“Try the Lord,” chapter 22 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 22: “Try the Lord”
After the temple dedication, Joseph basked in the hope and goodwill that rested over Kirtland.1 Saints witnessed an outpouring of spiritual gifts throughout the spring of 1836. Many saw hosts of angels, clothed in brilliant white, standing on the roof of the temple, and some people wondered if the Millennium had begun.2
Joseph could see evidence of the Lord’s blessings everywhere. When he had moved to Kirtland five years earlier, the church had been disorganized and unruly. Since then, the Saints had embraced the word of the Lord more fully and transformed a simple village into a strong stake of Zion. The temple stood as a testament to what they could accomplish when they followed God and worked together.
But even as he rejoiced in Kirtland’s success, Joseph could not forget the Saints in Missouri, who were still huddled in small communities just outside of Jackson County, along the Missouri River. He and his counselors trusted in the Lord’s promise to redeem Zion after the elders received the endowment of power. Yet no one knew how and when He would carry the promise out.
Turning their attention to Zion, the church leaders fasted and prayed to know the Lord’s will.3 Joseph then recalled the revelation in which the Lord had asked the Saints to purchase all the lands in and around Jackson County.4 The Saints had already started purchasing some land in Clay County, but as always, the problem was finding the money to make more purchases.
In early April, Joseph met with members of the church’s printing firm to discuss church finances. The men believed they needed to contribute all their resources to the redemption of Zion, and they recommended that Joseph and Oliver lead fund-raising efforts to purchase more land in Missouri.5
Unfortunately, the church was already tens of thousands of dollars in debt from building the temple and from earlier land purchases, and money was still scarce in Kirtland, even with missionaries collecting donations. Much of the Saints’ wealth was in land, which meant few people could make cash donations. And without cash, the church could do little to pull itself out of debt or buy more land in Zion.6
Once again, Joseph had to find a way to finance the Lord’s work.
Two hundred miles north, Parley Pratt stood on the outskirts of a town called Hamilton, in southern Canada. He was headed to Toronto, one of the largest cities in the province, to serve his first mission since receiving the endowment of power. He had no money, no friends in the area, and no idea how to accomplish what the Lord had sent him to do.
A few weeks earlier, as the Twelve and Seventy were leaving Kirtland to preach the gospel, Parley had planned to stay home with his family. Like many Saints in Kirtland, he was steeped in debt, having purchased land in the area and built a house on credit. Parley was also concerned about his wife, Thankful, who was sick and needed his care. As eager as he was to preach, a mission seemed out of the question.7
But then Heber Kimball had come to his house and given him a blessing as his friend and fellow apostle. “Go forth in the ministry, nothing doubting,” Heber had said. “Take no thoughts for your debts, nor the necessaries of life, for the Lord will supply you with abundant means for all things.”
Speaking by inspiration, Heber told Parley to go to Toronto, promising that he would find people who were ready for the fullness of the gospel. He said Parley would lay the foundation for a mission to England and find relief from his debts. “You shall yet have riches, silver and gold,” Heber prophesied, “till you will loathe the counting thereof.”
He also spoke of Thankful. “Thy wife shall be healed from this hour,” he promised, “and shall bear thee a son.”8
The blessing had been marvelous, but its promises seemed impossible. Parley had experienced plenty of success in the mission field, but Toronto was new and unfamiliar to him. He had never made much money in his life, and it was unlikely that he would receive enough money on the mission to pay off his debts.
The promises about Thankful were the most unlikely of all. She was almost forty years old and had often been sickly and frail. After ten years of marriage, she and Parley had no children.9
But with faith in the Lord’s promises, Parley had headed northeast, traveling by stagecoach over muddy roads. When he reached Niagara Falls and crossed into Canada, he had set off on foot until he reached Hamilton. Thoughts of home and the immensity of his mission soon overwhelmed him, and he yearned to know how he was supposed to exercise faith in a blessing when its promises seemed so far out of reach.
