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Early History of the Reorganization

By Apostle Edmund C. Briggs

Chapter 7

Edmund, through Prophecy, Is Told to Go to the Scattered Saints and to Young
Joseph—He Is to Be Accompanied by Samuel Gurley—He Prophesies Young Joseph
Will Come to the Church within Five Years—W. W. Blair Is Converted to the
Reorganization—The Missionaries' First Meeting with Emma Smith Bidamon at Nauvoo

Apostle Edmund C. Briggs
Apostle Edmund C. Briggs
Apostle Edmund C. Briggs
Apostle Edmund C. Briggs

Our meetings continued to be more interesting, and all the Saints Were faithfully attending the services, when one Sunday afternoon Elder Reuben Newkirk, while prophesying, came and laid his hands on my head, and said, "Verily thus saith the Holy Ghost, I ordain you to take a mission to my people, scattered latter-day Israel, and to my servant Joseph, son of the Martyr. Tell him what you know and most assuredly believe, and say to my Saints, 'Establish your family altars,' and preach my gospel with a warning voice. Fear not, for I will be with you by the voice of my Spirit, and I will protect you from evil and you shall not be confounded, and your enemies shall not have power over you. Thus saith the Holy Ghost. Amen"

While this manifestation was being given, the Spirit rested on me in a great degree, attesting to me its divinity and the sure voice and Word of God, calling me to a mission to the Latter Day Saints. The very next Sunday afternoon, there was another prayer meeting at Brother Cyrus Newkirk's and Brother Reuben again had the gift of prophecy; and while speaking, his face was lit up by the Spirit so it shone brightly, and he laid his hands on Brother Samuel Gurley's head, and said, "I ordain you to accompany my servant, Edmund, on a mission to the Latter Day Saints, and to my servant Joseph. Tell him what you know and most surely believe." Then he turned to my brother, and said, "My servant, Jason, thou shalt write a letter to my servant, Joseph, as thou shalt be prompted by my Spirit. Thus saith the Lord of hosts."

The next Wednesday evening while in the meeting, I was in prayer and the Spirit of prophecy rested on me, and said, "My servants shall not return until my servant, Joseph, comes forth to preside over my people, saith the Holy Ghost."

When I came to the word servants, the word servant was given me. I also saw the words five years—also the figure 5—and I was given to understand that Joseph would come to the Church within five years. I also knew that Brother Gurley would be greatly disappointed at the reception Joseph would give us. I became so well prepared in mind before I left home, that no matter how things might turn when we should meet him, it would be no surprise to me.

After I returned home from meeting, I retired to my room and read a chapter in the Bible; and when I came to the last verse of the chapter, I continued to read, "Thou shalt start on thy mission Wednesday, three weeks from today; and on your journey call on my servants Alva Smith, Edwin Cadwell, Jotham Barrett, and W. W. Blair."

I was greatly astonished at this reading at first, for the words were as plain in the Bible as any printing I ever saw; and my first thoughts were, "This is like the words on the wall as recorded in the prophecy of Daniel." A peaceful, happy feeling rested on me, and I rejoiced in the knowledge that God could and did truly reveal His mind and will to me as He did to His prophets in days of old. I was now certain as to the time when I should start on my mission. The second Sunday after this, the letter Brother Jason had written to Joseph was read in our meeting and unanimously accepted by the branch, and then he remarked, "Let all those who feel to do so, kneel and put their hands on the letter and ask the blessing of the Lord to accompany it, and the mission to Brother Joseph." Seven of us laid our hands on it and Jason offered a solemn prayer, asking a blessing upon Joseph and the mission. The letter bore date of November 18, 1856.

Wednesday, we started on our mission, taking the cars at Darlington—the county seat of Lafayette County, fifteen miles from Brother Gurley's—on the Illinois Central Railroad for Dixon, Illinois, where Elder Alva Smith then lived.

Here I will mention a remarkable conversation I had on the cars with a stranger who sat in the seat back of me. Brother Gurley sat across the aisle from me at the time. The stranger, with whom I had had no conversation, and without any seeming intrusion, or at least I did not even think of the singularity of his conversation at the time, said, "When you meet Brother W. W. Blair, he will express joy and gladness in a marked degree—so much so that you will notice it very particularly; and when you get into conversation with him he will oppose you very much, but do not have any fear. Brother Gurley will contend and discuss with him, but you will not. Brother Blair's mind will be lit up and his tongue loosed, while Brother Gurley's mind will be darkened and he will be confounded. But have no fear; it is wisdom in me. You will have no contention or debate with him, and you may ask a sign that when you are there at Brother Blair's, it may be given you."

