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THIS GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM
The building of Nauvoo went forward with incredible rapidity, until it became the largest city in the state. "The blood of the martyrs" was then, as it has ever been, "the seed of the church." The people, hounded by common suffering into group solidarity, assimilated eagerly the motley population that literally poured into the new "City of the Saints." Missionaries without purse or scrip went out from Nauvoo into every nook and cranny of the United States, and even into foreign lands; and in every community where they raised the warning voice," some were sure to be converted and in time take up their journey to "Zion" in the West. Old newspapers give warped accounts of these meetings. One "Ariel" (for nom de plumes were popular in the forties) writes in the Spirit of the Times on September 3, 1841, from Bordentown, New Jersey, telling of attending one of their meetings, as he "was curious to see what kind of creatures they were." The meeting was held by John E. Page, one of the Apostles, at a place called Jacobstown, and "from what I could pick up respecting the doctrines of these people, they do not believe in endless damnation; they hold baptism by immersion essential; . . . Infant baptism is rejected as unnecessary, because young children are incapable of knowing the heinousness of sin, and therefore need no repentance. . . . The Mormons inculcate temperance and appear to act up to the principle. They pretend to work miracles, healing the sick, etc., by the laying on of hands of the elders. These notions are certainly novel and perhaps may be a key to the remarkable success which Mormonism has met with in New Jersey. Certain it is that the disciples of Jo Smith are multiplying in a wonderful manner. We were informed that some fifteen or twenty families, including among them some very respectable, wealthy, and intelligent farmers, have joined the Mormons within a short time past. The Mormons, by their craft, have seduced members from the sheepfold of Methodism and other sects, and it is no wonder these religious denominations are anxious to prevent this state of things and get up camp meetings and protracted meetings to dispel the delusion of Mormonism."
In the fall of 1838, Benjamin Winchester held a debate with a Methodist minister in Monmouth County, New Jersey, and as a result on October 1, 1838, he baptized Josiah Ells, his opponent, into the church. The following December, a branch was organized in that place with Josiah Ells as president. Ells was born March 4, 1806, in Lewis, Essex County, England. He was licensed as a Methodist preacher in England when a young man of twenty-four. Later he came to the United States and preached in the same communion in Philadelphia until 1835, when he removed to Monmouth County, New Jersey.
On New Year's Day, 1840, he first met Joseph Smith, while the latter was in Washington, attempting to get redress for wrongs in Missouri. Joseph Smith induced him to come to Nauvoo, where he accordingly went about the first of April of the same year. The Prophet thought so much of his ability, that he appointed, him to meet Reverend Doctor David Nelson of Quincy (the same who had fled from Missouri sometime before after making a rash remark about slavery, and found an asylum in Quincy). Nelson was a man of some note and had written a book, The Cause and Cure of Infidelity, much read a generation or two ago. When Ells arrived in Quincy, he found not only a number of clergymen but Governor Carlin himself in attendance. Doctor Nelson had not gone far in the debate before he declined to go on, explaining that his opponent had treated him courteously, but that he could not continue. Joseph Smith, who had accompanied Ells, got up and asked if any clergyman wished to continue the debate. Apparently none did, and the incident was closed.
Miraculous conversions, a source of joy to many throughout their lifetime, and of pride to their children for generations to come, continued to be part of church life in Nauvoo. Visitors flocked to the city of Nauvoo from every part of the United States and Canada. Joseph Smith entertained them all; the Mansion House was built to help accommodate those who wanted first-hand information about the Prophet; then the Nauvoo House was planned for the same purpose. Its need was urgent.
In Kingsville, Ontario, a young normal school student by the name of John Shippy attended some meetings held by John Landers. Landers' cousin, Richard Harrington, was the leading Baptist minister of the town, and young John Shippy's father was a Baptist minister, so he felt safe in doing so. Young Shippy was only fourteen, but he was deeply and permanently impressed by what he heard. He wanted to be baptized, but he was a minor, and his parents would not consent. He did not forget, but treasured what he had heard in his heart, resolving that when he was his own master, he would find out more about the doctrine that so strangely fascinated him. When he was seventeen his father "gave him his time," and he started joyfully for Illinois, working his way as he went. Starting in the spring of 1840, he heard of some Shippys in Laporte, Indiana, and stopped there. He found much to interest him in Laporte and temporarily forgot his quest. On December 28, 1841, he married a young widowed distant cousin, Sophronia (Shippy) Lemon and settled down." But in 1842, another Latter Day Saint missionary came into the neighborhood, and he was promptly baptized by George W. Chase.
Interest revived, and he again resolved to see the Prophet, and set out for Illinois a second time in the spring of 1843. He visited the branch in Chicago and was ordained a priest and continued on on foot, stopping by the way at Walnut Grove to look up the first minister in whom he had been interested, John Landers. He stayed at the home of Joseph Smith for several weeks, during which time he became more and more satisfied with the choice he had made. On the morning he was due to leave, he rose from the breakfast table and putting several bills into the hands of his host to pay for his accommodation, he said good-by. Joseph stood with the bills in his hands, as if in deep thought, looking earnestly at the young man before him. Then he told him that he should be ordained an elder and return home, preaching by the way, handed him back his money, and told him Godspeed. He was ordained by Willard Richards, started to Canada, preaching and baptizing by the way.1 Many in the church today trace their baptism to John Shippy, who spent many years in the active ministry, both in the old organization and the Reorganized Church. His descendants and those of his brother Benjamin whom he soon baptized have contributed valuably to the church for many years.
