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”

— EARLY MORMON DOCUMENTS 2:270 AND 3:22

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.


 Additional Resources:

Did Martin Harris tell people that he did not see the plates with his natural eyes, but rather the "eye of faith"?

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 14/1 (2005): 18–31.

Kenneth W. Godfrey, “David Whitmer and the Shaping of Latter-day Saint History,” in The Disciple As Witness: Essays on Latter-Day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson, edited by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000),223–256.

Kirk B. Henrichsen, “How Witnesses Described the “Gold Plates,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies10/1 (2001): 16–21.

Jeff Lindsay, “Circumstantial Evidence and the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Can They Be Ignored Any Longer?“, jefflindsay.com

Matthew Roper, “Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 164–193.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Credibility of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds and Charles D. Tate (eds.), (Provo, Utah : Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University ; Salt Lake City, Utah : Distributed by Bookcraft, 1996 [1982]),Chapter 9, 213–232.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981).

Richard L. Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel B. Reynolds, (Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997), Chapter 3.

 Milton V. Backman, Jr., Eyewitness Accounts of the Restoration (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1983).

Matthew B. Brown, Plates of Gold: The Book of Mormon Comes Forth (American Fork UT: Covenant, 2007).

John W. Welch and Larry E. Morris, editors, Oliver Cowdery: Scribe, Elder, Witness (Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2006).

Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 1: Motives (PDF) by Michael Ash

Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 2: Oliver Cowdery (PDF) by Michael Ash

Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 3: Martin Harris (PDF) by Michael Ash

Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 4: David Whitmer (PDF) by Michael Ash

The Book of Mormon Witnesses: Evidence for The Book of Mormon

pt 1 Book of Mormon Witnesses and the Restoration

pt 2 Book of Mormon Witnesses and the Restoration

Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced (PDF) (2006 FAIR Conference) by Daniel C. Peterson

pt 1, Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced 2006 FAIR Conference address

pt 2, Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced 2006 FAIR Conference address

pt 3, Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced 2006 FAIR Conference address

pt 4, Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced 2006 FAIR Conference address

pt 5, Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced 2006 FAIR Conference address

Attempts to Redefine the Experience of the Eight Witnesses–  by Richard Lloyd Anderson

Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner–  byMatthew Roper

David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness–  by Daniel C. Peterson

Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard Lloyd Anderson

Articles of Faith 2: Royal Skousen on Book of Mormon Critical Text Project and Mary Whitmer Witness to the Gold Plates, Royal Skousen, 0:38:05

Faith and Reason 7: Book of Mormon Witnesses, Michael R. Ash, 0:15:32

Mormon FAIR-Cast 150: The Apostasy of the Witnesses, Martin Tanner, 0:19:20

Mormon FAIR-Cast 150: The Apostasy of the Witnesses

Explaining Away the Book of Mormon Witnesses (2004 FAIR Conference) by Richard L. Anderson

The witnesses believed God had to permit their witness of the plates, but insisted nevertheless that it was literal, physical, and real. Click here

Were the experiences of the witnesses spiritual or literal?—Brief Summary: It is claimed that the witnesses’ encounter with the angel and the plates took place solely in their minds. They claim that witnesses saw the angel in a “vision” and equate “vision” with imagination. (Click here for full article)

Did the Book of Mormon witnesses ever recant?—Brief Summary: Some have tried to argue that some or all of the Witnesses recanted concerning their testimony. They were all faithful to their testimonies to the end of their lives, even though many of them had personal disagreements with Joseph Smith that caused them to leave the Church. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses knew they would be ridiculed and not believed—Brief Summary: The Witnesses understood that by giving their names to the witness statements, they would suffer social costs and rejection. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses persisted even in the face of persecution or death—Brief Summary: The Witnesses stuck to their claim even in the face of threats or the risk of death. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses who left the Church continued to maintain their witness—Brief Summary: Some witnesses were excommunicated and left the Church. However, the staunchly stuck to their witness accounts. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses knew they would be ridiculed and not believed—Brief Summary: The Witnesses understood that by giving their names to the witness statements, they would suffer social costs and rejection. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses persisted even in the face of persecution or death—Brief Summary: The Witnesses stuck to their claim even in the face of threats or the risk of death. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses who left the Church continued to maintain their witness—Brief Summary: Some witnesses were excommunicated and left the Church. However, the staunchly stuck to their witness accounts. (Click here for full article)

Witnesses had shared experiences which they could compare to confirm their reality—Brief Summary: The Three and Eight Witnesses did not have merely internal, subjective experiences. These were shared experiences, which they could and did use to confirm their reality and objectivity. (Click here for full article)Brief Summary: The Three and Eight Witnesses did not have merely internal, subjective experiences. These were shared experiences, which they could and did use to confirm their reality and objectivity. (Click here for full article)

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” byu.edu