Section 5

Historical Background

After the loss of the 116 pages in the end of June 1828, Martin Harris attended to business in Palmyra while the Prophet went back to Harmony, PA. There is no record of another meeting between the two until Martin comes to visit in March 1829. One might wonder if Joseph was angry at Martin for what had happened. While he may have felt betrayed, Joseph was not one to hold grudges. His petition of the Lord on Martin's behalf indicates that Joseph and Martin were still friends. The Prophet's spirit of forgiveness was-and would continue to be-amazing.

DC 5:1 Martin Harris has desired a witness...that you...have got the plates

You would think that after the loss of the 116 pages that Martin would not dare to tempt the Lord by requesting a witness at his hand. Had he not already received a witness? Had he not seen the transcription of the reformed Egyptian characters? Had he not been told by professor Charles Anthon that both the characters and the translation were authentic? What more witness does he need?

Think for a moment about what Martin has already experienced. He was privileged to act as a scribe as Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. What a privilege! Of this glorious process, Oliver Cowdery wrote: "These were days never to be forgotten-to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim." (JS-Hist, footnote) Had not Martin received the same opportunity? Had he not held the 116 pages in his hand? And what about when those precious pages were lost? Did he not witness the singular reaction of the Prophet? Did he not witness that young Joseph was distraught and forlorn-not as one who had lost the first section of a fictional manuscript-but as one who had violated the strict commandments of Almighty God?

Sometimes when we ask God for a witness, we are like Martin Harris. We petition with our mouths while our eyes are blind to all the witnesses he has already given us. Our demand for proof can only weary the Lord and grieve the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the Lord is merciful and patient with us-and with Martin Harris. In spite of all the witnesses already given, Martin would eventually be given indisputable evidence as one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon.

DC 5:3 you should not show them except to those persons to whom I commanded you

   "[The angel Moroni] told me, that when I got those plates of which he had spoken...I should not show them to any person; neither the breastplate with the Urim and Thummim; only to those to whom I should be commanded to show them; if I did I should be destroyed." (JS-Hist. 1:42)

DC 5:4 I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished

James E. Faust

The Lord made it clear that the gift to translate, transcendingly important as it was, was only Joseph's first gift; once the translation was completed, other gifts and responsibilities would follow.

It is interesting to observe how rapidly the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith unfolded after the Book of Mormon was translated and published. Priesthood authority and many gospel doctrines were restored during the translation process. Once the translation was finished and without delay, the first missionaries went out, and the Church was organized. We can conclude from this that the Book of Mormon was necessary both to weave the threads of the prophetic mantle of Joseph Smith and to lay the foundation for restoring the dispensation of the fulness of times. ("Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon," Ensign, Jan. 1996, 5)

DC 5:7 if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you

   "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you...

   Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (Jn. 15:18, 20)  

Joseph Smith

I have not the least idea (i.e. doubt), if Christ should come to the earth and preach such rough things as He preached to the Jews, but that this generation would reject Him. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 307.)

DC 5:7 they would not believe you...if it were possible that you should show them all these things

Would more people be converted if they could see the gold plates? Imagine a display at the Church History Museum which includes the plates, the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, and the sword of Laban. Wouldn't visitors to the museum have to believe that the Book of Mormon is true? The Lord's answer is "No!"-they would not believe even if it were possible to show them all these things.

"The Lord is not adverse to giving signs. He loves to give signs; he greatly desires to provide evidence; he is willing to prove all his works. But, these signs, evidences, and proofs have real meaning and significance only to those who have faith. Signs follow faith; they do not precede it. Signs are given to help develop faith already present; they are not given to produce or replace faith. Thus if we are interested in finding proof of the Book of Mormon we should begin by seeking faith rather than by seeking signs.

"If the world understood this principle and also the scriptures pertaining to it, they would also understand why the Lord does not have the gold plates displayed in the Church museum, or why he does not send an angel to demonstrate the Urim and Thummim on television...'Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.' (Ether 12:6)" (Daniel H. Ludlow, "A Priceless Possession," New Era, Oct. 1986, 48)

