What did Oliver Cowdery's associates say about his character?
William Lang, who apprenticed in Cowdery’s law office long after he left the Church, knew him for many years
William Lang, who apprenticed in Cowdery’s law office, knew him for many years. Lang was a member of the Ohio bar, and served as “prosecuting attorney, probate judge, mayor of Tiffin, county treasurer, and two terms in the Ohio senate. He was nominated by his party for major state offices twice.” 
Lang wrote of Cowdery:
Mr. Cowdery was an able lawyer and a great advocate. His manners were easy and gentlemanly; he was polite, dignified, yet courteous…With all his kind and friendly disposition, there was a certain degree of sadness that seemed to pervade his whole being. His association with others was marked by the great amount of information his conversation conveyed and the beauty of his musical voice. His addresses to the court and jury were characterized by a high order of oratory, with brilliant and forensic force. He was modest and reserved, never spoke ill of any one, never complained. 
Harvey Gibson, a political opponent of Oliver’s, and another lawyer, said that Cowdery was an “irreproachable gentleman”
Harvey Gibson, a political opponent of Oliver’s, and another lawyer (whose statue now stands in front of the Seneca County courthouse) wrote:
Cowdery was an able lawyer and [an] agreeable, irreproachable gentleman. 
Incidents that some have claimed bring Cowdery’s character into question
Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders, &C. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State
Some have used other ways to try and impugn Cowdery’s character and bring it into question. One such way is bringing up an 1838 petition signed by 83 Latter-day Saint men accusing Oliver of various crimes. Such incidents have been thoroughly addressed. Balanced context can be found in Latter-day Saint historian Alexander Baugh’s PhD dissertation “A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri. Neither Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, nor Hyrum Smith of the First Presidency signed the petition. The document was written by then-apostate Sampson Avard. Furthermore, the allegations in the document are baseless. For example, it was feared that Oliver’s desire to become a lawyer would lead to him to defending unsavory criminals or participating in vexatious lawsuits against the Church. When David and Oliver were earlier excommunicated they didn’t defend themselves as they thought that church courts didn’t have jurisdiction. Some of the Danites inferred guilt from their silence or by association.
Historian Jeffrey Walker writes:
In April 1838, Oliver Cowdery was tried before a high council court and excommunicated. He did not attend the hearing, claiming that in his role as Assistant President of the Church the high council lacked jurisdiction over him. Nine charges were brought against him. Counts one and seven dealt directly with Cowdery’s interest in or participation as a lawyer: “1st, For stirring up the enemy to persecute the brethren by urging on vexatious lawsuitsand thus distressing the innocent,” and “7th, For leaving the calling, in which God had appointed him, by Revelation, for the sake of filthy lucre, and turning to the practice of Law.” While Cowdery did not substantively defend all the charges, he did submit a letter addressed to Bishop Partridge requesting that the council “take no view of the foregoing remarks, other than my belief in the outward governments of the Church.”
Scott Faulring describes Oliver’s exit from the Church and eventual return including these episodes.
Cowdery longed to put the strife associated with his June 1838 departure from Far West behind him. The situation, he explained, was “painful to reflect on.” In a genuine spirit of reconciliation, Oliver offered his personal interpretation of the circumstances leading to his dismissal. He observed candidly:
I believed at the time, and still believe, that ambitious and wicked men, envying the harmony existing between myself and the first elders of the church, and hoping to get into some other men’s birth right, by falsehoods the most foul and wicked, caused all this difficulty from beginning to end. They succeeded in getting myself out of the church; but since they them selves have gone to perdition, ought not old friends—long tried in the furnace of affliction, to be friends still. 
Oliver also told Brigham and the other members of the Twelve that he did not believe any of them had contributed to his removal and thus he could speak freely with them about returning. In his reply to the Twelve’s invitation, Oliver mentioned a “certain publication,” signed by some eighty-three church members then living in Missouri, charging him and others with conspiring with outlaws.  Cowdery emphatically denied such an vile indictment. He conceded that he had not seen the offending declaration, but had heard of its existence and the accusations made in it.
“Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them.”
Some critics have used a December 1838 quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith to impugn Oliver’s character. The above is the standard representation of this quote. Joseph Smith wrote to the Saints on 16 December 1838 to provide comfort to the Saints and update them on his current condition in Liberty Jail:
To the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Caldwell county, and all the Saints who are scattered abroad, who are persecuted, and made desolate, and who are afflicted in divers manners for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, by the hands of a cruel mob and the tyrannical disposition of the authorities of this state; and whose perils are greatly augmented by the wickedness and corruption of false brethren, greeting:
May grace, mercy, and the peace of God be and abide with you; and notwithstanding all your sufferings, we assure you that you have our prayers and fervent desires for your welfare, day and night. We believe that that God who seeth us in this solitary place, will hear our prayers, and reward you openly.Know assuredly, dear brethren, that it is for the testimony of Jesus that we are in bonds and in prison. But we say unto you, that we consider that our condition is better (notwithstanding our sufferings) than that of those who have persecuted us, and smitten us, and borne false witness against us; and we most assuredly believe that those who do bear false witness against us, do seem to have a great triumph over us for the present. 
By this time, all of the three witnesses had fallen away from the Church after severe disagreements with Joseph Smith. This is why Joseph Smith published the comment in the letter—Joseph was angry with them:
Was it for committing adultery that we were assailed? We are aware that that false slander has gone abroad, for it has been reiterated in our ears. These are falsehoods also. Renegade “Mormon” dissenters are running through the world and spreading various foul and libelous reports against us, thinking thereby to gain the friendship of the world, because they know that we are not of the world, and that the world hates us; therefore they [the world] make a tool of these fellows [the dissenters]; and by them try to do all the injury they can, and after that they hate them worse than they do us, because they find them to be base traitors and sycophants.
Such characters God hates; we cannot love them. The world hates them, and we sometimes think that the devil ought to be ashamed of them.
We have heard that it is reported by some, that some of us should have said, that we not only dedicated our property, but our families also to the Lord; and Satan, taking advantage of this, has perverted it into licentiousness, such as a community of wives, which is an abomination in the sight of God.
When we consecrate our property to the Lord it is to administer to the wants of the poor and needy, for this is the law of God; it is not for the benefit of the rich, those who have no need; and when a man consecrates or dedicates his wife and children, he does not give them to his brother, or to his neighbor, for there is no such law: for the law of God is, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery already in his heart. Now for a man to consecrate his property, wife and children, to the Lord, is nothing more nor less than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, the sick and afflicted, and do all he can to administer to their relief in their afflictions, and for him and his house to serve the Lord. In order to do this, he and all his house must be virtuous, and must shun the very appearance of evil.
[Page 231] Now if any person has represented anything otherwise than what we now write, he or she is a liar, and has represented us falsely—and this is another manner of evil which is spoken against us falsely.
It is on this page that we get the quote from Joseph referencing the men specifically. Notice how he states only that they are “mean” and nothing more:
And now, brethren, we say unto you—what more can we enumerate? Is not all manner of evil of every description spoken of us falsely, yea, we say unto you falsely. We have been misrepresented and misunderstood, and belied, and the purity and integrity and uprightness of our hearts have not been known—and it is through ignorance—yea, the very depths of ignorance is the cause of it; and not only ignorance, but on the part of some, gross wickedness and hypocrisy also; for some, by a long face and sanctimonious prayers, and very pious sermons, had power to lead the minds of the ignorant and unwary, and thereby obtain such influence that when we approached their iniquities the devil gained great advantage—would bring great trouble and sorrow upon our heads; and, in fine, we have waded through an ocean of tribulation and mean abuse, practiced upon us by the ill bred and the ignorant, such as Hinkle, Corrill, Phelps, Avard, Reed Peck, Cleminson, and various others, who are so very ignorant that they cannot appear respectable in any decent and civilized society, and whose eyes are full of adultery, and cannot cease from sin. Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris, are too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them. Marsh and “another,” whose hearts are full of corruption, whose cloak of hypocrisy was not sufficient to shield them or to hold them up in the hour of trouble, who after having escaped the pollution of the world through the knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, became again entangled and overcome—their latter end is worse than the first. But it has happened unto them according to the word of the Scripture: “The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”
All of these incidences beg questions:
- Why would Joseph risk angering these men further if he knew that they could expose him?
