DC 31 Autobiographical Sketch: Thomas B. Marsh
Thomas B. Marsh was one of the earliest converts to the church. Because of his great ability, he was called as one of the original Twelve Apostles. More importantly, he was first in seniority in that quorum (see D&C 112). Neither he, nor the rest of the church, understood at that time what being President of the Quorum of the Twelve meant in terms of church authority and succession in the Presidency. Like many early leaders, he eventually became offended and fell away. In his case, conflict between his wife and another member over milk strippings would be the spark of disaffection. Thomas would return to the church, but had he stayed faithful, he would have been known as the second prophet of the church instead of Brigham Young. Nonetheless, the tragedy of his personal apostasy should not overshadow his great faith and righteousness in the early 1830's.
Thomas B. Marsh
I was born in the town of Acton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, November 1, 1799. My father, James Marsh was born in Douglas, Massachusetts, March 27, 1751. My mother, Mary, daughter of Titus Law, was born in Acton, Massachusetts, March 18, 1759.
I spent my early life in farming at Westmoreland, New Hampshire, until I was fourteen years of age, when I ran away and went to Chester, Vermont, where I worked on a farm three months; then went to Albany, New York and engaged in a public house as a waiter...[After moving to Long Island, New York] I became acquainted with Elizabeth Godkin, and married her on the 1st November, 1820.
Immediately after marrying I commenced in the grocery business, in New York, in which business I remained one and a half years, but did not succeed. I then engaged in a type foundry in Boston, where I continued seven years.
While engaged in this business I joined the Methodist Church and tried for two years to be a genuine Methodist, but did not succeed any better in getting Methodist religion than I did in the grocery business. I compared Methodism with the Bible, but could not make it correspond. I withdrew from all sects, and being about to leave Boston my old class leader wished me to take a good certificate, but I informed him I did not want it. I had a measure of the spirit of prophecy and told him that I expected a new church would arise, which would have the truth in its purity. He said to me, you no doubt mean to be a leader in that new sect. I told him I had no such intentions. He said, he prayed that the Lord would make me a firebrand in the midst of that new religious body, as reformation was necessary. My wife unknown to me, however, got a certificate for herself and me on one paper. I informed her that I never would attend, but I would find a suitable class for her if she wanted to join.
I remained in Boston several years engaged in the type foundry. During this period I became acquainted with several friends whose opinions concerning religion were like my own. We kept aloof from sectarians, and were called by them Quietists, because we resembled so much a sect in France known by that name professing to be led by the Spirit.
I believed the Spirit of God dictated me to make a journey west. I started in company with one Benjamin Hall, who was also led by the Spirit. I went to Lima, Livingston County, New York, where I staid [stayed] some three months, and then left for home. I called on my return at Lyonstown, on a family, whose names I do not recollect. On leaving there next morning the lady enquired if I had heard of the Golden Book found by a youth named Joseph Smith. I informed her I never heard anything about it, and became very anxious to know concerning the matter. On enquiring, she told me I could learn more about it from Martin Harris, in Palmyra.
I returned back westward and found Martin Harris at the printing office, in Palmyra, where the first sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon had just been struck off, the proof sheet of which I obtained from the printer and took with me. As soon as Martin Harris found out my intentions he took me to the house of Joseph Smith, Sen., where Joseph Smith, Jun., resided, who could give me any information I might wish. Here I found Oliver Cowdery, who gave me all the information concerning the book I desired. After staying there two days I started for Charleston, Massachusetts, highly pleased with the information I had obtained concerning the new found book.
After arriving home and finding my family all well, I showed my wife the sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon which I had obtained, with which she was well pleased, believing it to be the work of God. From this time for about one year I corresponded with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith, Jun., and prepared myself to move west.
Learning by letter that the Church of Jesus Christ had been organized on the 6th day of April, 1830, I moved to Palmyra, Ontario County, in September following, and landed at the house of Joseph Smith, Sen., with my whole family. During the month I was baptized by David Whitmer, in Cayuga Lake, and in a few days I was ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery with six elders, at Father Whitmer's house. Joseph received a revelation appointing me a physician to the Church. (The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star 26 (1864):359-60, 375-76, 390-92, 406., written in 1857 in Salt Lake City)
DC 31:2 Behold you have had many afflictions because of your family
Often the most difficult trials come from within our own families. Abuse, physical disability, contentions can be particularly difficult when it occurs in the home. External afflictions can be easier to take because shelter can be sought in a peaceful home. But with family afflictions, the individual has no haven, no place of safety, no protection from the storm.
