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A revelation given to Joseph Smith, 1829.

"And in addition to your testimony, the testimony of three of my servants, whom I shall call and ordain, unto whom I will show these things, and they shall go forth with my words that are given through you. Yea, they shall know of a surety that these things are true, for from heaven will I declare it unto them." (D. & C. 5:11-12)

Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer. Martin Harris 

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."

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris 

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Joseph Smith recorded that:
Before Oliver Cowdery came to assist in the work of translation. Oliver Cowdery saw the plates.  And Joseph Smith stated that the Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery and showed unto him the plates in a vision, and also the truth of the work, and what the Lord was about to do through me, his unworthy servant. Therefore, he was desirous to come and write for me, and translate.”
(The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, p. 8. Spelling and punctuation modernized.)
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The following information is from:
Church History & Modern Revelation, Vol. 1
By Joseph Fielding Smith

The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded:
"In the course of the work of 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, as will be found recorded, Book of Mormon, Book of Ether, chapter 5, verses 1, and also 2 Nephi 11, verse 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 at length I complied; and through the Urim and Thummim, I obtained of the Lord for them the following.”
Then follows the revelation known as [D.&C Section 17]  They were informed that in order to have their wish granted they would have to have faith and after they had received the witness they would have to testify of these things to the world. This they were eager to do. Therefore not many days after this revelation was given the three with Joseph Smith retired to the woods to try by humble and fervent prayer to obtain fulfilment of this promise. The woods were near the Whitmer home. When the four young men had located a convenient place they knelt and each prayed in turn asking the Lord to grant to them the realization of the promise. The Prophet prayed first and after they had each prayed in turn and no answer came, they commenced again each praying in succession, but with the same result as before. 

When the second series of prayers failed, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw from the others, believing that he was the cause of the failure. He accordingly withdrew from them, and they knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when presently they beheld a light above them in the air, of exceeding brightness and the angel stood before [Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer].

"In his hands he [the Angle Mormori] 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 [the Angle Moroni] then addressed David Whitmer, and said, "David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps his commandments."
Since David Whitmer is the only one of the three who turned away from the Church and did not return, this remark seems significant. Immediately following their examination of the plates and evidently the other contents of the box in which they were deposited, they heard the voice of the Lord speaking to them from the heavens and 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." 

After this vision closed the Prophet went in search of Martin Harris and found him earnestly praying and asking for the witness. He told the Prophet that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested the same blessings which the others had just received.

"We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had 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 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." 

Before the witnesses left the home to go to the woods to pray family devotion was held, with 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. Mother Smith records that after the prayer "Joseph arose from his knees, and approaching Martin Harris with a solemnity that thrills through my veins to this day, when it occurs to my recollection, and 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.'" (History of Joseph Smith, Ch. 31.)
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Elder B. H. Roberts in a note in the Documentary History (p 55) says:
"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—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 the testimony which, after his withdrawal from them, appears to have been given so readily to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer.
The consequences following the rejection of such strong, divine, and attested witness, is exceedingly great. After hearing such testimony as has been given by these witnesses and which is contained in the Book of Mormon itself, it should cause any person who has heard it to quake with fear in the very thought of rejecting any part of it. The Lord said to Nephi: "Wherefore the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!" (2 Nephi 27:14.) Compare this with the testimony of Nephi in 2 Nephi 33:9 to end, and the testimony of Moroni in Moroni 10:27.

[We]
should carefully study the solemn testimony of the Three Witnesses and also the Eight in the light of the weight of evidence which each contains. …that testimony was given in the closing years of their lives, weighing carefully this evidence…. It should be pointed out that not one of these eleven witnesses ever denied the testimony he had received."
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 The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, writes:
"When they returned to the house it was between three and four o'clock, p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith (the Prophet's father) and myself, were sitting in a 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 Joseph Smith.") 
 
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In 1878, David Whitmer was asked by Parley Pratt to give his recollections of seeing the plates with Joseph and Oliver.

David Whitmer, who had been separated from the Church declared the following: 

"It was in June, 1829--the latter part of the month, and the Eight Witnesses saw them, I think, the next day or the day after (i.e. one or two days after). Joseph showed them the plates himself, but the angel showed us (the Three Witnesses) the plates, as I suppose to fulfill the words of the book itself. Martin Harris was not with us at this time; he obtained a view of them afterwards (the same day). Joseph, Oliver and myself were together when I saw them. We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer, sitting a few feet from him), there appeared, as it were, a table with many records or plates upon it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the sword of Laban, the directors--i. e., the ball which Lehi had, and the interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God." ("David Whitmer Interview" Millennial Star, vol. 40, nos. 49, 50, report of Pratt and Smith, is signed by them and bears date of Sept. 17, 1878.)

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David Whitmer was accused by one of his Missouri neighbors of having denied his testimony. Reports of that denial were published in two encyclopedias.
David replied to that report in 1881 with a statement published in the Richmond Conservator, the New York Times, and the London Times as follows;

"Unto all nations, tongues, and people unto who these presents shall come: It having been represented by one John Murphy of Palo, Caldwell County, Missouri, that I in conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon; to the end thereof that he may understand me now if he did not then, and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing in the very sunset of life and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement: I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I have always adhered to that testimony. I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published. It was no delusion. In the spirit of Christ I submit these statements unto the world, God being my judge as the sincerity of my motives. Signed and sealed: David Whitmer."  (Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:268-269)
Published along with David‘s response, is the following statement signed by twenty-one prominent business and professional men of Richmond, ―We the undersigned citizens of Richmond, Ray Colesville., Mo., where David Whitmer Sr. has resided since 1838, certify that we have been long and intimately acquainted with him, and know him to be a man of highest integrity and of undoubted truth and veracity. Given at Richmond, Missouri, this March 20th A.D., 1881.

