Theodore Turley and his family emigrated to Toronto, Upper Canada around 1825/26 where Theodore was a Methodist preacher. In 1837 Parley P. Pratt visited Theodore and taught him the restored gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Theodore “received the truth the first time [he] heard it,” and Elder Pratt baptized him on 1 March 1837. Following his own conversion Theodore conducted missionary work and “built up a Church of 17 members in three weeks.”
John Taylor had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto the year before on the 9th of May 1836. Learning about his conversion gives us a feel for the preaching of the gospel in this area at that time.
John Taylor’s Conversion in Toronto
B.H. Roberts (Biographer of John Taylor)
After his arrival in Toronto he connected himself with the Methodists in that city, and began preaching under the auspices of their church organization. It was while he was engaged in this work that he met Leonora Cannon, to whom he was married on the 28th of January, 1833.
Leonora Cannon was a daughter of Captain George Cannon (grandfather of President George Q. Cannon) of Peel, Isle of Man. Captain Cannon died while Leonora was yet in her girlhood; the old homestead in Peel was rented to strangers, and she went to reside in England with a lady named Vail. Later she became an inmate of Governor Smelt’s family, residing in Castle Rushen, Castletown, Isle of Man. Here she frequently met with many distinguished people from England. Finally in the capacity of companion to the wife of Mr. Mason, the private secretary of Lord Aylmer, Governor General of Canada, she went to Toronto, and being a devout Methodist, associated with that church and there met Mr. Taylor, who became her class leader.
His first proposal of marriage was rejected; but afterwards, through a dream in which she saw herself associated with him, she was convinced that he would be her husband. Therefore, when he renewed his proposal, he was accepted.
Refined both by nature and education, gentle and lady-like in manner, witty, intelligent, gifted with rare conversational powers, possessed of a deep religious sentiment, and, withal, remarkable for the beauty of her person, she was a fitting companion to John Taylor.
Mrs. Taylor frequently accompanied her husband in filling his appointments to preach on the Sabbath, and he often alluded to the singular revelation he had received in his youth, about his having to preach the gospel in America.
“Are you not now preaching the gospel in America?” Leonora would ask.
“This is not the work; it is something of more importance,” he would answer.
As a preacher in the Methodist church, both in England and Canada, he was very successful, and made many converts. “My object,” he remarks, “was to teach them what I then considered the leading doctrines of the Christian religion, rather than the peculiar dogmas of Methodism.” His theological investigations had made him very much dissatisfied with existing creeds and churches, because of the wide difference between modern and primitive Christianity, in doctrine, in ordinances, in organization and above all, in spirit and power.
He was not the only one on whom the Spirit was operating in this manner. There were several others, chiefly men belonging to the same Church, in or near Toronto, and engaged in the same calling. They were gentlemen of refinement and education, and generally talented.
It was their custom to meet several times a week to search the scriptures, and investigate the doctrines of the Christian religion as contained in the Bible. They were all familiar with the various systems of theology as accepted by the Christian sects of the day, and as they had more or less distrust regarding each of them they agreed, in their investigation, to reject every man’s opinion and work, and to search the scriptures alone, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
On these lines they investigated the claims of each sect of religion, as to its being the Church of Christ. The result of that investigation was that they were driven irresistibly to the conclusion that all sects were in error, and without authority to preach the gospel or administer its ordinances. “If modern Christianity is true,” said they, “then the Bible is false,” and vice versa. Fortunately they clung to a firm belief in the Bible; and further believed in a restoration of pure principles and a true church. They believed that men should be called of God as in former days, and ordained by proper authority; and that in the Church there should be apostles and prophets, evangelists and pastors, teachers and deacons; in short, that the primitive organization of the Church of Christ should be perpetuated.
