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.
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.