Thomas Margetts (1819-1856), with several of his brothers, joined the Church in England in 1841 and immediately began serving as a missionary. In time he became president of the London Conference, and is remembered as a dedicated, successful missionary. He emigrated to Utah in 1851, and in 1852 returned to Europe, where he served again as a missionary, working among the Waldensians in northern Italy for more than three years. He returned to Utah, but found his ardor for Mormonism rapidly cooling. Leaving one wife and several children in Utah, Margetts and his plural wife Zelpha decided to return to England in 1856. Their small company was attacked on the Plains by Cheyenne Indians; Margetts was killed; Zelpha was carried away captive and never heard from again.
(Note: There is quite a bit of inaccurate information about Margetts out there. Contrary to Welsh missionary Dan Jones’ much later assertions that Margetts was the cause of “ungodliness” among the London Saints and was excommunicated there, Margetts was an uncommonly successful missionary, well respected, and left London for Utah in full fellowship with the Saints. Accounts of his death sometimes assert that one, and sometimes two, of his children were slain with him; one child was killed in the attack, but that child was a son of fellow-traveler James Cowdy.)
Despite the unhappiness of his last months and the terrible death he met on the Plains, Thomas Margetts’ early association with Mormonism and his faithful missionary service are worth honoring. Specifically, I’m thinking of a lesson he learned regarding what to preach as a missionary – a lesson that, in my opinion, extends to how we teach Sunday School or seminary, and how we speak in Sacrament meeting, and how we engage with our critics.
… [W]hen I was first called to the priesthood, I thought my mission was to expose the errors of the religious systems of the day, and that I must use my best endeavours to make manifest the deformities of the Babylon that obtains in the name of christianity at the present time; and I have often stood and borne testimony against her for an hour together, and said but very little about the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But here, let me ask what was the result of such preaching? Why, instead of winning the people over to the Lord it was the means of driving them from him, and of causing them to persecute the Saints. Was it not truth? one might ask; and if it was truth, has not God sent us to proclaim against error? I answer, and say it was truth; but God has sent us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can sufficiently point out all error, and which will proclaim loud enough against every false system in the world.
I suppose we’ve all seen that often enough, in both religion and politics, where someone rails on what’s wrong with the opposition without ever making a case for his own beliefs. Some of us – this includes me – have been approached by members of other faiths, or have attended classes or services deliberately to learn about other faiths directly from their own presentations; even when the goal is to listen and not argue, not preach, not attempt to convert, so often it happens that when your status as a Mormon is discovered, all talk turns away from a presentation of their beliefs to a discussion of what’s wrong with your beliefs. Of course that works the other way, too – Margetts isn’t the only missionary, the only member, whose first instinct is to fight rather than to teach or share or discuss.
Margetts had this brought unexpectedly to his attention.
I recollect on one occasion I had been preaching in the Regent’s Park, London, and as usual was speaking against what I termed the priestcraft, and money-making systems of the day, when after I had done (and I shall never forget the time while memory lives), a gentleman came up to me, called me from the people that were standing around, and spoke to the following effect; “Sir, you have been preaching for some time, and all that you have said may be truth, but I think if you were to preach the gospel, instead of railing against others, it would be much better for them and for you.”
Reflecting on his preaching habits, Margetts examined the result of his teaching style.
But let me speak of the feelings of my bosom after I had thus preached, and by those feelings I have an evidence that I was wrong altogether; and I trust that these few remarks may prove a benefit to others that are young in the priesthood; for as I have felt the fire, I am enabled to warn others, lest they also be burnt as well as myself. After I had done speaking, instead of feeling that glow of joy and consolation in my heart which I should have done, my mind was dark and gloomy, and I felt as if I had done wrong, though I knew not at that time wherein. I used to rebuke this influence, thinking it to be of Satan, until I discovered the cause of it, which was that I had not been doing that for which I had been sent, which was to preach the gospel, instead of railing against the sects of the day.
Upon hearing the stranger’s evaluation, Margetts
was struck with his words, and began to reflect upon what he had said, and I found that one of the world had given me that advice which I ought to have imparted to others. I asked the Lord to pardon me for what I had done, and to give me of his spirit, so that I might preach those things to the people that would prove a blessing unto them.
From that time I took a different course altogether.
It was at that point that Margetts became a successful missionary. finding “that God was with me; that he prospered my labours, and gave success to the preaching of his word.”
This doesn’t mean that falsehood shouldn’t be corrected, whether it’s falsehood about the gospel itself, or misinformation about the Church and its practices and history, or mischaracterization of Mormon lives. The difference is all in how we go about it – do we go point by point down the catalog of what someone gets wrong? or do we teach/write/speak what is right and let that stand for itself?
Not that I always manage to live by this ideal, but I do recognize the value of “preach[ing] those things to the people that would prove a blessing unto them” – making Mormon history available on the Internet as fairly and accurately as I can, in my case – rather than picking apart what other people get wrong.
Usually. But please don’t tease me with, say, a ludicrous claim to have spotted a Joseph Smith daguerreotype at the local flea market. Where those claims are concerned, I think Paul’s assertion that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able [to bear]” must be an example of the Bible not being translated correctly!