Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Conversion Sojourn of J. Eckersley

In a two-installment series published in 1890, an English Latter-day Saint named J. Eckersley offered an account of his journey to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What follows is from his "How I Became a 'Mormon'" as it appeared in The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star 52/10 (10 March 1890): 145-147 and 52/11 (17 March 1890): 163-165.
It was in the latter part of January, 1886, when, for the first time in my life, I became acquainted with the doctrines of the "Mormon" Church. I was at that time visiting friends at a small village called Patricroft, near Manchester, the place where I passed my boyhood days. For several years I had been a devout member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church - was honest in my convictions, endeavoring to serve God to the best of my ability, according to the light and knowledge I possessed. One evening, in company with two near friends, I attended a Methodist prayer meeting, and on returning to the house of Mr. R., whom I was visiting, we were met by a gentleman with whom I had previously some little acquaintance, and he having been formerly a Methodist preacher, I still believed him to be engaged in that profession. In course of conversation, addressing my friends he said it would afford him much pleasure to be favored with an opportunity of spending an evening with them, for the purpose of pointing out the path in which God would have them walk. Knowing that my friends were devout Methodists, of unblemished character and good repute, and believing that we were all walking the narrow path that leads to the Father's presence, I felt somewhat indignant at what I then considered the strange remarks of Mr. N., for I well knew that he was acquainted with the fact that we were already professing Christians, attended Church regularly, and were taught by our ministers.

Before retiring to rest that evening, Mr. and Mrs. R. and I entered into conversation upon religious topics, and feeling a little curious at the remarks made by Mr. N., I made some inquiries respecting him, when, to my dismay and astonishment, I was informed that he had united himself to the "Mormon" Church, and was actively engaged propagating the doctrines and principles of "Mormonism." Having heard many scurrilous stories concerning the "Mormons," I was a little curious to learn, from an authoritative source, something concerning the faith and practice of this despised people. At first my friends hesitated to enlighten my mind, fearing that I might oppose, and not being members of the "Mormon" Church themselves, they desired to evade any opposition, or feelings that might arise in giving their views respecting the faith of the Latter-day Saints. Finally, however, they commenced to repeat to me the Articles of Faith, and never shall I forget the feeling that pervaded my whole system on that occasion. I had always been taught that the Latter-day Saints were a low, degraded, and immoral community, who gathered together to some remote part of the globe, that they might be exempted from the law, and thus be at liberty to practise all manner of abominations and crime, without the fear of any punishment. But the false impressions and the prejudices I had imbibed, fled before the light of truth and love, as the morning mists vanish before the rays of the rising sun. My soul was filled with ecstasy, as my friends talked to me upon the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, the gifts and blessings promised to believers, and the organization of the Church of Christ - apostles and prophets being the officers. This kind of organization - a Church with apostles and prophets, which laid claim to all the gifts and blessings enjoyed by the primitive Christians, was what I had been seeking all my life.

If time and space would permit, I might relate many circumstances which transpired while earnesly endeavoring to serve God as a Methodist, that would prove how dissatisfied I was with the teachings of uninspired men, and how I longed to see the power of God made manifest as anciently. Feeling dissatisfied with the religions of to-day, (for although I was a member of the Methodist Church, I had wandered from place to place in hopes of obtaining satisfaction of mind,) often I had petitioned God to direct me into the sure path, and reveal unto me the whole truth; and now the light of truth had commenced to penetrate my soul, God was revealing unto me the things I had so earnestly sought after, and my heart was filled with joy inexpressible. On retiring to rest, I humbly knelt and petitioned God with more zeal and earnestness than ever before, to remove from my eyes the scales of darkness, and enable me to conform with the requirements necessary, in order to possess the knowledge promised to obedience. My mind was exercised to that extent, that sleep was almost impossible, and I lay awake for hours, meditating on the truths that had been taught me.

