thus, “the course of the Lord is one eternal round.” For a more complete discussion of this phrase, see the commentary for D&C 3:2.
2 I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one.
verse 2 “even one in me as I am one in the Father” President Brigham Young once asked an interesting question: “How is it that the Latter-day Saints feel and understand alike, are of one heart and one mind, no matter where they may be when they receive the gospel?” (JD, 18:259). He then continued on to answer his own question. He taught that it is the influence of the Spirit of God who is the great unifier, whose mind is the mind and will of God the Father who brings us all to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). Indeed, we can all exclaim in the beautiful language of Ruth, “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God!” (Ruth 1:16).
For a more thorough discussion of the concept of the oneness of the Father and the Son, see the commentary for D&C 93:3.
3 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto my servant Sidney, I have looked upon thee and thy works. I have heard thy prayers, and prepared thee for a greater work.
verse 3 “I have . . . prepared thee for a greater work” Sidney Rigdon did much good as a Protestant minister in imparting to many people a preparatory understanding of faith, repentance, and baptism by immersion. The work he is called to here, however, to preach the fulness of the gospel, was an even “greater work.”
4 Thou art blessed, for thou shalt do great things. Behold thou wast sent forth, even as John, to prepare the way before me, and before Elijah which should come, and thou knewest it not.
verse 4 “thou wast sent forth, even as John” In his labors as a Baptist minister and later as a Campbellite minister the hand of the Lord was over Sidney to direct him in the gathering of many earnest souls who could not accept the teachings of the sects of the day. He had prayed for further light. He was instrumental in preparing a number of intelligent and forceful men who later were to become leaders in the Church.
This passage gives one of several reasons why ministers and members of other churches cannot be labeled as “apostates” or even necessarily as opponents. This is because many of them have some gospel light with which, as servants of God, they prepare the world for greater light to come—even though they may not accept the fulness of the gospel themselves.
In many foreign lands the LDS Church now reaps the harvest sown by non-LDS missionaries who sometimes gave their lives to bring a little light to those who did not know Christ at all. Those noble souls will not lose their reward. In Sidney Rigdon’s case, his preaching as a Protestant minister had prepared scores of people to recognize the restored gospel when it arrived in Ohio with the Lamanite missionaries. Sidney’s groundwork also preceded the coming of Elijah the prophet to the Kirtland Temple in 1836 to restore the keys of the sealing power, and he prepared many Saints to receive the blessings of the temple. Those Latter-day Saints who can see other Christian churches and their members only as adversaries do not understand the difference between having some light and having the fulness thereof, and they apparently disregard the witness of section 35.
5 Thou didst baptize by water unto repentance, but they received not the Holy Ghost;
6 But now I give unto thee a commandment, that thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old.
verses 5-6 In Sidney’s prior ministry, he had lacked authority. Now, as a priesthood holder Sidney will baptize with authority and be able to lay hands on those baptized, and they will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
7 And it shall come to pass that there shall be a great work in the land, even among the Gentiles, for their folly and their abominations shall be made manifest in the eyes of all people.
verse 7 “even among the Gentiles” This present dispensation of the gospel has consisted of what the Lord has called the times of the Gentiles (see D&C 45:25-30) —a period during which every (Gentile) nation, kindred, tongue, and people will have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ (see also the commentary for 1 Nephi 13:42) in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon.
8 For I am God, and mine arm is not shortened; and I will show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name.
verse 8 “mine arm is not shortened” My power is not limited, and I will make it felt.
“I will show miracles, signs, and wonders unto all those who believe on my name” Only the faithful will perceive and recognize the miraculous works of God in the latter days. Those without faith either will not see them at all or will not recognize them as miraculous until the unmistakable destructive signs of the end, when it may to too late.
9 And whoso shall ask it in my name in faith, they shall cast out devils; they shall heal the sick; they shall cause the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk.
verse 9 The restored gospel, with its divine priesthood, is characterized by and may be recognized by manifesting those gifts of the Spirit enjoyed by saints in other dispensations. This does not mean that every devil will be cast out, or that every sick person will be healed. It does mean that these miracles will at times be manifested among the faithful.
10 And the time speedily cometh that great things are to be shown forth unto the children of men;
11 But without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon, the same which has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
verse 11 “without faith shall not anything be shown forth except desolations upon Babylon” When there is not faith in the world there are not miracles or spiritual gifts. There is only God’s justice and punishment directed against Babylon.
Babylon is the world of the natural man, unrefined by the Spirit of the Lord. It is Satan’s world. The Lord often compares Babylon to a prostitute from whom anything can be bought for money. She willingly desecrates whatever is holy for money, power, immorality, or other carnal satisfactions. Her fornication is her willing desecration of whatever is holy—the sacred things of God such as religion, standards, values, and ethics. Like a whore, she sells or betrays for money that which is most sacred. Examples of her fornications include the illegal drug trade, the pornography business, or the abortion industry. These are promoted to the nations of the world by Satan and his servants with the promise of money and power to those who sell and with the promise of unhindered physical or sexual gratification to those who buy.
“drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” This interesting phrase is also found in the book of Revelation (14:8; 18:3; see also 17:2) and in two other places in the Doctrine and Covenants (86:3; 88:94). The “wrath of her fornication” is God’s anger over Babylon’s behavior. The “wine of the wrath of her fornication” is the bitter cup or the punishment prepared for her and her adherents to drink in order to answer the demands of God’s justice—destruction in this life, and the pains of hell in the life to come.
12 And there are none that doeth good except those who are ready to receive the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth unto this generation.
verse 12 “there are none that doeth good” What humans consider good and what God defines as good are often different. Since God “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31), then good or just from his celestial perspective must mean “perfectly good,” “absolutely innocent,” or “completely just and worthy.” Because humans can become completely just and worthy, absolutely innocent, or perfectly good only through the atonement of Christ, it then follows that the “good” can be only those who have entered into the gospel covenant or who are looking for it. Conversely, the “bad” are those who reject Christ or his covenant, however admirable their personal habits might be by relative human standards. Without the atonement, no one’s behavior qualifies as “good” before the Lord. With the cleansing power of the atonement, however, anyone can be made “good” (see D&C 76:69; 3 Nephi 27:16).
13 Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thrash the nations by the power of my Spirit;
verse 13 “I call upon the weak things of the world” Why does the Lord choose the “weak things,” or the weak men, of the earth through whom to perform his works? One answer is that the “weak” men are more likely to be humble and teachable and responsive to the Lord’s directions. In addition it is vital that man learn to lean upon the true source of power, instead of leaning upon themselves or other men. A truly forceful, charismatic, and persuasive prophet or agent of the Lord might draw a following, but his adherents might be inclined to be attracted to him and his worldly charms rather than seeking for the Spirit of the Lord. People might become dependent upon the magnetic and dynamic leader himself and not realize that they need the Lord and his Spirit. Thus, the Lord chooses people as his agents who could not possibly succeed on their own resources. He does this to demonstrate that the agent is not as important as the Lord’s word. In Judges 7:2 we read: “Lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.” Paul recorded: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Corinthians 1:19). Of those whom the Lord calls to labor in his vineyard, Paul wrote: “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
“to thrash the nations” Thrash is the same as thresh. See the commentary for verses 13-14 below.
14 And their arm shall be my arm, and I will be their shield and their buckler; and I will gird up their loins, and they shall fight manfully for me; and their enemies shall be under their feet; and I will let fall the sword in their behalf, and by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.
verses 13-14 In spite of their “weakness” (lack of worldly sophistication or worldly intellectual attainments), the Lord’s servants in this final dispensation will “thrash the nations.” Threshing of grain in biblical times was done by treading out the grain on a threshing-floor. The valuable kernels are gathered and the straw or chaff is left to be burned or simply blown away by the wind. The meaning of this analogy in the context of missionary work is obvious.
verse 14 A “buckler” is a shield or a defense. Every missionary should take heart from the metaphors the Lord uses here to describe how he will enable and protect his missionaries: “Their enemies shall be under their feet,” “I will let fall the sword in their behalf,” and “by the fire of mine indignation will I preserve them.”
15 And the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them, and they shall be looking forth for the time of my coming, for it is nigh at hand—
verse 15 “the poor and the meek shall have the gospel preached unto them” These are those who are unimportant in a worldly way in Babylon. They may have little money or little power or influence over others. “Poor” may also refer to those who are poor in spirit or poor in self-adulation as well as those who are poor in money. The “poor and the meek” are not usually so distracted by the world that they lose their place in the better one that is coming.
16 And they shall learn the parable of the fig-tree, for even now already summer is nigh.
verse 16 “the parable of the fig-tree” “And as [Jesus] sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3). Jesus responded by speaking of certain signs that would indicated the nearness of his coming. Among these signs was the “parable of the fig-tree.” “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer [the Savior’s second coming] [is] nigh” (Matthew 24:32). Using the parable of the fig-tree, President Spencer W. Kimball made a prophetic pronouncement: “The leaves are commencing to show on the fig tree” (Ensign, May 1976, 74).
17 And I have sent forth the fulness of my gospel by the hand of my servant Joseph; and in weakness have I blessed him;
verse 17 All of the gospel principles to which man is allowed access are being restored through Joseph in this final dispensation—“the fulness of my Gospel.” Wilford Woodruff wrote of the Prophet Joseph: “He lived until he received every key, ordinance and law ever given to any man on the earth, from father Adam down, touching this dispensation” (JD, 16:267).
“in weakness have I blessed him” Joseph Smith accumulated little money or formal education, and he never became a popular figure in the eyes of the world. Yet he stands as one of the twenty or so most important priesthood leaders in the history of the world—the head of the dispensation of the fulness of times.
