Her Conversion

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(This is an excerpt from the book Eliza by Karen Lynn Davidson and Jill Mulvay Derr.)

Sometime during the winter of 1830–31, Joseph visited the Snow home. Eliza’s oldest sister, Leonora, and their mother, Rosetta, responded immediately to the message of the restored gospel; they were baptized by Joseph Smith himself. Eliza, however, held back. Upon meeting Joseph, she “scrutinized his face closely” and acknowledged only that “his was an honest face.” We often read historical accounts of people who met Joseph Smith and recognized him immediately as a prophet of God, but Eliza was cautious. Serious, prayerful study eventually led to her conversion.

In 1835, four years after she first met Joseph Smith, she was touched by “the faith and humility of those who had received the gospel as taught by Joseph.” “The spirit bore witness to me of the truth,” she remembered. “My heart was now fixed; and I was baptized on the 5th of April, 1835.”

She remained a devoted Latter-day Saint for the rest of her life. On the evening following her baptism, Eliza received an unforgettable spiritual confirmation. “I realized the baptism of the Spirit,” she said, “as sensibly as I did that of the water in the stream.” She described the experience: “I saw a beautiful candle with an unusual long, bright blaze directly over my feet. I sought to know the interpretation, and received the following, ‘The lamp of intelligence shall be lighted over your path.’ I was satisfied.”

This forward-looking promise seems to have been perfectly suited to Eliza and to the gifts that she would henceforth consecrate to the Church. Eliza recalled that at some point during her four-year wait before deciding to enter the waters of baptism, “I prayed unto the Lord to let me know if the work were true, covenanting with him, if he did so, that I would ever praise his name in the congregation of the saints.”

And praise him she did. Shortly after she was baptized, she wrote two hymn texts just in time for them to be included in the first Latter-day Saint hymnbook, Emma Smith’s 1835 A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Both hymns are expressions of pure joy. The first one, set to a tune by Ebenezer Beesley that matches Eliza’s text in its energetic delight, continues as part of Latter-day Saint hymnody today, under the title “Great Is the Lord.” The hymnal uses stanzas 1, 2, 5, and 6 of Eliza’s poem.

Praise Ye the Lord
Great is the Lord: ’tis good to praise
His high and holy name:
Well may the saints in latter days
His wondrous love proclaim.
The op’ning seals announce the day,
By prophets long declar’d;
When all, in one triumphant lay,
Will join to praise the Lord.

Eliza’s second hymn rejoices in the Millennium. The eye of her poetic imagination sees rich details of the blessed time of Christ’s Second Coming, with verdant landscapes, fragrant flowers, and lush vegetation. The Saints will not only share the companionship of angels but even walk with Christ himself.

The Glorious Day Is Rolling On
The glorious day is rolling on—
All glory to the Lord!
When fair as at creation’s dawn
The earth will be restor’d.
A perfect harvest then will crown
The renovated soil;
And rich abundance drop around,
Without corroding toil:
For Zion will like Eden bloom;
And Jesus come to reign—
The Saints immortal from the tomb
With angels meet again.

In these formative years, culminating with her baptism, Eliza arrived at a sense of her life’s commitment as a poet: She would seek not worldly reputation but rather the “nobler joys” of service in the cause of spiritual truth. Nonetheless, as Eliza moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and began a new era of her life living among Latter-day Saints, she quickly discovered that those anticipated joys could be tempered by sorrows and hardships she could not have imagined.

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