- Why didn’t they expose him and instead go to their deathbeds (and in the case of Harris and Whitmer never returning to the Church) testifying that the work was true?
- Why did they always hold firm to their testimony to the Book of Mormon even when harassed by members of the Church and Joseph Smith himself after leaving it?
These are all, in the end, testaments to the strength and integrity of the witnesses in general and their integrity as witnesses to truth. They held true to their testimony even in the face of great temptation. That—in and of itself—is testimony to their reliability.
Does the fact that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were distant cousins make Oliver an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon?
Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated
The accusation that Oliver being a distant cousin of Joseph Smith makes him an unreliable witness to the Book of Mormon is what is known as a “ad hominem” attack on the witnesses’ character. The term “ad hominem” is defined, according to Merriam-Webster, as:
- appealing to feelings or prejudices rather than intellect.
- marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.
One can see that accusations that Oliver is an unreliable witness because he is related to Joseph Smith applies both of these definitions:
- Oliver was indeed a distant cousin of Joseph Smith, but they had never met before the Book of Mormon was translated. Those who put forth this criticism attempt to prejudice the reader by implying that this relationship made Oliver unreliable.
- The fact that they were distantly related has no bearing upon Oliver’s reliability as a scribe or as a witness. How does this relationship make him an unreliable witness? What is the conflict of interest?
More to the point, if Oliver was covering up a fraud on the part of Joseph Smith when he acted as a scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon simply because he was related to Joseph Smith, or if he was covering for Joseph when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, then why didn’t Oliver expose the fraud after he fell into disagreement with Joseph Smith and was excommunicated from the Church? This would have been the perfect opportunity to expose a fraud.
Some have claimed that this rebuttal is a misapplication of the ad-hominem fallacy. It’s easy to claim that an ad-hominem fallacy is misapplied by invoking the fallacy fallacy, which means that an argument can still be true even if it contains a logical fallacy. Thus, even if it’s an ad hominem attack, it may still be true! This is a common counterclaim to make when an interlocutor accuses you of ad hominem. Let’s revert to the original argument being made. The original argument states that the witnesses are unreliable because they are related to each other and their love and bias for Joseph somehow weakens their efficacy. It is ad hominem to claim this and does not address the consistency of the witnesses, even when their feelings for Joseph turned sour at different points of their lives. It does not address the multiplicity of occasions when they went on record to testify, the occasions when they went our of their way to correct their testimony when misrepresented by the public press, the both tangible and revelatory nature of their experience, the witnesses other than the 11 that saw the plates and handled them, and so forth. The argument is bunk.
Did David Whitmer or Oliver Cowdery test Joseph's prophetic claims?
David Whitmer reported how he and Oliver first tested Joseph’s ability to see things with the seer stone:
- I have frequently placed it [the seer stone] to my eyes but could see nothing through it. I have seen Joseph, however, place it to his eyes and instantly read signs 160 miles distant and tell exactly what was transpiring there. When I went to Harmony after him he told me the names of every hotel at which I had stopped on the road, read the signs, and described various scenes without having ever received any information from me.
Another account says:
- “He [Whitmer] said that 1st of June  he received a letter from [Oliver Cowdery, asking him to come to Harmony, Pennsylvania]. The prophet looks into the seer stone [and is] told [the] names of each stopping place [David visited along the way]. O[liver] Cowdery, who made notes for every one [found them to be] just as the Prophet related. David said this strengthened his faith in the prophet and he was baptized the middle of June 1829….
Clearly, these two witnesses did not simply accept Joseph’s word–they believed they had compelling evidence that Joseph knew things that no one else knew, save God.
Did Oliver Cowdery ever deny his Book of Mormon witness because he thought that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet?