On the evening prior to his death, David Whitmer made this statement,  "Now, you must all be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all, that the Bible and the Record of the Nephites [Book of Mormon], are true, so you can say you have heard me bear my testimony on my deathbed."  (Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:268-269)

Additional Information:
David Whitmer, Info. by Jack West, pdf

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An 1859 Interview with Martin Harris by Joel Tiffany;
Note: This interview was 29 years after they, the three witnesses, were given the privilege to see the Book of Mormon plates. 

  << Martin Harris

 “THE following narration we took down from the lips of Martin Harris, and read the same to him after it was written, that we might be certain of giving his statement to the world. We made a journey to Ohio for the purpose of obtaining it, in the latter part of January, 1859. We did this that the world might have [an] account…from the lips of one of the original witnesses…”

    Mr. Harris says: "Joseph Smith, jr.,…on the 22d day of September, 1827, [received] the plates of gold upon…, or the Book of Mormon. I was not with him at the time, but I had a revelation the summer before, that God had a work for me to do. These plates were found at the north point of a hill two miles north of Manchester village. 

 

    They [the plates] were placed in this way: four stones were set up and covered with a flat stone, oval on the upper side and flat on the bottom. Beneath this was a little platform upon which the plates were laid; and the two stones set in a bow of silver by means of which the plates were translated, were found underneath the plates.

 

    "These plates were seven inches wide by eight inches in length, and were of the thickness of plates of tin; and when piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick; and they were put together on the back by three silver rings, so that they would open like a book."


 

"These plates were usually kept in a cherry box made for that purpose, in the possession of Joseph and myself. The plates were kept from the sight of the world…"

Mr. Harris continues:  "I hefted the plates many times, and should think they weighed forty or fifty pounds…."

 

 << Cherry Box 


    "While at Mr. Smith’s I hefted the plates, and I knew from the heft that they were lead or gold, and I knew that Joseph had not credit enough to buy so much lead. I left Mr. Smith’s about eleven o’clock and went home. I retired to my bedroom and prayed God to show me concerning these things, and I covenanted that if it was his work and he would show me so, I would put forth my best ability to bring it before the world. He then showed me that it was his work, and that it was designed to bring in the fullness of his gospel to the gentiles to fulfill his word, that the first shall be last and the last first. He showed this to me by the still small voice spoken in the soul. Then I was satisfied that it was the Lord’s work, and I was under a covenant to bring it forth."

Sourse of Information:

 TIffany's Monthly 5 (August 1859): pages 163-170
Martin Harris' 1859 Interview with Joel Tiffany on Early Events in Mormonism
Mormonism--II," Copy located at American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass.


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"From April to June 1828, Martin acted as scribe for Joseph while the Prophet translated the plates. Promised that he could be one of the three, [witness], if he humbled himself before the Lord, (D&C 5:23–28). Martin left Harmony rejoicing. While traveling, Martin enthusiastically told his fellow stagecoach passengers of his experiences with Joseph. One of these passengers later wrote of this event and recounted, “Smith read to him a good deal of the [gold] bible [and Martin] repeated to those in the Stage verse after verse of what Smith had read to him.”  (William S. Sayre to James T. Cobb, August 31, 1878, Theodore A. Schroeder Papers, Wisconsin State Historical Society Archives, Madison, Wisconsin, USA, cited in Larry E. Morris, “The Conversion of Oliver Cowdery,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 16, no. 1 (2007): 15.)

  << President David O. McKay

President David O. McKay stated the following;
 "
MARTIN HARRIS. After many years' absence from the Church, Martin Harris went west and in one of the general conferences of the Church bore his testimony in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. In my early childhood and youth I heard my mother testify that she and Father heard Martin Harris bear testimony to the divinity of the Book of Mormon."  (Gospel Ideas, p. 86-87)

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Oliver Cowdery 1806-1850 Schoolmaster, later he practiced law and was hired at times as a prosecuting attorney.
A statement given by Oliver Cowdery on October 1848:
"…I wrote, with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon [save a few pages] as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith." "…that book is true."
 
                                                    (Kanesville, Iowa Conference Oct. 21, 1848)          

 

David Whitmer 1805-1888 Prominent businessman.  Elected to the city council, and later mayor of Richmond, Missouri in 1867. 
Just before his death in 1888 he called his family and a few friends to his bedside and stated "I want to say to you all, the Bible and the record of the Nephites [the Book of Mormon] is true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death-bead."
(LDS Biographical Encyclopedia 1:270) 

 

 

Martin Harris 1783-1875  "a gentleman and a farmer of respectability" of Palmyra New York.

On his death bead in 1875 Martin Harris said: "Yes I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written; I did see the Angel; I did hear the voice of God; and I do know that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God…"  (William H. Homer July 1875) 

 

Additional Information::

The Life of Martin Harris: Patterns of Humility and Repentance   (July 2012 Ensign)

Did any of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon ever recant their written testimonies?   (Fair Mormon)