The Coverless Book of Mormon by Don Vincenzo Di Francesca

Don Vincenzo Di Francesca

Leaving the waters of the Mediterranean Sea on the north coast of Sicily about 80 kilometers east of Palermo, one can make his way up the steep slopes of the Madoni mountain range and eventually reach several small Sicilian villages, typically situated on the crests of the highest peaks. Passing through Santo Gibilmanna one travels several more kilometers to the tiny city of Gratteri. This was where on September 23, 1888, at 9:00 a.m., Don Vincenzo Di Francesca was born and where on November 18, 1966, he passed from this life.

Many citizens of this tiny village experience birth, life, and death while never venturing more than twenty or thirty kilometers from their homes in all their lives. This might have been the lot of Vincenzo had not a sequence of events led him far away and eventually brought him to a knowledge and acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

From his very early years, Vincenzo was religiously inclined. After his elementary education was complete, his grandfather Antonine arranged for him to receive private religious training from the older man’s cousin, Vincent Serio, who unfolded the Old and New Testaments to the lad. Vincenzo was so successful in all the lessons that his tutor praised him with the words: “Thou art blessed.”

At the age of twelve Vincenzo was admitted to the Gymnasium Lay-Clerical where he studied religion for four-and-a-half more years.

His brother Antonine, who was then residing in New York City, invited Vincenzo to spend his seminary vacation in America, and he accordingly left Naples on a steamship. In New York he struck a fast friendship with his brother’s friend, a Methodist pastor of the Italian Branch Chapel. Soon Vincenzo became a teacher of that congregation, and because of the merit of his teaching it was proposed that he take the Evangelical course of both Old and New Testament, at Knox College of New York, where he got his degree as pastor in November 1909.

Early one cold morning Vincenzo received a note about a sick friend. While he was on his way down Broadway toward the ailing friend’s home, a strong breeze from the open sea rustled the pages of a book which had been thrown upon a barrel full of ashes ready for the city trash truck. The form and the binding of the pages gave him the idea that it was a discarded religious book, and curiosity pushed him to retrieve it. He plucked it from the ashes and beat it against the trunk of the trash barrel. He looked at the frontispiece and found it torn; the cover was completely missing. The fury of the wind turned the pages in his hand, and he saw names that he had never in his life seen before. In his haste to go on to his destination, he wrapped the soiled book in the newspaper he had just bought and continued toward his colleague’s house, where he visited with him and consoled and advised him.

After Vincenzo’s return home, as soon as he could get his coat off and warm himself, he opened the book and began to read. He came across some of the writings of Isaiah-a name he recognized-and was convinced that it was a fine religious book he had found. But he could not detect the name of it since the cover and some pages were missing, and other pages were too soiled to be legible. He went out to the drug store and bought 20 cents’ worth of denatured alcohol, and with this and a cotton-pad he washed the remainder of the pages. Then he read them.

“I felt as though I was receiving fresh revelation and much new light and knowledge,” he recalls. “I was also charmed to think of the source by which I had obtained the book. Many of the lectures in the book left in my memory a strong magnetic attraction, and I felt urged to re-read it several times, always satisfied that it fit very well with other scripture, as though it were a fifth Gospel of the Redeemer.

“The next day I locked my door and knelt with the book in my hands. First, I reviewed the 10th chapter of Moroni, and then I prayed to know if the book were of God. I also asked if I could mix the words of it with the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in my public preaching.

“While I was in that pose, awaiting a positive answer, I first felt my body become cold and my heart palpitate as if it would speak, and then I felt a gladness as if I had found something of extraordinary preciousness. It left in my memory sweet consolation and supreme joy that human language finds no words to describe.

“The book was easy to understand without effort. The more I read it and thought about it, the more I was impressed that I had received the assurance that God had answered my prayer and I knew that the book was of great benefit to me and to all who would heed its words.

“Within a few days my preaching was strung with the new words of the book, and the listeners became amazed and enthralled with the new power in these sermons, at the same time becoming indifferent to some of my fellow preachers. Thus while the esteem towards me grew, so did professional anger and envy and suspicion. One day I was interrupted in a meeting by the Vice Venerable, when he heard me talking of Mary the Virgin and substituting the vision of 1 Ne. 11:15-36. This arrogant authority encouraged my colleagues to sit in all my meetings and contradict any new doctrine! These contradictions and indignities made me rebel, and I became disobedient to the warnings for me to observe the strict methods of the sect.

“Next I was denounced to the Committee of Censure who, with fatherly words, counseled me to burn the book of the devil that had brought so much trouble to the harmony of the brothers who loved me.

“I testified to them as follows: ‘I find the book precise under every respect to the writings of the prophets, and the words themselves testify that the book is of the God whom we profess to adore. I do not know to what precise church it belongs, but for certain it talks about the appearance of the Redeemer, after his crucifixion, to a remote people organized into a nation upon this continent, and the Redeemer himself there organized a Church with apostles and priesthood like the Church that he organized during his ministry among the Jews; and he gave commandments and laws. The great trouble with most of us is that we do not apply the teachings of the gospel to ourselves. We do not examine ourselves and find out wherein we are failing. Knowledge without practice is like a glass eye-all for show and nothing for use. There is nothing more true than the fact that it is works that count. Faith without works is dead, like the body without spirit. It is only a short time after death until we must bury the body. We cannot keep it.

“‘The book that the Committee counsels me to burn talks of a church, but the missing pages do not let me know where it is. It is better, instead of burning the book, that we practice what is in it, because certainly it gives us more light and knowledge and more faith to perform all our works, than the teachings of others. I cannot burn the book, because I fear God and I have asked him if it is true, and my prayer has been answered affirmatively, positively, without a shade of doubt. I feel it in my whole heart, mind, and body at this instant. Neither can I permit its burning, and since you insist on pronouncing the sentence to burn the remaining pages of the book which you say is of the devil, I tell you that it is the devil who suggests to you to persist in your decision in order to bring you into perdition as Judas Iscariot was, who sold the Redeemer for thirty pieces of silver. I am encouraged to tell you in this instant that your eyes are of glass and that you are all near to God with your words but far from him with your hearts and your works!’

“That was as the fire to the powder in the gun. The Committee got up and cried, ‘It is enough! That book, which oppresses you, must be burned or you will incur the most serious displeasure.’

“I replied, ‘I repeat, I will not burn the book. I prefer to go out of the ministry rather than burn the book!’

“In April of 1914, this heavy conflict had its conclusion before the Council of Peace of the sect, and I was invited to a conciliation. But I found that the subject of the judgment was not being changed. The Vice Venerable started the interrogation with affable manners, believing that my unyielding attitude had been provoked by the sharp rap administered by the members of the Committee of Discipline. He spoke with much benevolence, and then stated, ‘You must be noble enough to burn that vessel of falsehoods that has brought bitterness to the Brothers of the Good Shepherd!’

“I replied, ‘The musicians have changed, but the music is the same, namely that I must destroy the book with fire without anyone examining its contents. If I burn the book I offend the Godhead.’

“I was given one last warning: ‘Repent of your stubbornness!’

 “‘No.’ I stood with the contested book in my hands, listening to the words of the Judge stripping me of my degree of Pastor and of every right and privilege in the Church of the Good Shepherd.

“I left with fresh self-confidence at having defended my cause and that of the book of unknown name.

“On May 15, 1914, the Supreme Synod examined a list of member petitioners and reviewed my case of disobedience. They called upon me to be judicious and to abandon the “infidel book” and repent, as the Synod was of the intention to pardon my stubbornness. I refused, so they confirmed the decision, classed me as an habitual and incorrigible rebel against the ordinances of the religious sect, and pronounced definitely my removal from the body of the church.

“November 26, 1914, the Italian Consulate of New York called me to embark for Italy as a soldier in the 127th Infantry Regiment stationed at Florence, Italy. May, 1915, I was sent to the front. At one point I was seriously censored by the commander of the company on report by the Catholic chaplain who was aware of my loyalty to the book with no cover. I was punished with ten days in a tent with only bread and water, and was told never to tell anyone again about the history of a degraded people that are the American redskins.

