Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 26: Thomas Marsh

The lesson this week focuses entirely on Section 112 of the Doctrine & Covenants, and the theme is missionary work. In my opinion, the lesson does not really track with the text that well. Section 112 is directed to Thomas Marsh as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. It contains personal counsel and admonition for him, as well as direction on how to lead the Apostles in their missionary labors. The manual, on the other hand, focuses on the sacrifices the rank and file members of the Church in Kirtland made to share the gospel (huh?), the Twelve preaching in England (ok), and the Kirtland saints remaining faithful despite adversity, which is kind of ironic, given the Thomas Marsh back-story.

The Thomas Marsh back-story makes Section 112 pretty interesting. Here was a guy who converted to the Church in the earliest days and rose to preside over the Quorum of the Twelve. He has an interesting relationship with Joseph Smith, taking him on when he thought Joseph was too hard on the Twelve (see Rough Stone Rolling at 298). He flees Missouri during the conflict between the Mormons and the Missourians, and eventually testifies against the Prophet, accusing him, essentially, of trying to set up his own theocratic kingdom on the American frontier. Somewhere in the midst of this is the famous cream strippings story (his wife holds back the cream form some milk she shared with a neighbor, which leads to conflict, Church courts, appeals to the First Presidency, etc). Thomas leaves the Church for almost 20 years, but later rejoins the Saints in Utah and reconciles with the brethren.

To me, this story makes some of the passages in Section 112 especially interesting, even poignant. For example, the Lord tells Thomas that “there have been some few things in thine heart and with thee with which I, the Lord, was not well pleased.” D&C 112:2. The Lord counsels Thomas, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give the answers to thy prayers.” D&C 112:10. “Exalt not yourselves; rebel not against my servant Joseph; for verily I say unto you, I am with him, and my hand shall be over him; and the keys which I have given unto him, and also unto youward, shall not be taken from him till I come.” D&C 112:15.

The one verse that really strikes me is 13. After telling Thomas to teach and admonish the Twelve, he says, “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted and I shall heal them.” I wonder if Thomas had any sense in 1837 how this verse might play out for him, how the Lord might feel after him. Twenty years later, after leaving the Church and the Saints, then making his way west, he met with Brigham Young and asked if he could rejoin the Church. A few days later, Brigham Young asked him to address the Saints in a meeting on Temple Square. Thomas said,

My voice was never very strong, but it has been very much weakened of late years
by the afflicting rod of Jehovah. He loved me too much to let me go
without whipping. . . . For if he had not cared anything about me he would
not have taken me by the arm and given me such a shaking. . . . I know
that I was a very stiff-necked man. . . . I want your fellowship; I want
your God to be my God. . . . I have learned to understand what David said
when he exclaimed, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to
dwell in the tents of wickedness."

Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book 1997.

Thomas Marsh lived through an amazing, difficult, complicated time. The events around him challenged his faith and led him on a tortuous journey. In the end, it appears that the Lord felt after him and brought him home. Can we hope for anything more?

Does the story of Thomas Marsh make the lesson material more meaningful for you? Or does it just not fit this week? Does Section 112 fit in the lesson this week?


  1. Honestly, I was thrilled when I discovered that section 112 was a part of the lesson. I'd read (skimmed) over the material a few times, and was not terribly excited about teaching the lesson, because I don't consider myself a very good story-teller, and that's what this lesson appeared to be requiring.

    Then I noticed the reference to section 112, and became absolutely engulfed by the text (YES!! text to work with!).

    What I've decided to do is mention that the lesson is about the sacrifices missionaries made, and missionary work generally, tell a Parley P. Pratt story, and then mention the Thomas B. Marsh story, how that he was upset with Joseph's sending Heber C. Kimball to England without counselling with Marsh, and that this revelation was given, according to Joseph, the very day the gospel was first preached in England.

    Then we'll just do the text.

    One question I have is, what does it mean when Marsh is told that he would preach not only the the Gentiles but the to the Jews as well (v. 4). If he hadn't apostatized, would he have gone in place of, or at least been with, Orson Hyde to dedicated the land of Israel? Or does it have to do with something else?

    Whatever it means, I'm pretty sure Brother Marsh forfeited his claim to this opportunity when he "exalted himself." By the way, the counsel to "exalt not yourselves" is one of my favorite ironic commands from God. We CAN'T exalt ourselves, without the merits and mercy of Christ, we are hopeless. :)

  2. Holdinator: I agree, there is good stuff in Section 112. To me, it just did not seem to match up all that well with what the manual wanted us to teach.

    And, I had the same thought about the Jews and Gentiles. I do not know what it refers to, specifically, but I wondered what might have been if Marsh had chopsen a different course in Missouri.

    Let us all know how the lesson went.

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