Benjamin Brown Writes of His Conversion
and Miraculous Experiences with the Mormon Church
Benjamin writes a fascinating narrative about his search for a church with Gifts of the Spirit, his initial contempt for the Book of Mormon, meeting the Three Nephites, heavenly manifestations and strict warnings, and his wife opposing his baptism.
About the age of twenty-five , I married, and settled on a small farm of my own. About nine or ten years [1829-30] later than this, after a fatiguing day's labor, I returned home one evening, and having partaken of my supper, turned my back to the fire, as my custom was, and leaned, with my head on my arms, on the chair top to rest myself and dry my clothes, which were moistened with the perspiration caused by the heat. My wife [Sarah]retired to rest, expecting me shortly to follow. Thus left alone, I was musing on things generally, but not particularly on any religious subject, when a vision of my brother, who had died some fourteen or fifteen years previous, appeared before me, praying. I heard his voice clearly and distinctly, and listened attentively. In the course of his prayer, he referred to a great work to be done on the earth during the last days, quoting several scriptures. I was disturbed, apparently in the midst of my vision, by my wife's calling to me, when the vision left me, and I felt just like a hungry man who is called or snatched suddenly away from a feast. But the joy and peace with which my spirit was filled remained with me, and I glorified God.
Five years more passed, and I was still unconnected with any religious party. At this time, what were called "Protracted Meetings," or religious services, continuing for days, and sometimes weeks, were very popular in America. In common with the rest of the "Universalists," I felt unfavorable to these meetings, but such magnificent reports of their results--the wholesale "conversion of souls," led me to attend one. I humbled myself, and determined to divest my mind of all prejudice, and put myself at least in a position to receive all the good that could be obtained. Before going, I covenanted with the Lord, that if he would reveal his mind and will unto me, whatever sacrifice or duty he might require at my hands, I would do it. Little did I think of the way my truthfulness would be tried, or possibly I might have shunned such a contract.
However, I had another trial to undergo, which occurred some days after, during the same meeting. While the minister was preaching, it was revealed to me to rise up and declare to the congregation, that they, before coming together to pray for the conversion of others, ought first to be reconciled one to the other, so that their gifts of prayer might be accepted by the Lord. The Spirit also said, that some in the congregation were guilty of oppressing the poor, taking unlawful usury, oppressing the hireling in his wages, and many other sins of the kind. I waited until the preacher had finished his discourse, during which the idea of having to rise and speak before this congregation of about fifteen hundred people, most of whom being members of Christian societies, I considered better persons than myself, filled me with fear, and the perspiration rolled off me profusely. Could such a thing have availed, I would sooner have given five hundred dollars than have buckled up to this task, but there was no escape, I had covenanted, and the moment the minister ceased speaking I delivered my message. It was received very well by the congregation, many fancying I was converted to their faith, and, being blessed with such gifts, a bit of a prize.
On coming out, two men, one a justice of the peace, and the other a colonel, came up to me. The justice asked why, if I had anything against him, I did not, as the scripture directs, go to him privately, and not expose him before all the congregation. The other said, "If you have got a man by the throat, you need not think that because it is pleasant to you, it is so to him." I told them that as the cap seemed to fit they might wear it. But I was much surprised, for I was not aware they were present.
About a day previous to the close of this meeting, I received a more important communication than either of the previous ones. A knowledge was given me that the ancient gifts of the gospel --speaking in tongues, the power to heal the sick, the spirit of prophecy, etc., were just about to be restored to the believers in Christ. The revelation was a perfect knowledge of the fact, so sure and certain, that I felt as though the truth had been stereotyped upon me. I knew it from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot--in the whole of my system, being filled with the Holy Ghost! I can compare it to nothing better than the change made on a clean sheet of paper by a printing press, leaving an indelible impression behind.
As the Spirit did not tell me to whom these things were to be restored, I at first fancied, in my ignorance, that the people with whom I had been meeting were about to be blessed with these things, so I joyfully visited the minister of the meeting, and laid before him the intelligence I had received. But, to my great astonishment, I met with an utter repulse. He told me, "It was all of the devil, for such things had ceased forever!" Had any one knocked me down with a beetle, I could not have felt more sensibly the opposition between the spirits by which we were actuated. I soon found, by the bold and determined way in which he fought against the principle of present revelation, etc., that it was not to him or his people that these gifts would be given. So I sought for them elsewhere. A few days after, curiosity led me to visit the Latter-day Saints, amongst whom I witnessed a fulfillment of the prediction, for I beheld a manifestation of the gifts of prophecy and tongues, and received the latter myself.