“After my discharge in 1919 I returned to the United States, and there I met my old friend Mike, the pastor of the Methodist Church, who knew my preceding history and whom I greatly esteemed. He frankly interceded in my favor, asking that I be readmitted to the congregation as a lay brother, afterwards making steps toward a reconciliation. It was very hard, but at the end, being specific that they were conducting an experiment, they called me to accompany my protector abroad on a mission. We went to Auckland, New Zealand; and then to Sidney, Australia, where I found some Italian emigrants who had serious questions about certain gospel translations in some of the Catholic and Protestant editions of the Bible. They were unsatisfied by my minister friend’s answers but, being in possession of the truth, I convinced them. When they wanted to know where I had learned such teachings, I spoke of the book in my possession. It was sweet for them but very bitter for my colleague. At first he bore with me, but I could not resist the strong urge to preach the divine truth, and finally Mike denounced me in his reports. Again the Synod put in force the decision of May 15, 1914, and I was forever out of the Sect. (Hartman Rector, Jr., and Connie Rector, No More Strangers, Bookcraft, 1971, vol. 1, pp. 83-88.)

 

 

The Burning of the Book – The Story of the Conversion of Jerry C. Mathews, a Texas Baptist Minister

[The following testimony is shared to demonstrate the power of The Book of Mormon. Because the teachings of the Mormon Church are not based on The Holy Book of Mormon, no one need infer, like Mathews did, that they must join the Mormon Church after gaining a testimony of The Book.]

 book-burning-jerry-c-mathew

 THE BURNING OF THE BOOK

As Related by J. C. Mathews

~

This revelation was given to me on the day that I tried maliciously to burn a copy of the Book of Mormon. I seriously doubt if I would ever have been impressed by the book if my daughter Belle had not married the branch president of our home town, Austin Texas, and eventually departed for Salt Lake City vowing to never return to Texas.

They suddenly left home in early June of 1942. Their going away was attended by a storm cloud of dissension. The bonds of peace were broken, and they left behind a pall of gloom hanging over our household.

Great was my grief; my heart was heavy with unhappiness; my eyes became a fountain of tears. For a month and a half I wept daily. There was no consolation for me, and I wondered if I could carry on for long. I became possessed with boundless fear that I would never see my daughter and her son again. My sorrow turned into hatred and bitterness toward the Mormon Church. As my daughter had become a member of the Church, I feared she was led away from me forever. I had been told by un authoritative individual that converts to the Church were frequently and deceptively lured away to Salt Lake City to never return to their homes. Fantastic tales of such activities had on a number of occasions been related to me which increased my despair.

Six weeks after Belle’s distressing departure, I experienced a rather strange, in fact to me remarkable, incident. This was the prelude of things to come. At that time I visited a neighboring town called Cameron, and obtained a room for one night of lodging in a hotel known as the “Milam.” The room I secured was number eight. This room in this certain hotel has considerable significance in relation to my experiences.

After I retired for the night, I could find no rest; nor sleep. I tossed about on the bed, and the grief I bore seemed to tear out my heart. The later hours of the evening slowly, ponderously moved by. Midnight came, and still no momentary escape from my grief by slumber. In the deep quietness of the night far past the hour of twelve, I reflected in my wakefulness that perhaps the compassionate hand of God will touch me and make it well with me. I had not seriously sought divine guidance since this burden was thrust upon me.

Laboriously, and in doubt, I fell upon my knees beside the bed, and proceeded to seek the Lord for relief. I had not gone far into prayer when my troubled heart was eased, and a flood of peacefulness, calmness, and serenity came into my soul like the warm golden rays of the rising sun. I became at ease and comforted for the first time in six weeks of sorrow. Then I seemed to hear a whisper-a still small voice apparently coming out of nowhere and entering my soul. It was as discernible, as understandable, and comprehensive as if it had originated in a mortal body standing by my side.

The voice was of the spirit, and spoke to my spirit. It whispered, “Weep no more, all is well. Weep no more, all is well. Let others do the weeping, hereafter.”

I pondered this for several days in my heart, and wondered if it could be significant of things to come. But little did I realize that this incident was a prelude to following occurrences that were to be of profound importance in my life.

In the year of 1924 a Mormon Elder visited our home and left a copy of the Book of Mormon with us. During all of these following years the book was in my possession. I had not the slightest desire to read it’s pages, nor was I the least interested in what knowledge it might divulge to me.

The Elder who gave me the book had endeavored to explain what had been written therein. His words had little or no meaning as far as I was concerned. I forgot everything he attempted to impart to me except one phrase which stayed in my mind. That little seed of information remained there through the years waiting to burst forth into fruit and to flower again in a rich reward for unsuspecting me. The bit of knowledge I retained was, that the book was a record of “ancient people.” That was all I knew or cared to know. I really did not believe that statement and did not care to delve into the book and fathom its contents. . . or attempt to fathom what it contains in an effort to see if I could ferret out any information concerning the plan of Jesus Christ and our Holy Father.

I had been a Baptist Minister since I became of age which was about 35 years ago, and I was satisfied with the Bible and the Bible only! No one could induce me to believe there was a similar record of mankind that bore the gospel of Jesus Christ and a plan of salvation. I knew the Bible to be the stick of Judah, but had no knowledge of the stick of Joseph. The stick of Joseph was in my possession for 18 years. If I had only known the value of it!

The burning of the book came about in July 1942. My wife and I were engaged one summer day in burning a lot of rubbish such as old newspapers, magazines and so forth. We were cleaning the house and the place in general such as everyone is wont to do whenever the occasion necessitates. In our activities, my wife found the copy of the Book of Mormon the Elder had left with us 18 years before. As soon as I saw it, I was instantly siezed by a bitterness against the book. I was startled by a burning flash of anger that dug deep into my heart and stirred the fires of my contempt for the Book of Mormon into a blazing inferno that made me be-damn all the volume stood for. Maliciously seizing the book, I swore to myself: “I will let all the trash burn together!”

I made my way hastily to the rear of the house, and in a furor threw my bundle upon a pile of rubbish that awaited burning. The Book of Mormon went on last to the top of the heap, opened, its pages exposed for the flames to come. I, forthwith, vehemently set the heap afire and stood back to watch the fiery fingers leap up and consume the entire mass-and the book especially.

In a little while I could see the rubbish would soon be reduced to a smouldering mound of waste, but the book was not responding satisfactorily. So I returned to the house, and brought out a can of kerosene oil. I was not to be outdone! Throwing on the oil in great quantities, I muttered, “If this book be of men and devils, let it burn; otherwise I repent.”

The flames leaped several feet into the air in a wild burst of crimson fury. This time I commanded it to burn! The swirling fingers of fire and smoke hid the greater mass of the mound, and I was sure the book would be reduced to insignificance along with the newspapers and periodicals, rubbish etc.

And then the spirit that had visited me in the Milam hotel suddenly returned and broke into my act of deviltry. Needless to say, I was startled. I could feel His presence as well as if someone in the flesh had appeared! A voice spoke to me from beyond the bonds of mortality; yet it was understandable. It was a soft whisper, clear and discernible. I could both feel and hear it.

The voice whispered: “Don’t do it, the book is truth.” “Don’t do it, the book is truth.”

I instinctively looked around half expecting to see someone near me gently reprimanding my deed. But seeing no one, and following the inclination of my furious bitterness, I stubbornly and defiantly threw on more oil being obstinately determined to burn the book.

The flames leaped up much higher than they had previously gone, and became so intense with heat I was forced far back from them. Surely it would burn now. It was inconceivable that a volume such as the one I had thrown to the flames could escape them now.

I obtained a long stick and began to turn the pages back and forth just to make sure they were exposed well enough to the fire. So intent was I on my task, that I became almost oblivious to my surroundings.

The whispering voice spoke to me again. It was that same still small voice that expressed disapproval of my act a few minutes before. The voice whispered gently but firmly as it had before those quiet yet resounding words, “Don’t do it, the book is truth! Don’t do it, the book is truth!”

This second reprimand struck me with so much force that I became greatly alarmed. I needed no further remonstration so with haste, as the fire began to subside, I poked around in the flames with the long stick, and retrieved the remains of the volume from the heap. I rubbed the fire off the burning pages with my hands, and I saw that many of the pages were burned beyond reading, others were very badly seared.

