Volume 1 Chapter 6 | BYU Studies

Volume 1 Chapter 6


Chapter 6

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The Testimony of the Especial Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

Provision Made for Special Witnesses.

In the course of the work of translation, we ascertained that three special witnesses 1 were to be provided by the Lord, to whom He would grant that they should see the plates from which this work (the Book of Mormon) should be translated; and that these witnesses should bear record of the same, as will be found recorded, Book of Mormon, page 581 [Book of Ether, chapter 5, verses 2, 3 and 4, p. 487, edition 1920], also page 86 [2 Nephi, chapter 11, verse 3, p. 73, edition 1920]. 2 Almost immediately after we had made this discovery, it occurred to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and the aforementioned Martin Harris (who had come to inquire after our progress in the work) that they would have me inquire of the Lord to know if they might not obtain of him the privilege to be these three special witnesses; and finally they became so very solicitous, and urged me so much to inquire that at length I complied; and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following:

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Revelation to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris, at Fayette, Seneca County, New York, June, 1829, given previous to their viewing the plates containing the Book of Mormon. 3

1. Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.

2. And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.

3. And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;

4. And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.

5. And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.

6. And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.

7. Wherefore you have received the same power, and the same faith, and the same gift like unto him;

8. And if you do these last commandments of mine, which I have given you, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; for my grace is sufficient for you, and you shall be lifted up at the last day.

9. And, I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it unto you, that I might bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men. Amen.

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Seeking the Fulfilment of the Promise.

Not many days after the above commandment was given, we four, viz., Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself, agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfilment of the promises given in the above revelation—that they should have a view of the plates. We accordingly made choice of a piece of woods convenient to Mr. Whitmer's house, to which we retired, and having knelt down, we began to pray in much faith to Almighty God to bestow upon us a realization of these promises.

The Order of Prayer.

According to previous arrangement, I commenced prayer to our Heavenly Father, and was followed by each of the others in succession. We did not at the first trial, however, obtain any answer or manifestation of divine favor in our behalf. We again observed the same order of prayer, each calling on and praying fervently to God in rotation, but with the same result as before.

The Visitation of the Angel—Viewing the Plates.

Upon this, our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly with drew from us, and we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when presently we beheld a light above us in the air, of exceeding brightness; and behold, an angel stood before us. In his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to have a view of. He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings theron distinctly. He then addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, "David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;" when, immediately afterwards, we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, "These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear."

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Martin Harris also Views the Plates.

I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him in prayer, that he also might realize the same blessings which we had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view, at least it was again opened to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, " 'Tis enough; 'tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld;" and jumping up, he shouted, "Hosanna," blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly. 4

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Statement of the Witnesses.

Having thus, through the mercy of God, obtained these glorious manifestations, it now remained for these three individuals to fulfil the commandment which they had received, viz., to bear record of these things; in order to accomplish which, they drew up and subscribed 5 the following document: 6

The Testimony of Three Witnesses.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come; That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

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Oliver Cowdery

David Whitmer

Martin Harris

Soon after these things had transpired, the following additional testimony was obtained: 7

The Testimony of Eight Witnesses.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: that Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, 8 has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.

Christian Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer

Peter Whitmer, Jun.

John Whitmer

Hiram Page

Joseph Smith, Sen.

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Early Progress in the Work.

Meantime we continued to translate, at intervals, when not under the necessity of attending to the numerous inquirers who now began to visit us—some for the sake of finding the truth others for the purpose of putting hard questions, and trying to confound us. Among the latter class were several learned priests, who generally came for the purpose of disputation. However, the Lord continued to pour out upon us His Holy Spirit, and as often as we had need, He gave us in that moment what to say; so that although unlearned and inexperienced in religious controversies, yet we were able to confound those learned priests of the day; whilst at the same time we were enabled to convince the honest in heart that we had obtained, through the mercy of God, the true and ever lasting Gospel of Jesus Christ; and occasionally we administered the ordinance of baptism for the remission of sins to such as believed.

Chapter 6 - Notes

1. See also revelation given March, 1829, page 29.

2. In the original manuscript copy of the History, the reference here made are to the first edition of the Book of Mormon, but to avoid confusion, the pages, chapters and verses of the later and prevailing editions are given. In the first edition [now very rare] the reference from the Book of Ether is on page 548, toward the middle of chapter 2; and that from Nephi is on page 86, toward the beginning of chapter 8. The quotations are as follows:

"And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work; and unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true. And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record:—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day."—Book of Ether, 5:2-4.

"And my brother, Jacob also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words."—2 Nephi 11:3.

