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In our previous article we learned of the Satanic attack in Preston prior to the first British baptisms. This event, quite rightly, gets much of the air time when discussing that first week, but there were similar experiences in Liverpool and London that are also worthy of note.
Aboard ship, on their way to open the British Mission, Willard Richards was troubled by evil spirits. On the day their boat arrived in Liverpool’s River Mersey (July 20, 1837) Willard recorded:
“Awoke this morning in the utmost horror. It appeared to me that evil spirits or devils had fastened on every muscle of my body, punishing it so severely as completely to stop the circulation of the fluids & Satan himself held me so close by the throat that I was gasping for the last time. Doubtless it would have gratified the prince of the power of the air if he could have strangled me. But the Lord suffered him not.”
Just over a week later Willard would witness the legions of evil spirits in the Preston attack.
In 1840 Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff and George.A. Smith travelled to London to open the capital city to missionary work. After Heber’s 1837 to 1838 convert successes in the Preston area, and following Wilford’s more recent success (March 1840) with the United Brethren they probably arrived in this huge metropolis with great confidence and hope.
They were surprised that amidst this giddying mass of humanity they were finding it impossible to get anyone to listen to their message. The wind was truly knocked out of their sails and one but can wonder how missionary blues affected these marvelous missionaries.
Wilford penned these soul searching words in his journal:
“O London, as I walk thy streets and behold the mass of human beings passing through thee, and view thy mighty palaces, thy splendid mansions, the costly merchandize wherewith thou are adorned, even as the capital of great Babylon, I am ready to ask myself, “What am I and my brethren here for?”
They knew the answer. They knew their purpose, but this was a hard slog. Wilford reflected:
“We had spent twenty-three days in the great Babylon of modern times and had found it harder to establish the Church there than in any other place we had ever been.”
“Brother Woodruff has been gone two weeks, and we baptized only one here in the city before he left. He felt almost discouraged and said he never saw such a hard case before…every door closed against us and every heart.”
In a letter to Manchester about their plight they concluded,
“London had been such a perfect depot of the systems of the nineteenth century that it contained six hundred three score and six different gods, gospels, redeemers, plans of salvation, religious, churches, commandments (essential and non-essential), orders of preaching, road to heaven and to hell; and that this order of things had so affected the minds of the people that it almost required a horn to be blown form the highest heavens, in order to awaken the attention of the people, and prepare their minds to candidly hear and receive the doctrine of one Gospel, one faith, one baptism, one Holy Ghost, one God, and one plan of salvation…”
Orson Pratt, then having similar struggles in Edinburgh, encouraged his friend George A. Smith to:
“hold on to the Londonites for it is an important station and will give us great advantages over the enemy. If you cannot turn the London world upside down perhaps you can weaken its foundations.”
Five weeks after leaving London Wilford returned to work alongside George.A.Smith and declared,
“…it certainly is the darkest prospect all things considered of any place I have been in since I have been in the vineyard. But the Lord is with us and we are not discouraged.”
The very next night the adversary decided to make his move to see if he could pull these souls into a sense of despair and fear to abandon their cause. Prior to this event George had complained to his journal of being “constantly annoyed by visitations from the spirit of darkness, which required all my faith and energy of mind to resist.” Now, together, the missionaries were jointly attacked. Wilford and George both recorded the event. Wilford said,
“We retired to rest in good season and I felt well in my mind and slept until 12 at night. I awoke and meditated upon the things of God until near 3 0’clock and while forming a determination to warn the people of London and overcome the powers of darkness by the assistance of God, a person appeared unto me which I considered was the Prince of Darkness, or the Devil. He made war with me and attempted to take my life. He caught me by the throat and choaked me nearly to death. He wounded me in my forehead. I also wounded him in a number of places in the head. As he was about to overcome me, I prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus for help. I then had power over him and he left me, though much wounded. Three personages dressed in white came to me and prayed with me and I was immediately healed and delivered me from all my troubles.”
George’s account added,
“It seemed as if there were legions of spirits there. They sought our destruction…These powers of darkness fell upon us to destroy our lives, and both would have been killed, apparently, had not three holy messengers come into the room with light. They were dressed in temple clothing. They laid their hands upon our heads and we were delivered, and that power was broken so far as we were concerned.”
Wilford, ever the optimist, later wrote “We are beginning to stir the devil up some in London. We shall soon find enemies and opposition; and may the Lord hasten it for it will bring us friends.”
Likewise, Heber later wrote,
“The waters have begun to be troubled, and I pray that they may continue until the Lord gathers out his people from this city. I can say I never felt a greater desire for a place than I have for London; it is the metropolis of the world and the depot of wickedness…But the ice is broken in London, and the Gospel has got such a hold that the devil cannot root it out.”
Excerpts of this story are from the upcoming tour of LDS London found on Peter’s new tour app which provides self-guided tours of Britain: www.obelisktours.co.uk
About the Author
Peter & Nicola’s Family Getting into the Victorian spirit!
Englishman Peter Fagg, a professional tour guide, has taken thousands of people around British Church History sites over the past few decades. He is married to Nicola and they are the proud parents of Lauren, Hannah, Luke, Jacob, Isaac and Daniel. They live a couple of miles from the Preston England Temple in the green hills of Lancashire.