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Lehi counselled his son Jacob “that there must needs be an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). The adversary, in his quest to increase wickedness and misery certainly does his best to oppose, to prevent or undermine the humble beginnings of significant events. This was illustrated when the first seven missionaries to Britain arrived in Preston in July 1837.
Upon their arrival one of the missionaries, John Goodson, went to find lodgings.
“We obtain a lodging in the house of a widow [in St. Wilfred Street], and furnished our own vituals and she cooked it for us.” (Kimball, S.B, p.7-8)
Joseph Fielding referred to them as “comfortable private lodging.” (Fielding 1:17)
The three-storey home still stands on the corner of Fox Street and St. Wilfrid Street. A week later, upon the very day when the first British baptisms were about to take place, an amazing event took place in these lodgings that is oft repeated when retelling the story of this first British mission. This article takes a comprehensive approach by taking the different accounts and slotting them together in chronological order.
Heber C. Kimball recalled:
“Sunday, July 30th, about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell….came up to the third story, where Elder Hyde and myself were sleeping, and called out, ‘Brother Kimball, I want you should get up and pray for me that I may be delivered from the evil spirits that are tormenting me to such a degree that I feel I cannot live long, unless I obtain relief.”
“I had been sleeping on the back of the bed. I immediately arose, slipped off at the foot of the bed, and passed around to where he was. Elder Hyde threw his feet out, and sat up in the bed, and we laid hands on him, I being mouth, and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on him, and rebuked the devil. While thus engaged, I was struck with great force by some invisible power, and fell senseless on the floor.” (Whitney p. 129-131)
Orson Hyde observed this same moment in his account:
“his [Heber’s] voice faltered, and his mouth was shut, and he began to tremble and reel to and fro, and fell on the floor like a dead man, and uttered a deep groan. I immediately seized him by the shoulder, and lifted him up, being satisfied that the devils were exceedingly angry because we attempted to cast them out of Br. Russell, and they made a powerful attempt upon elder Kimball as if to dispatch him at once, they struck him senseless and he fell to the floor… “(Elder’s p. 4)
“The first thing I recollected was being supported by Elders Hyde and Richards, who were praying for me; Elder Richards having followed Russell up to my room. Elder Hyde and Richards then assisted me to get on the bed, but my agony was so great I could not endure it, and I arose, bowed my knees and prayed. I then arose and sat up on the bed, when a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. (Whitney p. 130-131)
Years later (1856) Heber told a congregation in the Salt Lake Tabernacle,
“I saw their hands, their eyes, and every feature of their faces, the hair on their heads, and their ears, in short they had full formed bodies.“ (Journal of Discourses Vol. 3 mar 2, 1856, p. 229)
Heber’s account continued:
“We gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by Willard’s watch). We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us. They came towards us like armies rushing to battle They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I (Kimball) shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain. I perspired exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the greatest distress for sometime.” (Whitney p. 130-131)
HYDE: “Immediately he [Heber] recovered his strength in part, so as to get up; the sweat began to roll from him most powerfully, and he was almost as wet as if he had been taken out of the water…” (Elder’s p.4)
KIMBALL: “We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us.” (Whitney p. 130-131)
HYDE: “We could very sensibly hear the evil spirits rage and foam out their shame.” (Elder’s p.4)
FIELDING: “They could hear a sound from them, i.e the evil spirits, like the grating of teeth, quite plainly.” (Fielding, p.22)
HYDE: “…After you were overcome by them and had fallen, their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations, hellish grins, amply convinced me that they were no friends of mine. While you were apparently senseless and lifeless on the floor and upon the bed (after we had laid you there), I (Orson) stood between you (Heber) and the devils and fought them and contended with them face to face, until they began to diminish in number and to retreat from the room. The last imp that left turned around to me as he was going out and said, as if to apologize, and appease my determined opposition to them, ‘I never said anything against you!’ I replied to him thus: ‘It matters not me whether you have or have not; you are a liar from the beginning! In the name of Jesus Christ depart!’ He immediately left, and the room was clear. That closed the scene of devils for the time.” (Whitney 131)
FIELDING: “They however kept their distances, but turned their heads toward Bro. Hyde; one looking at him said distinctly, but with a murmuring tone, slowly demure, I never spoke against you. He said there seemed to be legion of them. He was alarmed, but very much disgusted. He could scarcely bear to speak of them.” (Fielding, p. 23)
This event was soon being related across the ocean in America.
Isaac Russell’s daughter recorded:
“I have often wondered, and studied over the fact that when Satan gathered his legions, and sought to destroy the Elders, to prevent the establishment of God’s kingdom upon the earth, that their first attack was upon father; that the manifestation of their rage and hatred should be hurled at him instead of Brother Kimball, who stood at the head of that mission….Father seemed to wage a constant warfare against some unseen power.”
Vilate Kimball was one of the first to hear of the event:
“I (Heber) wrote a few words to my wife about the matter, and brother Joseph called upon her for the letter and said, “It was a choice jewel, and a testimony that the Gospel was planted in a strange land.” (JD v3 Mar 2 1856, p. 229)
Upon his return home Heber walked with Joseph Smith who declared:
“At that time you were nigh unto the Lord: there was only a veil between you and Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you.” (Whitney p. 132)
It is an interesting exercise to compare Joseph’s experience in the Sacred Grove with this manifestation in Preston. In both instances the adversary knew that something significant was about to happen. We can learn some valuable lessons from both:
JOSEPH SMITH: “I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.” (Joseph Smith History 1:15-17)
From his experiences Joseph was able to teach Heber an important truth about the Preston attack:
“The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.” (Whitney p.132)
The adversary knew that a fourteen year old boy was about to give a prayer that could change the world. The adversary knew that seven, simple missionaries were about to open a mission that the prophet Joseph had prophesied would be the “Salvation” of the church. It is no wonder then that he felt such a need to dissuade these chosen instruments to falter, to doubt, to give up, to turn back.
JOSEPH SMITH: “But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction – not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being – just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sunk which descended gradually until it fell upon me.” (Joseph Smith History 1:15-17)
Joseph Fielding, who was not present for the Preston attack, wrote:
FIELDING: “Upon the whole we got considerable Instruction from the Maneuvers of the Devil. The Spirit of the Devil produces Confusion, Disorder, and Misery; the Spirit of God produces Calmness, Order and Happiness. If we never before knew that there were evil Spirits, we did now. We also knew how [to] feel for dear Br. Russel.” (Fielding Diary 1:17 p. 24)
Twenty years later Heber shared some interesting insights:
“If evil spirits could come to me, cannot ministering spirits and angels also come from God? Of course they can, and there are thousands of them, and I wish you to understand this, and that they can rush as an army going to battle, for the evil spirits came upon me and brother Hyde in that way.”
…..When I returned home I called upon brother Joseph , and we walked down the bank of the river. He there told me what contests he had had with the devil; he told me that he had contests with the devil, face to face. He also told me how he was handled and afflicted by the devil, and said, he had known circumstances where Elder Rigdon was pulled out of bed three times in one night. ……
The Lord has hosts of angels who are qualified to defend us, and they have information enough to march armies and to select leaders to lead them against the enemy of the Saints…” JD V.3 p229
The fact is the adversary sure puts on a good show, but he’s no match for the real thing.
JOSEPH SMITH: “It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling my by name and said, pointing to the other – This is My Beloved Son, Hear Him!” JSH 1:15-17
We started with Lehi’s words so it seems fitting we should close with more of his pearls of wisdom to his son:
“Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)
Excerpts of this story are from the tour LDS Preston found on Peter’s new tour app which provides self-guided tours of Britain: www.obelisktours.co.uk