The Word of the Lord Like Fire in My Bones

The Word of the Lord Like Fire in My Bones

This article originally appeared in Vol.65, No.4 (2018) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Susan Easton Black, Professor Emeritus, Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University

In the late fall of 1839, Joseph Smith called members of the Twelve and other worthy men on a singularly important mission to the British Isles. Anticipation was running high, and Elder John Taylor wrote for virtually all these missionaries when he penned the following words:

“The thought of going forth at the command of the God of Israel to revisit my native land, to unfold the principles of eternal truth and make known the things that God had revealed for the salvation of the world, overcame every other feeling”1

Taylor’s passion for religion was marked by his 1824 conversion to Methodism as a sixteen-year-old. In 1832 he had left his native England for Toronto, Canada, in part because of a personal revelation that he would one day preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in North America. By early 1836 John and his wife Lenora had learned of the Restoration and had begun attending lectures by Elder Parley P. Pratt. Taylor later wrote,

“When I first encountered upon Mormonism, I did it with my eyes open, I counted the cost; I looked upon it as a life-long job and I considered that I was not only enlisted for time, but for eternity”2

John and Lenora became convinced of the truth of the Restoration and of Joseph Smith’s prophetic role they were baptized in May 1836.

In the early spring of 1837 Taylor traveled to apostasy- ridden Kirtland to meet the Prophet Joseph. There, as Richard Jensen recounts, Taylor discovered that his and Lenoras own missionary, Elder Pratt, was among those whose faith had been shaken. Taylor squarely faced Parley and declared,

“If the word was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.”

Taylor recorded that Pratt “soon made all right with the Prophet Joseph.” Days later, and as one who had been a member of the restored Church for less than a year, Taylor attended a Sunday meeting in the Kirtland Temple, a meeting convened in the Prophet Josephs absence. He listened quietly as some present spoke negatively of Josephs character, and then, rising to his feet, asked permission to address the body. He firmly declared,

“If the spirit which he [the Prophet Joseph] manifests does not bring blessings, I am very much afraid that the one manifested by those who have spoken, will not be very likely to secure them.”5

Taylor’s faith remained certain and unwavering throughout his life. Certainly, his anticipation of receiving divine assistance as a missionary to the British Isles was not the least dissipated when, unwell and in crowded quarters, he sailed on the packet steamer Oxford out of the New York Harbor on December 20,1839, with sixty- three other passengers in steerage, including his deathly ill companion, Elder Wilford Woodruff.

Five weeks later when Taylor and Woodruff arrived in the port city of Liverpool, not even the shock of seeing poverty, privation, and economic reversals on every hand was enough to curb Taylor’s enthusiasm. In the January 30 letter he dashed off to his wife Lenora to announce his safe arrival in England, Taylor could have lamented his deplorable lodgings in the Birmingham Arms on Church Street. Instead, he joyously wrote that Lenoras brother, George Cannon, and sister-in- law, Ann Quayle, had accepted the news of the Restoration and would be baptized. Taylor declared,

“I feel the word of the Lord like fire in my bones.”4

By February 2, just three days after arriving in Liverpool, Elder Taylor had rented a hall on Preston Street and delivered the first public Latter-day Saint sermon in town. Taking his text from Jude 1:3, “It was needful for me to … exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith,” he spoke of the truths of the Restoration to a near-capacity crowd.5 Even though few expressed interest in his message, Taylor was not discouraged.

When men of the cloth rebuffed the truth, he wrote to Joseph Smith, “They were too holy to be righteous, too good to be pure, and had too much religion to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”6 Was Taylor’s confidence in the word lessened by rebuffs or disinterest? Not in the least. Instead, Taylor busied himself with selecting hymns for a hymnal and proofreading pages for a new edition of the Book of Mormon as if all of England would embrace the gospel message.

Why would Taylor exhibit such confidence when few were accepting his words? John Taylor knew the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ Unlike some of his missionary colleagues, Taylor never saw large numbers of his hearers join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he certainly saw the beginnings of a harvest By April 1840 he was meeting regularly with a Liverpool branch of twenty-eight members.