"My wife and I were baptized into the Church, causing great contention and criticism from our families. This went on for a considerable length of time, and following counsel from my bishop, I prayed very hard, telling Heavenly Father of my concerns of this situation and asking for His help.
"One night these verses (D&C 31:1-3) came to me so clearly. I had been in the Church just a short while and had not read the Doctrine and Covenants. My only knowledge of them was referenced by missionaries to clarify teachings, and what I had heard in the gospel principles class.
"The following morning with great excitement and a little apprehension I turned to the Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 31. Imagine my feelings of astonishment to see that it commenced with my own name, 'Thomas, my son.' It was seconds before I could take my eyes off that beginning to read further.
"The words of comfort, the assignment and the promised blessings that followed filled my heart with joy and comfort. It was no surprise to me to first be called as a stake missionary and then as ward mission leader.
"We now enjoy the respect of all our family members. None have yet joined the Church but many have accepted the Book of Mormon into their homes. Most of all, I have had the joy of baptizing my own two daughters. (Thomas A. Wilde, "Living by the Scriptures", LDS Church News, 1995, 05/13/95)
DC 31:2 I will bless you and your family...and the day cometh that they will believe and know the truth
Orson F. Whitney
You parents of the wilful and the wayward! Don't give them up. Don't cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep...the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared-and he never taught more comforting doctrine-that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father's heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God. (Conference Report, April 1929, Third Day-Morning Meeting 110.)
Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang. (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 208.)
DC 31:3 Lift up your heart and rejoice
Joe J. Christensen
Your level of spirituality is also directly related to how well you fill the Lord's commandments to "Be of good cheer" and "Lift up your heart and rejoice" (D&C 31:3). How many times in the scriptures did the Lord command us to be of good cheer? He didn't say, "Be of good cheer if everything is going well, if you have enough money to pay all your bills, if your biorhythms are up," or whatever. No. For us to be of good cheer is a commandment and not merely a suggestion.
Here is a practical suggestion that has helped me in the past. Take a sheet of paper and write on it a list of the blessings you consider to be important in whatever order they come to your mind. Then place them in order of priority. What is your most precious blessing? Probably somewhere near the top of your list will be the big "Four Fs"-your faith, family, freedom, and friends.
Note how many blessings you have at the top of the list for which you would hope to have the courage to give up your mortal lives to protect. Then note how far down the list you go before you come to any blessing that you can buy for money. The most precious blessings are without price; they are priceless. ("Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality," Ensign, Mar. 1999, 59)
DC 31:4 the field which is white already to be burned
If the field was white "already to be burned" clear back in September of 1830, what does that say about the state of the white field today?
DC 31:5 the laborer is worthy of his hire
Elder Rulon S. Wells
I wish to call attention to the fact that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and those that labor for Zion do not go without their reward. They are the best paid of all men and women upon this earth, because they have enlisted in the service of the Most High, and He is the best paymaster of all. You nor I can do any service in the kingdom of God without being amply paid. What if we have forsaken father and mother? What if we have given of our substance? It matters not. The Savior said that He that would not forsake father and mother, wives and children, houses and lands, for His name's sake, was not worthy of Him; but he that will forsake father and mother, houses and lands, for His sake, shall receive in this world an hundred fold, and in the world to come life everlasting. So that those who do labor for Zion should feel encouraged that in doing so they will receive an hundred fold. It matters not what you may be called to do, whether it be to preach this Gospel to the nations of the earth or to labor at home, God will reward you for your labor. If you are called upon to minister to the sick in the ward in which you live, God will reward you. If you are called upon to go from house to house and teach the Latter-day Saints, God will reward you an hundredfold. (Conference Report, October 1906, Afternoon Session., p.120)
DC 31:5 wherefore, your family shall live
"Put the Lord to the test and see if he does not bless and prosper your family for your diligent service. Let him bless them in his own time and in his own way and according to his own will (see D&C 88:68)." (Randy L. Bott, Serve with Honor: Helps for Missionaries, p.206 - 207)
