Joseph Smith – The Martin Harris Period of the Translation

This is a continuation of the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon that was published in the Times and Seasons in 1842. As found in all my write-ups from the original Times and Seasons publication and I have attempted to retain all grammar, punctuation, and misspellings of the original document.

The excitement however still continued, and rumor with her thousand tongues was all the time employed in circulating tales about my father’s family, and about myself. If I were to relate a thousandth part of them it would full up volumes. The persecution however became so intolerable that I was under the necessity of leaving Manchester, and going with my wife to Susquehannah county in the State of Pennsylvania: while preparing to start (being very poor and the persecution so heavy upon us that there was no probability that we would ever be otherwise, ) in the midst of our afflictions we found a friend in a gentleman by the name of Martin Harris, who came to us and gave me fifty dollars to assist us in our afflictions. Mr. Harris was a resident of Palmyra Township Wayne county, in the State of New York, and a farmer of respectability; by this timely aid was I enabled to reach the place of my destination in Pennsylvania, and immediately after my arrival there I commenced copying the characters of the plates. I copied a considerable number of them, and by means of the Urim and Thummim I translated some of them, which I did between the time I arrived at the house of my wife’s father in the month of December, and the February following. Some time in this month of February the aforementioned, Mr. Martin Harris came to our place, got the characters which I had drawn off the plates and started with them to the city of New York. For what took place relative to him and the characters, I refer to his own account of the circumstances as he related them to me after his return which was as follows. “I went to the city of New York and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof to Professor Anthony (appears to be a mistake – should be Professor Charles Anthon. I shall allow the mistake to perpetuate in this report), a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments; –Professor Anthony stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldeac, Assyriac, and Arabac, and he said that they were the true characters. He gave me a certificate certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation fo such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthony called me back, and asked me how the young man found out there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.

He then said to me, let me see that certificate, I accordingly took it out of my pocket and gave it to him, when he took it and tore it to pieces, saying that there was no such thing now as ministering of angels, and that if I would bring the plates to him, he would translate them. I informed him that part of the plates were sealed, and that I was forbidden to bring them, he replied ‘I cannot read a sealed book.’ I left him and went to Dr. Mitchel who sanctioned what Professor Anthony had said respecting both the characters and the translation.”

Mr. Harris having returned from this tour he left me and went home to Palmyra, arranged his affairs and returned again to my house about the twelfth of April, eighteen hundred and twenty eight, and commenced writing for me, while I translated from the plates, which we continued until the fourteenth of June following, by which time he had written one hundred and sixteen pages of manuscript on foolscap paper. Some time after Mr. Harris had begun to write for me he began to teaze me to give him liberty to carry the writings home and shew them, and desired of me that I wold enquire of the Lord through the Urim and Thummim if he might not do so. I did enquire, and the answer was that he must not. However he was not satisfied with this answer, and desired that I should enquire again. I did so, and the answer was as before. Still he could not be contented, but insisted that I should enquire once more. After much solicitation I again enquired of the Lord, and permission was granted him to have the writings on certain conditions, which were, that he shew them only to his brother Preserved Harris, his own wife, his father, and his mother, and a Mrs. Cobb, a sister to his wife. In accordance with this last answer I required of him that he should bind himself in a covenant to me in the most solemn manner, that he would not do otherwise than had been directed. He did so. He bound himself as I required of him, took the writings and went his way.

Notwithstanding however the great restrictions which he had been laid under, and the solemnity of the covenant which he had made with me, he did shew them to others , and by stratagem they got them away from him, and they never have been recovered nor obtained back again unto this day.

In the mean time while Martin Harris was gone with the writings, I went to visit my father’s family. at Manchester. I continued there for a short season and then returned to my place in Pennsylvania. Immediately after my return home I was walking out a little distance when behold the former heavenly messenger appeared and handed to me the Urim and Thummim again, (for it had be taken from me in consequence of my having wearied the Lord in asking for the privilege of letting Martin Harris take the writings which he lost by transgression, ) and I enquired of the Lord through them and obtained the following revelation:

Revelation to Joseph Smith, Jr. given July, 1828, concerning certain manuscripts on the first part of the book of Mormon, which had been taken from the possession of Martin Harris.