They believed that men who accepted the gospel should have bestowed upon them the Holy Ghost; that it should lead them into all truth, and show them things to come. They believed also in the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, miracles, prophecy, faith, discerning of spirits and all the powers, graces and blessings as experienced in the Christian Church of former days. They believed that Israel would be gathered, the ten tribes restored; that judgments would overtake the wicked, and Christ return to the earth and reign with the righteous; they believed in the first and second resurrection, and in the final glory and triumph of the righteous. But while they believed all these things, they recognized the fact that they had no authority to act in the premises and organize a church, incorporating these views in its doctrines and organization. True, they might organize a church with apostles and prophets, and all other officers, and teach the letter of their principles; but whence should they look for the Spirit to give it life, and make their dream of a restored, perfect Christian church a reality? It was evident to them they could not perform this work unless called of God to do it, and they were painfully conscious of the fact that not one among them was so called. They could only wait, and pray that God would send to them a messenger if He had a Church on the earth.
So wide and thorough an investigation of religion, by such a body of men, could not fail to attract some attention, especially from the church with which the most of them were nominally connected. The leading men in the Methodist church called a special conference to consider the principles of these heterodox brethren. The meeting was called and presided over by some of the most prominent leaders in the Methodist persuasion in Canada, among whom were the Rev. Mr. Ryarson and Rev. Mr. Lord, of the British conference. The hearing was not a trial pro forma, but rather a friendly discussion of those principles held by the brethren in question.
The hearing continued through several days; and in the debates the “heterodox” held their own against the learning and talent of the church leaders; and at the conclusion of the investigation expressed themselves as being more fully confirmed in their doctrines since their learned opponents had been unable to refute them by the word of God. The conclusion reached by the conference was thus stated by the president:
“Brethren, we esteem you as brethren and gentlemen; we believe you are sincere, but cannot fellowship your doctrine. Wishing, however, to concede all we can, we would say: You may believe your doctrines if you will not teach them; and we will still retain you in fellowship as members, leaders and preachers.”
These conditions the “heterodox” could not conscientiously comply with, so they were deprived of their offices but retained as members. Since they considered the Methodist Church without authority, taking from them their offices was not regarded by them as a hardship.
Meantime, their fastings and prayers, their longing for the Kingdom of God, came up in remembrance before the Lord, and He sent a messenger to them. Parley P. Pratt, an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, called upon Mr. Taylor, with a letter of introduction from a merchant acquaintance of his, Mr. Moses Nickerson. As soon as he learned that Mr. Pratt was a “Mormon,” he thought his acquaintance had imposed upon him a little by sending him such a character; for then, as now, and as in the days of the ancient apostles, the Saints were everywhere spoken against, and Mr. Taylor had heard the evil rumors circulated about them; and because of these rumors, he had been led to regard “Mormonism” as anything but a religious system. He treated Apostle Pratt courteously, as he considered himself bound to do, because of his letter of introduction; but the reception he gave him could not be called cordial.
It was a strange message the Apostle had to deliver–this story of the revelation of the gospel: how God had passed by the great, and learned, and eloquent theologians of the day, and had revealed Himself to an unlearned youth, reared in the backwoods of New York; how, subsequently, He sent to him an angel, who made known to him the existence of the hidden record of the ancient inhabitants of America–the Book of Mormon; how that angel met him annually in the month of September for four successive years, and taught him the gospel and many things concerning the work of the Lord in these last days; and then delivered into his keeping those records, which he translated into the English language by the gift and power of God; how this same young man, during the progress of the work of translation, was visited by John the Baptist, who conferred upon him and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, which gave them the authority to preach repentance and baptize for remission of sins; how, subsequently, the ancient apostles, Peter, James and John came and conferred upon the young Prophet the apostleship, which gave him the right and power to ordain other men to be Apostles, Seventies, High Priests and Elders; to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost-in short, which gave him the right to preach the gospel in all the world, and establish the Church of Christ on the earth.