There is a wealth of evidence which demonstrates that Oliver never denied his testimony, even after his disagreements with Joseph Smith
As a lawyer, while writing to Phineas Young, Oliver said:
I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest.
Surely Oliver’s concern for his testimony included his testimony as a witness.
Eventually Oliver left the law practice he had started after leaving the Church, and journeyed to Kanesville, Iowa, with his wife and daughter and finally reunited with the Church in 1848. Before he was baptized he bore his testimony to the congregation that had gathered for a conference.
I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. …It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high.
Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints but he died while living temporarily in Richmond, Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. In March 1850, while on his deathbed, Oliver used his dying breaths to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:
Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.
In November 1881, over 30 years after Oliver’s death, his former law partner Judge W. Lang claimed in a letter that Oliver had admitted that the Book of Mormon was a fraud. Lang’s letter claimed that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding manuscript by Oliver, and that Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith approved the final draft. This claim cannot be considered credible for a number of reasons, among them the fact that the Spalding manuscript bears no resemblance to the Book of Mormon (something even the critics agree with), and the fact that Sidney Rigdon was never associated with Joseph Smith prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon. The basis for Lang’s claim seems to be the standard Spalding theory of Book of Mormon authorship.
What did Oliver Cowdery say about his witness experience after Joseph died?
Oliver continued to affirm his witness experience after Joseph’s death
As a lawyer, well after he had left the Church and two years after Joseph’s death, Oliver wrote the following to Phineas Young:
I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character, as those who might believe in my testimony, after I should be called hence, might do so, not only for the sake of the truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony. I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit; but I ought to be so—you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Brother Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood—and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and looked down through time, and witnessed the effects these two must produce,—you would feel what you have never felt, were wicked men conspiring to lessen the effects of your testimony on man, after you should have gone to your long sought rest. 
Did Oliver Cowdery privately admit to his law partner that the Book of Mormon was actually a hoax?
William Lang’s letter repeats the standard Spalding theory and disingenuously assigns this claim to Oliver Cowdery
It is claimed that Oliver Cowdery admitted to his law partner that the Book of Mormon was a hoax, and that it was derived from the Spalding manuscript.
If not among the forgeries promulgated by Robert Neal, William Lang’s letter repeats the standard Spalding theory and disingenuously assigns this claim to Oliver Cowdery, who had been dead for over thirty years and was not available to rebut the claim.
Letter from Judge W. Lang
The following letter was published in an anti-Mormon flyer in November 1881. The letter is said to have been written by Judge W. Lang, a law partner of Oliver Cowdery during the period between his excommunication and re-baptism. The entire letter is reproduced below:
TIFFIN, O., Nov. 5, 1881,
DEAR SIR: — Your note of the 1st inst. I found upon my desk when I returned home this evening and I hasten to answer. Once for all, I desire to be strictly understood when I say to you that I cannot violate any confidence of a friend, though he be dead.
This I will say, that Mr. Cowdery never spoke of his connection with the Mormons to anybody except to me. We were intimate friends.
The plates were never translated and could not be, were never intended to be. What is claimed to be a translation is the “Manuscript Found” worked over by Cowdery. He was the best scholar amongst them. Rigdon got the original at the job printing office in Pittsburg, as I have stated. I often expressed my objection to the frequent repetition of “And it came to pass” to Mr. Cowdery, and said that a true scholar ought to have avoided that, which only provoked a smile from Cowdery. Without going into detail or disclosing a confided word, I say to you that I do know, as well as can now be known, that Cowdery revised the “manuscript,” and Smith and Rigdon approved of it before it became the “Book of Mormon.”
I have no knowledge of what became of the original. Never heard Cowdery say as to that.
Smith was killed while Cowdery lived here. I well remember the effect upon his countenance when he read the news in my presence. He immediately took the paper over home to read to his wife. On his return to the office we had a long conversation on the subject, and I was surprised to hear him speak with so much kindness of a man that had so wronged him as Smith did. It elevated him greatly in my already high esteem, and proved to me more than ever the nobility of his nature. Cowdery never gave me a full history of the troubles of the Mormons in Missouri and Illinois, but I am sure that the doctrine of polygamy was advocated by Smith and opposed by Cowdery.
