Episode 27. July 31, 2016. Today I want to talk about what happens in a person’s life when they are touched by the masters hand.
Some time ago I heard the story of Eli Harvey Pearce and thought it was a powerful example of what happens in a person’s life when they are touched by the Master’s hand. I have found several versions of this story, all with the same content, but told just a bit differently. Of this particular version I do not know its origins. I share it, but do so acknowledging that I am not the author. The original story can be found in Eliza R. Snow’s, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow published by Deseret News Company Printers in 1884 starting on page 407.
Here is the story:
Sometimes Church leaders may ask us to accept callings or to assume obligations that strike us as inconvenient or distasteful—or worse. At such times we may feel like saying to ourselves in a tone of irritation, “The Lord will not leave me alone.” But at other times, when we, like the young servant, feel overwhelmed and surrounded by enemies and troubles, there comes the comforting assurance: The Lord will not leave me alone.
An honest and colorful nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint named Eli H. Pierce preferred that the Lord would leave him alone; then, as he came to know the reality of unseen angels, he discovered the other meaning of not being left alone.
“I had become almost an inveterate smoker,” he writes, “and bought cigars by wholesale, a thousand at a time … (I) frequently visited saloons (and) was not proficient at billiards, but squandered considerable money in acquiring what little knowledge I possessed of the game.”
Eli was utterly astonished when his calling as a full-time missionary was announced over the pulpit at the October 1875 General Conference. Prior to that moment, his life “had been entirely given up to temporalities.” He didn’t know the scriptures, he had made only one attempt at public speaking, and his work for the railroad “would have deprived me of . . . religious services even had my inclinations led in that direction, which I frankly confess they did not.” He smoked cigars, played billiards habitually, and wrote that a phrenologist said he was “too level-headed to ever make a sanctimonious church member.” Thus, his mission call made him marvel and wonder “if the Church were not running short of missionary material?”
When he received word of his call, Eli Pierce was “sitting lazily thrown back in an office rocking chair . . . reading a novel and . . . sucking a [massive] old Dutch pipe.” But immediately upon hearing that he had been called, Eli wrote, “I threw the novel in the wastebasket, the pipe in a corner, and started up town to buy a catechism. Have never read a novel nor smoked a pipe from that hour.” He later said the “thought of disregarding the call . . . never once entered my mind.” His only concern was, “How can I, who am so shamefully ignorant and untaught in doctrine, do honor to God . . . and merit the trust reposed in me by the Priesthood?”
Some of Eli’s friends predicted he “would tire of working for glory before I had been out six months” and would “seek my level by uniting with some comedy troups or minstrel show.” But he was rebaptized, set apart as a missionary, and traveled forthwith to New York City.
Brother Pierce labored first in “prayerfulness” and “humility” to develop his own faith, until at last he “obtained the coveted testimony” and was “blessed of the Lord in freedom of speech.” After preaching the gospel for a number of months with considerable success in various eastern states, Eli had an unusual experience in a small branch of the Church in Pennsylvania.
He was asked by the branch president to help administer to the president’s youngest child, who was near death. When the child’s mother objected to the blessing but would not leave the child’s bed, Eli and the father “retired to an upper room to pray.” The mother then sent her older little girl “to spy on us.” The two men “prayed earnestly and fervently, until we felt that the child would live.” Then they noticed the little girl “standing in the half-open door gazing intently into the room,” as if she were “entranced for some seconds.”
After her father spoke to her, the little girl asked, “Papa, who was that other man in there?” He answered, “Brother Pierce.” She said, “No, I mean that other man.” He replied, “There was no other, darling, except Brother Pierce and myself; we were praying for baby.” She shook her head, and, with perfect composure, said, “Oh, yes there was; I saw him standing between you and Mr. Pierce, and he was all dressed in white.”
The little girl reported her experience to her mother, “who tried every means in her power to persuade the child that it was a mere delusion, but all to no purpose. . . . She knew what she had seen and nothing could shake that conviction. The baby was speedily restored to perfect health.”
Isn’t that a wonderful story of how a man changed when he allowed the Lord to touch his life?
Here is some additional information I gathered about Eli Pearce found in the same excerpt in Eliza R. Snow’s journal.
Eli Pearce served his first mission for a year and was released on 27, Sep 1976. On his way home, he stopped in Council Bluffs Iowa and was there called to serve an additional 6 months until new missionaries could come from the Salt Lake Valley.. Three days after reaching home in early April 1877, he was called on a third mission during General Conference. This mission commenced in August of 1877 and ended one year later. During these three successive missions, Eli Pearce baptized 108 people, organized 5 branches of the church, held 249 meetings and traveled 9,820 miles at a personal cost of $1320.
Of this experience, Eli Pearce recorded the following: “I have never for one moment regretted the sacrifice; the experience gained more than compensated for the time, labor and means; while the knowledge acquired, of the things of God and the testimony of Jesus, I hold as invaluable. And now, after years have passed, I repeat, in words of soberness and in all sincerity, that the happiest period of my life, as well as the most profitable, was spent in the Master’s service.”
Elder Holland spoke about Eli Pearce at BYU in March of 1980 while serving as the Commissioner of Church Education in a talk entitled “In Times of Trouble”. Of Eli Pearce and his experiences, Elder Hollard said this: “Now if God in his heavens will do that for a repentant old cigar-smoking, inactive, swearing pool player, don’t you think he’ll do it for you? He will if your resolve is as deep and permanent as Eli Pierce’s. In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility.”
Have you felt his touch? Adam felt it, so did Seth and Enoch and Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Melchizedek felt it as did Noah and Moses and Elijah. Nephi felt it, so did Enos, Jacob, King Benjamin, Mosiah I and Mosiah II, Alma and his son Alma the Younger. The four sons of Mosiah: Ammon, Aaron, Omner and Himni all felt it. King Lamoni and his Father felt it, so did Lamoni’s brother Anti Nephi Lehi as did thousands of the Lamanites converted by Ammon and his brethren. Captain Moroni and Helaman felt it as did the 2060 stripling warriors. Saul felt it on the road to Damascus as did Matthew, Mark, John, Thomas and the remainder of the original disciples…well, maybe not Judas! Joseph Smith felt it as have millions of Latter-Day Saints. I have felt it. When I was 18 the Master touched my spirit so deeply that it changed my life. Under the direction of the Father, the Son of God and the Holy Ghost does this for all of us. May we all have the commitment of Eli Pearce, the courage and faith of the stripling warriors and the desire of the prophet Joseph Smith to know for ourselves.
I know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that his church has been restored to the earth so that we might claim the promised blessings and return to a loving Father in Heaven. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.