Church Video on Thomas B. Marsh’s Apostasy

If They Harden Not Their Hearts is an eleven minute portrayal of the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh and Lyman Johnson, two of the first apostles called in this dispensation. Elder Johnson is depicted as having turned his heart too strongly toward the possibilities of profiting handsomely from land sales as converts gathered to Kirtland. Thomas B. Marsh is portrayed as conflicting with Joseph Smith over who had authority to send the Twelve on missions abroad.

Joseph Smith had set apart Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde for missions to England, and Thomas B. Marsh believed that to be his task. On July 23, 1837, the day that the gospel was first preached in England, Marsh sits across a desk from Smith and receives Section 112 from the prophet’s mouth: “Verily I say unto you, there have been some few things in thine heart and with thee with which I, the Lord, was not well pleased. 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 shall not be taken from him.” Narration informs us that “President Marsh accepted the Lord’s counsel and labored diligently to reconcile the differences in the quorum. Still he struggled with his own pride and hardened his heart.” Marsh goes to the door of Vilate Kimball to inform her that her husband’s mission, having been undertaken without his direction, will fail. The narrator summarizes “Pride led President Marsh to apostasize.”

Next, Marsh’s return to the saints of Sept. 6, 1857 is re-enacted. His use of his own life as a lesson for the church begins “If there should be any among this people who would apostasize and do as I have done, prepare your backs for a good whipping,” and continues with his relief to be restored to the church. In order to end on a down note, however, the production tracks back to Lyman Johnson addressing the Quorum of the Twelve in Nauvoo, wishing that he could still believe as he once did and walk with them and enjoy the joy and gladness that once was his, but he can’t. The production closes with his lament “I have never since seen a happy moment.”

If a student you know studied the Doctrine and Covenants in seminary this year, this is probably what she learned about Thomas B. Marsh. Never a drop of milk nor anything dealing with Elizabeth Marsh is seen or mentioned.

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If They Harden Not Their Hearts is included in the Home and Family Collection three disk set titled Church History. (catalog link) Several older productions, such as The First Vision (1976) and an abridged Windows of Heaven (1963) are included in the twenty-nine pieces. A personal favorite LDS Leaders Past and Present (1948) has been retitled as LDS Leaders from the Past and its organ prelude was removed.

I think highly of the newer productions, such as If They Harden Not Their Hearts. I would guess that they were created seven years ago or so. They are well cast, acted, and produced. The actor doing Joseph Smith gives a plausible interpretation, and I’ve never seen a Brigham Young nearly as good. They pull off difficult concepts, such as Joseph delivering revelation, in a way that is believable for this believer. One that is magnificient is A Man Without Eloquence, with a bored, skeptical Brigham fiddling with a Book of Mormon while a missionary preaches to his family. Then Eliazer Miller, a new convert, shares a truly humble testimony. Brigham preaches from the pulpit three decades later, “It filled my system with light, and my soul with joy. The world, with all its wisdom and power, and with all the glory and gilded show of its kings or potentates, sinks into perfect insignificance, compared with the simple, unadorned testimony of the servant of God.” The actor performing those lines mingles grandeur and simplicity in a way that sinks home their meaning and truth expertly.

The “rough stone rolling” paradigm was at work in these productions with hair often strategically imperfect. The fact that there was a whole church of people surrounding Joseph Smith and working with him is conveyed better than it sometimes is, and the pieces are rich with historical details.

My favorite is The Heart and a Willing Mind about Heber C. Kimball’s calls to preach in England. The performances match Kimball’s words beautifully. Miserably overwhelmed by the first call, “The idea of being appointed to such an important mission was almost more than I could bear up under.” But he becomes buoyed up by the belief that Heavenly Father will sustain him and his family.

As they leave for Kimball’s second mission to England, he and Brigham Young are shown lying sick in the back of a wagon pulling away from home. “This is pretty tough, isn’t it; let’s rise up and give them a cheer.” They arise and swing their hats over their heads. “Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah for Israel!”

Hurrah for Israel.

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

8 thoughts on “Church Video on Thomas B. Marsh’s Apostasy

  1. John:

    The milk incident figures prominently in the seminary manual which can be found on line-the chapter that deals with Elizabeth and the milk is 31.