Joseph Fielding Smith

This revelation declared that this generation shall have the word of the Lord through Joseph Smith. There may be some who think that this is unreasonable, and the Lord should use some miraculous means to convert the world. Frequently when strangers visit the Bureau of Information and they hear the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, they ask if the plates are in some museum where they may be seen. Some of them with some scientific training, express themselves to the effect that if the scholars could see and examine the plates and learn to read them, they would then bear witness to the truth of the Book of Mormon and the veracity of Joseph Smith and the whole world would then be converted. When they are informed that the angel took the plates back again, they turn away in their skepticism shaking their heads, but the Lord has said: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," saith the Lord. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9.) We have learned that people are not converted by miracles or by examining records. If the Lord had placed the plates where the scholars could examine them, they would have scoffed at them just as much as they do today. People are converted by their hearts being penetrated by the Spirit of the Lord when they humbly hearken to the testimonies of the Lord's servants. The Jews witnessed the miracles of our Lord, but this did not prevent them from crying out against him and having him crucified. (Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1946-1949], 1: 36 - 37.)

DC 5:8 Oh, this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation

Orson Pratt

We ask this generation to bring, one living witness that has seen even one of the original manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible. They cannot do it. There is not one solitary original manuscript of any book of the Bible now known among men; neither has there been any such manuscript known for very many centuries. Therefore this generation have twelve eye witnesses of the original of the Book of Mormon whereas they have not even one eye witness of the original of any book of the Bible. Therefore if rejecting the evidences which we have of the truth of the Bible will bring condemnation how much greater must be the condemnation of this generation if they reject the far greater evidences of the Book of Mormon! O the unbelief and inconsistency of this generation! How can they escape the sword of justice which hangs over them! They are drunken in iniquity, and the spirit of deep sleep is upon them and they know not the day of their visitation! Like beasts they will be led to the slaughter and quickly go down into the pit! ("Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," Latter-day Tracts, p. 58)

DC 5:10 this generation shall have my word through you

Bruce R. McConkie

...when the Lord said to Joseph Smith, "This generation shall have my word through you" (D&C 5:10), it was as if he had said, in effect, "This generation is appointed to receive my word through Joseph Smith and the revelations which I have given unto him. These revelations include, among other things, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Previous generations were appointed to receive my word through Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and others. But this generation is to receive my word through Joseph Smith, for it is my eternal and unchanging practice that men always receive and understand the gospel through the ministration of living prophets." (Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1998], 5.)

Gerald N. Lund

"I've listed the most prolific scriptural producers besides Joseph Smith:

Mormon 338 pages
Moses 308 pages
Jeremiah 170 pages
Paul 122 pages
Nephi 117 pages
Luke 103 pages
Unknown writer of Chronicles 86 pages
Isaiah 81 pages
Unknown writer of 1 and 2 Samuel 81 pages
John 74 pages

"Now consider Joseph Smith's accomplishments in bringing forth scripture:

Book of Mormon 531 pages
Doctrine and Covenants 1-134 280 pages
Pearl of Great Price 58 pages
Joseph Smith Translation 30 pages

"These 10 most prolific scriptural producers authored a total of 1,480 pages. Joseph Smith alone was responsible for 900. His total pages equal nearly 61 percent of the total pages of the other top 10 producers, and he is responsible for nearly three times as many pages as either of the two next highest scriptural producers, Mormon and Moses. Before Joseph Smith, the world had only the 1,590 pages of the Bible; through this one man, the Lord increased our scriptural library by more than half.

"Yet counting pages serves only to indicate how prodigious the Prophet Joseph Smith's efforts were; what really matters is the content of the new scriptures that he gave to the world. Joseph Smith gave us new or expanded knowledge about a full spectrum of gospel topics:

  • The nature of the Godhead
  • The role and functions of the Holy Ghost
  • The nature of intelligences
  • The premortal existence
  • The Council in Heaven
  • Jesus Christ's and Lucifer's premortal roles
  • The Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement
  • Family and parental responsibilities
  • Priesthood keys, organization, and ordinances
  • The laws of consecration and stewardship
  • The temple endowment and temple sealings
  • Work for the dead
  • Spirit paradise and spirit prison
  • The Second Coming of Jesus Christ
  • The three degrees of glory and outer darkness

"In addition to canonized scripture, Joseph Smith also gave us many journals, sermons, lectures, and histories that provide additional gospel teachings and knowledge of the Lord's work in the latter days. As the Lord Jesus Christ said, 'This generation shall have my word through you [the Prophet Joseph Smith]' (D&C 5:10).