I replied, "I can't think of anything to ask."

"Then," he said, "I will give you one while you are there, and ever after whatever may be your condition of mind, or however much you may be cast down in mind, if you can recall the sign or bring it to your mind, it will revive your feelings and give you assurance, until you will feel bright in your mind and have perfect confidence and faith again."

I was becoming very much interested in his conversation by this time and wondered who he was, but at this instant my mind was all absorbed over the knowledge this stranger had of my mission, and he was gone without my observing when he left. At first, I felt very sorry I had not asked him who he was, and then I became satisfied he was a messenger sent from God to prepare me more fully for my mission, and that it would not be wise for me to tell Brother Gurley of it.

We reached Dixon in the night. Brother Alva Smith kept a hotel there at the time, and we rode from the depot in his omnibus. We immediately retired for the night. In the morning, we met Brother Smith and told him of our mission and the promises we had received through the gifts, that one of the sons of Joseph Smith would take his father's place, and expounded the law of lineage to him as best we could. He was much pleased with what we said. We conversed until the middle of the forenoon that day, and then we walked to Brother Cadwell's (ten miles from Dixon), stayed overnight, and had a very interesting conversation with him in relation to our faith and of the reorganization of the Church. He was very much interested and told us he had been looking for little Joseph to be the successor of his father ever since he left Nauvoo, and was well acquainted with the Prophet Joseph. Brother Alva Smith was also acquainted with the Choice Seer and they were both fully interested in the Restored Gospel, but much disheartened at what they called the apostasy of Brigham Young and his horrible doctrine of polygamy; and they both avowed they knew Joseph never taught it in Nauvoo.

The next day (Friday), we called on Jotham Barrett at Palestine, near what is now Amboy, Lee County, Illinois; found him very sick. Dr. Gardner had just been there and a council of physicians had been held the day before, and they told him there was no hope for him; that he was in the very last stages of consumption. He was feeling very badly, and wept while speaking of leaving his family. We said everything we could to comfort him. He had then been sitting up in his chair six weeks, for he could not breathe when lying down. When we arose to leave him that evening, he requested us to call on him in the morning if he were alive. We stayed overnight with Brother Royal Stone and his son, Stephen.

The next morning, Saturday, we called on Brother Barrett again. He was sitting in his chair just as we left him the evening before, his hands and feet swollen as large as it was possible for them to be, it seemed; and after some little conversation we did the best we could to comfort the (as we thought) dying man. I said to him, "Brother Barrett, we must go as we have twenty-eight miles to walk today."

He then said, "I wish you would pray for me before you go. It is not likely you will ever see me again. Do not pray for my recovery. I am reconciled to go and I believe the Lord will take care of my family, but pray that the fear of death may be taken from me, and that I may not fear the passage from time to eternity."

We knelt in prayer and the Spirit rested upon me, and I said only these words: "As I have said in my Word, Before ye ask me I will answer. My servant, Jotham Barrett, shall recover every whit, saith the Lord." We arose and I was at first much distressed in mind, for I could not think it possible he would live. His eyes were sunken and his hands and feet looked dreadful. But these words came to my mind: "Holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Spirit will show you things to come." Brother Gurley anointed him and we laid hands on him, and I spoke these words in perfect faith and confidence as I was moved by the Spirit: "Dear Brother Barrett, your disease is now rebuked, and you shall begin to amend from this day and fully recover. Your companion should unite with you in prayer, and as you increase in faith, so shall you increase in strength until you are in perfect health, saith the Lord of hosts. Amen."

This was the first time I had ever administered to the sick in my life, according to the instructions of the Bible, to "lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (A year afterward I went to Brother Barrett's again and he was well; and he then said to me, "My general health is now better than it has been before, for fifteen years.")

Notwithstanding this rich experience and blessing, Saturday was a long, tedious day to us. Brother Samuel Gurley was cast down in spirit and depressed. He felt badly about leaving his home and companion. Doubts and fears seemed to trouble him all the day. It seemed to be terrible for him to leave his wife and be away among strangers, on a mission in the interest of the most unpopular doctrine of this world.