Another Canadian visitor was Samuel Hall, and the story he tells is stranger than fiction. Born of devout Catholic parents, he looked forward to becoming a priest with great hope and expectancy, and was happy when he was at last pronounced qualified of God and the church to enter the hallowed walls he had been taught to revere. He was set to work with older priests in Montreal, Canada, and here he says, "none but God could know of the terrible and soul-crushing disappointment I was doomed to suffer, for suffer I did, both by day and by night, as the hot, scalding tears wet my pillow." He appealed to the "aged and venerable bishop" for a solution of his problems, but received no help. It was a "stunning blow." He tried to "stop all thought." He prayed for death, and asked time and again if God's church had been taken from the earth.
One day while walking down the street in this despondent mood, he picked up a small leaflet. Going to his room as soon as he could, he took it out and read it, then reread it. In his sheltered life, he had never heard of Joseph Smith. It was all new and strange to him. Here, with "bated breath," he read of a great apostasy, of the restoration of the gospel at the hands of an angel, with all its gifts and powers. He threw himself upon his knees and asked God if it were true. On the little pamphlet was the announcement of a conference to be held in Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith would be there. All lovers of truth were invited to be there and judge for themselves. They were advised to ask of God as the Apostle James had recommended. He prayed earnestly and felt the message to be true, but the decision that he now faced was momentous. Once it was made, whether this strange restored church proved true or false, he could not turn back. If it were true, he would find happiness; if not, his lot would be a sad one, for then he must flee to some remote corner of the earth and drag out his days unknown to friends and family, for he dare not return.
At length he obtained leave of absence to visit New York, and from there quietly made his way to Nauvoo, bidding a mental farewell forever to all the past. Whatever happened from henceforth, he must begin life anew. In his valise were the few scant pieces of clothing he had obtained, his Bible, his Catholic prayer book, and a few dollars in money. He was not long on his way before he began to hear terrible tales of Joseph Smith. His heart sank within him, but he must go on.
Conference was already in session. He left his valise at the hotel and inquired for the church. Directed to the large assembly in a grove, he found service already in progress. The speaker was an "earnest, plain-spoken man." Hall pressed his way into the crowd until near enough to hear, and as it is recorded: "to my utter astonishment and delight I heard, as I had never heard before; aye it was as a living stream of life and light. It seemed as if every word came from the very bosom of eternity to my inmost soul; yes, every word to me!" When the speaker finished, Hall turned to a man near him and said, "That is Joseph Smith." "Yes," was the answer, "and he is a prophet of God." "I know he is," Hall heard himself saying.
Hall waited patiently in the crowd that gathered about the speaker, until he could get a word with him, then without parley asked for baptism. The answer was breathtaking, in its simplicity. The Prophet did not stop to ask his name, his qualifications for membership, or from whence he came. Instead he said, "This is the Lord's doings; come with me." Down to the river they went, and Hall was baptized, and coming out of the water, he was confirmed and ordained an elder on the banks of the river.
As he arose, Joseph said, "Brother Hall, you are now a legally qualified servant of Jesus Christ, a minister of life to this generation; go and preach the gospel, and you will be blessed in blessing many." "When shall I go?" asked Hall. "Go now," was the answer.
"Shall I stay until the close of the conference, and then go?"
"No," he said, "go now."
"Very well. I will go and get my things at the hotel and start off."
"No, no," urged the Prophet, "go now, just as you are. Your things are safe, you will not need them, and you will lack nothing. Go right along down south and tarry not by the way until you preach the gospel. I bless you. Good day!" and he walked away, leaving the newly baptized Hall gazing after him in bewilderment. Was man ever in a stranger situation? But he had set his feet on a path upon which there was no return. He put his coat and vest across his arm and started at a brisk walk in a southerly direction, as directed. Here he was a fugitive from the Catholic Church, the only church of which he knew anything, in a strange country, having heard but a portion of one short sermon, not a cent in his pocket, his clothing wet. The sun dried his clothes, and as night approached he put on his coat and vest. About sundown he approached a crossroad just as two men in a wagon came long the other road and overtook him. They offered him a ride, which he accepted. All the time they were eyeing him sharply. "Your pants look as if you had been in the water," said one. "Yes," Hall admitted. "I have been baptized by Joseph Smith for the remission of my sins, and I never felt so well satisfied in my life as I do now."
"Oh, so you are a Mormon," said the other, eyeing him curiously, "I never saw one before. What do you think of Joe Smith? How does he look and act? What is he doing? Where are you going? What are you going to do?" Hall told them freely of his life and recent experiences, and they were intrigued. They were going to stay at a small town a few miles farther on on business, and would pay his fare at a hotel if they could hear him preach. On arrival, they did as they agreed, hired a hall, and even went through the streets, as the custom was, ringing a bell and calling out, "Come out and hear a late Catholic priest on Mormonism at the hall."
The meetings lengthened out to a week's stay, then a month, and at the end of that time Samuel Hall baptized thirty-four persons, and organized a branch of the church. Best of all, he had found peace. "I was no longer a friendless stranger, alone in the world, but at home in my Father's house."
And so the gospel spread, and converts poured into Nauvoo, to cast their all into the great work "entrusted to all." They felt the world well lost for the "pearl of great price they had found."2
1 Facts given in a personal interview by Miriam Shippy Claus of
Detroit, daughter of John Shippy.
2 "A Leaf From the Life Book of Elder Samuel Hall," by Elder D. S. Mills, Autumn Leaves, Volume 4, page 537.
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