If we do His will, He will take care of us as a people, and as individuals. One proof of this, is in my own life and experience. When I left my family to start for England, I was not able to walk one mile, I was not able to lift a small trunk, which I took with me, into the wagon. I left my wife and my six children without a second suit to their backs, for we had left all our property in possession of the mob. Every one of my family were sick, and my then youngest child, who has spoken before you to-day, was but ten days old at the time I left for England. Joseph said, "If you will go, I promise you, that your family shall live, and you shall live, and you shall know that the hand of God is in calling you to go and preach the Gospel of life and salvation to a perishing world." He said all he could say to comfort and encourage the brethren. This was our situation, and I say, with regard to the remainder of the Twelve, they had all been driven like myself, and we were a band of brethren about equal. My family lived. When I left them they had not provisions to last them ten days, and not one soul of them was able to go to the well for a pail of water. I had lain for weeks, myself, in the house, watching from day to day for some person to pass the door, whom I could get to bring us in a pail of water. In this condition I left my family, and went to preach the Gospel. As for being cast down, or at all discouraged, or even such thoughts entering in my heart as, "I will provide for my family, and let the world perish," these feelings and thoughts never once occurred to me; if I had known that every one of them would have been in the grave when I returned, it would not have diverted me from my mission one hour. When I was ready to start, I went and left my family in the hands of the Lord, and with the brethren. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 2:19)
DC 31:7 I will establish a church by your hand
It is not exactly clear which church the Lord is referencing in this passage. Perhaps it refers to Thomas' work among the saints in Missouri. The presidency of the Missouri church, consisting of William W. Phelps, David Whitmer, and John Whitmer was called into question in late 1837. Thomas B. Marsh was appointed in their stead.
Thomas B. Marsh
Sometime in the winter [of 1837], George M. Hinkle, John Murdock and some others came to my house, and suggested the importance of calling a meeting to take into consideration the manner that W. W. Phelps and David and John Whitmer had disposed of the money which I had borrowed in the Tennessee and Kentucky Branches in 1836. Accordingly, a meeting was called February 5th, 1838, and the conduct of the Presidency in Zion investigated. The Church would not sustain said presidency, but appointed myself and Brother D. [David] W. Patten presidents, pro tem., until Joseph Smith would arrive. We also reorganized the Church in Zion, placing every officer in his proper place. Joseph arrived in Far West, March 14th, and approved of the course we had pursued. (Excerpts from the Millennial Star, History of Thomas B. Marsh 392.)
DC 31:9 revile not against those that revile
Neal A. Maxwell
Being the perfect Teacher, Jesus knew the value of silence. He could have said so much, but He nevertheless chose, standing before certain of His accusers prior to His crucifixion, to answer nothing...He who was reviled reviled not in return. And, to be like Him, we must do likewise. "Be patient in afflictions, revile not against those that revile. Govern your house in meekness, and be steadfast." (Even As I Am, p.78)
DC 31:9 govern your house in meekness, and be steadfast
"In other words, be patient with your family. Don't revert to the world's way of solving problems by using force against force. Use meekness and steadfastness in governing your home. As he followed those instructions, the Lord had held out the promise to Thomas Marsh, both in the second and fifth verses of section 31, that 'your family shall live.' It is not easy to keep serving and governing the house of God when a person's own household is in turmoil. Easy or not, there are lessons to learn that necessitate our complete trust in God's ability to fulfill the promise that one day our families will be 'one with you in my church' (D&C 31:2)." (Randy L. Bott, The Doctrine and Covenants, a Book of Answers: The 25th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. by Leon R. Hartshorn, Dennis A. Wright, and Craig J. Ostler, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 49.)
DC 31:10 you shall be a physician unto the church
"Naturalist Loren Eiseley had an experience on one of these beaches that has become a well-known parable on the preservation of life. Very early one morning, Eiseley encountered a solitary man searching the shoreline after a storm.
"'Do you collect?' asked Eiseley.
"'Only like this,' replied the man, casting a struggling starfish far out to sea, 'and only for the living.'
"'The stars ... throw well,' he observed. 'One can help them.' (The Star Thrower, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, p. 172.)