A sudden realization of the terrible, shameful deed that I had committed struck me with such force that it awakened my soul. My spirit became very contrite, and I was more sorrowful for the thing I had done than I can ever express. I immediately sought forgiveness from the Divine One. The bitterness and passionate hatred that I had lavished upon the Book of Mormon turned at once to a humble love. The gall turned to sweetness, and I was filled with a desire to possess another copy of this sacred volume so I could read what it had to offer. I now wanted desperately to learn the secrets hidden between its covers.

I left the remains of the book for awhile beside the ash heap, and later in the day I put it away in a shed that stood in the rear of the house. About a week later we moved into another cottage near by. In gathering up our belongings, I went for the book; but failed to find it. It was not in the place I had put it, and a diligent search was to no avail. My wife knew nothing of its whereabouts, and had not disposed of it, I dared not ask her of it until six months later. She said she had seen it after the fire had died down, but only then. Since that day it has been a deep puzzle to me where the book vanished.

In the meantime, I longed for another copy of the Book of Mormon. I planned to write to my daughter and ask for one, but the voice again entered into my mind forbidding me to tell of my experience. I was impressed that it would be revealed to someone as a token to me of a service that I should render. Thus, for six long months my experience remained a deep secret. I kept the commandment not to reveal it to a single soul. I could confide in no one, and every day I pondered it in my heart constantly wondering if I again would feel the presence of the angelic spirit; was there really more to come in relation to the burning of the book?

On one occasion, I attempted to see one of Belle’s Mormon friends. He is Dr. P. J. Paris, a seventy in the Church at Austin, Texas. But when I approached him with the book in mind, I was rebuffed by the spirit. It was obviously the same spirit that had come to me on the two previous occasions. So I could obtain no book. I was not quite ready for one. The Lord had a time for that, and He brought it about later.

About six months after I endeavored to burn the book, I received a very interesting and quite unusual letter from my daughter. I was overjoyed, and almost shouting happy over it’s contents. In fact, I might say the information it contained was startlingly unique. Belle dreamed that I had a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and she urged me to tell her what it was all about. . . what the meaning of it was. Not a word concerning religious matters was ever mentioned in the correspondence that went between us in the few months that followed Belle’s going away. And now suddenly she dreams I have a testimony, and wants me to reveal it to her. This was providential! The spirit had thwarted my attempts to obtain a Book of Mormon, and indicated that it would be revealed to someone that I had a testimony. This letter from Belle was fulfilling that promise.

With bounding joy I sent Belle an immediate letter telling her all about my experience. She was exceedingly delighted, and mailed me another Book of Mormon at once…I perused with great delight and keen understanding. I became well acquainted with the stick of Joseph (Book of Mormon)..I now have become well established, strongly entrenched in the everlasting gospel.

* * * * *

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD OPENS THE WAY

After I had studied sufficiently to explain to others what had been revealed to me, many opportunities were presented to me to bear my testimony, and reveal the true gospel with which I had so happily become acquainted. I will endeavor briefly, but sufficiently, to explain some of the more outstanding experiences that befell me in the following months. 

By the time I had finished reading the Book of Mormon I had received great inspiration, and a deep impression that I should be a witness of the book. I pondered this in my heart for some time, but I could not feature how I could fulfill such a mission. Therefore, I soon felt a spirit of rebellion against my impression.

I sought the Lord for guidance so that I might better understand, and really know if the feeling that had come over me was really of God. Whereupon, the voice of the Lord came into my mind, revealing to me that I should be a witness of the book to many people. But I sought Him in an effort to be excused from the task, for I could not see my way clear to go forth as a witness of the book to the people.

It was not long after that the still small voice penetrated my mind that I felt a renewed rebellion against this calling of the Supreme One. For several weeks I was in distress, and misery was in my pathway. I became troubled and tormented every day of my new life; but I could only mourn and try to bear the anguish; for I was, indeed, in rebellion against the Lord.

One day I was in deep meditation, as I was often wont to do; my soul struggled within me in an effort to seek the Lord for mercy and deliverance from the sorrows of the mind so I could regain my departed joys. At length I began to feel the presence of the spirit. He quieted my writhing soul, and I was made to rejoice. The voice of the Lord then came into my mind, and it revealed to me that I should be a living witness of the Book of Mormon and the everlasting gospel.

My mind’s eye was opened to a vision. I beheld the days of redemption, and the fullness of the times. I could see from the time of the covenant of redemption, when the sons of God shouted for joy and the foundation of the earth was laid, to the Church of the first born. I, also, saw the building of Zion, and I saw the time the Kingdoms of the world received the gospel to become Kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ.

My heart rejoiced, and I became gladly reconciled, and well pleased, to what I could now plainly see was my portion. I realized that I was one of His chosen children, and had been given a testimony that should be borne to the world.

Since that time, I have applied myself to study so that I may be able to teach the gospel, as well as to testify of that which had been revealed to me.

* * * * *

On one beautiful spring day in 1943 while I was on a business trip many miles away from home, I chanced to be waiting by the roadside near a small town for a bus going to Austin. Circumstances had forced me to abandon the use of my car since I had acquired this new business enterprise that I worked by going from town to town in my home state. This was very new and quite different from the occupation of ministry that I had followed for so many years of my life. 

On this lovely day in the renewed freshness of the world, I received an inspiration that was to remain as a driving force in the months to come. As I sat down to wait for the bus, I noticed on either side of the road hundreds of stones; they were of varied shapes, sizes and colors, of every description. I found it very difficult for me to find a place to sit while waiting. At considerable length I meditated on the goodness of God, and felt a satisfying sense of grace and blessing. I entertained myself beholding such an unusual array of stones in one place. Everyone seemed to have a separate semblance of personality, but they all bore some similarity. I could feel the grace of God in my soul as I thought of John the Baptist who said, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Luke 3 :8)

Then, I felt the presence of the ministering spirit who gave to me grace and understanding. Seemingly, the voice of the Lord once more came into my mind as if speaking to me, and giving me great and glorious inspiration.

My attention was strangely drawn to a certain crude stone. It strongly held my attention and was probably the most common and roughest of the mass strewn far around on the sides of the roadway. As I gazed upon it, the voice of the Lord spoke to my spirit. It was so discernible I was able to understand it was saying, “Son of obscurity, thou art as this crude stone, chosen in the rough without form or comeliness. Thou shalt grow up as a root out of dry ground. To thee is given a testimony that shall be a refinement to make thee as a fitly refined stone that will be a testimony to other stones more beautiful than thee. Thou shalt be a stone like unto Cephus. A stone that cannot be moved. A stone able to endure hardness as a good soldier; thou shalt be confirmed in truth and none can move thee. To thee is given power to proclaim even as Samuel at Zarahemla, to speak that which is put in thine heart.

“Be not fearful nor unbelieving, for I will counsel thee to strengthen thee and cause thee to stand. Thou shalt be faithful unto death; and prepared by faith, by knowledge and understanding. Thou shalt be as a son raised up unto Abraham and given a new testimony that shall bless many. I shall go before thee to open the way before thee.”

The voice concluded his testimony to me by saying, “Be faithful in all things, and unto thee shall be given a new stone, and in it a new name forever that none can know except those who receive it.”

Thus for more than an hour, I felt the presence of Him who said, “I will open the way before thee.”

The bus was soon due, but a stranger offered me a ride to Waco, the next town of importance on my way home. It transpired that he was a Methodist Minister, and I related my complete story to him from the time I tried to burn the book to this new and enthralling inspiration. We discussed all of this at length, and he seemed to be favorably impressed. As we parted he wished me luck, and gave me his blessing.

I was now confirmed in my impression that I would be a witness of the book, and of the everlasting gospel. But this was only a mild forerunner to incidents of real consequence wherein the Divine Hand gave me many, and ample, opportunities to bear my testimony of the Book of Mormon.

* * * * *

During my study of the Book of Mormon, the voice of the unseen one came into my mind saying that I should prepare myself until I came to have full knowledge of it’s contents. I should increase in faith and knowledge, for I was to become a special witness of the book to many people through which they would receive knowledge of the everlasting gospel that the volume contains.

Not many weeks after the previous incident, I went on one of my frequent business trips to Georgetown not so very far north of Austin. When I had finished my sales work in a community center in the northern suburb of the city, I waited beside the highway, as I had missed the bus to Belton, thirty miles further on. A large truck came along, passed me by and came to a stop about a hundred yards away. The driver sounded his horn, and I ran to accept the offered ride.

I soon made acquaintance with the truck man. His name was Henry Crawford, and his home was in Belton. He told me that he was a grandson of Chief Crawford, a well known Indian chief of San Saba, a town some distance west of there This young Indian is of the Cherokee tribe. His appearance is that of a sun tanned white man, although he is an Indian. This young Lamanite was very entertaining, and his conversation proved that he was keen of mind and exceptionally intelligent.

After some time he offered a surprising question that struck me instantly as very odd.

“Sir,” he said, “Do you know why I came to stop and offer you a ride?”

“I suppose you have a kindly nature, and wish to help someone along the way,” I replied.

“Not that so much,” he said, “As the company with which I am employed forbids me to give rides to anyone.”

He pointed to the windshield sticker, “NO RIDERS.”

“Then why did you stop for me?” I inquired.

“Well, it’s very odd,” he said, “But I was strongly impressed to pick you up – more impressed than I have ever been before under such circumstances. It is, indeed, very strange. A voice whispered in my ear, and told me to stop. The voice of some unseen one. I was impressed as distinctly as if somebody had actually told me in person to give you a ride. The voice whispered, ‘This man is a Minister and will tell you things of which you have no knowledge – things that you are eager to know.’

“I cannot imagine what kind of information you might give me,” he concluded, “Nor can I feature of what Ministry you are.”

“I have not indicated that I am a Minister of any kind,” I replied.

“No, you haven’t; but the little voice said so, and of that I am certain,” the Indian said earnestly.

He was obviously very anxious to know the meaning of it all. If I were a real Minister, and what was it that I had to tell him.

“Well, you have just told me that you are an Indian of the Cherokee tribe; so would you like to know the origin and destiny of your people?” I offered after a pause.

The Indian suddenly became very fervent in anticipation of the thing that I indicated I might reveal to him.

“That very matter has always been a worry to me, and I have always wished to know that particular thing,” he said eagerly. “If you can tell me, I shall know that you are a Minister of God, and the voice was that of an angel.”

There I made my real debut as a witness to the world, and that was to the Lamanites.

I told Mr. Crawford the story of Jacob, Joseph, Manasseh, and Ephraim; and of Lehi and Ishmael; of Nephi and all the story in the Book of Mormon to the days of Christ and the Church, and how Jesus came to the sheep of another fold. I told him how He was received by both the Nephites and the Lamanites. I continued the account to the days of Mormon who made the abridgement of the plates of brass on the plates of gold; how Mormon died with his people at Cumorah; how Moroni, the son of Mormon, hid the plates of gold bearing an account of these ancient people and the gospel.

I also pointed out to him that the Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph as the Bible is the stick of Judah. Then I related how the plates were revealed to Joseph Smith. And I gave him a brief history of the prophet and the Church. Thus, it was that my new Indian friend heard for the first time the story, the history, of his people.

He was extremely impressed. Later I mailed him a copy of the Book of Mormon, and several months afterward I met him again in his home town.

I was having lunch in a cafe when he entered accompanied by a friend. I was surprised and delighted to see him, but at first I was not aware of his presence until he approached me with his friend.

After warm greetings and handshakes, he said to his companion, “This is the man I told you of; the one who revealed to me the origin and destiny of my people.”

He gave me a written statement of the incident, and he has retold the story to many people. So, I had borne my testimony of the Book of Mormon, and my first audience, in the fulfillment of the promise that had been given to me, was to the Lamanites who gladly accepted and believed it.

* * * * *

Just one week from the time I first met Mr. Crawford, the Lord gave me another testimony that was somewhat similar to the Indian incident. It came about in further verification of the promise that he would go before me and open the way so I might be a witness of the book to a host of people.

One day I stood beside the highway going by my home, that was near the city, waiting for a bus on it’s way to San Antonio, seventy miles southwest of there. The bus was behind schedule, so I stood and waited for over half an hour watching the heavy traffic on the roadway, and began to hope that someone would give me a lift. The tardy bus never showed up, and I was eventually, to my surprise, offered a ride by a motorist without any effort on my part to hail one. At first the car passed me by, as the Indian had done, and then came to a stop about fifty yards beyond me. The occupants of the car introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot of San Antonio.

After making ourselves acquainted, Mrs. Lightfoot inquired, “Mr. Mathews, may I tell you why we stopped for you ?”

“Why, certainly,” I replied curiously, “If there is a special something that prompted you to do so.”

“Well,” she replied, “I had an unusual feeling that we should give you a ride. A small voice, or whisper, came into my ears saying, “Stop for the man; he is a Minister who can tell you of your heart’s desire, of things you have long wanted to know;” and she said, “Now, if there is anything on earth that I’m eager to learn about, I surely would like for someone to explain to me the meaning of the Book of Mormon.”

“An Elder gave me a copy of the book over a year ago, but I haven’t been able to fathom the contents of it. It’s too deep, or something, for me! However, I’m still very seriously interested in it. I believe you can tell me all about the book, and explain it sufficiently for me to understand it. Then, I can go ahead and read the book with open mind and open heart.”

She said they were returning from Salt Lake City where they had visited relatives. Several of them had endeavored to enlighten her, but somehow she could not grasp the full meaning of the story.

“So,” she concluded, “if you really do know anything about the Book of Mormon, please help me to understand it.”

“Why,” I evaded, “I haven’t indicated in any way that I have the least bit of knowledge about the Mormon people or of the Book of Mormon.”

“Yes, but the little voice in my ears is still ringing, and I am certain that someone unseen has spoken to me of you,” Mrs. Lightfoot insisted. “Honestly, I’m sure you can help me. So, now please tell us all about it.”

The lady’s eagerness touched me deeply, and vividly brought to mind the promise of the Angel, the promise that the way would be opened; a promise that recently had been proven in my meeting the Indian only seven days before. I began to feel the ministering spirit again; the spirit that had come on previous occasions to bless my soul.

“Well,” I finally, but eagerly, confessed, “I do have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and I think I am able to give you all the information you need to guide you in reading it.”

So, I began by relating my experience of burning the Book of Mormon a year before. From there I explained the contents of the book as I had to the Indian, only in a fuller sense. I had a better opportunity to elaborate, for the journey was of much longer duration. After answering many questions relative to the discussion, Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot accepted gladly, my testimony as truth.

* * * * *

The way was opened again for another unusual contact, some time later, to whom I bore my testimony with great effect. This was a man who drives the mail car between Brownwood and Gatesville, in west Texas about two hundred miles from Austin. I was at the bus station at Brownwood about to purchase my ticket to Gatesville, when for some unexplainable reason at the time I was impressed not to do so. Following my intuition, I went to a travel bureau and inquired if they had a car going to the town I was headed for. I was informed the mail car was ready to depart, and that the driver was allowed to carry passengers, and frequently did so. So, I arranged for passage and made the trip with this man.

There was one other occupant beside the driver and myself. He was a post office official. As we journeyed along the road, the two men were very entertaining, pointing out to me many places along the way which revealed old Indians signs. After they had gone on like this for over an hour, telling stories of Indians I asked them if anyone knew the origin and past history of the Indians. The driver suddenly seemed to rise up with inspiration, and brought the car to a near stop. He looked me over with unconcealed amazement, and said, “My friend, don’t you know it?”

“How would I know?” I replied.

“I’m strongly convinced, somehow, that you do know about the origin of the Indians,” he stated.

I had in no way indicated that I knew.

“How can I possibly know, and what do you know, about the Indians?” I querried.

He said to my surprise, “The Book of Mormon tells all about it.”

“Well, I don’t know anything about it,” I told him just to draw him out.

As we resumed our journey, he began to tell us a few things contained in the book. He said he had lived for twenty years in Utah in earlier life. His wife and all her people, and all his people were Mormons. He said his wife died about twenty years ago, and he moved away from Utah and went to live in Brownwood. In his departure he had left all of his books, and he had not seen any Mormon books or met any of the members of the Church since that time. The man apologized for having forgotten many of the finer points of the Book of Mormon, and said he surely would like to remember them.

I had been silent during his explanations, but I was urged to help the man. I wanted to aid him in remembering the points forgotten; to refresh his knowledge.

He said, “If you have such knowledge, I would be most happy for a review.”

The man had forgotten the story of Ephraim and Manasseh. From there I began to refresh his memory, and for two hours along the way, we put the story together in his mind; and he rejoiced. The other passenger, the post office official, was deeply impressed, also.

 

* * * * *

In a village not many miles from my home, I had a friend who was a merchant. He was a good religious man of the Catholic faith. On several occasions while visiting his place of business, I offered to read to him out of the Book of Mormon. He was very frank to tell me that he was not at all interested, but I tried to leave a book for him to read at his leisure. He emphatically would not accept it. After I ceased my efforts to approach him on the matter, the subject was not mentioned at all.

Sometime later, while about to leave my friend on one of my now infrequent calls, he gave me a pleasant surprise I had not expected.

“Do not rush away,” the man said, “I would like for you to tell me all about the Book of Mormon today.”

When I happily complied, he found a comfortable place for us to sit and said, “Now, I’m ready for you to tell me the story of the book.”

He listened very attentively for two hours while I went briefly through an account of the contents of the volume. When I finished, my friend surprised me again by producing a copy of the Book of Mormon that had been hidden from me during that time.

“You have told the story perfectly,” he said extending the book toward me. “I believe every word of it.”

I was very happy to know that my friend could see the value of the record of “the ancient people.”

“I have read the book every day since you left it here four months ago,” he told me.

“You have read it every day since I left it here?” I interjected, knowing full well that I had not forced it on him even in this indirect manner that he indicated, as I had not left the book there.

“Yes. I have read it sufficiently to have considerable knowledge of it’s contents. It’s an inspiring book, and I am pleased that you have made me acquainted with it.”

“But, my good friend,” I interposed, “I did not leave the book here.”

“Oh, yes you did! How else could I have it?”

“Well, I don’t know. However, I’m positive that I did not force the volume on you.” I insisted.

It was only after persistent denial that I succeeded in convincing my friend that I was not responsible for his possession of the Book of Mormon. We both were deeply perplexed about it, and have never been able to determine for certain where the book came from. 

These circumstances made a deep impression on an honest heart.

* * * * *

On various occasions in my sales work, I would meet kindly people who would offer to give me rides with them from town to town. Some were salesmen going from place to place as I was. It was through them that I have had many opportunities to reveal my testimony of the Book of Mormon. There were other occasions, however, for me to tell my story. They were frequent and there were many of them.

For quite some time it was my blessing to relate my testimony, and to make explanations of the Book of Mormon and it’s gospel story. Thus, it was that the unseen one, time after time, opened the way for me. He opened the way until I had borne witness to many, many people on varied occasions. So, I naturally came to expect new incidents along the way.

Well, my trials continued on and on; of the spirit, and trials of other natures, and the devil seemed to be on my trail.

At length, my wife had an unusual dream. This vision, it might be called, changed her outlook and attitude toward the church. She saw a man walking on a wire across the heavens and come down to earth until he stood before her. In a sharply realistic manner he said to her, “Woman, your husband has two papers which are testimonies of the gospel; I have come for them! We must have them.”

This dream was as vividly plain to her as it was to me. The meaning evidently was that I should live up to the gospel, obey it, and live up to the given testimonies, lest they be taken away. I was procrastinating my baptism. I was running away from it, trying to fix a certain, indefinite season for it. I was putting it off, and putting it off again until the Lord had apparently become displeased about it.

I am glad, with the help of the Lord, to relate my experiences on request at any occasion. And I sincerely pray that my testimony can be of aid or inspiration to some or all of those who hear it from me; and those, also, who read it through this publication.

Given in the name of Jesus Christ, I am happy with my portion; and I give thanks to God the Eternal Father.

J. C. Mathews

* * * * *

[Mathews joined the Mormon Church believing that it was necessary in order to obtain baptism. The truth long obscured however is that church membership and baptism are totally separate, or should be. Even Joseph Smith was not baptized into a church; he however was baptized a second time for membership in his own church. Today Mormons are not given the two baptism option.]

My Guilt Was Burned And Washed Away

[The most profound experience is that of repentance. The following testimony can be attested to by thousands. Note, The Most Holy & Sacred Book of Mormon is about Christ, repentance, and the forgiveness of sin, not Mormonism.]

 converted-christ-through-book-of-mormon

I went over to the wall of bookshelves in our living room. I saw novels, histories, and autobiographies that looked interesting. (My mom was avid reader, collecting hundreds of books, and it was usually my job to dust them.) By then my eye caught a little blue book in the extreme upper left-hand corner. Something told me to take that very book down and read it. I pulled it down and opened up the Book of Momon. I didn’t know why, but I sat down and started to read. I read about twenty pages and felt warm and cool at the same time. I felt a kind of warm tingling all over and thought that a window must be open, but I checked and they were all closed. I began feeling that there was something very important about this book, that there were things being taught in this book that would be important for me to learn and understand.

….

But when I got home from work that night about 9:30, I again had a powerful feeling urging me to read the Book of Mormon. I went downstairs, got the book, and brought it up to my room, sat down, and began to read. Again I felt those strange warm chills I had never felt before. I admired Nephi. He seemed to be a strong and courageous person. I also admired the prophet Abinadi, who was willing to suffer torture and death because of his belief in God. These prophets were not the weak men I’d assumed religion would make them. I felt anticipation as I read about the coming visit of Jesus Christ to the people in the Book of Mormon. Although I had heard about Jesus Christ, I had never read the Bible nor really cared one way or another about who Christ was or why I should know His teachings.

I read through the night until about 6 a.m. Many times I wanted to stop. I couldn’t understand why I was sitting up all night reading any book, much less a religious book. There wasn’t reason in that. I thought that if my friends could see me staying up all night reading a book about Jesus they would really give me a hard time. I was tired and sore and wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t put the book down. Though the strong feelings were strange, they felt wonderful.

I went to school that day and to work that night and thought deeply about the things I had read. Something was happening within me. I began to feel sorrow for my sins and began to desire to be different, to be more like the people I was reading about. I had a strong desire to read the Book of Mormon, more than to do anything else. I rushed home from work that night and sat down at the same desk in my room and began to read. Again I read though the night. Many times I wanted to stop because of fatigue and hunger, but I sensed that there was something waiting for me at the end of the book that I needed to read. So I read on.

When I came to where Jesus Christ visited the people of America and read what He did and taught, I was on the verge of tears. I read with great joy the words that Jesus spoke to the people, and I knew that what He was saying was true. His actions and words touched something deep within me. I loved Jesus and wanted to be with Him. I felt sorrow for my sins, and I knew that I needed forgiveness. Somehow I knew that He was the Son of God and that it was very important for me to learn about Him and to have Him become a part of my life.

When I got about ten pages from the end of the book, and could see that I was nearly finished, it was about 5 a.m. on the second night. I was weary and wanted very much to sleep. My eyes and back were tired and sore. I thought, I’ll just read the rest of this tomorrow. But then another strong feeling compelled me to continue reading to the end.

I suddenly felt wide awake, as if I had awoken from a ten-hour sleep. I got to Moroni 10:3-5, which were marked with lines and the phrase “very important verses.” I read these verses several times, finally understanding what these verses were asking me to do. I thought about how merciful the Lord had been to humanity and to me. I pondered the things that I had read, the teachings about Jesus, the purpose of life, the great sacrifices that people were willing to make for their belief in God, the teachings of Christ, and I thought about the feelings I had as I read. I didn’t understand what they were. I didn’t know where those feelings came from. I just knew that I had never felt that way before. And I thought about my sins. I also sensed deep within that there was something extremely important about this book.

Then I realized that the verses were also asking me to ask God in prayer if what I had read was true. I had never prayed before, though I had said the Lord’s Prayer in church many times and had read other prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. But I had never prayed to God “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” I knew that this was what I needed to do.

I knelt in my room and prayed that God would forgive me of my sins and tell me if the things that I had read in the Book of Mormon were true. During that prayer, I had a profound spiritual experience. I felt an intense and overwhelming magnification of the feelings that I had felt all the way through the Book of Mormon. I felt as if my body were on fire and at the same time as if waves of water were pouring over and through me. My guilt was burned and washed away. I felt almost as if I were lifted off the ground or lifted out of my body. New knowledge flowed into my mind, and new feelings poured into my heart. The truthfulness of the Book of Mormon was burned into my soul. I felt completely at one with God and with all people. I no longer desired to follow my goals or my desires but only wanted to be close to God and all people.

Many small pictures flowed through my mind, small glimpses of what seemed to be my future: pictures and feelings of me living a righteous life and teaching others about Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon, and many other scenes I didn’t understand. I had glimpses of a profound connection with all people, and of relationships with the prophets I had read about, of spending time with great souls learning about the wonders of the universe. I know that this was God’s answer to my prayer. I wept for a long time at the joy of knowing that God knew about me and loved me, that my life was not an accident, of knowing that I had been taken off a path that could have led to destruction and being placed on a path that would lead to joy and peace. My prayer and experience must have lasted close to thirty minutes. Everything changed in that prayer-my thoughts, feelings, desires, and longings. I felt like my mind and heart and spirit were completely cleansed and that I was like a container, waiting to be filled.

When I arose from my knees, went to my bed and lay down, I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts were rushing through my mind that this was the most important day of my life, that everything from this day on would be different. I knew more than I had ever known anything in my life that there was a God, that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that I had been forgiven of my sins because of what he did, and that the Book of Mormon was God’s word.

The Lord knew that I would probably not have listened to any person who tried to convert me to a religion and instead compelled me to read on my own and blessed me with an outpouring of his Spirit. I have never doubted since that morning that God answers sincere prayer and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Because of my experience, I wanted to tell everyone I knew and met about the Book of Mormon and Jesus Christ. I have had the blessing of teaching many about the Book of Mormon and seeing it lead them to Christ. (David Dollahite, “My Guilt Was Burned And Washed Away,” in Eugene England, Converted to Christ Through the Book of Mormon,  1989, pp. 151-154)

Mary Whitmer Saw the Plates & Angel

Biographical Sketch

Mary Musselman Whitmer, the only woman who saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, was born Aug. 27, 1778, and became the wife of Peter Whitmer. Together with her husband she was baptized by Oliver Cowdery in Seneca lake, April 18, 1830. Among the early members of the Church she was familiarly known as Mother Whitmer, she being the wife of Peter Whitmer, sen., and mother of five of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. Her son, David Whitmer, before his death, testified on several occasions that his mother had seen the plates, and when Elders Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson visited Richmond, Missouri, in 1888, John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language: “I have heard my grandmother (Mary Musselman Whitmer) say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. (She undoubtedly refers to Moroni, the angel who had the plates in charge.) It was at the time, she said, when the translation was going on at the house of the elder Peter Whitmer, her husband. Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household, was often overloaded with work to such an extent that she felt it to be quite a burden. One evening, when (after having done her usual day’s work in the house) she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction. He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end. The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell. From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard. I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true. She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.” Mother Whitmer died in Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, in January, 1856. (Andrew Jensen, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1901, vol 1, p. 283; see also sketch of David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer: Historical Record, vol. 7, p. 621; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 24, p. 22.)

Son’s Account:

Soon after our arrival home, I saw something which led me to the belief that the plates were placed or concealed in my father’s barn. I frankly asked Joseph if my supposition was right, he told me it was. Some time after this, my mother was going to milk the cows, when she was met out near the yard by the same old man who said to her:

“You have been very faithful and diligent in your labors, but you are tired because of the increase in your toil; it is proper therefore that you should receive a witness that your faith may be strengthened.”

Thereupon he showed her the plates.

My father and mother had a large family of their own; the addition to it, therefore, of Joseph, his wife Emma, and Oliver very greatly increased the toil and anxiety of my mother. And although she had never complained, she had sometimes felt that her labor was too much, or at least she was perhaps beginning to feel so.

This circumstance, however, completely removed all such feelings and nerved her up for her increased responsibilities. (Interview with David Whitmer by Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, September 1878. Source: “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, Millennial Star, 40 (9 Dec 1878), pp. 771-74; Deseret News, 16 Nov 1878; Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, pp. 42-43.)

Grandson’s Account:

[When] Elders Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson visited Richmond, Missouri, in 1888, John C. Whitmer, a grandson of the lady in question, testified in the following language:

 “I have heard my grandmother say on several occasions that she was shown the plates of the Book of Mormon by a holy angel, whom she always called Brother Nephi. It was at the time, she said, when the translation was going on at the house of the elder Peter Whitmer, her husband. Joseph Smith with his wife and Oliver Cowdery, whom David Whitmer a short time previous had brought up from Harmony, Pennsylvania, were all boarding with the Whitmers, and my grandmother in having so many extra persons to care for, besides her own large household, was often overloaded with work to such an extent that she felt it to be quite a burden.

One evening, when she went to the barn to milk the cows, she met a stranger carrying something on his back that looked like a knapsack. At first she was a little afraid of him, but when he spoke to her in a kind, friendly tone and began to explain to her the nature of the work which was going on in her house, she was filled with inexpressible joy and satisfaction.

He then untied his knapsack and showed her a bundle of plates, which in size and appearance corresponded with the description subsequently given by the witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

This strange person turned the leaves of the book of plates over, leaf after leaf, and also showed her the engravings upon them; after which he told her to be patient and faithful in bearing her burden a little longer, promising that if she would do so, she should be blessed; and her reward would be sure, if she proved faithful to the end.

The personage then suddenly vanished with the plates, and where he went, she could not tell.

From that moment my grandmother was enabled to perform her household duties with comparative ease, and she felt no more inclination to murmur because her lot was hard.

I knew my grandmother to be a good, noble and truthful woman, and I have not the least doubt of her statement in regard to seeing the plates being strictly true.

She was a strong believer in the Book of Mormon until the day of her death.” Mother Whitmer died in Richmond, Ray county, Missouri, in January, 1856.

(Interview of John C. Whitmer with Edward Stevenson and Andrew Jenson in Richmond, Missouri, 1888, in Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saints Biographical Encyclopedia, vol. 1, p.283;  Historical Record, vol. 7, p. 621; Juvenile Instructor, vol. 24, p. 22; The Children’s Friend, Deseret News, vol. II, 1903, pp. 190-191) 

The Fourth Witness: The Mary Whitmer Story – DVD

“As persecution increased, Joseph Smith and his companions took refuge in the humble home of Peter and Mary Whitmer. During this respite the translation of the Book of Mormon was completed. While her husband and sons labored with the prophet, Mary shouldered the responsiblities of running the farm. While acknowledging the strain of caring for so many in such small quarters, she did not complain. Her willing sacrifice and quiet faith led to a powerful experience as Mary became the fourth witness to the Book of Mormon.” (Three LDS Film Classics on DVD: Fourth witness: the Mary Whitmer story; Eliza and I; Woman, the pioneer: Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio, 2004)

Harper’s New Monthly Magazine – 1851

In 1851 an objective assessment was made regarding the Book of Mormon in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine:

“Whatever may be the truth in respect to the real origin and authorship of the book of Mormon, there can be no doubt of its wonderful adaptedness to the purposes to which it has been applied. We can not agree with those who would deny to the work either genius or talent. The Koran bears with it that prestige of antiquity which always insures some degree of respect. It is written in a dead, and what is now regarded a learned language. It has its Oriental imagery, together with frequent allusions to what most interests us in Oriental romance. Above all, it has had its centuries of scholiasts and commentators, extracting the aroma as well as the dust of its assumed divinity. In short, there, is about it a show of learning and venerable antiquity, and yet, we do not hesitate to say it, Joe Smith, or whoever was its author, has made a book superior to that of the Arabian prophet; deeper in its philosophy, purer in its morality, and far more original. There are, doubtless, many faults both of style and language; but centuries hence may convert these into precious archaisms, and give to the bad Anglo-Saxon of the Mormon book all the interest which ages of scholiasts have imparted to what was once the irregular Arabic of the rude tribes of the desert.” (“Editor’s Table,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 17, October 1851, p. 701)

 

Exceedingly White

Sarah Heller Conrad By Oliver B. Huntington

Sunday, June 13, 1897- I conversed with one old lady eighty-eight years old who lived with David Whitmer when Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon in the upper room of the house, and she, only a girl, saw them come down from [the] translating room several times when they looked so exceedingly white and strange that she inquired of Mrs. Whitmer the cause of their unusual appearance, but Mrs. Whitmer was unwilling to tell the hired girl the true cause, as it was a sacred, holy event connected with a holy, sacred work which was opposed and persecuted by nearly everyone who heard of it.

