Each Tuesday Scot or Maurine Proctor will publish an article about the Book of Mormon to accompany your studies this year.
Joseph Smith carried a great burden beginning just after midnight, Saturday, September 22, 1827. He was commanded by the Angel Moroni to show the plates to no one. He was there that night with Emma. He could not show the plates to her. He was living in his home with his beloved parents, Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith. He could not show the plates to them. Joseph Knight, Sr. and Josiah Stowell, friends and employers of Joseph were at the Smith home that night. He could not show the plates to them. Joseph’s closest brother, Hyrum, and his wife, Jerusha, lived a few hundred yards from Joseph and Emma. He could not show the plates to them. Emma’s skeptical parents, Isaac and Elizabeth Hale, demanded to see the gold plates or they threatened not to have Joseph and Emma in their home. Joseph could not show the plates to them. Joseph was alone in this thing.
Those to Assist in the Work
As the work of translation began, one of his great friends offered his services as scribe for the work—Martin Harris. Martin was twenty-two years older than Joseph. Martin had liquidated all of Joseph and Emma’s debts. He had given them fifty dollars (an equivalent sum to about $2,500 in our day’s money) to make the 135-mile move from Palmyra, New York, to Harmony, Pennsylvania. He had given young Joseph employment on a number of occasions. Joseph could not show the plate to Martin. At least not yet.
Another young man would arrive on the scene, Sunday evening, April 5, 1829, in Harmony. He had been a schoolteacher in the area of Manchester (near Palmyra) and had boarded with the Smith family. The family had come to treat him as a son and had confided in him some details about the coming forth of the plates. This man was Oliver Cowdery. A desire welled up in Oliver to become a scribe for Joseph in this great work. Oliver’s arrival that Sunday evening was an answer to Joseph’s prayers as he so desperately needed a scribe. The great work of translation began on Tuesday, April 7. Joseph could not show the plates to Oliver. At least not yet.
As persecutions arose in and around Harmony, Pennsylvania, Joseph was commanded to write another man about 110 miles to the north, in Fayette, Seneca County, New York. This man would make the three-days’ journey to Harmony in his wagon, pick up Joseph and Oliver and bring them to his parents’ home to stay. He offered the small party free room and board, his own services as a scribe and anything else that was needed. This man was David Whitmer. Joseph could not show the plates to him. At least not yet.
The great burden of carrying this knowledge alone still rested heavily upon Joseph’s shoulders.
A Change was Coming
Joseph must have had a surge of joy one day as he was translating and came upon this passage in the record:
“Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.” (2 Nephi 27: 12).
Some weeks later Joseph would translate an even more specific passage in the Book of Ether:
“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.” (Ether 5: 2-4)
The timing of the translation of these last verses seems to fall in the early part of June, 1829, soon after Joseph and his party had moved to the Whitmer home in Fayette. They may well have been the motivation that Joseph needed to ask the Lord for three others to also be shown the plates. The time had come when the Lord would deem fit to lift this great burden off of Joseph’s shoulders—the burden of being the only one who had seen, touched and handled the plates.
The Glorious Day Arrived
Lucy Mack Smith records the event as she was there in the Whitmer home that unforgettable day:
“The next morning after breakfast, we repaired to the sitting room, and after attending the morning service, namely reading, singing, and praying, Joseph arose from his knees and approached Martin with a solemnity which thrills through my veins to this day, whenever it comes to my recollection. ‘Martin Harris,’ he said, ‘you have got to humble yourself before your God this day and obtain, if possible, a forgiveness of your sins. If you will do this, it is God's will that you and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer should look upon the plates.’
“Soon after this, these four left and went into a grove a short distance from the house, where they continued in earnest supplication to God, until he permitted an angel from his presence to bear to them a message, declaring to them that all which Joseph had testified of concerning the plates was true, and showing them the same.
“When they returned to the house, it was between three and four o'clock. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith, and myself were sitting in a bedroom, myself on a bedside. When Joseph came in, he threw himself down beside me and exclaimed, ‘Father! Mother! You do not know how happy I am. The Lord has caused the plates to be shown to three more besides me. They have also seen an angel and will have to testify to the truth of what I have said, for they know for themselves that I do not go about to deceive the people. I do feel as though I was relieved of a dreadful burden which was almost too much for me to endure. But they will now have to bear a part, and it does rejoice my soul that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.’
“Martin Harris then came in. He seemed almost overcome with an excess of joy. He then testified to what he had seen and heard, as did also the others, Oliver and David, who added that no tongue could express the joy of their hearts and the greatness of the things which they had both seen and heard…”[i]
“Martin Harris seemed particularly willing to give out his feelings in words. He said, ‘I have now seen an angel from heaven who has of a surety testified of the truth of all that I have heard concerning the record.