A surprising number of the branch members in Liverpool claimed Ireland as their native land: about one in seven were Irish-bom and -reared. Elder Reuben Hedlock—one of Taylor’s fellow missionaries—was so taken with the tales told by these Irish Saints that on May 22, 1840, he boarded a steamer headed for Belfast, remaining there for three days before returning to Liverpool and writing this of the Emerald City:

It is a fine flourishing town, containing about 54,000 inhabitants. Here I met (as I passed through the streets) the rich enjoying their abundance and the poor in rags begging for a morsel of food to sustain life. I had never before witnessed such scenes of suffering, and I say in my heart, has the Gospel of Jesus Christ lost its power among those who profess it, so that one part of the human family must drag out a miserable existence, and die in wretchedness and want while the other can live in pride and plenty all their days?7

Despite Hedlocks keen interest, it was John Taylor, and not Hedlock himself, who first preached the gospel in Ireland. Taylor’s ten-day Irish mission had its genesis with James McGuffie, one of the Irish members of the Liverpool branch. Taylor had been invited to the home of McGuffie and there had met Thomas Taft, an Irish farmer in Liverpool on business. Before leaving the McGuffie home, Taylor prophesied that Tait would be the first man baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ in Ireland. At about this same time, William Blade of Lisburn, Ireland, was ordained a priest at the Church conference held in Manchester on July 6,1840; the following day, Blade was called to be a missionary to Ireland.

On July 27,1840 John Taylor accompanied his friend James McGuffie and the newly ordained William Black aboard a cross-channel steamer. On July 28 the steamer docked at Warrenpoint, a beautiful Irish village located at the head of the Carlingford Lough in County Down.

The missionaries disembarked and walked seven miles to Newry, a market town. There McGuffie, a native of Newry, arranged for Elder Taylor to speak at the Session House, the formal name of the town courthouse. McGuffie hired a bell-man—or town crier—to go through the town ringing his bell and giving verbal notice of the meeting.

In anticipation of hearing John Taylor speak, upwards of seven hundred Newry residents gathered at the courthouse that evening. This was the first time a sermon on the Restoration had been preached in Ireland. At the conclusion of his sermon, when Taylor invited interested persons to be baptized, no one accepted his invitation. At a second meeting held at the same venue the following evening, only a few people gathered. Given the poor attendance and the apparent lack of interest in the Restoration, Taylor turned the meeting into a question-and-answer discussion. Again, no one accepted baptism.

Leaving McGuffie to proselyte in Newry, Taylor and Black set out the next morning for Lisburn, once the residence of Black. Taylor hired a “jaunting car”—a two-wheeled open carriage pulled by a horse—to convey them partway to their destination. Along the route, they stopped at the Four Towns of Bellinacrat where a Mr. Wyllie allowed them to hold a meeting in his barn. Although attendance at the meeting was respectable and the message of the Restoration was civilly received, once again Taylor sensed limited interest in what he knew to be a life-changing message.

Undaunted, Taylor and Black journeyed to the home of Thomas Tait, the farmer Taylor had met through the McGuffies in Liverpool. Tait was delighted to see Taylor and agreed to accompany him and Black to Lisburn. On July 31, as the threesome approached Loughbrickland and its small lake, Tait exclaimed, “So, there is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”8 Upon reaching the lake, Tait and Taylor entered the water, and John Taylor baptized the first Latter-day-Saint convert in Ireland.

Following Tait’s baptism, the men journeyed to the quaint village of Hillsborough and from there to Lisburn. On four different occasions Taylor preached to large crowds gathered in the Lisburn marketplace, but once again no one accepted the invitation to be baptized. After ten days in Ireland and two baptisms—those of Thomas Tait and of an unnamed person—Taylor ended his Irish mission on August 6 and sailed aboard a steamer from Belfast to Glasgow, Scotland.

In a journal note to himself, William Black explained why the Irish mission of Elder Taylor ended so abruptly:

“Brother Taylor did not stop long with me [in Ireland] as the people of that country did not receive the Gospel.”9

Taylor remained only a few days in Scotland before returning to Liverpool. For the next five weeks, he demonstrated dogged determination and confidence in the Lord’s work by delivering a series of lectures in the Music Hall on Bold Street to less-than-enthusiastic listeners.

However, believing that the message of the Restoration was nevertheless spreading in a satisfactory manner Taylor made plans to take the gospel message to the Isle of Man, an island situated halfway between England and Ireland. Although he was not familiar with the language of the Isle—Manx Gaelic—Taylor wrote to his wife Leonora,

“I propose going in a few days … & E[lder Hiram] Clark is going with me—I feel a disposition to labor in the vineyard as much as I ever did & I feel that the Lord is with me.”10

Leonora surely rejoiced at this news, for the Isle of Man with its many flower-flecked hills had been the place of her childhood and youth.  Accompanied by Elder Clark and William Mitchell, one of the first Liverpool converts, John Taylor set sail for the Isle of Man on September 16,1840. After an eighty-mile voyage, the steamer docked at Douglas, the capital of the Isle. On the morning of September 18, Taylor walked with Clark and Mitchell to a seduded field outside Douglas. There, the three paused to pray, pleading that “an effectual door might be opened to them in that island for the prodamation of the gos- pd; that gainsayers might be put to shame, and that the word might be confirmed by signs following the believers.”11

Elder Taylor then carved their names and the date on stones placed at the foot of a tree. He ordained William Mitchell a deacon and promised Hiram Clark the gift of tongues and the interpretation thereof. Clark then blessed Taylor. Before the brethren separated they spoke in tongues, sang, and prophesied.

