Quote #8 – Jesse Townsend

Second Sight: Quote #8/9 - Reverend John A. Clark (1840) & Pastor Jesse Townsend (1833) on Martin Harris

CES Letter Core Question

Did Martin Harris only see the plates with his "spiritual eyes"?

Two other Palmyra residents said that Harris told them that he had seen the plates with “the eye of faith” or “spiritual eyes”


CES Letter, Page 94

The source of this quotation is a letter: Jesse Townsend to Phineas Stiles, 24 December 1833, Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1867), 288-91. The CES Letter excerpt is in red:

At that time Martin Harris was worth five or six thousand dollars, while the Smiths were not worth a cent. The latter used Martin's money freely; and some other men, having a great dislike to labor, joined Joe in his deceptions, among whom was a sort of schoolmaster named Cowdery, who assisted him in writing or transcribing the "Book of Mormon," as a pretended translation of the golden plates which he affirmed he had been directed by the Spirit of the Lord to dig from the earth. This was all done in the most secret manner. At the same time it was assumed to the uninitiated that it would be "immediate death" for any except the translators to see the plates. Poor Martin's faith was apparently strengthened by this pretension, but afterward the "command" was modified, and he claimed to have seen the plates with "spiritual eyes."

While Townsend was living in the area, this is not a direct quote but appears to be hearsay evidence.

Jesse Townsend (1766-1838), was highly biased. A graduate of Yale University, he was ordained in 1792 and installed as pastor of Palmyra's Western Presbyterian Church on 29 August 1817. After serving three years, he moved to Illinois and later to Missouri. Returning to Palmyra in 1826, he served as pastor in neighboring Sodus from 1827 to 1831. After several years of illness, Townsend died at Palmyra in 1838.

Alleging a “command” to not allow anyone to see the plates under the penalty of “immediate death” demonstrates Townsend’s lack of understanding. The Book of Mormon foretells: “the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered” (2 Nephi 27:12; see also Ether 5:4; D&C 5:15, 17:1).

This quotation contradicts other statements from Martin Harris. To a questioner in in 1870 he said: 

“Young man, I had the privilege of being with the Prophet Joseph Smith, and with these eyes of mine,” pointing to his eyes, “I saw the angel of the Lord and I saw the plates and the Urim and Thummim and the sword of Laban, and with these ears,” pointing to his ears, “I heard the voice of the angel, and with these hands, “Holding out his hands, “I handled the plates containing the record of the Book of Mormon.”[25]

The reference to a “spiritual eye” is ambiguous. Since was seeing a heavenly vision in the daytime, it would have constituted a different viewing experience from that which he was accustomed to. For natural eyes to view such spiritual things could be described as a spiritual experience rather than a natural one.

68 separate references to the testimonies of the Three witnesses have been accumulated. There are no denials but there are six denials that they ever denied their testimonies. Click here

This is an example of one of the more egregious misrepresentations in The CES Letter. It quotes a few statements from 9 of the 68 accounts and ignores the rest. Virtually all of them affirm that the Three Witnesses did see and angel and the plates. Click here.