“Try the Lord,” the Spirit suddenly whispered to him, “and see if anything is too hard for Him.”10
Meanwhile, in Missouri, twelve-year-old Emily Partridge was relieved to see spring return to Clay County. With her father in Kirtland for the temple dedication, she and the rest of her family shared a one-room log cabin with the family of Margaret and John Corrill, her father’s counselor in the bishopric. The cabin had been used as a stable before the two families moved in, but her father and Brother Corrill had cleaned out the muck that caked the floor and had made the place livable. There was a large fireplace, and the families had spent the frigid winter huddled around its warmth.11
That spring, Emily’s father returned to Missouri to resume his duties as bishop. He and other church leaders had received the endowment of power in Kirtland, and they seemed hopeful about the future of Zion.12
As the weather grew warmer, Emily prepared to return to school. Soon after the Saints arrived in Clay County, they had set up a school in a cabin near a grove of fruit trees. Emily loved to play with her friends in the grove and eat the fruit that fell from the branches overhead. When Emily and her friends were not studying, they made houses out of sticks and used vines as jump ropes.13
Most of Emily’s classmates belonged to the church, but some were the children of longtime settlers in the area. They were often better dressed than Emily and the other poor children, and some made fun of the young Saints’ tattered clothes. But for the most part, everyone got along well enough, despite their differences.
The same was not true of their parents. As more Saints moved to Clay County and purchased large tracts of land, the longtime settlers grew uneasy and impatient. They had initially welcomed the Saints into their county, offering refuge until they could return to their homes across the river. No one had expected church members to make a permanent home in Clay County.14
At first, the strain between the Saints and their neighbors had little effect on the routine of Emily’s school days.15 But as the spring wore on and their neighbors grew more hostile, Emily and her family had reason to fear that the nightmare of Jackson County would be repeated, and they would again be without a home.
As Parley continued his journey north, he asked the Lord to help him reach his destination. A short time later, he met a man who gave him ten dollars and a letter of introduction to someone in Toronto named John Taylor. Parley used the money to book passage on a steamship to the city and arrived at the Taylor home soon after.
John and Leonora Taylor were a young couple from England. As Parley chatted with them, he learned that they belonged to a group of Christians in the area who rejected any doctrine that could not be supported by the Bible. Lately, they had been praying and fasting that God would send them a messenger from His true church.
Parley talked to them about the restored gospel, but they showed only a mild interest. The next morning, he left his bag with the Taylors and introduced himself to the city’s clergymen, hoping they would let him preach to their congregations. Parley then met with city officials to see if they would let him hold a meeting in the courthouse or some other public space. They all denied his request.
Discouraged, Parley went into the woods nearby and said a prayer. Then he returned to the Taylors’ home to retrieve his bag. As he was leaving, John stopped him and spoke of his love for the Bible.16 “Mr. Pratt,” he said, “if you have any principles to advance of any kind, I should wish you, if you can, to sustain them by that record.”
“That is a thing that I think I shall be able to do,” Parley said. He asked John if he believed in apostles and prophets.
“Yes,” John replied, “because the Bible teaches me all these things.”
“We teach baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Parley said, “and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
“What about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and some of your new revelations?” John asked.
Parley testified that Joseph Smith was an honest man and a prophet of God. “As to the Book of Mormon,” he said, “I am as able to bring as strong testimony in favor of that book as you can of the authenticity of the Bible.”17
As they spoke, Parley and John overheard Leonora talking with a neighbor, Isabella Walton, in another room. “There is a gentleman here from the United States who says the Lord sent him to the city to preach the gospel,” Leonora told Isabella. “I am sorry to have him depart.”
“Tell the stranger he is welcome to my house,” Isabella said. “I have a spare room and bed, and food in plenty.” She also had space where he could preach to her friends and relatives that night. “I feel by the Spirit that he is a man sent by the Lord with a message which will do us good,” she said.18
After his conversation with Parley, John Taylor began reading the Book of Mormon and comparing its teachings to the Bible. He had studied the doctrines of other churches before, but he found something compelling in the Book of Mormon and the principles Parley taught him. Everything was clear and consistent with the word of God.
John soon introduced Parley to his friends. “Here is a man come in answer to our prayers,” he announced, “and he says the Lord has established the true church.”
“Are you going to be a Mormon?” someone asked him.
“I don’t know,” John said. “I am going to investigate and pray for the Lord to help me. If there is truth in this thing, I will embrace it—and if error, I want nothing to do with it.”19
A short time later, he and Parley traveled to a nearby farming village where Isabella Walton’s relatives lived. John’s friend Joseph Fielding also lived there with his sisters, Mercy and Mary. They too were from England and held religious views similar to the Taylors’.
As John and Parley rode up to the Fieldings’ home, they saw Mercy and Mary run to a neighbor’s house. Their brother stepped outside and greeted the men coolly. He said he wished they had not come. His sisters, and many other people in town, did not want to hear them preach.
“Why do they oppose Mormonism?” Parley asked.
“I don’t know,” Joseph said. “The name has such a contemptible sound.” He said they were not looking for new revelation or any doctrine that contradicted the teachings of the Bible.