  2. “If They Harden Not There Hearts”

    One hopes that this film was NOT released under the above title since it should be “Their Hearts”, not “There Hearts”!

  3. Still, Dutcher’s comment at BCC is not without merit–have you truly never heard the milk story in Sunday school?

    At any rate, if the videos take the “Bushman” approach as you say, that is good.

  4. I would guess that they were created seven years ago or so

    At least some were filmed about 10 years ago. I spent the summer of 1997 as an intern at the LDS Movie studio in Provo where they filmed a lot of those church history videos. When watching several of them, I can even recall being there when the scene was filmed. I even dug a hole for the gold plates for one scene, though I can’t be sure they actually used it.

    That was a fun summer.

  5. Capt. Jack, you’re right.

    Grammar Police, that is terribly embarrassing. Thank you for the correction.

  6. I love the videos and If They Harden Not Their Hearts is a favorite. I also love the Zion’s camp and the Heber C. Kimball/Brigham Young mission story when they are ill and give the “Hurrah for Israel” cheer. Gives me a lump in my throat every time.

  7. John,

    Thanks for pointing out the Church’s video. I am embarrassed to have not been aware of it.

    The Anderson article I quoted in the Dutcher thread also covers the running tension between the Twelve, especially Marsh, and Joseph Smith. Joseph would give the Twelve revelations that seemed to anticipate the modern hierarchy, but weren’t practical to fully implement at the time. Joseph micromanaged much of the activities in all the quorums whether they were the First Presidency, Stake Presidency, High Councils, The Twelve, or the bishops. I suppose it was his way of hands on training each quorum and cutting out the levels of bureaucracy that would create distancing relationships. As a result the priesthood quorums ended up, in relationship to each other, horizontally structured rather than hierarchically.

    The faux equality between quorums often ruffled feathers for the Twelve, especially when it appeared to them that Joseph was encroaching on their scope of authority (primarily the mission field).

    According to some reports Marsh and Patten confronted Joseph Smith over his “meddling” and Joseph ends up physically chastising Patten. Joseph’s actions should be understood in light of Bushman’s exposition of the culture of honor. Joseph wasn’t afraid to reprove with sharpness but offer a reconciliation afterwards. He was a forgive-and-forget-person and expected a degree of reciprocity of this attitude. I can think of many examples of this. Patten is said to have reacted well to Joseph’s chastisement.

    I do wonder if Patten lost enthusiasm for serving a mission like he was called to do in D&C 114. There is another story line where Patten, at about the same time, expressed his wish to become a martyr to Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith responded with his concern that a man of Patten’s faith would get what he prayed for. Although the details of this exchange come from later sources, Joseph’s remarks shortly after Patten’s death suggest some exchange had occurred “There lies a man that has done just as he said he would—he has laid down his life for his friends.” (History of The Church 3:172)

    I dug into some of this history in while preparing the response to the Jesus or Joseph anti-mormon DVD, addressing the claim that D&C 114 was a false prophecy. It is one of those claims that end up boomeranging on the critics, because of all the heartwarming, connected events where the apostles are finally able to serve the appointed mission. Hurray for Israel indeed!

    John, you made a good comment on the Dutcher thread:

    Or George A. Smith’s story the previous year had taken on a life of its own and become the common wisdom for Marsh’s apostasy. Or, as with George A. Smith’s talk, bringing up Sister Marsh simply served to illustrate a bigger point he wanted to make. G.A. Smith wanted the saints to work at living harmoniously. H.C. Kimball wanted husbands to not be lead by their wives.

    I would add that the context of Elder Smith’s 1845 remarks were also about men not being led astray by their wives, referencing the idea that Eve led Adam astray. It is interesting that both Marsh and Joseph Smith have been reported to express the sentiment that they would be willing to “go to hell” for their wife. In many ways this expression of loyalty is actually inspiring to me. Adam seems to have exhibited a similar sentiment in being willing to leave his paradise to stay by his wife’s side in a relatively more hellish circumstance. The lesson learned is that the atonement can eventually heal conflicting loyalties and hell is temporary if we repent.

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