Come, Follow Me: The Rise, Retreat, and Redemption of Thomas B. Marsh

Come, Follow Me: The Rise, Retreat, and Redemption of Thomas B. Marsh

Thomas B. Marsh’s wife took the cream off the top of the milk she was supposed to give to Lucinda Harris. It’s a lesson in not letting pettiness keep us from glorious futures. But, as with most times when we make snap-judgments, there is much more to the story.

Marsh encountered the gospel on a Spirit-led journey west from his home in Boston. He was swiftly baptized and ordained to the office of Elder, then to the High Priesthood, then called on a mission, leaving his wife and little children behind. He was promised an endowment of power in the Kirtland temple, suffered for the Saints in Jackson County, Missouri, and by revelation and seniority was made not only an apostle but the senior apostle—the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the next in line to become the prophet and president of the Church. By all accounts, he was utterly devoted to the gospel.

What went wrong?

With limited understanding of their role and no precedent to guide them, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles began fracturing under the burdens in Missouri. Marsh supported Joseph, but he became increasingly disturbed by members who were pushing back against the mobs. Perhaps Marsh’s disillusionment began here—when scared, heartbroken people acted like people, and not like Saints. The disunity in the Church and the Quorum would have been spiritually damaging. Elder Dale G. Renlund just said in General Conference that, “Contention weakens our collective witness to the word of Jesus Christ,” and it causes us to be “robbed of . . . our ability to feel the Spirit.”

Then, under the weight of this contention, Marsh’s biggest blow came in May 1838. His second son, at nearly fifteen years old, died after only a four-day illness. The boy, James, was incredible in his faith and holiness. Though only a child, he had received visions. He saw heaven and his mansion there, God the Father and the return of His Son in glory to the earth, the fall of the great cities of the earth, and the calamities preceding the Second Coming. His parents longed for him to stay, but he assured them that he had seen his name on the Lord’s Book of Life and was anxious to return home. When James convinced his father of his forthcoming celestial glory, Thomas B. Marsh told him, “My son, go in peace and expect to come forth at the resurrection of the Just where you and I will again strike hands.” Having his father’s permission, James Marsh said, “Yes sir, I will,” and immediately fell asleep and died.

Within six months, Thomas had apostatized. He wrote a scathing affidavit about the church. It struck the match that lit the Missouri extermination order. And yes, his wife apparently stole some cream off the milk of her own cow.

A Cautionary Tale

Thomas would later say, “I have frequently wanted to know how my apostacy began, and I have come to the conclusion that I must have lost the Spirit of the Lord out of my heart.”

“The next question is, ‘How and when did you lose the Spirit?’”

“I became jealous of the Prophet . . . and overlooked everything that was right, and spent all my time in looking for the evil; and then, when the Devil began to lead me, it was easy for the carnal mind to rise up . . . I felt angry and wrathful;. . . I got mad, and I wanted everybody else to be mad.”

The Thomas B. Marsh 1838 Affidavit - LDS Scripture Teachings
Thomas B. Marsh in later years.

Can’t you just picture the Marshes? Wracked with the grief of losing a child, most parents have two options. Either they lose the marriage too, or they pull together in a way they never have before. They stand by each other as their only safety in a cruel world where tragic things really do happen. Evidently, Thomas and Elizabeth chose the latter. He wouldn’t have been there for the milk-exchanging incident but would have heard about it later from his wife. Thomas was heard to have said, “that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.” He stood by her, trusting her word. Was he correct? Seemingly not. Three different councils agreed the facts were against her. But how many of us would have done differently after what they had endured?

Humble Redemption and Forgiveness

Thomas and Elizabeth remained behind in Missouri until Elizabeth’s death. After, Thomas knew it was time to make amends with George Harris, the husband of Lucinda Harris. Additionally, he wrote a letter to Heber C. Kimball stating, “The Lord could get along very well without me and He has lost nothing by my falling out of the ranks; But O what have I lost?!”

Thomas deeply regretted his actions against the Church. After losing almost two decades to apostasy, he requested readmission into the Church. Many church members had been driven from their Missouri homes under orders of exile or extermination because of the words Marsh had written against them. And yet, when they raised their hands in sustaining vote, not one opposed him. Brother Bradley R. Wilcox of the Young Men General Presidency said, “Worthiness is being honest and trying.” Under that definition, the Saints found Thomas Marsh worthy.

Elder Dale G. Renlund at the gravesite of Thomas B. Marsh in Ogden, Utah.

Could We Do the Same?

Thomas Marsh’s actions would have directly or indirectly affected every Saint in the room where his letter was read. And they unanimously welcomed him back into their fold.

The takeaways from Thomas B. Marsh are these—When faced with trial and heartache, are we keeping the Spirit with us? Do we “look for the evil” when we are hurting, or do we draw closer to the great Physician? When we have sinned, do we humbly and sincerely repent, drawing on the Lord’s Atonement and mercy? Do we believe in that same Atonement and mercy when others have sinned against us?

How does Elder Marsh’s redemption give you hope?

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