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Heber C. Kimball-Life of Heber C. Kimball


Meanwhile, the powers of darkness had taken counsel against these servants of the Lord. Not without a struggle would Satan loose his hold, and permit the gates of salvation to open for the eastern, as they had already opened for the western hemisphere. The evil one had seen that the Church in America was trembling on the verge of dissolution. To give it fresh impetus, and infuse new life into the seemingly sinking system, was the object of the Apostles' mission to the shores of Albion. The opening of that mission it was Satan's fell purpose to thwart, and for which he was now gathering, far and near, the embattled hosts of hell.

The Elders might be said to have "stolen a march" on the Adversary, in securing, already, three hearings at Vauxhall Chapel, with the favorable results before noted. This much could not be retrieved, but the enemy of righteousness hoped to prevent a repetition of such scenes, and to hinder those who believed from obeying the Gospel by going down into the waters of baptism. For know, O reader—if thou art a stranger to this truth—that Satan is well satisfied with their condition who "only believe" in Jesus, if they are not "born of the water" according to His righteous example and holy will.

Acting on the principle, it may be presumed, that a thing to be recovered should first be sought for where it was lost, the evil one determined to use for his purpose the Reverend James Fielding, the very man who had befriended the Elders, and given them their first public opportunity of declaring the message they had been sent to deliver. Strangely enough after what had passed—though sufficiently frequent, in similar phases, since those days, to be no longer a cause of wonderment—he found that reverend gentleman in precisely the mood best suited to his dark design. Like all who fear man more than they love the Lord, preferring the praise and honors of the world to the approval of a good conscience and the favor of their Maker, the Reverend James Fielding, when he had noticed the marvelous effect of the Elders' preaching, and contemplated the present and prospective results, in the leading away of his flock to drink at other fountains and browse in other pastures, shrank back appalled from the picture presented to his view. Willing to sate his appetite for the new and marvelous, and even obey a doctrine which promised worldly honors and emoluments, he was not willing to humble himself "even as a little child" and seek the kingdom of God at the sacrifice of every earthly consideration.

Had he forgotten the text which, perchance, he had a hundred times preached glibly from: "He that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me"? Or, like many other Christian divines, "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof," was he satisfied to believe that those words had lost their meaning for this generation? Be it as it may, here is the record that will meet him at the day of judgment:

"The Rev. James Fielding, who had so kindly invited us to preach in his chapel, learning that a number of his members believed our testimony, and that some had requested to be baptized, shut his doors against us and would not suffer us to preach in his chapel any more; alleging for an excuse that we had preached the doctrine of baptism for the remission of sins, contrary to our arrangement with him.

"I need scarcely assure my friends that nothing was said to him from which any inference could be drawn that we should suppress the doctrine of baptism. We deem it too important a doctrine to lay aside for any privilege we could receive from mortals. Mr. Fielding had been apprised of our doctrines before we saw him, having received several communications from his brother Joseph, and his two sisters, Mary and Mercy, who wrote to him from Canada, in which letters our doctrines were clearly laid down. We likewise conversed with him on the subject at our interview. He, having been traditioned to believe in infant baptism, and having preached and practised the same a number of years, saw the situation he would be placed in if he obeyed the Gospel; that notwithstanding his talents and standing in society, he would have to come into the sheepfold by the door, and after all his preaching to others, have to be baptized himself for the remission of sins by those who were ordained to that power. These considerations no doubt had their weight upon his mind, which caused him to act as he did; and notwithstanding his former kindness he soon became one of our most violent opposers.

"However, his congregation did not follow his example, they having some time been praying for our coming, and having been assured by Mr. Fielding that he could not place more confidence in an angel than he did in the statements of his brother Joseph, respecting this people; consequently they were in a great measure prepared for the reception of the Gospel, probably as much so as Cornelius was anciently.

"Having now no public place to preach in, we began to preach at night in private houses, which were opened in every direction, when numbers came to hear and believed the Gospel."

Thus was Satan unsuccessful in stopping the spread of the work. The smoking flax was bursting into flame, and all his efforts could not quench it. Chapels and churches he might close, for of them he held the keys, but the hearts of the humble and pure were in God's keeping, and to these sacred temples His servants had ready access.

Then came the stroke climacteric; the dernier ressort of satanic hostility.

"Saturday evening," says Heber C. Kimball, "it was agreed that I should go forward and baptize, the next morning, in the river Ribble, which runs through Preston.

"By this time the adversary of souls began to rage, and he felt determined to destroy us before we had fully established the kingdom of God in that land, and the next morning I witnessed a scene of satanic power and influence which I shall never forget.

"Sunday, July 30th (1837), about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell (who had been appointed to preach on the obelisk in Preston Square, that day), who slept with Elder Richards in Wilfred Street, 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. 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. 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 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 some time. I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of borror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world. We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. However, the Lord delivered us from them, and blessed us exceedingly that day."

Elder Hyde's supplemental description of that fearful scene is as follows, taken from a letter addressed to President Kimball:

"Every circumstance that occurred at that scene of devils is just as fresh in my recollection at this moment as it was at the moment of its occurrence, and will ever remain so. After you were overcome by them and had fallen, their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations and 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 stood between you 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 round 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 to 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 that time."

Years later, narrating the experience of that awful morning to the Prophet Joseph, Heber asked him what it all meant, and whether there was anything wrong with him that he should have such a manifestation.

"No, Brother Heber," he replied, "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."

Joseph then related some of his own experience, in many contests he had had with the evil one, and said: "The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes."

An answer this, for the unbelieving and sophistical, who argue, with the shallow reasoning of Job's comforters, that they have sinned most who suffer most, and are ever ready to ascribe spiritual manifestations, good or evil, to madness, drunkenness or imbecility. It is needful, we are told, to experience opposites, to be enabled to choose intelligently between them; and to those who have this experience, and who "take the Holy Spirit for their guide," the way to judge is as plain "as the daylight from the dark night."

"'Tis Contrast sways unceasing sceptre

O'er vast Appreciation's realm;

E'en Gods, through sacrifice descending,

Triumphant rise to overwhelm."

So was it with the Apostles and Elders in Preston, after their terrible encounter with the powers of evil, at Sunday day-break, July 30, 1837. The Spirit of the Lord, with peace and joy that "passeth understanding," dawned with the Sabbath sun upon their souls. They had tasted of the bitter, and would thenceforth more fully know the sweet; encompassed about by "the horror of darkness," they hailed with ecstacy till then unknown, the glory of the golden morn.

Life of Heber C. Kimball by Orson F. Whitney pp. 126-132