  1. The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God, cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to nought, for God doth not walk in crooked paths; neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; therefore his paths are strait and his course is one eternal round.
  2. Remember, remember, that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men: for although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet, if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at nought the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will, and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.
  3. Behold, you have been intrusted with these things, but how strict were your commandments; and remember, also, the promises which were made to you, if you did not transgress them; and behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men; for behold, you should not have feared man more than God, although men set a nought the counsels of God, and despise his words, yet you should have been faithful and he would have extended his arm, and support you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble.
  4. Behold thou art Joseph, and thou wast chosen to do the work of the Lord, but because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall, but remember God is merciful: therefore repent of that which thou hast done, which is contrary to the commandment which I gave you, and thou are still chosen, and art again called to the work; except thou do this, thou shalt be delivered up and become as other men, and have no more gift.
  5. And when thou deliveredst up that which God had given thee sight and power to translate, thou deliveredst up that which was sacred, into the hands of a wicked man, who has set at nought the counsels of God, and has broken the most sacred promises, which were made before God, and has depended upon his own judgement, and boasted in his own wisdom, and this is the reason that thou hast lost thy privileges for a season, for thou hast suffered the counsel of thy director to be trampled upon from the beginning,.
  6. Nevertheless my work shall go forth, for, inasmuch as the knowledge of a Saviour has come unto the world, through the testimony of the Jews, even so shall the knowledge of a Saviour come unto my people; and to the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, through the testimony of their fathers; and this testimony shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, who dwindle in unbelief because of the iniquity of their fathers, whom the Lord has suffered to destroy their brethren the Nephites, because of their iniquities and their abominations; and for this very purpose are these plates preserved which contain these records, that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; and that the Lamanites might come to the kdowledge(spelling) of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through their repentance they might be saved: Amen.

After I had obtained the above revelation, both the plates and the Urim and Thummim were taken from me again; but in a few days they were returned to me, when I enquired of the Lord, and the Lord said thus unto me.

Revelation given to Joseph Smith. jr. May 1829, informing him of the alteration of the Manuscript of the fore part of the Book of Mormon.

  1. Now behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up those writings which you had power given unto you to translate, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands of a wicked man, you have lost them: and you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened; nevertheless, it is now restored unto you again, therefore see that you are faithful and continue on unto the finishing of the remainder of the work of translation as you have begun; do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided to enable you to translate; but be diligent unto the end: pray always that you may come off conqueror; yea that you may conquer satan and that you may escape the hands of the servants of satan, that do uphold his work. Behold they have sought to destroy you; yea, even the man in whom you have trusted, has sought to destroy you. And for this cause I said that he is a wicked man, for he has sought to take away the things wherewith you have been entrusted; and he has also sought to destroy your gift, and because you have delivered the writings into his hands, behold wicked men have taken them from you; therefore you have delivered them up, yea, that which was sacred unto wickedness. And behold satan has put in into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands; and behold I say unto you, that because they have altered the words, they read contrary from that which you translated and caused to be written, and on this wise the devil as sought to lay a cunning plan, that he may destroy this work; for he has put it into their hearts to do this, that by lying they may say they have caught you in the words which you have pretended to translate.
  2. Verily I say unto you, that I will not suffer that satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing, for behold he has put it into their hearts to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God, in asking to translate it over again: and then behold they say and think in their hearts, we will see if God has given him power to translate, if so he will also give him power again: and if God giveth him power again, or if he translate again, or in other words, if he bringeth forth the same words, behold we have the same with us and we have altered them; therefore they will not agree, and we will say that he has lied in his words, and that he has no gift, and that he has no power: therefore, we will destroy him; and also the work, and we will do this that we may not be ashamed in the end, and that we may get glory of the world.
  3. Verily, verily I say unto you, that satan has great hold upon their hearts; he stirreth them up to iniquity against that which is good, and their hearts are corrupt, and full of wickedness and abominations, and they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil: therefore they will not ask of me. Satan stirreth them up, that he may lead their souls to destruction. And thus he has laid a cunning plan, thinking to destroy the work of God, but I will require this at their hands, and it shall turn to their shame and condemnation in the day of judgment, yea, he stirreth up their hearts to anger against this work; yea, he saith unto them deceive, and lie in wait to catch, that ye may destroy: behold this is no harm, and thus he flattereth them and telleth them that it is no sin to lie, that they may catch a man in a lie, that they may destroy him, and thus he flattereth them, and leading them along until he draggeth their souls down to hell; and thus he causeth them to catch themselves in their own snare; and thus he goeth up and down, to and fro in the earth, seeking to destroy the souls of men.
  4. Verily, verily I say unto you, wo be unto him that lieth to deceive, because he supposeth that another lieth to deceive for such are not exempt from the justice of God.
  5. Now, behold they altered those words, because satan saith unto them: He hath deceived you: and thus he flattereth them away to do iniquity, to get thee to tempt the Lord thy God.
  6. Behold I say unto you that you shall not translate again those words which have gone forth out of your hands; for behold they shall not accomplish their evil designs in lying against those words. For, behold, if you should bring forth the same words they will say that your have lied; that you have pretended to translate, but that you have contradicted yourself: and behold they will publish this, and satan will harden the hearts of the people to stir them up to anger against you, that they will not believe my words. Thus satan thinketh to overpower your testimony in this generation, that the work may not come forth in this generation: but behold here is wisdom, and because I shew unto you wisdom, and give you commandments concerning these things, what you shall do, shew it not unto the world until you have accomplished the work of translation.
  7. Marvel not that I said unto you, here is wisdom, show it not unto the world, for I said show it not unto the world, that you may be preserved. Behold I do not say that you shall not show it unto the righteous; but as you cannot always judge the righteous, or as you cannot always tell the wicked from the righteous: therefore, I say unto you, hold your peace until I shall see fit to make all things known unto the world concerning the matter.
  8. And now, verily I say unto you, that on account of those things that you have written, which have gone out of your hands, are engraven upon the plates of Nephi; yea, and you remember, it was said in those writings, that a more particular account was given of these things upon the plates of Nephi.
  9. And now, because the account which is engraven upon the plates of Nephi, is more particular concerning the things, which in my wisdom I would bring to the knowledge of the people in this account; therefore, you shall translate the engravings which are on the plates of Nephi, down even till you come to the reign of king Benjamin, or until you come to that which you have translated, which you have retained; and behold, you shall publish it as the record of Nephi, and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.
  10. Behold they have only got a part, or an abridgment of the account of Nephi. Behold there are many things engraven on the plates of Nephi, which do throw greater views upon my gospel; therefore, it is wisdom in me, that you should translate this first part of the engravings of Nephi, and send forth in this work. And behold, all the remainder of this work does contain all those parts of my gospel which my holy prophets, yea, and also my disciples desired in their prayers, should come forth unto this people. And I said unto them that it should be granted unto them according to their faith in their prayers; yea and this was their faith, that my gospel which I gave unto them, that they might preach in their days, might come unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and also, all that had become Lamanites, because of their dissentions.
  11. Now this is not all, their faith in their prayers were, that this gospel should be made known also, if it were possible that other nations should possess this land: and thus they did leave a blessing upon this land in their prayers, that whosoever should believe in this gospel in this land might have eternal life, yea, that it might be free unto all of whatsoever nation, kindred, tongue or people, they may be.
  12. And now, behold according to their faith in their prayers, will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up.
  13. And for this cause have I said, if this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them. Now I do not say this to destroy my church; but I say this to build up my church: therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven, but it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments, but buildeth up churches unto themselves, to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly, and buildeth up the kingdom of the devil; yea, verily, verily I say unto you that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the centre.
  14. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, I came unto my own, and my own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkenss, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. I am he who said other sheep have I which are not of this fold, unto my disciples, and many there were that understood me not.
  15. And I will show unto this people, that I had other sheep, and that they were a branch of the house of Jacob: and I will bring to light their marvelous works, which they did in my name: yea, and I will also bring to light my gospel, which was ministered unto them, and behold they shall not deny that which you have received, but they shall build it up, and shall bring to light the true points of my doctrine, yea, and the only doctrine which is in me; and this I do that I may establish my gospel, that there may not be so much contention: yea, satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention, concerning the points of my doctrine: and in these things they do err, for they do wrest the scriptures, and do not understand them: therefore, I will unfold unto them this great mystery, for behold I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts: yea, if they will come, they may partake of the waters of life freely.
  16. Behold this is my doctrine: whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church, whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me: therefore he is not of my church.
  17. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my Rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
  18. And now, remember the words of him who is the life and the light of the world, your Redeemer, your Lord, and your God. Amen.