3. D&C 17.

4. There are some other details connected with the obtaining of the testimony of the Three Witnesses which ought not to be omitted at this point. The day on which the Three Witnesses received their manifestation the usual morning family service was held at the Whitmer residence, namely, scripture-reading, singing, and prayer. Besides the Whitmer family, the Prophet and his wife and Oliver Cowdery, there were present the Prophet's father and mother and Martin Harris. As soon as Joseph rose from his knees, he approached Martin Harris and said, "with a solemnity that thrills through my veins to this day," says the Prophet's mother, who relates this circumstance: "Martin Harris, you have got to humble yourself before your God this day, that you may obtain a forgiveness of your sins. If you do, it is the will of God that you should look upon the plates in company with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer." (History of the Prophet Joseph, by Lucy Smith, ch. 31.) When the former transgression of Martin Harris in the matter of betraying the trust of the Prophet, by which part of the translation of the Book of Mormon had been lost (see p. 21)—when this and the pride and self-will of the man's character are taken into account, there was certainly a necessity for the admonition which the Prophet gave Martin Harris that morning. The circumstance also affords an explanation of Martin's difficulty in obtaining a testimony which, after his withdrawal from them, appears to have been given so readily to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.

Another circumstance is related by Lucy Smith which is here apropos, namely, the joy of the Prophet in having other witnesses than himself to the truth of the work the Lord was then bringing forth to the world. Speaking of the witnesses returning to the Whitmer home after seeing the plates, she says: "When they returned to the house, it was between three and four o'clock p. m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith, and myself were sitting in the bedroom at the time. On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, 'Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am; the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.' Upon this, Martin Harris came in. He seemed almost overcome with joy, and testified boldly to what he had both seen and heard. And so did David and Oliver, adding that no tongue could express the joy of their hearts and the greatness of the things which they had both seen and heard."—History of the Prophet Joseph, ch. 31.

5. In an extended interview between Elders Orson Pratt, Joseph F. Smith (both of the council of the Twelve Apostles) and David Whitmer, at the home of Mr. Whitmer, in Richmond, Missouri, in September, 1878, the question was asked the then aged witness if he and the other witnesses did or did not sign the testimonies themselves. Whitmer replied that each signed his own name.—Pratt and Smith Report, Millennial Star, vol. 11, nos. 49, 50. Report is dated Sept. 17, 1878.

6. In the first edition of the Book of Mormon the testimony of Three Witnesses, and also the Testimony of Eight Witnesses appear at the end—or on the last two pages of the volume, instead of being, as in the later editions, on the page following the title-page. The first edition also had the following:

Preface.

To the Reader—

As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work; but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing; therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Wherefore to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have through His grace and mercy, accomplished that which He hath commanded me, respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New York.

The Author

7. According to Lucy Smith (see History of the Prophet Joseph, ch. 31) the eight witnesses obtained a view of the plates near the Smith residence at Manchester. It was on the occasion of the Prophet Joseph's coming over to Manchester from Fayette, accompanied by several of the Whitmers and Hiram Page, to make arrangements about getting the Book of Mormon printed. After arriving at the Smith residence, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith, joined Joseph's company from Fayette, and together they repaired to a place in the woods where members of the Smith family were wont to hold secret prayer, and there the plates were shown to these eight witness by the Prophet himself. The difference between the testimony given the Three Witnesses and that given to the Eight, is that the former was attended by a splendid display of the glory and power of God and the ministration of an angel, while the latter was attended by no such display, but was a plain, matter-of-fact exhibition of the plates by the Prophet to his friends, and they not only saw the plates, but handled them and examined the engravings upon them.

8. In the first edition, the words "Author and Proprietor" appear instead of the word "translator." The reason for this is obvious. Under the laws then existing the copyright was secured to "authors and proprietors;" and hence on the title page of the first edition, "Joseph Smith, Junior, author and proprietor," takes the place of the line "Translated by Joseph Smith, Jun.," in the later editions. The Prophet merely adopted the phraseology of the law. Preceding the preface to the first edition appears the following certificate of copyright, which is interesting not only as explaining the foregoing point, but also as preserving an important date in Church history:

Northern District of New York, to wit:

Be it Remembered, That on the eleventh day of June, in the fifty-third year of the independence of the United States of America, A. D. 1829, JOSEPH SMITH JUN., of the said district, hath deposited in this office the title of a Book, the right whereof the claims as author, in the words following to wit: [Here follows the title page with the words, "By Joseph Smith, Junior, Author and Proprietor, Palmyra: Printed by E. B. Grandin for the Author. 1830."]

In conformity to the act of the Congress of the United States, entitled "An act for the encouragement of learning by securing the copies of Maps, Charts and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned;" and also the act, entitled, "An act supplementary to an act, entitled, 'An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned,' and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints."

R. R. Lansing,

Clerk of the Northern District of New York.