by Mike Hickenbotham
I developed a testimony that Jesus Christ was our Savior and Redeemer at a young age and have had a strong conviction of the reality of his atoning sacrifice every since. My studies in the scriptures have reinforced that testimony to the point today that I can state that I know Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Savior. He truly died for me and made possible my resurrection and exaltation. I have also gained a testimony of Joseph Smith’s calling as God’s prophet in these last days.
As a teenager, I remember the Joseph Smith story being recited by a returned missionary in Sunday School class exactly as it is contained in our scriptures. At that time, the Holy Ghost witnessed to me that the account I was hearing was true. Through the years my testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and other LDS scriptures has grown, but I knew from the beginning they were true as a result of this initial witness I received. If Joseph Smith was a prophet — and I knew he was — then these other revelations must also be true. To this day I cannot read the Joseph Smith story without receiving a similar assurance that these events actually occurred as Joseph Smith had recorded.
Joseph Smith’s History is the key to the restoration. Either Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and the restored gospel is true, or Joseph Smith was a fraud and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in error. Either he saw God and his Son, Jesus Christ, or he didn’t. There is no gray area of truth. It is either all true or all a hoax. It is my testimony that it is true and that no man could have done what Joseph Smith did without the help and inspiration of God.
This is where the law of witnesses helps us. According to the law of witnesses, every truth will be established in the mouth of multiple witnesses. It appears that the more important that truth is spiritually, the more witnesses there will be.
D&C 46 talks about gifts of the Spirit. In verses 13-14 it says:
To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.
To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.
Elder Dallin Oaks spoke to the French people and confirmed this is the function of the Apostles. We can believe on their words. They are special witnesses to the world.
Although most of us know that it is the Spirit that converts, many among us may have neglected to reinforce the initial spiritual witness we received, with consistent gospel study. D&C 88:118 and 109:7 tell us that we should “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” When we study prayerfully with faith according to D&C 8:1-3, the spirit of revelation may be manifested to both our minds (or our physical rational logic) and our hearts (our spirit as faith, joy, and peace). This is further reinforced in D&C 11:13 where the Lord states that the Holy Spirit will “enlighten your mind” and “fill your soul with joy.” But we must put forth an effort to acquire this knowledge (D&C 9:7). Enlightenment to our minds is promised when we live righteously and seek to obtain God’s word through study and prayer (D&C 11:20-22).
I believe testimonies have both a spiritual and intellectual part. Some have inferred that an intellectual faith is inferior and possibly even dangerous, but the scriptures are full of exhortations to “seek learning” by [both] study and faith.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell, for whom the Maxwell Institute was named, was fond of Austin Farrer’s praise of the great C. S. Lewis: “Though argument does not create conviction,” Farrer wrote, “lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.” (See Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Jocelyn Gibb, comp., Light on C. S. Lewis [New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965], 26.)
Consider for example the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. There were two types.
The Three Witnesses
In D&C 17, the Lord called Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris to be the three witnesses mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Their testimony is printed in every copy:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
At the end of Joseph Smith – History we find Oliver Cowdery witnessing separately:
“These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from his mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’
Oliver was also a witness to the visit of John the Baptist saying:
“But, dear brother, think, further think for a moment, what joy filled our hearts… when we received under his hand the Holy Priesthood as he said, ‘Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
… The assurance that we were in the presence of an angel, the certainty that we heard the voice of Jesus, and the truth unsullied as it flowed from a pure personage, dictated by the will of God, is to me past description, and I shall ever look upon this expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving while I am permitted to tarry…”—Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1 (October 1834), pp. 14–16.
These were spiritual witnesses. But the Lord also provided us with other witnesses with the eight witnesses called to testify that the plates were real and tangible.
The Eight Witnesses (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/eight?lang=eng )
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Christian Whitmer Jacob Whitmer
Peter Whitmer, Jun. John Whitmer
Hiram Page Joseph Smith, Sen.
Hyrum Smith Samuel H. Smith
This was no vision or spiritual manifestation. There was no angel present. Some feel these witnesses are more credible than the three witnesses exactly because this was not a spiritual event. Notice that without Joseph Smith the 3 & 8 witnesses total 11.
Richard Lloyd Anderson has written an excellent book entitled “Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses.” He examines these witnesses and the testimonies they bore to the end of their lives. They all died affirming their testimonies despite some leaving the church.
If you think about it, there are definite parallels between the witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the witnesses to the Book of Mormon plates. There were 11 male witnesses and several female witnesses, of which the most prominent was called Mary.