Notwithstanding that the above confirmation which I received of the truth of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, was very great, I did not feel sufficiently convinced to be induced to join them at once. I had experienced the Spirit of the Lord in a similar way elsewhere, so that when the elders of the Church, at this meeting, urged upon me to yield obedience to the gospel they preached, which possessed such evidences as the manifestation of the ancient gifts, I treated the elders very lightly, and replied, that as for the gift of tongues, I could speak in tongues as well as any of them. So I could, for directly one of them manifested this gift, the gift of tongues rested upon me, and gave me the same power. Thus did the devil seek to blind me, and turn that testimony which the Lord had given me for the truth, almost into an evidence against it!
However, I procured a Book of Mormon, and took it home to read, determined to investigate until I was fully satisfied. But I had scarcely begun to read, before I felt greatly to dislike the book. Ere I had perused ten pages, I rejected it altogether. Acting in this bigoted manner, I had resigned myself to the evil influence that was gaining power over me, so that, directly after, I felt a similar dislike seize me towards the Bible. Its statements of miracles, etc., appeared to me to be compounds of the grossest absurdity possible. I could see no light or good in it at all! and actually resolved never to read it again! But, oh! the darkness that seized me as soon as I had made this resolution! The light that was in me became darkness, and how great it was, no language can describe. All knowledge of religious truth seemed to forsake me, and if I attempted to quote scripture, my recollection failed, after the first word or so! So remarkable was this, that it excited reflection, and caused me to marvel, and finally I determined to repent of my resolve respecting the Bible, and I commenced to read again.
The book was hardly in my hand, when, as in a moment, my light and recollection returned as usual. This made me rejoice, and immediately the idea flashed across my mind, "What have you done with the Book of Mormon? Behave as fairly to that." I soon reprocured it. But, even this time, I felt prejudiced against the book. I resolved, however, to read it through, and I persevered in its perusal, till I came to that part where Jesus, on visiting the continent of America, after his resurrection, grants the request of three of the twelve whom he had chosen, to permit them to live until his second coming on the earth (like unto John spoken of in the Bible). Here my mind half yielded to the belief which arose within me, that perhaps it might be true, whereupon I took the book and laid it before the Lord, and pleaded with him in prayer for a testimony whether it was true or false, and, as I found it stated that the three Nephites had power to show themselves to any persons they might wish, Jews or Gentiles, I asked the Lord to allow me to see them for a witness and testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon, and I covenanted with him, if he complied with my request, that I would preach it even at the expense of my life, should it be necessary.
The Lord heard my prayer, and, about five days after, two of the three visited me in my bedroom. I did not see them come, but I found them there. One spoke to me for some time, and reproved me sharply on account of my behavior at the time when I first attended the meeting of the Saints, and treated so lightly the gift of tongues. He told me never, as long as I lived, to do so again, for I had grieved the Spirit of the Lord, by whose power that gift had been given. This personage spoke in the Nephite language, but I understood, by the Spirit which accompanied him, every word as plainly as if he had spoken in English. I recognized the language to be the same as that in which I had heard Father Fisher speak at the meeting. Such a rebuke, with such power, I never had in my life before or since, and never wish to have again. I was dumb before my rebuker, for I knew that what he said was right, and I felt deserving of it.
How these men went, I do not know, but directly they were gone, the Spirit of the Lord said to me, "Now, you know for yourself! You have seen and heard! If you now fall away, there is no forgiveness for you." Did I not know then, that the Book of Mormon was true, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Lord? Surely I did, and I do now, as surely as I know that I live. The world wonders at the zeal and faith of "Mormon" missionaries in diffusing their principles over the world; but the surprise of the world would soon cease did they know by what evidences the truth of the faith of the Latter-day Saints had been evidenced unto them, for by such proofs as the above, and by the revelations of the Holy Ghost, in tongues, prophesyings, visions, etc., has the work of the last days been attested unto thousands upon thousands, and in ways so peculiar, and attended with such circumstances, that no power of sophistry or reason can possibly show these proofs to be the effects of a fanatical mind or a diseased imagination.