Then when they became rivals for the leadership, Smith made use of this opposition by Cowdery, to destroy his popularity and influence, which finally culminated in the mob that demolished Cowdery’s house the night when he fled.
This Whitmer you speak of must be the brother-in-law of Cowdery, whose wife was a Whitmer. It may be true that Whitmer has the original MS.
Now as to whether Cowdery ever “openly denounced Mormonism,” let me say this to you: No man ever knew better than he how to keep one’s own counsel. He would never allow any man to drag him into a conversation on the subject. Cowdery was a Democrat and a most powerful advocate of the principles of the party on the stump. For this he became the target of the Whig stumpers and press, who denounced him as a Mormon and made free use of Cowdery’s certificate * at the end of the Mormon Bible to crush his influence. He suffered great abuse for this, while he lived here on that account.
In the second year of his residence here, he and his family attached themselves to the Methodist Protestant Church, where they held fellowship to the time they left for Elkhorn.
I have now said about all that I feet at liberty to say on these points, and hope it may aid you some in your researches. If Mrs. Cowdery is still living, I would be glad to learn her post-office address, so as to enable me to write to her.
You have now the substance of all I remember on the subject and if it proves of any benefit to your enterprise (to which I wish you success), you are certainly welcome. I could only answer your questions in the manner I did, because some of them were not susceptible of a direct answer by me.
Respectfully yours, W. LANG.
There are a number of items mentioned in the letter which make this claim suspect
- The letter was written over thirty years after Oliver Cowdery’s death.
- The idea that Oliver would claim that the Book of Mormon was derived from the Spalding’s “Manuscript found.” This claim was made by Lang in 1881, while the Spalding theory still had some traction. The theory collapsed three years later in 1884 with the discovery of Spalding’s manuscript. The primary support for the Spalding theory were the affidavits collected by Doctor Phiastus Hurlbut from Solomon Spalding’s family and neighbors published in E.D. Howe’s 1834 anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. With the discovery that the Spalding manuscript did not support their theory, critics postulated the existence of a second Spalding manuscript in order to explain the affidavits of Spalding’s neighbors. Critic Fawn Brodie actually discounted these affidavits, suggesting that some “judicious prompting” by Hurlbut may have been involved in the affidavits that were gathered to support the Spalding theory. 
- The idea that Sidney Rigdon obtained the Spalding manuscript while in Pittsburgh. Sidney Rigdon did not meet Joseph Smith until after he saw the Book of Mormon for the first time. There is absolutely no source which indicates a connection between Sidney and Joseph prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon.
- The author’s insistence that he cannot “violate any confidence of a friend, though he be dead,” yet share a detail which would be as devastating as this, then conclude by saying that he “really can’t say much more “[w]ithout going into detail or disclosing a confided word” of his friend. Lang even covers the fact that Oliver never said this to anyone else by claiming that “Mr. Cowdery never spoke of his connection with the Mormons to anybody except to me.”
The 1881 letter is no longer extant and there is reason to believe that all or part of the letter is a forgery
The 1881 letter is no longer extant and there is reason to believe that all or part of the letter is a forgery. After reviewing claims made about the letter’s provenance, Spalding theory researcher Dale Broadhurst concludes, “Judge Lang’s purported 1881 reference to Solomon Spalding’s Manuscript Found should be viewed with a modicum of scholarly distrust.” Broadhurst proposes a scenario where William Lang’s surviving son could have been duped into authenticating the handwriting and reproduction of the letter.
It seems unlikely that two Spalding theorists (William Lang and Thomas Gregg) suppressed Oliver’s devastating admission in their own publications. A third Spalding theorist, Rev. Robert B. Neal, printed the 1881 letter between the first two only after their deaths. In the same 1906 tract, Neal also published the known forgery Defense in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter-day Saints. That he pointed out his sensational Oliver Cowdery material to his readers specifically to raise money may indicate an additional motive for fabricating evidence.