“Oh,” said Parley, “if that is all, we shall soon remove your prejudices.” He told Joseph to call his sisters back to the house. He knew there was a religious meeting in the village that evening, and he wanted to preach at it.
“We will take supper with you and all go over to the meeting together,” Parley said. “If you and your sisters will agree to this, I will agree to preach the old Bible gospel and leave out all new revelations which are opposed to it.”20
That evening, Joseph, Mercy, and Mary Fielding sat in a crowded room and were captivated by Parley’s sermon. Nothing he said about the restored gospel or the Book of Mormon contradicted the teachings of the Bible.
Soon after, Parley baptized the Taylors, Fieldings, and enough people in the area to organize a branch. The Lord’s promises in Heber’s blessing had begun to be fulfilled, and Parley was eager to return home to Thankful. Some of his debts were due, and he still needed to earn the money to pay them.
As Parley set off for Kirtland, he shook hands with his new friends. One by one, they pressed money into his palms, amounting to several hundred dollars. It was enough to pay off his most urgent debts.21
When Parley arrived in Kirtland, he saw that Thankful was healthy, a fulfillment of another of the Lord’s promises. After Parley paid off some debts, he collected pamphlets and copies of the Book of Mormon and returned to Canada to continue his mission, this time bringing his wife with him.22 The journey wearied Thankful, and when the Saints in Canada saw her frailty, they doubted she was strong enough to bear the son promised in Parley’s blessing. Soon after, however, Parley and Thankful were expecting their first child.23
While the Pratts were away, their friends Caroline and Jonathan Crosby rented their house in Kirtland. The Crosbys were a young couple who had moved to Kirtland a few months before the temple dedication. They met often with friends to worship, sing hymns, or share a meal.24
With the temple completed, more Saints were moving to Kirtland. There was plenty of land in the area, but much of it was undeveloped. The Saints hurried to construct more houses, often on credit because there was not much cash in the community. But they could not build fast enough to accommodate the new arrivals, so established families often opened their homes to these people or rented out spare rooms.
As housing in town grew scarcer, John Boynton, one of the apostles, approached the Crosbys about renting the Pratts’ house to his family. He offered them more than what they paid the Pratts.25
The offer was generous, and Caroline knew she and Jonathan could use the money to help pay for the house they were building. But they enjoyed living by themselves, and Caroline was now pregnant with their first child. If they moved out of the Pratts’ home, they would have to move in with an elderly neighbor, Sabre Granger, whose cramped cottage had only one bedroom.
Jonathan asked Caroline to make the decision about moving. Caroline did not want to leave the comfort and space of the Pratts’ home, and she was reluctant to move in with Sister Granger. The money did not concern her much, no matter how much she and Jonathan could use it.
But knowing they would be helping the large Boynton family gather to Kirtland was worth the small sacrifice Caroline had to make. After a few days, she told Jonathan she was willing to move.26
In late June, William Phelps and other church leaders in Clay County wrote the prophet to tell him that local officials had summoned church leaders to the courthouse, where they discussed the Saints’ future in their county. The officials had spoken calmly and politely, but their words left no room for compromise.
Since the Saints could not return to Jackson County, the officials recommended that they look for a new place to live—somewhere they could be by themselves. The church leaders in Clay County agreed to leave rather than risk another violent expulsion.27
The news shattered Joseph’s hopes of returning to Jackson County that year, but he could not blame the Saints in Missouri for what happened. “You are better acquainted with circumstances than we are,” he wrote back, “and of course have been directed in wisdom in your moves, relative to leaving the county.”28
With the Saints in Missouri needing a new place to settle, Joseph felt even more pressure to raise money to buy lands. He decided to open a church store near Kirtland and borrowed more money to purchase goods to sell there.29 The store had some success, but many Saints took advantage of Joseph’s kindness and trust, knowing he would not refuse them credit at the store. Several of them also insisted on trading for what they needed, making it difficult to turn a cash profit on the goods.30
By the end of July, neither the store nor anything else church leaders tried had eased the church’s debt. Desperate, Joseph left Kirtland with Sidney, Hyrum, and Oliver for Salem, a city on the East Coast, after hearing from a church member who thought he knew where to find a cache of hidden money. No money came of the lead when they arrived in the city, and Joseph turned to the Lord for guidance.31
“I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming on this journey, notwithstanding your follies,” came the response. “Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. Concern not yourselves about Zion, for I will deal mercifully with her.”32
The men all returned to Kirtland about a month later with church finances still weighing on their minds. But that fall Joseph and his counselors proposed a new project that just might raise the money they needed for Zion.