Clark and Mitchell began walking to Ramsey, a town about twelve miles north of Douglas. Taylor returned to Douglas, arranging to rent quarters from Solomon and Ann Pitchforth. He also called on Mr, Cain, a bookseller and a wdl-known Primitive Methodist preacher. Perhaps most importantly, Taylor rented the Wellington Market Hall (also known as the Wellington Rooms), the largest public hall on the Isle of Man, given its seating capacity of a thousand persons.

At the Market Hall, Taylor gave nightly lectures on the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and was the first Latter-day- Saint missionary to preach on the Isle of Man. Intriguingly, enthusiasm for his lectures was fueled in part by the negative responses of such sectarian priests as the Reverend Thomas Hamilton. On the evening of September 28,1840, a formal debate between the Reverend Hamilton and Elder Taylor occurred before a full house at the Wellington Market Hall. Taylor referenced this debate in a letter to Brigham Young:

“I have had controversy with a Primitive Methodist Preacher [Thomas Hamilton], but of all the lame attempts to oppose the truth that ever I heard I think his was the weakest & the worst & the people were disgusted with him.”12

A reporter from the local newspaper The Manx Liberal generally agreed with Taylors assessment:

[Taylor inflicted] deserved chastisement on the arrogant simpleton, who had given the challenge without being able to utter a single sentence against his opponent; and this he did right well, for while poor Mr. Hamilton writhed beneath his heavy flagellation, it was truly heart-rending to see his [Mr. H’s] agony. There he sat biting his lips, and shaking his head, and every muscle of his distorted countenance seemed to implore the mercy of the meeting.13

The next man to publicly challenge the message of the Restoration was a certain Dr. J. Curren—who did so through a series of newspaper articles. Taylor did not back down from the squabble, writing lengthy rebuttal articles for The Manx Liberal and Manx Sun which corrected Current false assertions. Taylor also attended to the activities of the Reverend Robert Heys, a Wesleyan Methodist Superintendent whose pamphlets opposed any and all restoration doctrines expounded by Taylor. On October 3,1840, Taylor wrote to Brigham Young,

I have got into the scrape. I shall have to fight through A Methodist publication has come out in opposition to [the gospel] & the fire is beginning to rage & I do not wish to leave the field until my enemies & the enemies of God lay down their arms or till there is a sufficient army to contend with theirs.14

Taylor prepared three tracts to counter those of Heys. The first, An Answer to Some False Statements and Misrepresentations, answered questions raised by Heys about the Book of Mormon. The second, Calumny Refuted and the Truth Defended: Being a Reply to the Second Address of the Rev. Robert Heys, challenged anti-Mormon explanations of the origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The third, Truth Defined and Methodism Weighed in the Balances and Found Wanting, was testimonial in nature and included early published arguments of Parley P. Pratt Taylor selected the printing house of Penrice and Wallace to publish his pamphlets.

Although printers John Pen- rise and Joseph Ritson Wallace completed the pamphlets on time and as ordered, it was their policy not to deliver any publications to the purchaser until the cost of printing was paid in full. Meeting their policy was a challenge for Taylor—who had no money. But with implicit faith, he asked the Lord to provide necessary means to defend the doctrines of the Church. A few minutes following his prayer, a young man—a stranger to Taylor— knocked at his door and handed him an envelope. Inside the envelope was money and an unsigned note: “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” The next to knock at the door was a poor fish vendor who proffered him a few coins. The two gifts together provided Taylor the exact amount of cash needed to pay the printer.15

Although Taylor’s pamphlets were well written and informative, they did not quell opposition to the Church on the Isle of Man. However, attention and discussions resulting from their publication did lead to baptisms. By late January 1841 there was a congregation of Saints on the Isle of Man numbering about seventy, and on February 3, Taylor was able to write the following to the Prophet Joseph:

I held a discussion with one man, a preacher which had a tendency to enlighten the eyes of the public. Another wrote in the papers, and I answered him, another published pamphlets, and I answered them; another delivered lectures, and I answered them, and finally challenged any of them to meet me before the public and prove the Book of Mormon, and my doctrine, false if they could, but this they were afraid to do and gave up the contest. I see, sir, more clearly every day the impossibility of overturning the principles of truth by any of the foolish dogmas or lame masoning of this present generation, and how should they? for God has revealed it, and his arms support it.16

John Taylor did not enjoy legendary success—as did Wilford Woodruff and others—in bringing converts into the Church of Jesus Christ Yet Taylor quietly directed a number of faithful Saints into the fold on the Isle of Man, including his landlady, Ann Pitchforth, and her four children. There were others as well.