As noted, William Lang’s own writings published in his lifetime do not use Oliver Cowdery to support the Spalding theory. Lang’s 1880 History of Seneca County mentions Cowdery multiple times. For example, Lang became a legal apprentice to Cowdery soon after his 1840 move to Tiffin, Ohio (p. 387). In a lengthy appendix on Mormonism (p 646- ), Lang makes a reference to Cowdery being “a respected citizen” who had lived there, and a few paragraphs later introduces the Spalding theory without using Cowdery as a source. He also has a two-page biography (p. 364-5) about Oliver Cowdery where he hints that “Cowdery had more to do with the production of the Mormon Bible than its history ever gave him credit for,” but nothing connects Oliver to the Spalding manuscript.
The supposed recipient of the letter, Thomas Gregg, was a long time newspaper publisher in the Hancock, Illinois, area. His intermittent associate in the newspaper business, Thomas Sharp, had played a large role in stirring up anti-Mormons to kill Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Frank Worrell, Gregg’s brother-in-law, had failed to protect the Smiths as a guard at Carthage jail and was later shot by the deputized Porter Rockwell at the behest of the non-Mormon sheriff, Jacob Backenstos. Many of his publications over a 50-year span set forth his less-than-impartial version of Mormon history. For example, his 1880 History of Hancock county contained a lengthy Mormon section. More to the point, in 1890 he published the 550 page The Prophet of Palmyra. Gregg’s biographer describes it thusly:
It is not so much a biography of Smith as a history of the Latter Day Saints’ Church from the appearance of The Book of Mormon through the exodus from Illinois. Here, too, Gregg’s attitude toward the Prophet and other Mormon leaders is consistently negative. He views The Book of Mormon as a carefully planned deception, based partly on Solomon Spaulding’s Manuscript Found (c. 1813), and he relies on a number of Mormon exposes – such as E. D. Howe’s Mormonism Unveiled (1834) and William Harris’s Mormonism Portrayed -for information about Smith.
Despite a desire to defend and document the Spalding theory, Thomas Gregg did not print William Lang’s supposed 1881 letter. This may point to the letter being a forgery. An alternative is that Gregg found it unethical to print the letter because it betrayed confidential information or was deemed not credible enough. Robert Neal was clearly less burdened by ethical considerations or less discerning about what he published. None of these proposed scenarios inspires any confidence that Oliver, did in fact, retract his testimony of the Book of Mormon to William Lang in private and to no one else.
Oliver Cowdery made many statements during his life, even during the period during which he had been excommunicated from the church, in which he confirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon
Oliver Cowdery made many statements during his life, even during the period during which he had been excommunicated from the church, in which he confirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Oliver even testified of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon as he was dying.
Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle. 
This is not consistent with Lang’s story of a man who readily admitted to a hoax of the magnitude that he suggests.
Oliver Cowdery reaffirmed his published testimony of the Book of Mormon
When Thomas B. Marsh, an excommunicated apostle, approached Whitmer and Cowdery to learn “the real truth” about the Book of Mormon (since they, like him, were now excommunicated and hostile to it) Marsh reported:
I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of teh Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.
What is the Book of Mormon “printer's manuscript” and why is it entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery?
- VIDEO: The Story of the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript, Robin Jensen, LDS.org.
- VIDEO: The Two Book of Mormon Manuscripts, Royal Skousen, LDS.org.
The printer’s manuscript was copied from the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery, including the witness statements
The printer’s manuscript was created by Oliver Cowdery to carry to the printer so that the original manuscript would not be lost. This second manuscript is entirely in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery.
Most critics who make the claim that none of the witnesses signed their testimonies fail to note that one of the witnesses signatures on the printer’s manuscript is genuine: that of Oliver Cowdery himself.
Critics of the Church also fail to note that David Whitmer, in fact, made a point of affirming that his testimony was true just as it was printed in the Book of Mormon.
- Revelations in Context on history.lds.org: “Cowdery was among those who believed in and used a divining rod”
- Was Oliver Cowdery a “treasure hunter and ‘rodsman’?