Next day was the Sabbath. I attended services at the Methodist Church, and never was it made more manifest unto me, than on this occasion, that learned divines were teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Circumstances necessitating my return home, and feeling deeply concerned about what I had already learned respecting the faith of the Saints, and hungering and thirsting for more knowledge, I reluctantly bade my friends farewell, obtaining a promise that they would make application for some tracts, written by prominent Elders of the "Mormon" Church, and would mail them to my abode. A few days after my arrival home, my friends sent me a number of tracts, which I eagerly perused with intense interest, praying for the inspiration of the Spirit of God to assist me in understanding the things that I read. The more fervently I investigated, the more light and truth I received, and the more deeply grounded in my mind became the conviction that so-called "Mormonism" was none other than the true and everlasting Gospel, as taught in the New Testament. The following Sabbath I attended a meeting of the Saints, and heard the word of God as it fell from the mouths of His servants. The first speaker, who has since passed into the spirit world, spoke upon the organization of the Church of Christ, and the second discoursed upon the laws and ordinances necessary to membership in that Church. I had previously listened to many eloquent sermons, delivered by learned and talented men; but never before in all my life did I hear the Scriptures more clearly explained or the plan of salvation so plainly marked out, than by these humble men, to say nothing of the power that accompanied their words, which in very truth was sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing my heart to the very centre. At the close of the meeting, the last speaker approached me, asking how I had enjoyed the service, and, after a little conversation, invited me to accompany them to tea, and stay to the evening meeting. I did so, and the pleasant time we spent together will long be remembered; they were delighted at the opportunity of teaching me the Gospel, and I was overjoyed at the privilege of hearing its joyful sound. They related to me many of the experiences through which they had passed, the persecutions and trials endured by them for the Gospel's sake, and the slander and abuse heaped upon their heads by their once nearest friends - professed Christians - for accepting and clinging to the "Mormon" faith; all of which appealed to my reason as stronge evidences in favor of their honesty, and also of the divinity of the principles they had espoused.

In the evening I again attended meeting, which was similar to the one held in the fore part of the day, and I returned home with a firm conviction that I had found at last the strait and narrow way. But now came the test, whether or not I would obey the truths revealed to me, and take up my cross and follow Christ; my reputation was at stake; relatives and friends would all forsake me, and by one and all I should be despised. The sacrifice was indeed great, but I sought wisdom and strength from Him who has promised liberally to all who seek with humble and contrite hearts. Feeling thoroughly satisfied that I could only obtain a salvation through obedience to the Gospel as taught by the Latter-day Saints, I finally resolved to be baptized for the remission of my sins, and endeavor to keep the commandments of God, irrespective of the results that might follow. No sooner had I made this resolution, than I was taken seriously ill, being for several days confined to my bed; and my affliction was of such a violent nature, that had I not exercised faith, I should certainly have entertained strong doubts of my recovery. But having an assurance that God would restore me, and that this affliction was only one of the trying ordeals which He had ordained me to pass through, as a test of my faith, I bore testimony to my friends that God had a work for me to perform, and that I should recover, and ere long be a member of the "Mormon" Church.

Apparently, the assertion made that immediately on my recovery I should identify myself with the Saints, caused my friends much grief, and never shall I forget their pleadings with me to consider the step I was taking, asserting it was a delusion into which I had fallen. Several times my faith was sorely tried; Satan seemed to employ all the means in his power to weaken my faith, and prejudice my mind against the truths which I had so earnestly investigated. Those who should have been my best friends, and should have aided me in my search after truth, were the very instruments employed by the prince of darkness to turn me aside from the light that had dawned upon me; by their craft they sought to pervert the doctrines of Christ, and very frequently assured me that the Almighty had stricken me down, that I might have time for reflection, be led to see the folly of my ways, and be saved from the terrible sin of apostasy. In the midst of these trials, I prayed earnestly unto the Lord to spare my life, and restore me to perfect health, promising to dedicate my days to His service, if He would only grant my request. My prayer was heard, my request granted, and soon I was sufficiently recovered to be able to leave my bed; and although very weak, I attended Sunday services, and applied for baptism. On the following evening, I was initiated into the fold and family of Christ by baptism, Elder C. B. Orrock officiating. It must be remembered that I had not yet fully recovered from my sickness; but I bear testimony that in coming forth out of the water I was perfectly whole, which caused my heart to rejoice greatly, and the next day I followed by usual employment in the enjoyment of perfect health and strength, without any feelings of pain or distress. Three days later I attended a cottage meeting, held at the house of one of the members, and was confirmed a member of the Church by Elder Thomas Sleight, who promised me the Holy Ghost, and predicted many great blessings that should befall me, if but faithful to the covenants I had made with God. The power of God manifested at that meeting, will long be remembered by those present. When the servants of God laid their hands on my head, the Holy Ghost descended upon me in mighty power, and my whole being was suffused by a heavenly influence, such as I had never before felt, and a testimony was given to me that my sins were pardoned, and that God accepted me as His child. Not only was this heavenly influence enjoyed by myself, but all in the house felt the quickening power of the Spirit of God - priest and people alike rejoiced, and many wept for joy.