Sister Cadwell, just as we were about to start from their home Friday morning, remarked, "I guess I better give you a lunch for tomorrow, for I do not suppose anyone will think to give you any, and you are too bashful to ask." I took the lunch in my satchel, and when we sat down out on the prairie to eat it, we were tired and cast down in our feelings. I was feeling much perplexed over my prophecy that morning in relation to the recovery of Brother Barrett, and was wondering if Brother Blair would receive us with joy and gladness, as the stranger had told me he would; and if not, would I continue on my mission? It seemed to me that Satan was determined to destroy our faith in the gospel and our mission. At times, when we would talk of our many experiences, our hope would revive and we would feel encouraged.

Night finally came on us ere we reached East Paw Paw where Brother Blair was living, and we went to his store. Himself and clerks were waiting on customers, who seemed to fairly crowd the room. I knew Brother Blair, but he did not notice me as I came in, so particularly as he did Brother Gurley. I introduced Brother Gurley as Mr. Gurley to him. At that, he at once gave some directions to his clerks about shutting up the store, etc., and then turned to me, and said, "Let us go home." Soon as we stepped out of the store he turned to us, and said, "Who is this Mr. Gurley? Is it Elder Zenas Gurley?"

I replied, "It is Samuel Gurley, his son, and we are on a mission."

He exclaimed, "Oh, I am so glad to see you! I never was so glad to see anyone in my life! What news have you?"

I at once informed him it had been revealed to us by the Spirit of prophecy, that little Joseph would soon take his father's place, and it was his right by lineage.

He replied, "I do not know about that, but I am glad to see you, anyway." When we reached the house, he introduced us to his wife, who very coolly said, "Good evening," and soon got us some supper. As we sat down to the table, Brother Blair told us to be at home and eat our supper, but to excuse him and he would build a fire in the sitting room. As soon as the room was warm we went in, and Brother Blair again expressed himself as being extremely glad to meet us, and said, "As we are going to talk in matters of great importance, I suggest we have a word of prayer first." We readily assented; in fact, we, too, felt the Spirit of prayer. He led and we each prayed in turn, and when we arose from our knees I introduced Brother Gurley as the speaker, saying, "You now have the floor. Enter into business at once and I will take the lounge, as I have nothing to say." They both demurred, saying, "I guess you will have something to say, too." I replied, "No, sir, I am a spectator tonight; go on." And as I was very weary, I reclined on the couch and they were soon in earnest debate. Brother Blair believed that Joseph was a fallen prophet—hence, had nothing to descend to his posterity; that the Choice Seer would be a descendant of Joseph, son of Lehi, and therefore would be an Indian, or a Lamanite. In fact, at this time he was inclined to favor the views of James Colin Brewster. His tongue was loosed and his mind filled with thoughts to successfully oppose Brother Gurley in everything he would bring up.

Brother Gurley was baffled and much confused. I thought several times that I would help him out, but instead of entering into the conversation or debate, I would refer to some of our prayer meetings and experiences in relation to the gifts that we had enjoyed at Zarahemla, and promises we had received, which seemed to encourage Brother Gurley and again he would renew his argument. Thus matters continued in a spirited contention and debate until three o'clock in the morning, after which Brother Blair said, "I guess we had better retire, and we will continue this controversy in the morning." He showed us our rooms and bade us good night.

Soon as Brother Blair left us, Brother Gurley burst into tears and sobbed like a child, and said, "I am confounded and can't say anything, and you don't try. We might as well go home." I felt very sorry for Brother Gurley, yet I could see what the messenger had told me on the cars was coming true, that Brother Blair's mind would be fruitful and bright, and Brother Gurley's darkened and he would be confounded; and I was comforted and clear in my mind all the time. I did not know how it would be brought about, but I was certain we would have the victory in the end and Brother Blair would see the light. We prayed again and retired. Brother Samuel wept like a child. I was sleepy and urged him to dismiss the matter from his mind and rest, and was soon asleep.

When I awoke, the sun was shining brightly. Brother Gurley was very much overcome. He said, "I have not slept a wink tonight, and you have been sleeping like a log. We might as well go home. I am confounded and can't talk, and you don't try."

I replied, "Do not get discouraged. I guess it will come out all right." All the burden had left me and I felt we were in the hands of the Lord, and He would deliver us so we would not be finally confounded, although I could not yet see how it would be done.

We got up and united in prayer before we left our room. Brother Gurley felt better and tried to be cheerful as we met the family. Breakfast over, we retired to the sitting room and after we had all joined in prayer again, Brother Gurley led in the conversation and began quoting the passages usually referred to in defense of the Reorganization, and Joseph's right to the blessing of his father. But Brother Blair could not see any light in them. He argued that Joseph died a fallen prophet, lost his gifts as such, and did not appoint his successor.