To these accounts we could add the witness of Emma Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, and other women who were involved in the restoration.
And later hundreds of Latter-day Saints witnessed the Pentecostal outpouring at the Kirtland Temple dedication.
At about the same time Section 110 of the D&C was received:
Visions manifested to Joseph Smith the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery in the temple at Kirtland, Ohio, April 3, 1836. The occasion was that of a Sabbath day meeting. Joseph Smith’s history states: “In the afternoon, I assisted the other Presidents in distributing the Lord’s Supper to the Church, receiving it from the Twelve, whose privilege it was to officiate at the sacred desk this day. After having performed this service to my brethren, I retired to the pulpit, the veils being dropped, and bowed myself, with Oliver Cowdery, in solemn and silent prayer. After rising from prayer, the following vision was opened to both of us.”
1 The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
2 We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
3 His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
4 I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng
In our day our modern apostles and prophets have added their special witness to those that preceded them and are found in the talks and testimonies they’ve born.
Modern LDS historians like Richard Bushman have also added their own witness, saying:
I also believe the statements of the witnesses to the gold plates. A lot has been said about Martin Harris’s talk of spiritual eyes. Did he really see the plates as we see each other or was it an imagined happening. I am not persuaded by the spiritual eyes argument. Elizabeth Mott wrote a paper on spiritual eyes for the summer seminar a few years ago. She pointed out that Harris and others were concerned about the biblical statements on seeing the divine. Many passages made it seem that a person would perish in the presence of God or holiness or even angels unless they were spiritually prepared beforehand. Looking back on his experience, Harris had to believe his eyes were made ready to view the divine. Charles Finney said something similar about his vision of Christ in his law chambers. Although it came to him as sensory experience, he afterwards had to say it had to have been mental or spiritual. The Bible almost compelled that understanding of experience. Speaking of spiritual eyes does not detract from the reality. I am inclined to accept the witness statements at face value. The strength of the testimonies, in my opinion, is also increased by the numbers. It was not just a single individual who said he saw them but eleven persons. That impresses me. Where do we have better attestation of a supernatural event?
…Those are little pieces, but they indicate how I feel about the founding events. I am also impressed by the Book of Mormon. It is riddled with nineteenth-century Protestant theology and phrasing, but still is an incredible narrative of a civilization’s rise and fall. A few years ago in a class on contemporary Mormonism that Claudia and I were teaching at Columbia, one of the students asked me do you believe the Book of Mormon. I said that it was an incredibly complicated book that worked on many different levels. In my opinion, it was either a work of genius or inspired, and knowing what I do about Joseph Smith, I don’t believe he was capable of writing it. I really don’t know how the published text relates to the text on the plates, considering that Joseph did not look at the plates as he dictated the book. There are various ways of explaining that, but I do think the Book of Mormon is a marvelous creation and far beyond Joseph Smith’s natural powers in 1829.
So what it comes down to is that I believe in the founding events. I think of them as the foundation of my faith. But they are the foundation, and I do not live in the cellar. I live in the rooms built on these events, the way of life, the attitudes, the institutions, the relationships, the experiences they support. This is what I meant when I spoke to Anselm Min, the Catholic theologian at Claremont Graduate School where Claudia and I taught for three years. Anselm took me to lunch soon after we arrived at Claremont and bluntly asked me how I could believe in Joseph Smith. My immediate response was that when I lived in the Mormon way I became the kind of man I wanted to be. Those words summed up a lot—my sense of having God’s spirit when I needed it, the salutary discipline of Mormon life, the friendships and commonalities of a Mormon ward, the requirement of unselfish service, the valuation of family, the tempering of pride and fear—a host of things. Like many people, I wrestle with demons. I frequently feel inadequate to my responsibilities. At the same time, I know I can be better, and when I live the Mormon way, I am lifted up. I see things more clearly. I can figure out how I really feel. I know how to relate to my wife and children and colleagues. I am temperate, incisive, generous, and focused. On bad days, Claudia and I often say we are out of sync with the universe. Over the many years I have been in the Church, I find that following the Mormon path puts me back in sync. I don’t use the word “know” a lot, but I do know I am a better person for being a Mormon.
