“Truth Shall Prevail,” chapter 24 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 24: “Truth Shall Prevail”
Late in the spring of 1837, apostles Thomas Marsh, David Patten, and William Smith left their homes in Missouri and set out for Kirtland. Many of the Saints in Zion were now settled along a stream called Shoal Creek, about fifty miles northeast of Independence. There they had founded a town called Far West, using Joseph’s plan for the city of Zion as their guide to lay out the settlement. Hoping to find a peaceful solution to the Saints’ ongoing problems with their neighbors, the Missouri legislature had organized Caldwell County, which encompassed the land around Far West and Shoal Creek, for the settlement of the Saints.1
Thomas was anxious to reunite with the rest of the Twelve, especially when he learned of Parley’s desire to take the gospel to England. Preaching the gospel overseas was an important step in the Lord’s work, and as president of the quorum, Thomas wanted to assemble the apostles and plan the mission together.
He also worried about reports he had received of the dissent in Kirtland. Three of the dissenters—Luke and Lyman Johnson and John Boynton—were members of his quorum. Unless the Twelve could become more united, Thomas feared that the mission to England would not prosper.2
Back in Ohio, Heber Kimball could see just how divided the Quorum of the Twelve had become since the Kirtland Safety Society had opened six months earlier. As Joseph’s efforts to pull the church out of debt failed, Orson Hyde, William McLellin, and Orson Pratt also began to grow angry with him. With Parley Pratt now speaking out against Joseph, Brigham Young and Heber were the only loyal apostles left in Kirtland.3
One day, as Heber sat with the prophet in the pulpits of the temple, Joseph leaned over to him and said, “Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me, ‘Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel, and open the door of salvation to that nation.’”
Heber was stunned. He was a simple potter with little education. England was the most powerful nation in the world, and its people were famous for their learning and religious devotion. “O Lord,” he prayed, “I am a man of stammering tongue and altogether unfit for such a work. How can I go to preach in that land?”4
And what about his family? Heber could hardly bear the thought of leaving Vilate and their children to preach overseas. He was sure other apostles were more qualified to lead the mission. Thomas Marsh was the senior apostle and had been among the first to read the Book of Mormon and join the church. Why would the Lord not send him?
Or what about Brigham? Heber asked Joseph if Brigham could at least go with him to England. Brigham had more seniority in the quorum because he was older than Heber.
No, Joseph said. He wanted Brigham to stay in Kirtland.5
Reluctantly, Heber accepted the call and prepared to leave. He prayed at the temple daily, asking for the Lord’s protection and power. Soon word of his call spread through Kirtland, and Brigham and others eagerly supported his decision to go. “Do as the prophet has told you,” they told Heber, “and be blessed with power to do a glorious work.”
John Boynton was less encouraging. “If you are such a damned fool as to go at the call of the fallen prophet,” he scoffed, “I will not make an effort to help you.” Lyman Johnson was also opposed, but after seeing Heber’s determination to go, he removed his cloak and placed it on Heber’s shoulders.6
Soon Joseph Fielding came to Kirtland with a group of Canadian Saints, and he and several others were assigned to the mission, fulfilling Heber’s prophecy that Parley’s mission to Canada would lay a foundation for a mission to England. Orson Hyde repented of his disaffection and also joined the mission. Finally, Heber invited Brigham’s cousin Willard Richards to go with them.7
On the day of his departure, Heber knelt with Vilate and their children. He prayed that God would grant him a safe voyage across the ocean, make him useful in the mission field, and provide for his family while he was away. Then, with tears rolling down his cheeks, he blessed each of his children and left for the British Isles.8
The national economic crisis continued into the summer of 1837. With no money and little food, Jonathan Crosby quit work on his house to join a crew building a house for Joseph and Emma. But Joseph could only pay the workmen with Safety Society banknotes, which fewer and fewer businesses in Kirtland were accepting as payment. Soon the notes would be almost worthless.
Little by little, men on the crew left to seek better-paying work. But the financial panic had left few jobs in and around Kirtland—or anywhere else in the nation. As a result, the cost of goods rose and land values fell sharply. Few people in Kirtland had means to support themselves or workers. To pay church debts, Joseph had to mortgage the temple, putting it at risk of foreclosure.9
While Jonathan worked on the prophet’s house, his wife, Caroline, often lay in bed, recovering from a severe cold. An infection in her breast kept her from nursing her son, and as their food supply dwindled, she worried about where the family would get their next meal. They had a small vegetable garden that provided some food, but no cow, forcing them to buy milk from neighbors to feed their son.
