Friday, November 12, 2021

Francis Kirkham and Oliver's letters

 Francis Kirkham (1977-1972) wrote a book titled New Witness For Christ in America: Evidence of Divine Power in the "Coming Forth" of the Book of Mormon.

A 1954 devotional is available here:

In July 1984, the Ensign published a tribute to Francis W. Kirkham.


In A New Witness for Christ, Dr. Kirkham examined five explanations for the origin of the Book of Mormon, showing the validity or weakness of each.

1. The first explanation came from the Prophet Joseph Smith and those who assisted him. The Prophet’s testimony of how the book came about was simple and straightforward. But its simplicity caused difficulty for many people. Joseph Smith explained that he was visited periodically by the angel Moroni during a four-year period. At the end of the four years, Moroni entrusted to him the gold plates, and the Prophet subsequently translated them by the gift and power of God.

A valuable contribution of Brother Kirkham’s books is his compilation of details about the production of the Book of Mormon as related by close associates of the Prophet. The person who recounted these events most thoroughly was Oliver Cowdery, the personal scribe of the Prophet who, as he said, wrote the entire Book of Mormon (except for a few pages) as Joseph Smith dictated. Oliver possessed a very inquisitive mind, and because of his close association with Joseph Smith, he had many opportunities to query the Prophet about Moroni’s visits and the subsequent circumstances which ultimately produced the Book of Mormon.

Oliver wrote a series of letters to W. W. Phelps concerning these events—letters that give us valuable insights not found in Joseph Smith’s history. For example, Oliver was told the location where Joseph had found the plates on the Hill Cumorah: “the west side of the hill, not far from the top.”9 He also learned the approximate time when the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph during the night of 21 September 1823. Although Joseph was not able to tell him the exact time, he said it must have been 11:00 P.M., midnight, or later, “as the noise and bustle of the family, in retiring, had long since ceased.”10 If it was that late at night, Joseph Smith must have prayed for several hours before Moroni appeared.

Oliver discussed the temptation the Prophet had on his first trip to the Hill Cumorah. There were two forces operating upon young Joseph’s mind, one urging him to obtain the plates to glorify God, and the other tempting him to seek wealth so he could live out his life in ease. (This reminds us of Jesus’ temptation when Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world and their glory. See Matt. 4:8–9.) Elder Cowdery cautioned against judging Joseph too harshly for allowing Satan’s temptation to attract him, since he was young and, like us all, his mind was easily turned from correct principles, “unless he could be favored with a certain round of experience.”11

This accounts for Joseph Smith’s failure to get the record in 1823. After reaching for the plates three times and failing, he cried out: “Why can I not obtain this book?” A voice answered immediately: “Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord.” Moroni then gave him a great vision. Joseph first saw the glory of the Lord; then Moroni said to him,

“Look!” He next saw the prince of darkness and his terrible hosts. This was shown to him, Joseph was informed, so that henceforth he never need to be deceived. Joseph Smith saw that there was nothing desirable in Satan’s program. It could not bring happiness—only misery. On the other hand, those who followed the Lord were blessed with unspeakable joy. This was an important experience for him in determining the difference between divine and satanic influence.

There was another sign by which Joseph would know the work was true. “This is the sign,” Moroni said. “When these things begin to be known … the workers of iniquity will seek your overthrow; they will circulate falsehoods to destroy your reputation, and also will seek to take your life.”12

These falsehoods have been the basis of most anti-Mormon articles and books ever since.

Brother Kirkham concluded this portion of the book by stating that members of the Church accepted Joseph Smith’s explanation of the origin of the Book of Mormon. “They were able to learn from persons who participated, including the Prophet himself, and by their study with faith and prayer in the promise of God recorded in the book, that the Book of Mormon had come forth by divine power and that it contained the teachings of the resurrected Christ to the ancient people of the American Continent.

“This, briefly, is the first explanation of the Book of Mormon. If this explanation is true, the greatest knowledge that can come to man has been revealed.” 13

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