"This man, whom Eiseley called the 'star thrower,' was no ordinary collector. His sole interest was to save the starfish from anxious tourists, to protect their right to swim again in the ocean.
"One of the most basic responsibilities of a follower of Christ involves 'collecting for the living'-searching out those who are struggling for spiritual survival and helping to restore them. In a very real way, there is human wreckage on our shores. Some have set themselves adrift from the gospel or have otherwise become lost. These are the lost sheep, the lost coins, of the Savior's parables. They are in our wards and stakes, our neighborhoods, and perhaps among our intimate circles of friends. These are the once-converted who have fallen away.
"Shortly after Thomas B. Marsh was baptized, the Prophet Joseph Smith conferred upon him a blessing of comfort and also a powerful admonition: 'Behold, I say unto you that you shall be a physician unto the church.' (D&C 31:10.)
"What is the responsibility of a physician to the Church? Perhaps Brother Marsh was being directed to serve those within the Church in need of spiritual healing. One of our basic responsibilities as followers of Christ involves 'collecting for the living,' in the star thrower's words; or, in the Lord's terminology, being a physician to the Church. In our eagerness to find new converts, we must not forget the once-converted who have fallen away. For those who feel timid in doing missionary work, this is a wonderful opportunity to practice the healing medicine of the gospel, to help bring joy and wellness into the lives of others. We do not pull others up by their bootstraps. We simply help them to reach the bootstraps so that they may pull themselves up." (Marilyn Brick Taft, "Healing the Once-Converted," Ensign, July 1984, 64)
DC 31:11 it shall be given you by the Comforter what you shall do and wither you shall go
F. Burton Howard
Occasionally, I have had time to pray and ponder before acting on the promptings of the Comforter. More often, I have found myself as Nephi, "led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do." (1 Ne. 4:6.)
The Lord told Joseph and Oliver, "It shall be given thee in the very moment what thou shalt speak and write." (D&C 24:6.)
To Thomas B. Marsh he said, "Go your way whithersoever I will, and it shall be given you by the Comforter what ye shall do and whither you shall go." (D&C 31:11.)
What to say! What to write! Where to go! What to do! Such guidance, if given infrequently for only some of life's decisions, would be priceless. But the broader promise given to the Prophet Joseph, at Salem, Massachusetts was that "for the main," (or for the most part) the place he should tarry would be revealed to him by the peace and power of the Spirit. (See D&C 111:8.) And the Three Witnesses were told that the Holy Ghost would manifest "all things which are expedient unto the children of men." (D&C 18:18.)
This is of monumental significance. It is then easier to understand why President Marion G. Romney in the April 1974 general conference said, "The importance of receiving the Holy Ghost is beyond expression." (In Conference Report, April 1974, p. 134.) But "beyond expression" must not mean beyond reverent thankfulness or beyond understanding. The world may not comprehend that the Holy Ghost manifests the "truth of all things." (Moro. 10:5.) We know that he does. ("The Gift of Knowing," Ensign, Sept. 1983, 33)
DC 31:12 Pray always, lest you enter into temptation
"The major function of prayer in the day-to-day life of the individual seems to be preventive maintenance. (D&C 75:11; D&C 20:33; D&C 31:12; D&C 61:39; D&C 93:49; D&C 88:126; D&C 101:81.) Our spiritual machinery, like physical machinery, will begin to malfunction if it is not properly maintained.
"This is illustrated by President Brigham Young's warning: 'if we neglect our prayers, a spirit of darkness will come over us.' (Journal of Discourses 10:300.) Prayer is so vital to spiritual health that it should take precedence over most other concerns. President Young counseled:
"'It matters not whether you or I feel like praying; when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do.' (Journal of Discourses 13:155.)
"When Adam was driven out of the Garden of Eden, the Lord emphasized, among other things, the necessity of praying in the name of Christ. Adam was told to teach his children to pray. (Moses 5:6-8.) Some of his children did not heed the teachings and were deceived by Satan's influence. But the record indicates that 'Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God.' (Moses 5:16.) This habitual, continuous exercise of prayer seems to be the major key to preserving and nourishing our righteous or positive desires." (Neil J. Flinders, "Principles of Parenting, Part 2," Ensign, Apr. 1975, 53-54)