Caroline knew many of their friends were in the same situation. Occasionally, someone would share food with them, but with so many Saints struggling to make ends meet, it seemed no one had enough to share.
As time passed, Caroline watched Parley Pratt, the Boyntons, and other close friends blame the church for their hardships. She and Jonathan had not lost money to the Safety Society, but they had not been immune to the crisis either. Like many others, they were barely getting by, yet neither she nor Jonathan felt like leaving the church or forsaking the prophet.
Jonathan, in fact, worked on the Smiths’ house until he was the only one left on the crew. When he and Caroline ran out of food, he took a day off work to find provisions for his family, but he came home empty-handed.10
“Now what shall we do?” Caroline asked.
Jonathan knew that despite Joseph and Emma’s own financial struggles, they sometimes had food to give to those who had less than they did. “In the morning,” he said, “I will go and tell Sister Emma how it is with us.”
The next day, Jonathan returned to work on the Smith house, but before he had a chance to speak with Emma, she came to him. “I don’t know how you are off for provisions,” she said, “but you have stopped and worked while the others are all gone.” In her hands she held a large ham. “I thought I would make you a present.”11
Surprised, Jonathan thanked her and mentioned his empty pantry and Caroline’s illness. When Emma heard this, she told Jonathan to get a sack and take away as much flour as he could carry.
Jonathan brought the food home later that day, and as Caroline ate her first real meal in days, she thought that nothing had ever tasted so good.12
By the end of June, dissenters in Kirtland had become more aggressive. Led by Warren Parrish, they disrupted Sunday meetings in the temple and accused Joseph of all manner of sins. If any of the Saints tried to defend the prophet, the dissenters shouted them down and threatened their lives.13
Mary Fielding, who had moved to Kirtland with her brother before he left for England, was dismayed by the turmoil in Ohio. At a meeting in the temple one morning, Parley Pratt called Joseph to repentance and declared that nearly all the church had departed from God.
Parley’s words pained Mary.14 The same voice that had taught her the gospel was now denouncing the prophet of God and condemning the church. Parley’s angry letter to Joseph had circulated all over Kirtland, and Parley himself made no secret of his grievances. When John Taylor was in town, Parley had taken him aside and warned him not to follow Joseph.
“Before you left Canada, you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a prophet of God,” John had reminded him, “and you said you knew these things by revelation and the gift of the Holy Ghost.”
John had then testified, “I now have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today. If Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.”15
Joseph, meanwhile, became sick and could not leave his bed. Intense pain racked his body, and he grew too weak to lift his head. Emma and his doctor remained at his side as he slipped in and out of consciousness. Sidney said he did not believe Joseph would live much longer.16
Joseph’s critics reveled in his suffering, saying God was punishing him for his sins. Many of the prophet’s friends, however, went to the temple and prayed all night that he would be healed.17
In time, Joseph began to recover, and Mary visited him with Vilate Kimball. He said the Lord had comforted him during his sickness. Mary was glad to see he was doing better and invited him to visit the Saints living in Canada when he was well again.
The following Sunday, Mary attended another meeting in the temple. Joseph was still too weak to attend, so Warren Parrish strode up to the pulpits and sat down in the prophet’s seat. Hyrum, who led the meeting, did not respond to the provocation, but he preached a long sermon about the state of the church. Mary admired Hyrum’s humility as he reminded the Saints of their covenants.
“My heart is soft,” Hyrum told the congregation, “and I now feel as a little child.” His voice full of emotion, he promised the Saints that the church would begin to rise from that very hour.
Mary wrote her sister Mercy a few days later. “I truly feel encouraged to hope that we shall ere long have order and peace restored to the church,” she said. “Let us all unite to pray for this with all our hearts.”18
A month later, Mary’s brother Joseph Fielding stepped off a stagecoach onto the streets of Preston. The town was an industrial center of western England, nestled in the heart of green pastureland. Tall chimneys from the town’s many factories and mills belched clouds of gray smoke into the air, obscuring its many church steeples behind a sooty haze. The River Ribble cut through the center of town, winding its way to the sea.19
The missionaries to England had landed at the port of Liverpool just two days earlier. Following a prompting from the Spirit, Heber had directed the men to go to Preston, where Joseph Fielding’s brother James was a preacher.20 Joseph and his sisters had been corresponding with James, telling him about their conversion and testifying of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. James had seemed interested in what they wrote and told his congregation about Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints.
