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"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."

Doctrine and Covenants 5:11-12
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The Three Witnesses are Shown the Golden Plates
by the Angel, Moroni

 

The history of when David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris saw the golden plates of The Book of Mormon

 

Joseph Smith gave this account of of when he, Whitmer, Cowdery and Harris were shown the golden plates by the angel.

"Not many days after the above commandment was given [Doctrine & Covenants Section 17], we four, viz., 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 others in succession. We did not, at the first trial, however, obtain any answer or manifestation of 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.

Moroni Shows the Gold Plates to Joseph, Oliver and David by William L. Maughan "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. 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 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.'

"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, for before we had yet 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 Harris 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, Hosannah, blessing God and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly."

Lucy Mack Smith, in her biography of Joseph, wrote her recollection of the same event. In her account she included Joseph's reaction of someone else being allowed to see the golden plates.

"In a few minutes after this, Joseph, Martin, Oliver, and David, repaired to a grove, a short distance from the house, where they commenced calling upon the Lord, and continued in earnest supplication, until he permitted an angel to come down from his presence, and declare to them, that all which Joseph had testified of concerning the plates was true. When they returned to the house, it was between three and four o'clock p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith 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 no longer to be entirely alone in the work.'

"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."

In 1878, David Whitmer was asked by Parley Pratt to give his recollections of seeing the plates with Joseph and Oliver. David, who had been estranged from the LDS Church for decades, said,

"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."

 

 

Sources:
History of the Church, vol. I, pp. 54, 55.
Joseph Smith the Prophet, by Lucy Smith, ch. 31.
"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.