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(revised January 19, 2018)
It had been a long and lonely road for Joseph. He had a family who loved him and knew that he was an honest man. He also had a good wife. He had a few friends. These people had the faith to believe that Joseph was being directed by God. But many, many people hated him. And until this time he had been the only person to see or handle the gold plates and know for sure that the whole thing was real.
As the plates were being translated Joseph began to know that there would be three special witnesses to see and hold the plates. A witness is someone who actually sees something and knows that it is not just a story that someone made up.
There were three men who immediately wanted to be those witnesses. They were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. It would be nice to actually see gold plates that had writing on them from hundreds of years ago. They were probably very beautiful and they would be a curiosity. If they were in a museum people would go just to see them. But in this case the fact that God would let three men see them was very serious. In Section 15 of the Doctrine and Covenants we can read what God said to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. He told them that because of their faith they would see the gold plates, the breastplate, the Sword of Laban, and the Urim and Thummim. After they had seen them it would be their job to tell the world that they had seen them and that they were of God. This was necessary to help Joseph and to help God's plan. Joseph could not tell the world all by himself and expect very many people to believe him.
When God lets people know about something we call it a 'revelation'. A few days after the revelation to these three men, Joseph went with them into the woods to pray. The four of them prayed as humbly as they could to be shown the plates. When we are humble it means we are not thinking of ourselves and how wonderful we are, or thinking about what we can get for ourselves. Joseph prayed first, then the three men each prayed. Nothing happened. Joseph prayed again, and each man prayed a second time. Nothing happened.
You remember that it was Martin Harris who had lost the 116 pages of translation. It was because of his pride and disobedience that the pages were lost. Now Martin Harris did a very humble thing. He said he would leave. He felt that the reason the men had not been shown the plates was because of him. So he left and went to pray somewhere else.
Soon after Martin had left and the others were praying an angel appeared to them. The angel was holding the plates in his hands. He turned the leaves, or pages, one by one so that Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer could see them. He then said to David, "David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps his commandments." Probably the angel spoke to David because he was the newest in the group and much of this was new to David.
Then a voice from the light above them said, "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."
Joseph left Oliver and David and went to look for Martin Harris. Martin had been praying and praying. Martin asked Joseph to pray also so that he could see the plates too. Before they had finished praying the angel appeared again. He said and did the same things as before. Martin Harris jumped up in excitement and cried, "Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld," and "Hosanah". Martin Harris was very excited and happy, for he had really, really wanted to see the plates.
Soon after this Joseph was allowed to show the plates to eight other men. These men did not see the angel as the first three witnesses did, but they did see and handle the plates. These eight men were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr. (Joseph's father), Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith (two of Joseph's brothers).
In May 2, 1838 Joseph Smith Jr. was writing about this experience. He says that he delivered up all these things to the angel. It was understood from the beginning that Joseph was responsible for all the items which he had taken from the hill in September of 1827. Joseph says "I delivered them up to him, and he has them in his charge until this day,." If someone or some group tells you that they have some of these items in a safe vault somewhere, they are lying. The angel took them back. If someone tells you that an angel has returned them to somewhere, listen to their story and watch how they are living their lives. They may or may not be telling the truth. Listen to their story of how they treat these items. Do they treat them carefully, or do they smash them and apply harsh chemicals to them? We are told that the plates will be returned someday so that the rest of the pages, which had a seal on them can be translated too. Just don't believe whatever you are told without thinking, studying and praying about it.
The three witnesses wrote a special paper to tell the world what they had seen. The eight witnesses also wrote one. A copy of each is at the front of the Book of Mormon.
Many things happened in the lives of these eleven men, some good things, some bad things. Things did not always go smoothly as the church was organized and grew. But through good times and bad times these men all said that the Book of Mormon was true and was of God. Nothing could change their minds.
Adapted by Lois Anderson from
the History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Volume 1, pp. 18, 45-58
to be continued . . .
Copyright 2001 Lois M. Anderson: All Rights Reserved
Last revised: August 7, 2001