Who before 1830 was anticipating the Restoration? For many cases we like to cite, the evidence consists of quotes that have been in circulation for a century or more, and that often rest on a fairly shaky foundation. Musings of poets require much interpretation, and what deists expected was nothing like what Joseph Smith provided. Roger Williams is a more likely candidate, but the quote usually attributed to him is poorly sourced and possibly apocryphal. Are unambiguous statements and reliable bibliography too much to ask for? Like urban legends and fairy tales, apocryphal prophecies and other faith-promoting stories are useful witnesses of our hopes and fears, but accepting them uncritically lets us avoid the hard work of figuring out who really was anticipating something that we would recognize as our Restoration.
That there were such people, at least as early as the sixteenth century, is incontrovertible.
Consider Sebastian Francks’s Chronica, Zeitbuch und Geschichtsbibel, first published in 1531, as Franck describes the diversity of prevailing opinion concerning the sacraments:
As medicine is changed to poison and the best to the worst through misuse, so too scripture becomes a lie and snare in that no one agrees with another about this undivided word of God. One hears incredible things not only about Jews, Rabbis, and Sophists, but also about all kinds of sects in our time and the contention they have not only with their opponents but also between themselves and among one another such that there are hardly two of the same sect that agree with each other in all respects, indeed that are not at odds in many respects.
One holds the sacrament and other ceremonies for so necessary that he would slam Heaven shut without them.
Another holds them for a means upon which exaltation does not depend nor to which faith is bound.
A third does away with them entirely along with all external customs and ceremonies of the earlier Church, such as bans, keys, the Eucharist, baptism, divine calling, clerical office, etc., and believes that these things were a remainder of the Old Testament and now, wrecked by the Antichrist, are at end, and fell soon after the departure of the Apostles, and are never restored.
The fourth believes also that the sacraments are now not in use and does not recognize any church assembled on Earth, believing the congregation of God now to be dispersed among all heathens, and waits and hopes also for a new divine commission and prophets who will restore and re-establish the fallen sacraments, congregation, and ceremonies.
The fifth believes that all is well and presumes it best that the sacraments and all things are in uncertainty, only asking God that it remain so and that the shining light is not taken from us again.
(From the prologue to the third chronicle, f. 4r, from a facsimile of the 1536 Ulm edition; translation is mine and not without debatable passages, but curious Germanists are invited to compare it to my transcription of the original.)
Of the five opinions Franck describes, the third tells us that the disagreement concerned priesthood authority and ordinances of all kinds, not just the form of the sacrament. As attested by Franck’s report of the fourth view, some people had concluded before 1531 that the Lord’s church and priesthood were not on the Earth, and the resolution they hoped for was a restoration of both through new prophets. Franck’s own opinion, however, is the fifth, which means he was not himself awaiting a restoration, although he knew people who were. Franck, known for his pacifism, tolerance, and independence, is one of the most fascinating figures of the Reformation, but his position is not our position.
Franck’s description of religious contention does not specify that the anticipated restoration would include a church with deacons and teachers settling beside the shores of a salt sea, and it doesn’t tie the Restoration to the founding of the United States. But it does show that some people believed, barely a decade after the Reformation got underway, that a Reformation was not enough, and even if they would have eventually rejected the prophet Joseph Smith, they were looking for someone to do exactly what he claimed to have done. Better yet, Franck’s work is readily available on microfilm via interlibrary loan. Still skeptical? Good. Look it up yourself and make up your own mind.
Next time: So who did Franck have in mind with this fourth group, those who in the early sixteenth century were awaiting a Restoration? I have a theory.