But if this story was strange, the circumstance which led to the Apostle coming among them, though of less importance than the main message he had to deliver, was stranger still. He told them how Heber C. Kimball, and others, came to his house one night, in Kirtland, after he and Mrs. Pratt had retired. Heber C. Kimball requested him to get up as he had a prophecy to deliver concerning him. Apostle Pratt arose and his visitor thus addressed him:
“Brother Parley, thy wife shall be healed from this hour, and shall bear a son, and his name shall be Parley; and he shall be a chosen instrument in the hands of the Lord to inherit the priesthood, and to walk in the footsteps of his father. He shall do a great work on the earth in ministering the word and teaching the children of men. Arise, therefore, and go forth in the ministry, nothing doubting. Take no thought for your debts, nor the necessaries of life, for the Lord will supply you with abundant means for all things. Thou shalt go to Upper Canada, even to the city of Toronto, the capital, and there thou shalt find a people prepared for the gospel, and they shall receive thee, and thou shalt organize the Church among them, and it shall spread thence into the regions round about, and many shall be brought to a knowledge of the truth, and shall be filled with joy; and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fullness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land.”
To understand the boldness of this prediction the reader ought to be informed that Apostle Pratt had been married to his wife ten years, but they had never been blessed with offspring; and for six years his wife had been considered an incurable consumptive.
As before stated Mr Taylor did not receive Apostle Pratt very cordially. While seeking for the truth he did not propose being led away by every wind of doctrine, nor by the cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive. He was very cautious, remembering that an ancient apostle had said:
“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, [the gospel] receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
He therefore rendered Elder Pratt no assistance, until he began to discover that there were good grounds for believing he was a messenger sent of God.
Elder Pratt applied to all the ministers of Toronto, and the city officials having charge of public buildings, for a place in which to deliver his message, without avail. Disheartened at his unpropitious reception, he was about to leave a city where he could see no prospect of making an opening. In this spirit he called on Mr. Taylor to say farewell.
Mr Taylor’s turning shop adjoined his house, and it was here that Elder Pratt found him. While talking to him, valise in hand ready to depart, a Mrs. Walton called on Mrs. Taylor in the adjoining room. The latter told Mrs. Walton about Elder Pratt and his strange mission, and how, failing to get an opportunity to preach, he was on the eve of departing. “He may be a man of God,” said Leonora, “I am sorry to have him depart.”
At this Mrs. Walton expressed her willingness to open her house for Elder Pratt to preach in, and proposed to lodge and feed him. Here at last was an opening. He began holding meetings at Mrs. Walton’s, and was soon afterwards introduced to the investigation meetings held by Mr. Taylor and his religious friends.
They were delighted with his preaching. He taught them faith in God, and in Jesus Christ; called upon them to repent of their sins, and to be baptized in the likeness of Christ’s burial, for the remission of them, and promised them the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, together with a full enjoyment of all its gifts and blessings. All this, and much more that he taught, was in strict harmony with what they themselves believed; but what he had to say about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon perplexed a great many, and some of their members even refused to investigate the Book of Mormon, or examine the claims of Apostle Pratt to having divine authority to preach the gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
It was at this juncture that the noble independence and boldness of spirit, so conspicuous in John Taylor throughout his life, asserted itself. He addressed the assembly to the following effect:
“We are here, ostensibly in search of truth. Hitherto we have fully investigated other creeds and doctrines and proven them false. Why should we fear to investigate Mormonism? This gentleman, Mr. Pratt, has brought to us many doctrines that correspond with our own views. We have endured a great deal and made many sacrifices for our religious convictions. We have prayed to God to send us a messenger, if He has a true Church on earth. Mr. Pratt has come to us under circumstances that are peculiar; and there is one thing that commends him to our consideration; he has come amongst us without purse or scrip, as the ancient apostles traveled; and none of us are able to refute his doctrine by scripture or logic. I desire to investigate his doctrines and claims to authority, and shall be very glad if some of my friends will unite with me in this investigation. But if no one will unite with me, be assured I shall make the investigation alone. If I find his religion true, I shall accept it, no matter what the consequences may be; and if false, then I shall expose it.”
After this, John Taylor began the investigation of Mormonism in earnest. He wrote down eight sermons which Apostle Pratt preached, and compared them with the scripture. He also investigated the evidences of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. “I made a regular business of it for three weeks,” he says, “and followed Brother Parley from place to place.” The result of his thorough investigation was conviction; and on the 9th of May, 1836, himself and wife were baptized. “I have never doubted any principle of Mormonism since,” was the comment he made in relating, when well advanced in life, how he came to accept the gospel. (Life of John Taylor, pp.29-38)