18 And I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed, even things which were from the foundation of the world, and the things which shall come from this time until the time of my coming, if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead.
verse 18 “I have given unto him the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed” Joseph Smith, as head of the dispensation of the fulness of times, holds the keys of all the heavenly information that will be revealed to the earth during this dispensation. Examples of his exercising these keys include his translation of the Book of Mormon, his inspired revision of the Bible, his translating the Book of Abraham, his revealing the ordinances of the temple, and his receiving and writing the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Apparently he still holds these keys and continues to exercise them from the other side of the veil (see D&C 90:3).
19 Wherefore, watch over him that his faith fail not, and it shall be given by the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, that knoweth all things.
verse 19 “watch over him that his faith fail not” Sidney is given charge to look out for Joseph’s spiritual welfare and to give him advice, counsel, and strength as directed by the Holy Ghost. Even prophets need the counsel of their priesthood brethren and the love, support, and service of those over whom they preside.
20 And a commandment I give unto thee—that thou shalt write for him; and the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom, to the salvation of mine own elect;
verse 20 “thou shalt write for him” Joseph’s two scribes, Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer had been called on missions (D&C 28:8; 30:9-11). John Whitmer was later dispatched to Kirtland to watch over the group of new converts there. Joseph, therefore, needed a reliable scribe. Sidney Rigdon is called to fill that need, and he will become a major scribe for the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.
“the scriptures shall be given, even as they are in mine own bosom” The reference here is to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (the “JST”). This does not necessarily mean that the JST will simply restore the original texts of the biblical books. The purpose of the JST goes beyond that. The texts will be rendered as God himself wants us to understand them—corrected, adapted, edited, revised, and supplemented especially for use of the saints in the latter days. See the supplemental article, Joseph Smith’s Inspired Revision of the Bible—The JST.
21 For they will hear my voice, and shall see me, and shall not be asleep, and shall abide the day of my coming; for they shall be purified, even as I am pure.
verse 21 “For they will hear my voice” Here is a sweeping promise to those elect who accept the restored gospel. They will hear and see the Lord, will not be caught asleep or unprepared when he comes, and will survive the great and terrible day of the Lord.
22 And now I say unto you, tarry with him, and he shall journey with you; forsake him not, and surely these things shall be fulfilled.
verse 22 “And now I say unto you, tarry with him” Sidney is not to return home to Ohio, but is to remain with Joseph.
23 And inasmuch as ye do not write, behold, it shall be given unto him to prophesy; and thou shalt preach my gospel and call on the holy prophets to prove his words, as they shall be given him.
verse 23 “And inasmuch as ye do not write” Sidney is warned that it is not his calling to write scripture. There is no doubt that Sidney is better educated and more experienced than Joseph. There is also no doubt that despite these differences, Joseph is the Lord’s anointed prophet. Just as was Oliver Cowdery (see D&C 28:2-7), Sidney is warned to use his talents to sustain Joseph and not try to control or eclipse him. It is Sidney’s calling to support Joseph and to preach and expound upon the things Joseph receives and to use the Bible (“call on the holy prophets”) to support Joseph’s teachings.
24 Keep all the commandments and covenants by which ye are bound; and I will cause the heavens to shake for your good, and Satan shall tremble and Zion shall rejoice upon the hills and flourish;
25 And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; and by the keys which I have given shall they be led, and no more be confounded at all.
verse 25 “And Israel shall be saved” In the narrow sense, Israel is the infant Church that will survive and thrive to be caught up at the Savior’s coming. In the broader context, Israel is all the posterity of Jacob, including the Jews, the Book of Mormon peoples, the lost tribes, and the Gentiles who are adopted into the house of Israel. All these who believe shall be led to salvation by the keys of the priesthood held by the apostolic leaders of the latter-day Church.
26 Lift up your hearts and be glad, your redemption draweth nigh.
27 Fear not, little flock, the kingdom is yours until I come. Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen.
verses 26-27 The Lord’s admonitions in these verses are often disobeyed among the faithful Latter-day Saints. Often even the most faithful members have difficulty obeying the commandment of the Lord to rejoice, be glad, and fear not. There is a tendency for the members to resist the joy that should already be theirs, and they continue to fear for their place in the kingdom. The Lord does not say that the kingdom “may be yours” or even “will be yours” (see D&C 25:1). As long as church members are faithful, they should know that the kingdom is already theirs. The physical reality of the Lord’s millennial kingdom and his eventual heavenly kingdom is not visible yet, but they are coming, and the faithful saints already own a piece of them.
verse 27 “Behold, I come quickly.” Remember that this expression does not mean that the Lord will come soon. Rather, it means he will come at a moment when he is not expected. See the commentary for D&C 33:18.
- Michael J. Preece