When I was a boy, back in the early to mid 1950’s, my mother’s father, John William Dunn, told me about an experience he had regarding the Book of Mormon. Grandpa lived in Logan, Utah and was born in 1889. Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, lived in Clarkston, 20 miles northeast of Logan, until his death in 1875.
Martin passed away 14 years before my grandfather’s birth, but when my grandfather was perhaps a teenager, a man who had spoken with Martin Harris told Grandpa about his experience. What I remember my grandfather saying to me was that this man told him that he had visited Martin Harris in Clarkston and asked him if the Book of Mormon were true. Martin Harris told him he knew it was true because of what he had seen. That experience my grandfather had when he was a young man made such an impression on him, that he shared it with me.
Over the 60+ years since I heard the story, I had forgotten most of the details, but never forgot Grandpa telling me about it and the impact it had on me at the time. A year or so ago, I came in possession of my Grandmother Dunn’s book of remembrance, that was chockfull of memorabilia, pictures, and documents. I have been systematically going through these and putting them on FamilySearch. That’s where I found this little note:
I don’t know who typed it, but if Mr. Godfrey didn’t, it was copied from his handwritten or typed recollection that was in my grandfather’s possession. In any case, the note I have is many scores of years old and gives the first-person accounting of the experience of this young man and those who were with him. After over six decades, I have a simple, powerful, hold-it-in-my hand evidence of what my grandfather told me so many years ago.
I shared this experience with my children and grandchildren. I concluded with this statement: At this stage of my life, with my experiences, I do not need other witnesses of the truth of the Book of Mormon. I am a witness.
There have been countless articles and books written about the evidences of the Book of Mormon. External evidences include, for example, Mesoamerican archeological discoveries in the last decades (See also Mormon’s Codex), and unimpeachable eyewitness accounts of the plates, of the angel safeguarding them, and how Joseph brought the book forth. There are a plethora of internal evidences including Hebraic literary devices within the book and its remarkable consistency, complexity, and detail.
While these are interesting, they are also expected, for the book is true. The real proof of the book is what it does to you and for you. How you change when you make it an integral part of your life. How your knowledge, understanding, and love of Jesus Christ grows because of the words you are reading and the Spirit you are feeling. How you are becoming a more Christ-like person through that process.
Back in the 1970’s I was driving with my young family from Utah to our home in southern California. It was late at night and everyone else in the car was asleep. I was listening to news radio when the newscaster talked with a man by the name of Walter Martin, a Christian radio talk host who for years carried out a vendetta against the Mormon Church. He had hired three so-called handwriting experts to exam Solomon Spaulding’s handwriting as compared to the Book of Mormon manuscript. I’m not sure which manuscript—either the printer’s copy or the original where only a fraction of that manuscript still exists. In any case, those were mostly written by Oliver Cowdery. Walter Martin explained what he had done, and one of those he hired reported that the manuscript was in Solomon Spaulding’s hand. The conclusion: Joseph Smith plagiarized the book from Solomon Spaulding.
For a second, a wave of devastation swept over me, and then the resolve that defined who I was came. My commitment was unwavering. “I don’t care what they say. I will follow that Book for the rest of my life.” I knew what it had done to me and for me. And that is what I wanted. Then I almost laughed at the ridiculousness of what I had just heard. Turns out, that a few days later what the other two experts concluded came out. One said, it was such a frivolous thing he didn’t want to participate. The other said, he was wondering what Mr. Martin was doing. He had written his opinion that there was no similarity whatsoever between the handwritings, and Mr. Martin didn’t even acknowledge it.
The importance of that experience for me was my seeing that the sublime truths and spirit of the Book of Mormon was what I desired. How it was changing my life, was unimpeachable evidence that it was what Joseph purported it to be.
President Ezra Taft Benson said: We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it! The Book of Mormon is not on trial—the people of the world, including the members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with this second witness for Christ. (See October Conference 1984)
Those who seek to “prove” or “disprove” the Book of Mormon by external evidences are looking beyond the mark. The proof is within its pages and the life-changing effect it has on the sincere reader. As Joseph Smith said, “A man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” That’s the proof!
Every reader can be a certain and sure testator to its truthfulness. If they want. The pure humble desire (faith) to follow the Savior is the key. That is why I, (and millions of others) can declare to my children and grandchildren, that I am a witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Like Martin Harris, I don’t believe it. I know it!