Painting by Joseph F. Brickey, Deseret News archive
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we speak often of the need to be obedient to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Obedience is critical and necessary to our salvation.
The best form of obedience is thoughtful, willing compliance because we seek to bring our will into line with the will of the Father — our great example being the Savior Jesus Christ. Blind obedience is the weakest form of obedience, compliance without thinking, without exercising agency and individually determining that obedience to this principle is appropriate and right. Thoughtful, willing obedience is what God hopes from us.
I recently observed obedience and its attendant blessings as I compiled faith-promoting experiences from the lives of my ancestors for my son to take with him on his mission.
Isaac John Wardle began working in the coal mines in Ravenstone, England, at the tender age of 7 — six days a week, 12 hours a day. That would have been his destiny until he heard the gospel preached, joined the LDS Church at age 17 and determined to emigrate and gather with the Saints in the Utah basin. After three years of scrimping and saving, Wardle booked passage on the ship Horizon, said a final farewell to his family and sailed from Liverpool in May 1856. After disembarking in Boston on June 30, 1856, Wardle climbed aboard a train, eventually arriving in Iowa City, Iowa.
He joined the Martin Company and built a handcart. Late in the season, supplies were scarce, and many of the Mormon handcart pioneers used green, undried wood.
Wardle, then 20, was assigned with 15-year-old John Bailey to load their cart with 100 pounds of flour, a tent, camp equipment for seven people and 18-year-old Langley Bailey, who was too ill to walk — and to pull this heavy load 1,200 miles across the plains.
Wardle had already made great sacrifices for the gospel of Jesus Christ, yet willingly agreed to do so. It was his first and significant act of obedience in America. At first, the company made good progress, then the handcart wood began to dry and crack and sand wore away at the axles in their wheels. Slowed down, they lightened their loads and rations were cut to one pound of flour per person per day.
When Brigham Young learned they were on the trail at that late date, he understood their peril and ordered men to gather supplies and go to their rescue.
At Fort Laramie, there were few supplies and no flour. The company had to press on and cut their rations to one-half cup of flour per day.
By mid-October, tired and weak, carts still breaking down, they abandoned almost everything. In late October, the snow came. With little clothing and no protection from the cold they were still far from Utah. When rations were reduced to one-quarter cup of flour per day, the company began boiling and eating rawhide strips to keep their hunger at bay. Frigid winds swept the plains, the ground froze, and snow descended on the weary, emaciated travelers.
Wardle became part of the daily burial detail, though the frozen ground often denied them access. The company pushed forward, desperate and dying, yet miracles happened along the way reminding them that God had not forsaken them. West of the North Platte River, Ephraim Hanks rode into camp on his horse, with another loaded with recently acquired buffalo meat, a miraculous occurrence.
He described, “The starved forms and haggard countenances of the poor sufferers, as they moved about slowly, shivering with cold, to prepare their scanty evening meal. When they saw me coming, they hailed me with joy inexpressible, and when they further beheld the supply of fresh meat I brought into camp, their gratitude knew no bounds.”
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