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Essay on Faith

Spanish Fork Young Ladies’ Association

Spanish Fork, Utah Territory

September 20, 1879

On September 20, 1879, Mary Tyndale Baxter Ferguson (1826–1909) addressed the young women of Spanish Fork, Utah Territory, about fifty miles south of Salt Lake City, on the topics of faith and work. Ferguson’s experiences revealed her faith and commitment to God despite the challenges of life. She was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and orphaned at a young age.1 Ferguson was raised by a hired nurse named Agnes Reid, for whom she developed a deep affinity; she did not learn she was adopted until years later. She attended school until age sixteen, then worked in a silk factory and a steam loom factory.2 She grew up religious; Reid “taught her to read the Bible, fear God and lead a good, virtuous life,” and Ferguson became active in different church groups.3 After she was introduced to Mormon missionaries through her sister in the fall of 1845, Ferguson was apprehensive and determined to investigate the Bible to discover the authenticity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.4 The more she studied, the more she was convinced. She was baptized in October 1846 and recorded that as a result, “all my companions left me and I had my good name cast out as evil, for the gospel’s sake.”5

At a church conference in Scotland, Ferguson met John Baxter, whom she married in 1849. They lived with his family, where Ferguson cared for his ailing siblings and mother. She nursed her husband through his poor health, the result of years of working in a coal mine. With hopes for a better situation in America, the family emigrated in 1851. They remained in St. Louis for two years while earning money to cross the plains to Utah. Not long after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1853, her husband became discouraged with the unfamiliar climate and scarce resources in Utah and left for California, leaving Ferguson to support their two living children.6 Baxter returned a year later, and the family moved to Utah County, living in Spanish Fork and Goshen, where five additional children were born. Baxter died in 1869 after years of sickness.7

According to Ferguson’s obituary, “she had a very hard struggle to rear and care for so large a family of small children, but the Lord heard her cry and blessed her and fitted her back for its heavy burden.”8 In 1874, five years after the death of her first husband, she married Andrew Ferguson, a friend from Scotland who had both baptized her and officiated at her first marriage to Baxter in 1849.9

Ferguson served in the church at the same time she worked to support her family as a nurse and midwife.10 The same year her first husband died, she was treasurer of the Goshen Relief Society. In 1873 she became a visiting teacher, a responsibility assigned to a small number of women in each ward during this period. The Goshen Relief Society minutes record her donations of potatoes, meat, and wool; her opening and closing prayers; and her remarks on several occasions. On July 6, 1871, she said, “It was good to be obedient in all things pertaining to Christ, for he was meek and humble and loved to bless the sick and poor. She hoped that her walk and conduct would be as a life of a Saint.”11 After she remarried and her family moved to Spanish Fork, Ferguson served for several years as president of the Relief Society there. Women during this time often attended meetings of several organizations. The Spanish Fork Relief Society and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA) often reported to each other, so it was not unusual for Ferguson to visit and speak at a YLMIA meeting.12

As faith is the first principle of the gospel, it is necessary to inquire, What is faith? The scriptures tell us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”;13 for example, if I should tell you that by going to a certain place you could obtain a piece of gold or a pearl of great beauty, and consequently you go and find it, you manifest your faith by your works.14 Thus it is when we obey the gospel, certain blessings follow; but if we say we believe and do not obey, then is our faith vain. It is like the body without the spirit, dead. It was this living faith, my young sisters, which caused your fathers and mothers to obey the gospel in their native lands and homes; in the midst of scorn and persecution, through faith they left homes and kindred and all they held dear and embarked on the mighty ocean, tossed upon the waves and billows for weeks and months, far from the sight of land, seasick and weary, but still trusting in the arm of Jehovah to bring them safely to a haven of rest; and many of them had never known the trials and hardships of life, leaving weeping friends distracted with grief, who had not faith, and did not understand the purposes of God.15 Through faith they traveled across the plains with the slow wearisome travel of oxen—but still more wearisome traveled with handcarts. Think of it, my young sisters: your fathers and mothers traveling over a thousand miles drawing a handcart, with their rations and bedding, cooking utensils, clothing and etc., many of them with little children; fording rivers up to their waists and toiling through miles of heavy sand, and yet by the campfire at night their songs of praise resounded to God, for the principles of faith were planted in their bosoms;16 they had an assurance of things not seen; by faith they arrived in these valleys; they were not then the rich fertile valleys you now see. By faith they subdued the sterile, barren soil and through the blessings of God succeeded in making the wilderness blossom as the rose.17 It may yet be said of us in succeeding generations as it has been said of Moses: they struck the soil, and it brought forth abundantly; but it has taken years of arduous toil—toil that now tells on the constitution of those who have passed through it.

Time would fail me to tell you of the trials of our faith caused by crickets, grasshoppers, droughts, floods, and also by the persecution of our enemies; but in all we are an exceedingly blessed and happy people; and through faith we intend to grow and increase and spread abroad till, like Abraham of old, of our increase there shall be no end.18

Now, my dear young friends, you need not think that because we have done so much there is nothing for you to do; you have got to spread abroad. You need not think that the territory of Utah is going to hold the children of Zion. You will have to build up new colonies.

It is for our young people, as they are called upon, to leave fathers and mothers, for Zion’s stakes must be strengthened and her “cords lengthened.”19 “Give us room that we may dwell, Zion’s children cry aloud.”20 The scriptures are fulfilling right before our eyes; the wicked are afraid that we will take away their name and nation, but the prophecies must be fulfilled, though earth and hell should dare oppose.

Therefore, contend earnestly for the faith delivered in these last days to your fathers, that you may be enabled through faith to help bring to pass the purposes of Jehovah; and may the quickening influence of the Spirit of God rest upon the children of Zion, that it may be as a living fire within them, bringing forth much fruit unto righteousness. Then can you say with the poet:

In danger, in trials and afflictions,

We have shared with the worthies of yore,

That we at truth’s banquet may join them,

When error’s great conflict is o’er.21

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Essay on Faith, At the Pulpit, accessed June 22, 2024