"In fact, it could be truly said that the depth and consistency of the gospel's saving doctrines can be traced to the Prophet Joseph Smith's accomplishment in bringing forth new scriptures. 'I never told you I was perfect,' Joseph Smith said, 'but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught' (History of the Church, 6:366)." ("A Prophet for the Fulness of Times," Ensign, Jan. 1997, 52-53)

DC 5:11 the testimony of three of my servants...shall go forth with my words

Dallin H. Oaks

The three men chosen as witnesses of the Book of Mormon were Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. Their written 'Testimony of Three Witnesses' has been included in all of the almost 100 million copies of the Book of Mormon the Church has published since 1830. These witnesses solemnly testify that they "have seen the plates which contain this record" and "the engravings which are upon the plates." They witness that these writings "have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us."

...People who deny the possibility of supernatural beings may reject this remarkable testimony, but people who are open to believe in miraculous experiences should find it compelling. The solemn written testimony of three witnesses to what they saw and heard-two of them simultaneously and the third almost immediately thereafter-is entitled to great weight.

...Measured against all...possible objections, the testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon stands forth in great strength. Each of the three had ample reason and opportunity to renounce his testimony if it had been false, or to equivocate on details if any had been inaccurate. As is well known, because of disagreements or jealousies involving other leaders of the Church, each one of these three witnesses was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by about eight years after the publication of their testimony. All three went their separate ways, with no common interest to support a collusive effort. Yet to the end of their lives-periods ranging from 12 to 50 years after their excommunications-not one of these witnesses deviated from his published testimony or said anything that cast any shadow on its truthfulness. ("The Witness: Martin Harris," Ensign, May 1999, 35-36)

DC 5:12 from heaven will I declare it unto them

In contrast to the eight witnesses, the three witnesses saw more than just the plates. David Whitmer recorded that they also saw the Urim and Thummim, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona. (Book of Mormon Compendium, pp. 55-56) Furthermore, they saw the angel Moroni and heard a voice from heaven declaring that the translation was of God. The Lord very literally declared it unto them from heaven.

Joseph Smith

...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 thereon 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."

...Having thus, through the mercy of God, obtained these glorious manifestations, it now remained for these three individuals to fulfill the commandment which they had received, viz., to bear record of these things. (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:54-56)

DC 5:19 a desolating scourge shall go forth

Marion G. Romney

The time is short; a world calamity can be avoided only if enough people can be brought to humble themselves and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The revelations of the Lord are explicit as to what will occur if this fails. Among other things, the Lord says that "a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming" (D&C 5:19).

Whether the world will take the way of escape is not, however, the determining factor with us. We must do all we can to take the revealed means of escape to them and with all our power entreat them to embrace it. ("Guidance of the Holy Spirit," Ensign, Jan. 1980, 4)

Marion G. Romney

There is but one way these impending calamities can be avoided, and that way is repentance.

You know and I know that the inhabitants of the earth are steeped in sin and iniquity and that they are sinking deeper into the mire every day.

But-and this is the glorious message-the Lord not only gave the warnings; He also revealed anew the means by which the ominous calamities may be averted. ("The Tragic Cycle," Ensign, Nov. 1977, 16)

DC 5:21 I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me

James E. Faust

I am impressed with [Joseph's] complete candor, for in addition to admitting his own humanness, he also recorded the declarations from the Lord which were given to him in the nature of loving reproof. As such reminders came to him, sometimes kindly and sometimes sternly..."And now I command you, my servant Joseph, to repent and walk more uprightly before me, and to yield to the persuasions of men no more."

While Joseph sought perfection, he did not claim perfection. If he were intending to fabricate a great falsehood or wanted to perpetrate a fraud or practice deceit, would he have been so truthful about his own humanness? His complete candor in admitting human frailties and in declaring the loving discipline of God offers powerful proof of his honesty. ("The Expanding Inheritance from Joseph Smith," Ensign, Nov. 1981, 76-77)

DC 5:22 even if you should be slain

Joseph was smart enough to know that the Lord was very careful in the way he revealed his word. This must have been one of the first indications that the Prophet would be martyred. Over the ensuing 15 years, Joseph's prophetic understanding of his own death would become more and more clear.

DC 5:24 if he will bow down before me, and humble himself...then will I grant unto him a view

The Lord's requirement of Martin was that he would humble himself. This was not an easy requirement for him. Even after he had pleaded with Joseph for the privilege of being one of the three witnesses, he had still not humbled himself sufficiently. "When the time arrived for the manifestation of the power of the Lord to the witnesses, as was the custom, early in the morning the little group at the Whitmer home engaged in singing and prayer. At the close of these services Joseph Smith arose and approaching Martin Harris said: 'Martin Harris, you have got to humble yourself before 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.'" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Essentials in Church History [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1950], 62.)