They continued the debate until ten o'clock, when Brother Blair went out after wood to build a fire. As soon as he left the room, Brother Gurley burst into tears, and cried out, "I am confounded and I will give it up, and we might as well go home!" I involuntarily replied, "I am glad of it." Brother Blair returned with a smile on his face, and while he was putting wood into the stove, he remarked, "Brethren, all I want is the truth. I do not care how it comes"; and just as he sat down, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me in power and I took up the Book of Mormon, intending to find Lehi's prophecy to his son, Joseph, and his quotation in relation to the Choice Seer, and read it; but instead of finding it, I read the following words: "I will forgive whom I will; and have mercy on whom I will have mercy." I then commenced expounding those passages of scripture they had been discussing, and delivered a prophecy, declaring that Joseph would soon come forth as prophet and president of the Church. When I sat down, Brother Gurley arose and prophesied of the coming of Joseph, and that it was his right according to the law of lineage and the blessing of his father upon him. Brother Blair, in a flood of tears, immediately said, "Brethren, pray for me! One living prophet is worth more than a hundred dead prophets."

Brother Gurley then led in prayer. Brother Blair was converted, and we had a season of rejoicing together and knew that the Lord was with us in very deed, by the power of the Holy Ghost. Brother Gurley was ever so happy, realizing that God had delivered him from all the trials and distress of mind which he had suffered. From that time on, while we were at Brother Blair's, we had a feast of gladness and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Brother David Fuller came in and spent the evening with us. Elder Gurley soon commenced conversation with him, and his mind being clear and lit up by the Spirit, he in a most eloquent and fervent manner explained our faith and hope, and bore testimony to the voice of the Spirit to us—and backed it up by abundant scriptural evidence. While he was talking, the Spirit rested on me in greater power than I had ever experienced before. I fell to the floor, overcome by the power of the Holy Ghost, and saw and realized that God would in His own due time bring to pass all His words; that Joseph would, indeed, come to the Church, and it would be fully organized according to the pattern given in the Book of Covenants. I do not know how long I lay on the floor, but I was so weak I could not stand on my feet. I attempted to rise, but could not stand and fell again on the couch, where I lay until Brother Gurley came to me in the power of the Spirit and touched me with his hands, and said, "Receive strength, saith the Lord." Immediately I received my natural strength, and again prophesied that Joseph would soon come to the Church, and the gospel be preached to all nations; the Jews build up Jerusalem, and the Ten Tribes return from the north.

Sister Lizzie Blair then rose and bore her testimony, confessing how cold and indifferent she felt towards us when we first came to their house, but the Lord had healed her that very morning, as evidence that we were His servants and ministers of the gospel.

We remained at Brother Blair's until Wednesday morning, when he took us with carriages to Ottawa railroad station, and by cars and stage we came to Nauvoo on the following Friday, the fifth of December 1856, and stopped at the Mansion House, kept by Major L. C. Bidamon. He had married Emma, the widow of Joseph Smith, and had an impression, when we first arrived, that we were Latter Day Saint ministers. We told him we were missionaries of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints, and were from Wisconsin. After some conversation, in which he spoke very highly of young Joseph, and that his wife, Emma, was the best woman that ever lived, and that she believed her former husband was a prophet of God, he said, "And I believe she is honest in her convictions. She tells so many things that took place in connection with the writing of the Book of Mormon, that I can't help but believe there is something in it; and I had much rather believe in it than to believe in the Bible. In fact, I do not believe in the Bible anyway." He was quite talkative and claimed to be skeptical on religious matters, though he continued, "I believe Joseph Smith was an honest man, but think he might have been deceived. My wife wrote a part of the Book of Mormon as Smith translated it from the plates he had found," he said. He seemed quite inquisitive in relation to our mission. I told him we wished to see Joseph. He informed us that he had been married lately and was living on a farm, and that there were some Mormon elders from Utah there a few days before to see him, but Joseph would not have anything to do with them.

He then took us into the dining room where his wife was, and introduced us to her. We informed her that we were on a mission, preaching the gospel. She appeared quite reserved; seemed inclined to talk very little with us, and we avoided telling our special object of visiting Nauvoo at this time. We stayed overnight in the hotel and until about the middle of the afternoon Saturday. Major Bidamon informed us he expected Joseph in the city, and as he did not come, about three o'clock in the afternoon we walked out to the farm to see him.

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