The missionaries arrived in Preston on the day of an election, and as they walked along the streets, workers unfurled a campaign banner outside a window just over their heads. Its message, written in gold letters, was not meant for the missionaries, but it encouraged them all the same: truth shall prevail.
“Amen!” they cheered. “Thanks be to God, truth will prevail!”21
Joseph Fielding set out immediately to find his brother. Since leaving Kirtland, he had been praying that the Lord would prepare James to receive the gospel. Like Joseph, James cherished the New Testament and sought to live by its precepts. If he accepted the restored gospel, he could be a great help to the missionaries and the work of the Lord.
When Joseph and the missionaries found James at his home, he invited them to preach from his pulpit at Vauxhall Chapel the next morning. Joseph believed his brother’s interest in their message was the Lord’s doing, but he also understood all his brother could lose by opening his doors to them.
Preaching was James’s livelihood. If he accepted the restored gospel, he would find himself without a job.22
On the road from Far West to Kirtland, Thomas Marsh, David Patten, and William Smith were surprised to meet Parley Pratt headed the other direction. Trying to recover his losses, Parley had sold some land, cashed out his shares in the Safety Society, and struck out for Missouri alone.23
Still determined to reunite the Quorum of the Twelve, Thomas urged Parley to come back to Kirtland with them. Parley was not eager to go back to a place where he had suffered so much heartache and disappointment.24 Yet Thomas pressed him to reconsider, confident he could be reconciled with the prophet.
Parley thought it over. When he had written his letter to Joseph, he had told himself that the letter was for the prophet’s own good. But Parley knew he was fooling himself. He had not called Joseph to repentance in a spirit of meekness. Rather, he had lashed out at him, seeking retribution.
Parley also realized that his feeling of betrayal had blinded him to Joseph’s own hardships. Speaking out against the prophet and accusing him of selfishness and greed had been wrong.25
Ashamed, Parley decided to return to Kirtland with Thomas and the other apostles. Once they arrived, he went to the prophet’s house. Joseph was still recovering from his illness, but he was getting stronger. Parley wept when he saw him and apologized for everything he had said and done to hurt him. Joseph forgave him, prayed for him, and blessed him.26
Thomas, meanwhile, tried to reunify the other members of the Twelve. He succeeded in reconciling Orson Pratt and Joseph, but William McLellin had moved away and the Johnson brothers and John Boynton could not be placated.27
Thomas himself began to grumble when he learned that Joseph had sent Heber Kimball and Orson Hyde to England without consulting him. As president of the Twelve, was it not his responsibility to direct missionary work and lead the mission to England? Had he not come to Kirtland to rally the Twelve and send them overseas?28
He prayed for Heber and Orson and the work they were doing abroad, but his resentment and damaged pride were hard to stifle.29
On July 23, Thomas discussed the matter with Joseph. As they met, they resolved their differences and Joseph received a revelation addressed to Thomas.30 “Thou art the man whom I have chosen to hold the keys of my kingdom, as pertaining to the Twelve, abroad among all nations,” the Lord assured him. He forgave his sins and urged him to be of good cheer.
But the Lord affirmed that the Twelve acted under the authority of Joseph and his counselors in the First Presidency, even in matters related to missionary work. “Whithersoever they shall send you, go ye,” the Lord said, “and I will be with you.” He told Thomas that following the First Presidency’s direction would lead to greater success in the mission field.31
“In whatsoever place ye shall proclaim my name,” He promised, “an effectual door shall be opened unto you.”
The Lord also helped Thomas know how to repair his fractured quorum. “Be thou humble,” He said, “and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.”
He urged Thomas and the Twelve to lay aside their differences with Joseph and focus on their mission. “See to it that ye trouble not yourselves concerning the affairs of my church in this place,” He continued, “but purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature.”
“Behold,” the Lord said, “how great is your calling.”32