The three went into the woods to pray. Each of the four men prayed in turn, but nothing happened. "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." (History of the Church, 1: 54 - 55.) Martin left the group and began praying fervently. The historical record doesn't say what the problem was, but it would seem clear that Martin was still trying to humble himself before the Lord. The Lord would not exalt him as one of the Three Witnesses, if he did not first exhibit humility as commanded. While he struggled in the spirit, David, Oliver, and Joseph conversed with Moroni and viewed the plates. At length, with the help of Joseph, Martin would succeed.

Joseph Smith

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. (History of the Church, 1: 55.)

DC 5:25 then he shall say...Behold I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith

Martin Harris, as with the other witnesses of the Book of Mormon, was given a specific charge to testify of what he would see. All three witnesses kept this charge as if their very salvation depended on it. Perhaps we should review just one episode in the life of Martin Harris which illustrates how true he was to this charge. The time was 1869. Martin was living in Kirtland, Ohio. Estranged from the church, he was nonetheless acting as the self-appointed custodian of the Kirtland temple. A missionary, named William Homer, while returning from his mission to England, decided to visit the historic site. His tour guide was none other than Martin Harris! Angry with Brigham Young, Martin referred to the church members disparagingly as "Brighamite Mormons." Near the end of Elder Homer's tour, he mustered the courage to ask the old man, "What about your testimony to the Book of Mormon? Do you still believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet?" His reply is recorded as follows:

"A changed old man stood before me. It was no longer a man with an imagined grievance. It was a man with a message, a man with a noble conviction in his heart, a man inspired of God and endowed with divine knowledge. Through the broken window of the Temple shone the winter sun, clear and radiant.

"'Young man,' answered Martin Harris with impressiveness, 'Do I believe it! Do I see the sun shining! Just as surely as the sun is shining on us and gives us light, and the ... [moon] and stars give us light by night, just as surely as the breath of life sustains us, so surely do I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, chosen of God to open the last dispensation of the fulness of times; so surely do I know that the Book of Mormon was divinely translated. I saw the plates; I saw the Angel; I heard the voice of God. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God. I might as well doubt my own existence as to doubt the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon or the divine calling of Joseph Smith.' It was a sublime moment. It was a wonderful testimony. We were thrilled to the very roots of our hair. The shabby, emaciated little man before us was transformed as he stood with hand outstretched toward the sun of heaven. A halo seemed to encircle him. A divine fire glowed in his eyes. His voice throbbed with the sincerity and the conviction of his message. It was the real Martin Harris whose burning testimony no power on earth could quench. It was the most thrilling moment of my life.

"I asked Martin Harris how he could bear so wonderful a testimony after having left the Church. He said, 'Young man, I never did leave the Church the Church left me.'" (Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses, pp. 17-18)

DC 5:33 there are many that lie in wait to destroy thee

It is fair to say the mission of Joseph Smith mobilized the armies of hell in greater numbers than in any day since Jesus Christ. Joseph is only 23 years old and already "the very jaws of hell...gape open the mouth wide after" him (DC 122:7). Satan and his servants have laid a trap at every door, a stumbling block in every road, and an ambush around every corner. Only with the Lord's help would Joseph succeed.

Wilford Woodruff

The Lord told Joseph that he would prove him, whether he would abide in his covenant or not, even unto death. He did prove him; and, although he had the whole world to contend against, and the treachery of false friends to withstand, although his whole life was a scene of trouble and anxiety and care, yet, in all his afflictions, his imprisonments, the mobbings and ill-treatment he passed through, he was ever true to his God, and true to his friends. (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, edited by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969], 33.)

DC 5:34 Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means

The Lord is commanding Joseph to hold off on the translation until the Lord provides him with a scribe. Oliver Cowdery would be the means whereby Joseph would accomplish the thing (i.e. translation) which the Lord had commanded him.

DC 5:35 if thou art faithful...thou shalt be lifted up at the last day

John Taylor

If I am doing right, I am preparing for thrones, principalities, and dominions, resolved by the help of God that no man shall rob me of my crown. With this view of the subject, all the outward circumstances of this life do not trouble me. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 54.)