One of the most stunning acts of persecution in the scriptures has to be the attack on the believers in Ammonihah described in Alma 14. Those who have heeded the words of Alma and Amulek, men, women and children, are taken by the mob, bound and cast into fire, along with their scriptures while Alma and Amulek are forced to watch. In consternation, the missionaries face the problem of evil in a very personal and immediate way and Alma is constrained by the spirit not to intervene.
In our dispensation church members also have faced persecution, and our early poetry reflects this, with many poems addressing this persecution, some seeking redress of wrongs, others encouraging those who needed to endure the persecution, and others lamenting the loss of those who have died. The following poem, signed simply “L. S.,” is addressed to those who wonder why the saints are persecuted.
Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure who “L. S.” is. My brief investigation suggests that it may be Luman Andros Shurtliff because the poem’s style is similar to one that Shurtliff wrote around this same time and because he is the only known Mormon poet in Nauvoo at the time who had the initials “L. S.”
Shurtliff was born in Massachusetts and had moved to Ohio and married before he learned about Mormonism, but he took five years before he became convinced of the truth of the gospel and was baptized in 1836. After serving a short mission during the winter of 1837-38, he moved his family to Missouri, where he participated in the Mormon war there and was expelled along with the rest of the Church. While he lived in Nauvoo, Shurtliff served multiple short missions and taught school in his home. When the saints went west following their expulsion from Illinois, Shurtliff led one of the companies of the poor saints—those more refugees than pioneers—across the plains to Winter Quarters. He and his family arrived in Salt Lake in 1851. Shurtliff served in the Utah Territorial Legislature and as Prosecuting Attorney for Weber County, Utah after settling in Harrisville, where he owned a brickyard. At thois point I only know of one signed poem by Shurtliff, although I suspect several others signed “L. S.” are his also.
Why should the christian sigh
by L. S.
- Why should the christian sigh?
- Though with cold, averted eye,
- The friends of other days,
- Who were loudest in his praise;
- Are the first to turn aside,
- And his faith and hope deride,
- Though the scornful word and sneer,
- Should fall often on his ear;
- Though on his once honored name,
- They should pour contempt and shame,
- Let him never breath a sigh;
- But, with calm and steadfast eye,
- Meet the darts against him hurled,
- By a vain and wicked world.
- Let him never think it strange,
- Though his dearest friends should change;
- For it is a truth, well known,
- That the world will love its own;
- But, should any dare to rise,
- To claim kindred with the skies;
- Should they break the chains of sin,
- And a better course begin,
- They have nothing to expect
- From the world, but cold neglect;
- They can never be exempt
- From its hatred and contempt.
- But, for this, he should not sigh,
- When his treasure is on high;
- For, the servant need not hope
- To escape the bitter cup,
- To his Lord and Master given;
- Who, tho’ Lord of earth and heaven,
- For the love he bore our race,
- Left his own bright dwelling place,
- And his Father’s glorious throne,
- For transgressors to atone;
- He assumed a servant’s name
- And endured reproach and shame;
- And, tho’ ever doing good
- To the thronging multitude,
- He was hated and despised,
- And his favors lightly prized;
- Was derided, scorned, abused,
- And of various crimes accused;
- Denied all human aid;
- By a chosen friend betrayed;
- By his followers denied—
- Scorned, rejected, crucified;
- And, at last, to crown the whole,
- He poured out his righteous soul
- As an offering unto God,
- E’en for those who shed his blood.
- And shall those who bear his name
- Shrink from suffering and shame?
- Shall they hope his crown to ear,
- If his cross they do not bear?
- Or to reach the saints’ abode,
- By a smooth and flowery road?
- No! the only way to God
- Is the path the Savior trod;
- And his followers must prepare
- In his sufferings to share;
- They must bear the ridicule,
- Of the scorner and the fool;
- Persecution may assail
- And all earthly friends may fail;
- But they have a friend on high
- Who will hear his children’s cry
- A firm and faithful friend,
- Who will love them to the end;
- And the recompense is sure,
- If they steadfastly endure;
- If they fight the fight of faith,
- Ever faithful unto death;
- They will conquer in the strife
- And receive a crown of life,
- Which the Lord, the righteous lord,
- Has prepared for their reward;
- And, as kings and priests to God,
- They shall reign in his abode;
- When the earth shall be renewed
- And their foes are all subdued.
The Wasp, v1 n10 18 June 1842, p. 4
What I think is fascinating in this poem is how it examines what victims think and experience, from their former friends turning away from converts due to their new beliefs, to encouraging believers in enduring to the end. it is very easy to hear this poem with the ears of those who suffered and died at Ammonihah.
Today, it is perhaps difficult to understand how victims like those in Ammonihah or Missouri or elsewhere might feel. This poem gives us a little insight into that feeling.