Despite being one of the earliest and most important contributors to the restoration in late 1837, Martin Harris was cut off from the church for associating with a group that was undermining Joseph Smith and church leaders for the next several years. Martin was in and out of the church and had joined other religious groups as well, including the Shakers and an LDS offshoot led by James Strang. Remarkably, he persistently continued to testify of the Book of Mormon during all this time. By the late 60s, Martin was isolated and languishing in Kirtland.
Earlier, he had remarried, but his wife and children had left and gone to Utah. Eventually, his ever burning testimony of the Book of Mormon, coupled together with his desire to see his family again, compelled him to come out to Utah and reunite with the church. Encouraged and assisted by some homebound missionaries, Martin then made an honorable return to Utah and was rebaptized on September 17th, 1870, at the age of 87 in his final days, even as he was ill and approaching death.
He was constantly bearing testimony whenever he had sufficient strength to do so. Moments before his death, he assured those attending to him at his bedside. Yes, I did see the plates on which the Book of Mormon was written. I did see the angel. I did hear the voice of God. And I do know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. And now you know why.
Martin Harris was among the very earliest supporters of Joseph Smith. He assisted early on with the translation of the Book of Mormon and even beheld an angel, showing him the golden plates, becoming one of the three witnesses. Why then, after all these experiences, did he leave the church for a season? By the end of the tumultuous economic year of 1837, Martin stood apart from Joseph Smith and the mainstream church due to the lack of direct documentation for the disciplinary council.
The exact charges raised against Martin are unknown. It is clear, however, that Martin became increasingly aligned for a short time with dissenters who sought to replace Joseph Smith and others as leaders of the church in Kirtland. It is also evident that after having sacrificed so much financially and otherwise, Martin became frustrated with the monetary problems faced in Kirtland. Furthermore, Brigham Young retrospectively recalled that Martin felt greatly disappointed at not being called to higher leadership positions. Martin allowed these frustrations and disagreements to fester and drive a wedge between himself and his longtime friend and prophet, Joseph Smith and other leaders.
Martin Harris eventually returned to the church, which we will explore in a future video. But although he left the church for a season, Martin Harris remained a persistent and uncompromising witness of The Book of Mormon throughout his long life. For example, when one splinter group attempted to renounce the Book of Mormon, it was reported that Martin Harris arose and said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon, for he knew it was true. He then parted ways with him.
And now you know why.
You can learn more about David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris in Witnesses, an epic true story of how Harris, Cowdery and Whitmer became witnesses to the gold plates from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon.
Their statement of what occurred, and its veracity, has been published with every copy of the Book of Mormon since 1830. Many people know the story contained in their statement, but not many know the full story on how they became witnesses or why they chose to leave the church they were intimately involved in creating.
For more information, visit www.witnessesfilm.com