The news that I had embraced "Mormonism" soon became known to all my friends and acquaintances. One by one they separated themselves from my company, upbraiding me for the sin of apostasy, and ignoring my every appeal to them to investigate the claims made by the Latter-day Saints. Thus, my forebodings that becoming a "Mormon" would constitute an offense, sufficiently heinous in the eyes of my friends to exclude me from their company, were fully realized. The persecution received from my nearest and best friends, was a testimony unto me that I was a disciple of the Lord Jesus, and, like fuel, only added to the flame of zeal that had already commenced to kindle in my breast; and being filled with an earnest desire to impart unto others the light which God had revealed to me, I at once applied my mind to the obtaining of knowledge concerning the plan of salvation, as taught in the Bible, in order that I might be able to controvert false doctrine, and withstand the attacks of those who, by their vain wisdom and much learning, have perverted the oracles of God. In my pursuit of knowledge God blessed me greatly, and having committed to memory many passages of Scripture, I visited as many of my former friends as would receive me, and reasoned with them upon the doctrines of Christ, bearing testimony that God had spoken again from the heavens, and, in fulfillment of predictions made by the prophets, restored the everlasting and holy priesthood. Each day brought with it additional testimonies, that the principles and doctrines I had espoused were of God, and that their validity and truthfulness could not successfully be repudiated.

About two weeks after my conversion, I determined to visit the Methodist Church, of which I had formerly been a member, for the purpose of resigning my post as a teacher in the Sabbath school, and of requesting that my name be struck off the church record. Accordingly, on the Sabbath, I attended school, and interviewed the superintendent and my class leader. After a little conversation, I made known my errand, whereupon they asked the cause of my being desirous of separating myself from their church. This led to a discussion, and the manner in which the Spirit of God operated upon me I shall never forget. The gentlemen referred to were both learned, and had studied the Scriptures from their youth, one having been engaged in the ministry for many years. I was a youth of nineteen, of very limited education, and yet I was enabled to answer the questions they propounded in the manner to astonish and bewilder them! At first they endeavored to controvert the doctrines I advanced; but finding themselves unable to accomplish that arduous task, they finally gave way to a burst of passion, asserting many things in support of which they could not produce a particle of proof, saying that Joseph Smith was an impostor, and that his followers were a wicked and licentious people, and telling many fabulous stories of Joseph Smith's adventures in England. Before taking my departure, I reminded them of the fact that the Saints had ever been subjected to ill-usage and misrepresentation - that they who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, and that it was habitual for some men to resort to slander and abuse, when by fair argument they failed to establish their claim. I might relate many experiences through which I passed, of a similar nature to the above; but suffice it to say, that being acquainted with a multitude of professed Christians, it gave me opportunity to bear my testimony to many, and the more I discussed it with my former friends, the more clear to my mind became the fact that mankind have transgressed the laws of God, changed the ordinances, and broken the everlasting covenant, and are enveloped in gross darkness, and I praised God the more for being so mindful of me, as to open my eyes to discern His precious truths.

In answer to my prayers, I obtained the authority to preach the Gospel, and was ordained a priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by Elder John Holt. I endeavored to magnify my holy calling whereunto God had called me, and was greatly blessed in so doing. I took untold pleasure in assisting to hold open-air meetings, and in rendering every possible assistance in spreading the everlasting Gospel. About this time the gifts of the Gospel were made manifest in a miraculous manner in the Branch of the Church of which I was then a member - the gift of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, the gift of prophecy, and the healing of the sick, were of common occurrence, God dividing these precious gifts among the Saints severally as He willed, according to their faithfulness. Thus my knowledge and testimony increased daily, and I rejoiced greatly in the realization of the promises made to me by the servants of God.

In October, 1887, I was ordained to the office of an Elder, by Elder W. G. Phillips. I was subsequently called into the ministry, and sent forth, like the disciples of old, to preach the Gospel without purse or scrip, encountering like difficulties, but rejoicing in the same hope, namely, that of eternal recompense. Nearly four years have now passed away since I identified myself with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and although I have encountered many hardships, and endured much persecution for righteousness' sake, it has been the happiest period of my life, and not all the wealth of this world could purchase the experience and knowledge obtained through humble obedience to the will of God.

Should this article, the experience of a humble youth, fall into the hands of any who are dissatisfied by the doctrines of men, and who desire to become acquainted with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, I earnestly exhort them to read the above with an unprejudiced mind, and I bear testimony that as many as will follow my example, and do the will of the Father, shall, like me, obtain a knowledge and testimony from God, that He is a rewarder of all those who diligently seek him. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."

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