“I went to a country place on the Island,” Taylor wrote, “and sat down in the chimney comet and talked to a few neighbors, who came in, and baptized eight and confirmed them the same night before I left them, nor would they wait until the morning.”17

John Taylor left the Isle of Man in mid-November 1840 and returned to his missionary labors in Liverpool, but his thoughts were never far from his friends residing on the Isle. When Samuel Haining, a schoolteacher and author of a popular guidebook to the Isle of Man, published a 66-page attack on the restored gospel of Christ—Mormonism weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary, and Found Wanting. The Substance of Four Lectures—Taylor wrote articles in the Millennial Star denouncing Haining s motivations and accuracy.

In March 1841 Taylor returned for a week on the Isle of Man. During that week he baptized twelve converts. Other elders—like James Blakeslee, William Mitchell, and Joseph Fielding—followed in Taylor’s footsteps. By April 1841 there were 90 members residing on the Isle of Man, including two elders, four priests, and two teachers.

Before returning to the United States and to his beloved Leonora, John Taylor summarized his missionary work and his sure testimony in the Millennial Star.

“Although I have travelled 5,000 miles without purse or scrip, besides travelling so far in this country on railroads, coaches, steamboats, wagons, or horseback, and almost every way, and been amongst strangers and in strange lands, I have never for once been at a loss for either money, clothes, friends, or a home, from that day until now; neither have I ever asked a person for a farthing. Thus / have proved the Lord, and I know that he is according to his word. And now as / am going away, / bear testimony that this work is of God—that he has spoken from the heavens—that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord—that the Book of Mormon is true; and / know this work will roll on until’the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and His ChristEven so, Amen.”18


  1. B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (1963), 67-8. Roberts does not document sources of quotations he assigns to Taylor.
  2. John Taylor, “History of John Taylor” in “Histories of the Twelve,” microfilm of holograph, p. 274, Historical Department ofThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Archives; quoted in Richard L. Jen sen, “The John Taylor Family,” Ensign, Feb 1980.
  3. See Roberts 40-1; recounted in Jensen.
  4. John Taylor to Leonora Taylor, 30 Jan 1840, John Taylor Collection, Church History Library (CHL).
  5. James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission 1837-1841: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles (1992), 114.
  6. John Taylor to Joseph Smith, 5 Feb 1841, published in Times and Seasons 2.1 (1 May 1841): 400-2.
  7. “Sketch of the Travels and Ministry of Elder R. Hedlock,”Millennial Star 2.6 (Oct 1841), 92.
  8. Tait’s exclamation is reminiscent of Acts 8:36: “And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
  9. William Black, as quoted in Joseph Smith Black, “The Diary of Joseph Smith Black, 1836-1910,” typescript, L.Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  10. John Taylor, letter to Leonora Taylor, 6 Sep 1840, John Taylor Collection, CHL.
  11. Roberts 90-1.
  12. John Taylor, letter to Brigham Young, 2 Oct 1840, Brigham Young Papers, CHL.
  13. Manx Liberal 5.213 (3 Oct 1840): p. 3, col. 5. Taylor later summarized his early debates in a letter to Parley P. Pratt, 27 Feb 1841, published under “Comm unications,’’Millennial Star 1.11 (Mar 1841): 276-7.
  14. John Taylor, letters to Brigham Young, 2 and 6 Oct 1840, Brigham Young Papers, CHL.
  15. This traditional family story is retold in Paul Thomas Smith,”Among Family and Friends: John Taylor—Mission to the British Islesf Ensign, March 1987.
  16. John Taylor, letter to Joseph Smith, 3 Feb 1841, published as “Very Dear Brother,” Times and Seasons 2.13(1 May 1841): 401-2.
  17. John Taylor, letter to Joseph Smith, 3 Feb 1841, 402.
  18. John Taylor, letter to Parley P. Pratt, published under “Communications,”Millennial Star 2.1 (May 1841), 15-6.
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