- What if the “rod of nature” was indeed a physical object such as a divining rod?
- Did Joseph Smith attempt to “cover up” Oliver Cowdery’s work with a divining rod by changing the wording of the revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–8?
- How was the wording of the “rod of nature” revelation that became Doctrine and Covenants 8:6–8 altered over time?
- Gospel Topics: “the Bible mentions other physical instruments used to access God’s power: the rod of Aaron, a brass serpent, holy anointing oils, the Ark of the Covenant, and even dirt from the ground mixed with saliva”
- Dallin H. Oaks (1987): “It should be recognized that such tools as the Urim and Thummim, the Liahona, seerstones, and other articles have been used appropriately in biblical, Book of Mormon, and modern times”
Why did Oliver Cowdery join the Methodists if all other churches had been “condemned of God”?
Latter-day Saints do not believe that other churches are “condemned of God”
Late in his life, after he rejoined the Church, Oliver Cowdery was asked why he left the Church and explained, “When I left the Church, I felt wicked, I felt like shedding blood, but I have got all over that now.” After sinking to such a low state, and after adopting an attitude of rebellion against the leadership of Joseph Smith, it should not be surprising that on his way back, Oliver would join up with another Christian denomination. As Richard L. Anderson has observed:
Since faith in Jesus Christ was the foundation of his religion, he logically affiliated himself with a Christian congregation for a time, the Methodist Protestant Church at Tiffin, Ohio. There is no more inconsistency in this than Paul’s worshiping in the Jewish synagogue, or Joseph Smith’s becoming a Mason in order to stem prejudice.
While Joseph Smith taught that other Churches do not have the proper authority and teach some doctrine that is incorrect, he did not teach that other Churches are completely corrupt. He once explained:
The inquiry is frequently made of me, ‘Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?’ In reality and essence, we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’ is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
“Have the Presbyterians any truth?” he asked on another occasion. “Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. . . . We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’” President George Albert Smith thus declared to those of other faiths: “We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have come not to find fault with you nor criticize you. We have not come here to berate you. . . . We . . . say to you: ‘Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good.’”
Therefore, the supposed relation between Oliver’s temporary affiliation with the Methodists and his credibility as a witness to the Book of Mormon is a red herring. Although he joined another church for a short time, there is no evidence that he ever denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon, and many examples to the contrary.
Oliver reaffirmed his testimony of the Book of Mormon even after he had joined the Methodists
For example, there is evidence that after leaving the Church and practicing law, Cowdery’s integrity was once challenged in court because of his Book of Mormon testimony. The opposing counsel thought he would say something that would overwhelm Oliver Cowdery, and in reply to him in his argument he alluded to him as the man that had testified and had written that he had beheld an angel of God, and that angel had shown unto him the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. He supposed, of course, that it would cover him with confusion, because Oliver Cowdery then made no profession of being a “Mormon,” or a Latter-day Saint; but instead of being affected by it in this manner, he arose in the court, and in his reply stated that, whatever his faults and weaknesses might be, the testimony which he had written, and which he had given to the world, was literally true.
Oliver rejoined the Church and prepared to journey to Utah to unite with the main body of the Latter-day Saints when he suddenly became ill in Richmond Missouri. Oliver Cowdery had contracted tuberculosis. His dying breaths were spent testifying of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Lucy P. Young, his half-sister, was at his bedside and reported:
Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle.
Oliver Cowdery: “My eyes saw, my ears heard…It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real”
Affidavit submitted by Jacob F. Gates:
Testimony of Jacob Gates.
My father, Jacob Gates, while on his way to England, in 1849, stopped at the town of Richmond, where lived at that time Oliver Cowdery. Hearing that Oliver was in poor health, and wishing to renew old acquaintance, as they had been friends in earlier days, father called on him at his home. Their conversation, during the visit drifted to early Church history, and to their mutual experiences during the troublous times in Missouri and Illinois. Finally father put this question to him: “Oliver,” said he, “I want you to tell me the whole truth about your testimony concerning the Book of Mormon—the testimony sent forth to the world over your signature and found in the front of that book. Was your testimony based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion, a myth—tell me truthfully?”