The girl felt so strangely at seeing so strange and unusual appearance, she finally told Mrs. Whitmer that she would not stay with her until she knew the cause of the strange looks of these men.

Sister Whitmer then told her what the men were doing in the room above and that the power of God was so great in the room that they could hardly endure it; at times angels were in the room in their glory, which nearly consumed them. This satisfied the girl. (Oliver B. Huntington, History of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington, p. 49-50)

 

Angel & the Field

An angel plowed David Whitmer’s field for him which enabled him to leave is farm and go transport Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery back to his family farm where most of The Most Holy & Sacred Book of Mormon was transcribed:

Near this time, as Joseph was translating by means of the Urim and Thummim, he received, instead of the words of the book, a commandment to write a letter to a man by the name of David Whitmer, who lived in Waterloo, requesting him to come immediately with his team and convey himself and Oliver to his own residence, as an evil designing people were seeking to take away his (Joseph’s) life, in order to prevent the work of God from going forth to the world. The letter was written and delivered, and was shown by Mr. Whirmer to his father, mother, brothers, and sisters, and their advice was asked in regard to the best course for him to take in relation to the matter.

His father reminded him that he had as much wheat sown upon the ground as he could harrow in two days, at least; besides this, he had a quantity of plaster of paris to spread, which must be done immediately, consequently he could not go unless he could get a witness from God that it was absolutely necessary.

This suggestion pleased David, and he asked the Lord for a testimony concerning his going for Joseph, and was told by the voice of the Spirit to go as soon as his wheat was harrowed in. The next morning David went to the field and found that he had two heavy days’ work before him. He then said to himself that if he should be enabled, by any means to do this work sooner than the same had ever been done on the farm before, he would receive it as an evidence that it was the will of God that he should do all in his power to assist Joseph Smith in the work in which he was engaged. He then fastened his horses to the harrow, and instead of dividing the field into what is usually termed lands, he drove round the whole of it, continuing thus till noon, when, on stopping for dinner, he looked around and discovered to his surprise that he had harrowed in full half the wheat. After dinner he went on as before, and by evening he finished the whole two days’ work.

His father, on going into the field the same evening, saw what had been done, and he exclaimed, “There must be an overruling hand in this, and I think you had better go down to Pennsylvania as soon as your plaster of paris is spread.

The next morning David took a wooden measure under his arm, and went out to spread the plaster which he had left two days previous in heaps near his sister’s house, but, on coming to the place, he discovered that it was gone! He then ran to his sister and inquired of her if she knew what had become of it. Being surprised, she said, “Why do you ask me? Was it not all spread yesterday?”

“Not to my knowledge,” answered David.

“I am astonished at that,” replied his sister; “for the children came to me in the forenoon, and begged of me to go out and see the men sow plaster in the field, saying that they never saw anybody sow plaster so fast in their lives. I accordingly went and saw three men at work in the field, as the children said, but supposing that you had hired some help on account of your hurry, I went immediately into the house and gave the subject no further attention.”

David made considerable inquiry in regard to the matter, both among his relatives and neighbors, but was not able to learn who had done it. However, the family were convinced that there was an exertion of supernatural power connected with this strange occurrence.

David immediately set out for Pennsylvania, and arrived there in two days, without injuring his horses in the least, though the distance was one hundred and thirty-five miles. (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 148)

 

A Gentile Recommends the Book of Mormon

Peter A. Huff

“God…at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets.” (Heb. 1:1, KJV)

One of the most rewarding aspects of interfaith dialogue is open and honest engagement with the scriptures of traditions other than our own. Many of us will testify to the fact that drinking from other peoples’ wells can be a dramatically life-changing and life-enhancing experience. As a lifelong Bible reader, I would now consider my life profoundly incomplete without the wisdom and beauty of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Dhammapada, the Qur’an, the Tao Te Ching, and the other classics that form our world’s vast spiritual library.

For just about a century and a half, the comparative and respectful study of humanity’s sacred literature has become a commonplace of American higher education and a standard feature of parish religious education. Emerson’s generation had to depend on the dynamics of nineteenth-century maritime commerce and the vagaries of British imperial ambition to make the holy books of “non-Christian” Asia available to readers west of Boston Harbor’s India Wharf. Today, thanks to the mass market paperback and the internet, virtually the entire world bible is at our fingertips, ready to expand and enrich our worldview and, as Thoreau once suggested, challenge our “puny and trivial” modern minds.1

One text from the global sacred canon, however, tends to be ignored in this enterprise of inter-scriptural exchange, and liberals and conservatives seem to be about equally guilty of the oversight. It’s fairly easy to find college courses on the sacred writings of the

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 East and church study groups investigating the “lost books” of the Bible. Dig up a copy of Hinduism’s Rig Veda, Buddhism’s Lotus Sutra, the writings of Baha’u’llah, or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and you’re bound to come across an interest group not too far away, primed for spirited, and perhaps spiritual, discussion.

Of course, no one in these circles will demand strict endorsement of the claims found in the text or formal affiliation with the institution tied to the text as a condition for appreciation of the text. We know how to read disputable history as moving myth and putative prophecy as inspiring, if not inspired, poetry. We value these works precisely because they’re classics, masterpieces that bear an uncontrollably universal significance transcending creed, cult, culture, and century.

What seems to be missing from all of these admittedly commendable venues, however, is a sacred text known by name and reputation (and even by sight and probably even by touch) to almost every literate American. Ask any one of these otherwise educated and tolerant students of world scriptures why he or she has overlooked this particular volume and you’ll be met with either the blank stare of ignorance or the curled lip of impenitent bias: “Why would I want to read that?”

I’m well acquainted with this response, because I, too, resisted reading this book for a number of years. Even after my doctoral training in theology, I had somehow convinced myself that I could serve my profession without actually reading this holy text in a serious and comprehensive way. For the last ten years or so, I’ve tried to make up for this indefensible attitude by incorporating this piece of sacred literature not only into my routine of critical study but even into my private practice of spiritual reading. I’m happy to report that my evolving experience with this text has been effectively the same as my on-going experiences with other great works from the world’s treasury of spiritual wisdom.

The scripture I have in mind, of course, is the Book of Mormon. What follows is a Gentile’s appreciation-even recommendation-of this well-known but largely unread example of world-class scripture.

* * * Before I go further, I should make it clear that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Mormon. I’m not affiliated with the 13-million-strong, Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-popularly known simply as the Mormon or LDS Church. Nor do I belong to the smaller Missouri-based Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) or any of the scores of sects that have branched off from the original Mormon movement.

I’m what Latter-day Saints call a Gentile: a non-Mormon. As a Gentile, though, I should also dissociate myself from what amounts to a community of anti-Mormons in our society. Many Americans pick up a strain of anti-Mormonism in the same way that some of our fellow citizens catch a bit of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. Some anti-Mormons publish books and tracts, internet screeds and YouTube propaganda, warning all who care to read or view of the grave errors in Mormon doctrine and the near-criminal nature of Mormon practice. Some anti-Mormons even go “pro,” taking their message-complete with costumes and props-to the centers of Mormon population and pilgrimage. In my visits to Mormon sacred sites across the country, I’ve had direct contact with more than a few of these zealots.

Anti-Mormon bigotry is by no means limited to the uneducated and misguided. Before JFK, anti-Catholicism was described as the anti-Semitism of the liberal elite. Today, anti-Mormonism plays a comparable role. Recent political events have demonstrated that anti-Mormonism is alive and well in our republic. It’s largely unspoken and usually well behaved, but its presence can be felt-especially if you have the right kind of theological or sociological radar. In the academic world, specialization in Mormon studies can wreck a promising career. Suggest that the LDS worldview deserves serious philosophical consideration and may actually correspond to at least a portion of reality, and you could easily find yourself classed with Holocaust deniers and flat-earth kooks. Anti-Mormonism seems to be one of our nation’s last acceptable prejudices.