And even could these proofs be overturned, the Latter-day Saints have the still stronger proofs found in the evidences of glorious principles, never before discovered, harmonizing with each other, and every known truth, and clearing up and connecting scripture statements from beginning to end, unlocking the great science of life, shedding light on our existence, and discovering, in the arrangement and combination of these truths, an infinite intelligence that none but a mind that knew the end from the beginning could display! Bear me witness, every spirit that has drunk at the fountain of these truths, the glory, majesty, sublimity, and completeness of which, have again and again made your hearts leap with joy, and cause you to feel that surely such principles are of God, for they have their Father's name enstamped upon their foreheads!
I was not baptized directly, as I hoped to have the pleasure of seeing my wife comply with the same ordinance, when we could enter the Church together. In the meantime I prosecuted my inquiries.
Shortly after inquiring of the Lord concerning the truth of the judgments preached by the Latter-day Saints as being at hand, and impending over this generation, I was shown, in answer, by a vision, the various scenes described in the revelations of the ancient prophets. The inhabitants of the earth appeared before me in their various occupations--plowing, sowing, fishing, and engaging in mechanical business. I saw them, under the infliction of the plagues, etc., lift their eyes towards heaven, curse God, and die. I also saw many other things as predicted by ancient prophets. Thus do I know the truth of the Bible, as well as of the Book of Mormon, and I am a witness for both!
A whole year and a half I deferred my baptism, still waiting for my wife, who, although at first favorable to "Mormonism," had become a determined enemy to the Church. When I went to hear the "Mormons" preach at Westfield, a village where the Twelve Apostles were holding their first conference, curiosity had drawn great numbers to hear them, so that they had crowded meetings all the time.
The second day of this conference, I, with four others, was baptized by Elder McLellin, and confirmed the same night. While undressing on the bank of the creek, preparing for the ordinance, Satan made a last effort to prevent my entering the Church. A man coming along by the waterside came up to me and said, "I wish to speak to you for a few minutes before you go into the water." Thinking of course that he was a friend, or a member of the Church, who intended to give me some instruction as to my behavior when in the water, I listened to him, and, having got me to retire some rods off, he said, "Have you heard what has come out?" "No," I replied, "what about?" "Why," he continued, "concerning the Mormons, it has been discovered that it is all an imposture[sic], a regular hoax to deceive the people. The affair has just come to light. If you wait only a little, you'll hear all about it." At first this completely stunned me, for I was listening very attentively, considering him one of the Church, and for a moment I began to question, but quickly recollecting the manifestations I had received, I told him he was a child of the devil, and I pushed past him to the water, and was baptized at once. This was on the 15th of May, 1835.
My wife, who had managed to be present when I was going to the water, and even threatened that she would not live with me, was, for a long while after, perhaps a year and a half, bitterly opposed to the work, but I knew from the Lord that she would come into the Church, and I told her so. As the way she was at last brought in was very curious, I will mention it. She dreamed one night that a large company of visitors had come to her house, for whom she had to prepare supper. On going into her buttery to procure the necessary food to cook, she could only find a small potato, about the size of a robin's egg, lying on a wooden trencher. However, with this small stock, she commenced, and by some wonderful means converted this little affair into a splendid preparation of pies, puddings, etc. When they were ready, she stood still, wondering how it had all been done, for, as may be supposed, it puzzled her sorely to conceive how, from a little potato, and that on a wooden trencher, she had produced such an elegant entertainment. Just at this moment, while she was thus marveling, I was awakened from my sleep, with a command sounding in my ears that I was to say to my wife, "don't you remember hearing that you should not despise the day of small things?" I was to speak at once, without waiting. So I awoke her, and without any preface did as I was bid.
The wonderful concurrence of these words with her dream, and the self-evident interpretation of it, referring as it did to her past conduct, (for one of the principal reasons of the opposition she felt to my joining the Church was, that she considered it disgraced her to have her husband belong to a Church that was so poor, and everywhere spoken against,) so impressed itself upon her mind, with other confirmations, that she was baptized, and has remained firm to the Church ever since.
Benjamin Brown, "Testimonies for the Truth", autobiography (1853)