Additional Commentary About Martin Harris by Brian Nettles

For brevity in the story, I will skip forward from the complete record of the Times and Seasons. Regarding Martin Harris, he still played a significant role in bringing forth the Book of Mormon; however, he did not play any more role in the translation of the book. To his credit, he paid for the publication of the book and this was done at great cost to him – basically he split the farm giving part of it to his wife who was leaving him (they divorced over his involvement in wanting to publish the Book of Mormon). Regarding the portion of the farm he kept for himself, he mortgaged it to receive the funds to pay for the publication of the Book of Mormon. When the book did not sell, he lost the farm. Aside from paying for the publication of the book, he also was chosen as a special witness as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. He was shown by an angel of God the gold record and penned his name as one of the three witnesses along with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. Later he served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. From all accounts I have read, he never wavered in his proclaiming of the Book of Mormon to be the word of God. He did not originally go to Utah after the death of Joseph Smith. He was disaffected by Brigham Young. Nevertheless in his older age, he went to Utah to see his family and there he reconciled with Brother Brigham. In the last few years of life, he visited many wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continually professing his witness to the Book of Mormon. He died in Utah as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The book The Martin Harris Story written by Madge Harris Tuckett and Belle Harris Wilson records these details of his life. On page 90 of this said book records Martin Harris’s final moments of life.

Noble experiences had come into his life, such as come into the lives of very few men. Elder William Harrison Homer, Jr., a neighbor, has written concerning this time:

The next day July 10, 1875 marked the end…..I stood by the bedside holding the patient’ right hand…..Martin Harris ad been unconscious for a number of days. When we first entered the room the old gentleman seemed to be sleeping. He soon woke up and asked for a drink of water. I put my arms under the old gentleman, raised him . . . He drank freely, then, 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 is a Prophet of God, holding the keys of the Holy Priesthood.” This was the end. Martin Harris, divinely chosen witness of the work of God relaxed, gave up my hand. He lay back on his pillow and just as the sun went down behind the Clarkston mountains, the spirit of Martin Harris passed on.