To question him thus seemed to touch Oliver very deeply. He answered not a word, but arose from his easy chair, went to the book case, took down a Book of Mormon of the first edition, turned to the testimony of the Three Witnesses, and read in the most solemn manner the words to which he had subscribed his name, nearly twenty years before. Facing my father, he said: “Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know,” said he, “that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real.”
Then father asked him about the angel under whose hands he received the priesthood, to which he made answer thus: “Jacob, I felt the hand of the angel on my head as plainly as I could feel yours, and could hear his voice as I now hear yours.”
Then father asked this question: “If all that you tell me is true, why did you leave the Church?” Oliver made only this explanation; said he: “When I left the Church, I felt wicked, I felt like shedding blood, but I have got all over that now.”
State of Utah, County of Salt Lake, ss. Jacob F. Gates, of Salt Lake City, Utah, being first duly sworn, deposes and says, that he is a citizen of the United States, of the age of fifty-seven years, and that he is the son of Jacob Gates, who, prior to his death, related to affiant a conversation which he had with Oliver Cowdery, at the town of Richmond, State of Missouri, and that the above and foregoing is a true and correct statement of said conversation as given to him by his father.
JACOB F. GATES.
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 30th day of January, 1912. ARTHUR WINTERS, Notary Public.
My commission expires December 3, 1915.
Scott H. Faulring, “The Return of Oliver Cowdery”
Scott H. Faulring, The Disciple as Witness, (2000)
On Sunday, 12 November 1848, apostle Orson Hyde, president of the Quorum of the Twelve and the church’s presiding official at Kanesville-Council Bluffs, stepped into the cool waters of Mosquito Creek1 near Council Bluffs, Iowa, and took Mormonism’s estranged Second Elder by the hand to rebaptize him. Sometime shortly after that, Elder Hyde laid hands on Oliver’s head, confirming him back into church membership and reordaining him an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.2 Cowdery’s rebaptism culminated six years of desire on his part and protracted efforts encouraged by the Mormon leadership to bring about his sought-after, eagerly anticipated reconciliation. Cowdery, renowned as one of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, corecipient of restored priesthood power, and a founding member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had spent ten and a half years outside the church after his April 1838 excommunication.
Oliver Cowdery wanted reaffiliation with the church he helped organize. His penitent yearnings to reassociate with the Saints were evident from his personal letters and actions as early as 1842. Oliver understood the necessity of rebaptism. By subjecting himself to rebaptism by Elder Hyde, Cowdery acknowledged the priesthood keys and authority held by the First Presidency under Brigham Young and the Twelve.
View the complete article here
Why did Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer accept Hiram Page's seer stone revelations as authoritative?
The Lord used this incident as a way to teach Oliver the proper order of revelation in the Church
This event is discussed in the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013):
In 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith encountered a challenge because Church members did not understand the order of revelation in the Church. Hiram Page claimed to receive revelations for the Church through the medium of a special stone, and some Church members, including Oliver Cowdery, believed him. Shortly before a Church conference that was held on September 26, 1830, the Lord revealed truths that helped Oliver Cowdery and others understand the order of revelation in the Church.
Oliver was actually directed by the Lord to correct Hiram Page in this matter. It was a “teaching moment” for Oliver:
11 And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him;
12 For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants.
13 For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
14 And thou shalt assist to settle all these things, according to the covenants of the church, before thou shalt take thy journey among the Lamanites. (D&C 28:11-14).
John Whitmer discussed Oliver Cowdery's willingness to suffer death
In 1876, John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses, wrote a lengthy letter to Mark Forscutt, and discussed Oliver Cowdery’s willingness to suffer death:
Oliver Cowdery lived in Richmond, Mo., some 40 from here, at the time of his death. I went to see him and was with him for some days previous to his demise. I have never heard him deny the truth of his testimony of the Book of Mormon under any circumstances whatever. . . . