In 1833, William McLellin fled into the Missouri woods to escape a mob bent on driving “the Mormons” out of the city of Independence.
As a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, McLellin had a bounty on his head, and he agonized about what he would do if the mob caught him. Unlike some Church leaders, he had never seen an angel or held the golden plates in his hands. Would he hold fast to his belief in the Church and its leaders?
McLellin ran into fellow fugitives Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, who had both seen the golden plates with their own eyes. McLellin asked the two men, “in the fear of God,” if the Book of Mormon was really true.
Cowdery testified the book was true, and urged McLellin to hold fast to that truth even if the mob killed him.
“I believe you,” McLellin said.
In 1838, McLellin asked another Church member, Heber Kimball, a similar question about Joseph Smith—only this time, McLellin was part of the mob destroying homes in Far West, Missouri, and the question was a mocking “What do you think of Joseph Smith the fallen prophet now?”
For this former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Oliver Cowdery’s testimony in the woods and his own conviction in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith were not enough to sustain him through the years of persecution, debt, division in the Church, and others’ failures. McLellin went from persecuted to persecutor.
Like William McLellin’s story, every life is full of success and failure—sometimes with failure stealing the show. Saints: The Standard of Truth, the first book in a four-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, creates a narrative history using the successes and failures of early members of the Church.
Saints is not a story of perfect people. From Joseph Smith, the revered but human prophet of the Restoration, to the closing lines about Emily Partridge, Saints uses historical records and accounts to show real, flawed people who lived real, flawed lives.
“Saints presents the lives and stories of ordinary men and women in the Church,” reads the preface. “Each chapter will help readers understand and appreciate the Saints who have made the Church what it is today. Woven together, their stories create the rich tapestry of the Restoration.”
At the back of the book are almost 100 pages of notes and sources used for this 586-page novel, from family accounts, to government records, to newspaper articles.
That being said, Saints was written by members of the Church, for members of the Church. It is not a hardcore history, and you will find few apologies for the persecutors and dissenters. This book is a good, in-depth history from the Church’s perspective, not one that seeks every angle and side of the story.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the stories and saints of early Church history.
Read Saints: The Standard of Truth online at history.lds.org.