If you have read any of my previous columns, you know that I love a good treasure hunt. Well, this past Sunday, as I read through the journal of an early Mormon convert named Henry W. Bigler, I came across an entry that caught my attention–details of an unpublished sermon that was given by the prophet Joseph Smith in Far West. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
I’m often asked where I acquire these precious artifacts. Well, in the case of this journal, I met with the 88 year-old granddaughter of Henry W. Bigler. Her name is Christine and we are kindred spirits. She told me that she felt an urgency to find a new home for her grandfather’s journal. So after two long visits with Christine and two of her close friends, she told me that she had found a new home for her grandfather’s journal. I assured Christine that I would tell Henry’s story. This is the first step in fulfilling that promise.
Henry W. Bigler had a very colorful way of writing and I am a very visual reader. After I read the passage several times, I closed my eyes and this is what I saw:
It was a crisp, clear Sunday morning in 1838. The Saints had gathered together to hear the words of Brother Joseph. Most had taken a seat on the wooden pews, but several remained standing in the unfinished frame building in Far West, Missouri. There was a sense of excitement in the air. However, once the meeting began, the prophet called on a young Elder to “preach” in his stead.
As this young man made his way to the pulpit, he looked around and saw a look of disappointment on the faces of those in attendance. After all, they, like most early converts, wanted to hear the words of the prophet–not to a young, inexperienced elder. However, undeterred, and feeling that the prophet was inspired to call on him to speak, this young man opened his Bible and chose the second chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament as the text for his sermon.
He recounted the story of Nebuchadnezzar having a dream –one which was revealed to Daniel–a dream where the king had seen a great image –and a stone cut from the mountain without hands destroy that image–and that stone grew and filled the whole earth.
The young elder expounded on the subject for almost an hour–and gained confidence as he read and interpreted each verse. As he finished his sermon, and was about to take his seat, the prophet Joseph stood up, placed his hand on his shoulder and complemented him on his discourse. Relieved, the young man took his seat.
There was renewed excitement in the room as the prophet Joseph took his place behind the podium to say a few words. He began by telling the congregation that he would like take a few moments to “correct” the interpretation made by the young elder concerning the second chapter of Daniel.
At this point, the prophet begins his “lost sermon” and gives a hitherto unknown interpretation of Daniel’s imagery of “a stone cut from the mountain without hands.”
Here is the original excerpt from Henry W. Bigler’s journal:
“The first Sunday I was in Far West I went to [a] meeting held in an unfurnished frame building hoping to hear the Prophet preach but how disappointed I was when he called a beardless boy to the stand to preach — but I soon found there was preach in him. He took a text in the second chapter of Daniel and when he concluded the Prophet got up and complemented the young Elder but said the Prophet,”I will correct the idea in regard to the little stone rolling forward–that is not so, it is stationary like a grindstone. And like a grindstone it revolves (Joseph made a circular motion with his hands) and said that when the Elders went abroad preaching the gospel and people believed and obeyed the gospel and became believers in the Book of Mormon, they were added to the little stone–thus they gathered around it so that it grew larger and larger until it had already began to pinch the toes of the image–and it [the stone] would finally break it [the image] in pieces and be carried away like the chaff of the summer thrashing floor while the stone kep[t] growing until it filled the whole earth.”
The discovery of this “lost sermon” by Joseph Smith, although brief, with its previously unknown interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream–gives me an even greater appreciation for, Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration.
I will continue with the fascinating saga of Henry W. Bigler in future articles. His journal will be on display June 19-20, 2015 at the “American History Museum” at Zion’s Mercantile at The Shops at the Riverwoods, 4801 N. University Ave., Provo, UT 84604. Call 801-802-6064 for more information. This event is free to the public.
Reid N. Moon is the owner of Moon’s Rare Books in Provo, Utah. He and his wife Melanie and their four younger children live in Allen, Texas (a suburb of Dallas). Brother Moon teaches Sunday School in the Allen 4th Ward. They plan to move to Provo, Utah this summer.