* * *

As neither Mormon nor anti-Mormon, I find myself strategically-maybe even providentially-positioned to recommend a reading of the Book of Mormon that is free and candid, yet empathetic. Intellectually responsible believers and skeptics can profit especially from a multi-faceted approach to the Book of Mormon that views the text through a variety of lenses. We can consider the Book of Mormon as literature, as ancient history, as divine revelation, and as universal wisdom.

Whatever else it might be, the Book of Mormon is an extraordinary piece of literature. A queer one, too. Ever since it was first published in 1830, it has sparked intense controversy-a remarkable achievement for a book that has attracted so few diligent readers. Critics have mocked its imitation of King James Bible English, its preposterous proper nouns, its apparent anachronisms, its convoluted plot lines. One wag claimed it would be nearly half its size if a single oft-repeated phrase were systematically deleted: “And it came to pass.” Doomed to enter American letters in the age of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the Book of Mormon was dismissed by Mark Twain as “chloroform in print.”2

Twain was funny but not completely right. (No religious group, by the way, reveres Life on the Mississippi as holy writ.) Approached on its own terms, the Book of Mormon can, in fact, be riveting reading. Its fifteen documents, named supposedly after ancient American prophets and kings, introduce us to a fascinating cast of characters: the patriarch-writer Nephi, the prophet-martyr Abinadi, the stripling warriors of Helaman, the war-renouncing tribe of Anti-Nephi-Lehies, and a memorable class of villains, including bad King Ammoron, the “bold Lamanite.” The documents also rehearse unforgettable accounts of adventure on the high seas, the rise and fall of civilizations, the agony of collective heroic sacrifice, and the ecstasy of individual moral transformation. (Romance, it seems, is the only major theme without a significant presence in the book-curious, given Joseph Smith’s folk status as over-sexed charlatan.) The dramatic climax of the Book of Mormon, unmatched in all literature sacred and profane, is the New World appearance of the resurrected Christ.

Reject claims of supernatural origin, and we’re still stuck with homespun creativity that defies comprehension. Call Smith a plagiarist, and the prodigious nature of his backwoods intellectual theft registers higher on the miraculous scale than his own tales of angelic visitation. At the very least, the Book of Mormon deserves a special place in the American canon, on a par with Moby-Dick, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Roots, and, yes, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What’s more, I think we can make a case for ranking it among near-sacred texts of the Western heritage such as The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings.

* * *

Latter-day Saints, of course, see the Book of Mormon as far more than a neglected literary classic. For them, it is nothing less than sacred scripture. They also accept it as an accurate, but not infallible, record of at least a portion of ancient American history.

Here’s where we come face to face with the audacity of Mormon belief. Some religions speak of heavenly messengers sent to earth. Some speak of divine books delivered supernaturally to select human agents. Some speak of living prophets loaded with divine mandate. Some speak of holy objects handled by the chosen few during a golden age of faith. Some speak of lost empires.

Mormonism does it all. The real scandal of the Mormon worldview for the outsider may be its metaphysical greediness. It believes too much!

Regarding what some would call the outlandish historical claim embedded in the Book of Mormon narrative, let me just say this. Imagine that we were somehow convinced that the Mayflower expedition truly represented Europe’s first contact with the Americas. If that were the case, we would greet the idea of a Spain-sponsored fifteenth-century trans-Atlantic voyage with profound skepticism. As a matter of fact, ancient Egyptians, Minoans, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks all performed tremendous feats of oceanic exploration-often without navigational instruments or anchors. The only reason to reject the hypothesis of a Jewish journey across the Pacific around the time of the Babylonian Exile is credible historical evidence to the contrary-not dogmatic attachment to an Italian mariner or a Viking pirate or anybody else as the true “discoverer” of America.

For Latter-day Saints, this set of historical claims can never be separated from the supernatural aura surrounding the Book of Mormon itself. When Muhammad’s detractors asked why he didn’t perform any miracles, he consistently pointed to the Qur’an as the real miracle for his generation. Joseph Smith and his followers have similarly envisioned the Book of Mormon as a miracle in print.

Any missionary can tell you the miraculous story. The teenaged Joseph Smith has a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ and is instructed to avoid all existing churches. A second vision-this time of an angel named Moroni-informs him of an ancient record engraved on golden plates buried in a hill not far from his home. A few years later, Smith uncovers the record and begins to translate a portion of it-through supernatural means- from “reformed Egyptian” into English. While still completing the manuscript of what will become the Book of Mormon, he receives additional heavenly visitations and revelations, all of which direct him to restore the rites and doctrines of the authentic church of Christ and reestablish the “ancient order of things.” All before his thirtieth birthday!

Given the highly charged character of this narrative, you might say that no one but a true believer could acknowledge the Book of Mormon as scripture. It’s easy to get paralyzed in an insider/outsider dichotomy when it comes to Mormonism and its unapologetic supernaturalism. Iron Rod Mormons warn against any kind of middle position. I think, though, that we can argue for a legitimate third option-an option available to anyone even tentatively open to what William James called “‘piecemeal’ supernaturalism.”3 Such a demythologized approach invites us to transpose the symphony of Mormon wisdom into a key more accessible to Gentile ears.

Today, signs of that emerging third option can be seen in the academy. A few non-Mormon scholars are beginning to enroll Joseph Smith into the communion of the world’s “great souls.” That storied fellowship of spiritual pioneers who have witnessed the “sundry times” and “divers manners” of divine penetration into human experience will never be complete without the founder of America’s premier world religion. This thawing of prejudice is long overdue. For many years, I’ve embraced Smith as a type of vernacular visionary, who in another time and place would have simply been accorded the title of mystic.

Honoring Smith as an interfaith saint, ironically, may be just another attempt to tame an original and unruly spirit. We’ve seen it happen to Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, King, and too many others. The book Joseph produced, however, defies domestication. It calls into question virtually every assumption that undergirds our overly secular lives. Thoreau had this experience when he read the newly translated Hindu and Chinese scriptures during his excursions on the Concord and the Merrimack and his sojourn at Walden Pond. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, Confucius, and Mencius forced him to confess just how “puny and trivial” his modern mind really was. “I would give all the wealth of the world,” he said, “and all the deeds of the heroes, for one true vision. But how can I communicate with the gods, who am a pencil-maker on the earth, and not be insane?”4

The Book of Mormon fuels this desperately modern drive for a single true vision. Like all great sacred classics, it confronts us with the truth about ourselves and our ultimate purpose on this planet. Excavated from the bedrock of upstate New York or harvested from the fertile soil of a farm boy’s frontier imagination, it reminds us that the ground upon which we stand is enchanted and that the age of miracles is nowhere near its final chapter. The so-called “burning in the bosom,” well known to missionaries and Mormon-phobes alike, may, after all, be a remarkably accurate way to describe the book’s uncanny effect on the heart of the earnest reader-even latter-day Gentiles like me.

The New Testament book of Hebrews concludes with sage advice: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Today, this apostolic counsel is a basic axiom of the interfaith imperative. I encourage you to apply it to the least-read volume in the world’s family of bibles. If we listen to the strange voice of this New World scripture, we may begin to hear again the long-forgotten tongues of angels.

Notes

  1. Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), 346.
  2. Mark Twain, Roughing It (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 127.
  3. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, edited by Martin E. Marty (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), 520.
  4. Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, edited by Carl F. Hovde (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), 140.

PETER A. HUFF holds the T. L. James chair in Religious Studies at Centenary College of Louisiana. Author of What Are They Saying about Fundamentalisms? (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2007) and Allen Tate and the Catholic Revival: Trace of the Fugitive Gods (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1996), he is a Catholic theologian active in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. This article originated as a sermon delivered at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, and first appeared on the website of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship, http://www.uuchristian.org/Sermons/GentileRcmndsBkMormon.html.

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[Source: Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 43, no. 2, Summer 2010 ]

Testimonies

Here is a list of Testimonies of The Most Holy & Sacred Book of Mormon by non-Mormons.

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” -Romans 10:17

  1. A Gentile Recommends the Book of Mormon
  2. The Coverless Book of Mormon by Don Vincenzo Di Francesca
  3. Angel & the Field
  4. Exceedingly White
  5. Mary Whitmer Saw the Plates & Angel
  6. My Guilt Was Burned And Washed Away
  7. The Burning of the Book – The Story of the Conversion of Jerry C. Mathews, a Texas Baptist Minister
  8. Harper’s New Monthly Magazine – 1851
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