The Three Witnesses View the Book of Mormon by the Power of God
The Three Witnesses,
By Joseph Lewis
This painting by Joseph Lewis depicts the angel showing the gold plates of the Book of Mormon and other religious artifacts to David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Joseph Smith, Jr. Martin Harris, who had withdrawn himself from the group, can be seen in the distance praying. When Joseph Smith joined him in prayer moments later, he beheld the same vision.
According to David Whitmer, "a light from heaven shone round us, and solemnity pervaded our minds. The angel appeared in the light, as near as [five or six feet away]. Between us and the angel there appeared a table, and there lay upon it the Sword of Laban, the Ball of Directors, the Record [Book of Mormon plates] and the Interpreters. The angel took the record and turned the leaves, and showed it to us by the power of God" (Story of the Church, p. 71).
Following are the words of Joseph Smith as he tells of this event (Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story, pp. 29–33).
In the course of the work of the translation, we ascertained that three special witnesses 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. 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 to be these three special witnesses.*
Not many days after . . . Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfillment of the promises given in the 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.
According to previous arrangements I commenced, by vocal prayer to our Heavenly Father, and was followed by each of the rest in succession. We did not yet, however, obtain any answer, or manifestation of the 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.
Upon this our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he would 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 withdrew 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 discover the engravings thereon distinctly.
He 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.”
I now left David and Oliver and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, who 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 to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in ecstasy of joy, “Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld,” and jumping up he shouted, “Hosannah!” blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly.
Having thus through the mercy of God obtained these manifestations, it now remained for these three individuals to fulfill the commandment which they had received; to bear record of these things . . . they drew up and subscribed the following document:
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 shewn 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.
Joseph Smith made inquiry of the Lord regarding this matter and received approval of these men as the three witnesses. (See RLDS DC 15.)
Prints of the above painting are available in various sizes for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.
Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story is available for purchase at the Restoration Bookstore or from our online store.