The greatest revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith is the Book of Mormon. We know very little concerning the actual process of translation because those who know the most, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, say the least about it. The details of translation (like the rock in a hat for instance) came from David Whitmer and others who were only minor players in the process. And these details were reported many years after the fact. In a conference in 1831, Joseph was invited to give a full account of the translation process by his brother Hyrum, to which Joseph stated:
“it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.” (History of the Church 1:220)
Why is it that the Lord doesn’t want us to know the particulars concerning the translation process? Is it possible that if we were given all these details we might be guilty of looking beyond the mark (see Jacob 4:14)? Would we spend too much of our time studying the wrong things? How ridiculous it would be, if we were so distracted by the history of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, that we didn’t study the Book of Mormon. It may be for a similar reason we know precious little about the actual geographic location of the Book of Mormon. A testimony of the Book of Mormon is not to be gained in physical evidence.
In March of 1829, while Joseph was under tremendous pressure to show the world the gold plates, he was given this revelation:
“…if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.” (Doctrine and Covenants 5:7)
In other words, faith is not obtained in this way. A person who seeks for a sign before they will believe, or physical proof, will ultimately find another reason to disbelieve. It wouldn’t be hard for people, once they’ve seen the plates, to then accuse Joseph of making them. Even if they could be authenticated through carbon testing and linguistic analysis, to believe that Joseph translated them by the gift and power of God would be excused away. No, a witness isn’t to be obtained in this way.
Instead, the Lord has set up His own pattern for obtaining a lasting witness of the truth. In an instruction to the early missionaries of this final dispensation, the Lord reminded them, and us, what our duty is in proclaiming the gospel. “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts;” (Doctrine and Covenants 29:7) The way a person is identified as the elect of God is how they respond to the message God has sent forth in these last days. And the instrument of that message is the Book of Mormon.
At the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni gives the following pattern:
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Moroni 10:4).
Any person who desires to know if the Book of Mormon is true will “receive it” (meaning they will give it a chance and study it with an open mind). Then they will ask with “a sincere heart” (meaning the really want to know), with “real intent” (meaning they will do something about it once they know, like join the Church through baptism), and with “faith in Christ” (meaning they believe He can make things known unto them). Even their prayerful question is prescribed, “ask if it is not true.” This may be semantics, but I wonder if Moroni is stating the direction of the inquiry. If a person is asking if something is not true, then they are assuming that it is.
As a missionary in the South, I came across all types of “seekers”. Some were happy with their current situation and had no desire to discover if the Book of Mormon was true. These never received it. Others would receive the book, or had previously received the book, and claimed that after reading and praying about it, God told them it wasn’t true. This, of course, was in direct conflict to what God had told me, so one of us has gotten it wrong. It was clear from further conversation with such individuals, that their investigation wasn’t sincere or with real intent. They read the Book of Mormon, (or perhaps only a small part of it), in a spirit of contempt and ridicule. They neither heard the voice of the Lord in it, nor prevented their hearts from hardening against it. Still there were others who gave the Book of Mormon a chance, read it sincerely, asked with an intention to join the Church, and believed Christ could manifest it, and He did.
A conversion to the faith based on the Book of Mormon, has a more lasting effect on the individual than any other way. Ezra Booth was the Methodist minister in Hiram Ohio for the John Johnson family. He attended a meeting of the Church with the Johnson’s to investigate the claims of the restoration. Upon witnessing the miraculous healing of Elsa Johnson’s arm, Ezra joined the Church. He was soon sent on a mission to Missouri where he tried to convert people to the Church through attempts to perform miracles, since this was what converted him. When he was unable to perform any miracles, he became disillusioned and, after leaving the Church, became a bitter apostate.
Contrast Ezra Booth with Parley P. Pratt. Parley’s conversion came as a result of consuming the Book of Mormon. He related:
“I read all day, eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came for I preferred reading to sleep…I esteemed the book …more than all the riches of the World.” (Pratt, Parley P, Autobiography, 1985, 2)
It would be Parley who introduced the Book of Mormon and the other three missionaries who traveled with him, to his former minister Sidney Rigdon. This mission would change the destiny of the Church as the Lord would command His young Church to gather in Ohio. Parley would spend his entire life serving missions and proclaiming the Book of Mormon. Before his final mission, where he would be murdered in Arkansas, he recorded “I preached my farewell discourse in the Tabernacle, in which I bore testimony to the Book of Mormon and of the calling of Joseph Smith.” (ibid 400).
There are no guarantees when it comes to our enduring to the end, for “great faith has a short shelf life” (President Henry B Eyring, Ensign, Nov 2005). But if we are going to make it to the end, it will be because we followed the counsel of the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (introduction: Book of Mormon).