On the fruit of being a Latter-day Saint, see also Elder Tad R. Callister’s talk during a recent CES devotional on Jan. 12, 2014. The spiritual blueprint of the Church of Jesus Christ. See the video at:
John tells us “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.” 1 John 5:9
In my opinion, to deny the events of the restoration took place as so many witnesses testified takes more faith (blind faith perhaps) than to accept these numerous accounts as factual. “Many a pretender to the prophetic office has claimed to entertain angels or to have spoken with God, but who other than Joseph Smith introduced his angels to others? Joseph Smith introduced Moroni to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris (Testimony of the 3 Witnesses – https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/three?lang=eng ). He was never alone when priesthood or keys were restored…. He and Sydney Rigdon received the revelation on the degrees of glory together. Together they saw legions of angels, along with the Father and the Son (see D&C 76:21-23 – https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/76?lang=eng ). Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when John the Baptist came to restore the Aaronic Priesthood (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/13?lang=eng ), and when Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng ). Oliver was also with Joseph Smith when Christ came to accept the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and Moses, Elias, and Elijah restored their keys, powers, and authorities (D&C 110 – https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng ).” (Sons and Daughters of God, pp. 194-195)
Then there is an account of God the Father and his Son appearing to members of the School of the Prophets. See: http://www.ldsscriptureteachings.org/2016/11/21/the-father-and-the-son-appear-to-members-of-the-school-of-the-prophets/
Add to the above, the divine manifestations that accompanied the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and you’ll find there were literally hundreds of eyewitnesses to the restoration events. The Kirtland Temple dedication alone was witnessed by nearly 1000 people in attendance. Some saw the Savior, others angels, and some had visions and spoke in tongues. There was also a rushing of wind as George A. Smith began to prophesy and the whole congregation arose at once. People in the neighborhood came running to see what was happening. They saw a bright light like a pillar of fire resting on the temple. It was reported that many in attendance spoke in tongues and prophesied. Descriptions of this event are found in the History of the Church vol. 2, pages 380-382, 427-428 and James Talmage’s House of the Lord pages 99-102. No one I have discussed the above events with has ever been able to respond rationally. It seems to me that the accounts of these and other eyewitnesses stand as an irrefutable testimony to the world that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that the Church of Jesus Christ was in fact restored through divine messengers. I know of no other church that can make these claims. Do you? See:
I believe our faith as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an intelligent and reasonable faith. I believe the evidence is clear to all who are intellectually honest in their investigation of the truth. When our LDS teachings concerning the restoration are given a fair hearing and when the witness of the Spirit is sought in sincerity (Heb. 10:15), the truth will be revealed either as Alma 32 explains or as Moroni explains in Moroni 10. Sound and accurate logic is not enough by itself to enable us to understand these truths. The assistance of the Holy Spirit is essential (1 Cor. 2:11).
A friend of mine, John Lynch, wrote: The Church is absolutely what it claims to be! The saving ordinances and keys needed to return to Father and become like Him are here in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know that of myself despite being aware of virtually every reason to not believe. I know this because it is both reasonable and revealed to me. I have had profound spiritual experiences that makes it impossible for me to not believe. So, trust in any spiritual experiences you have had, and be patient while the questions come for either yourself or your family.
My feelings are the same. Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. Through divine messengers he reestablished the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this last dispensation. It alone holds the keys of salvation and teaches the fulness of the gospel. The Spirit has witnessed this to me and I find that spiritual witness, along with this “great cloud” of historical witnesses, a reassuring confirmation that our Church is the restored Church of Jesus Christ and God is revealing truths to his prophets and apostles today.
More Come Follow Me resources here
Mike served a mission to France (French Mission) from 1967 to 1969. He attended Brigham Young University and graduated with a B. S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1973. While at BYU, he met his wife, Kathy Walker and married her in the Salt Lake Temple. Mike went into the Air Force as an officer after graduating and worked as an engineer until retiring in 1993. Mike served with his growing family of two boys and 3 girls in Mississippi, North Dakota, California, Florida, Nevada, and France. While in Panama City, FL, Mike got an MBA from Florida State. Mike’s last Air Force assignment was as Chief of Computer Support at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nevada. While there, he started writing Answering Challenging Mormon Questions. It was later published by Horizon Publishers and Cedar Fort, Publishers. After retiring in 1993 the family moved to American Fork, Utah where his five kids finished most of their schooling. Mike worked in various companies after serving in the Air Force but ended up with an engineering firm that helped neutralize chemical weapons for the Army south of Tooele, Utah. Mike joined FAIR (now FairMormon) in 1998. He was given the John Taylor Defender of the Faith award for his contributions to FairMormon in 2018. Michael and Kathy completed a mission to Amiens, France in 2008 and 2009 where they served as missionaries and as a Branch President and Relief Society President for a year and a half. Since returning from their mission they have stayed busy helping with grand-kids, traveling, doing Internet missionary work, and helping with their aging parents and 17 grand children.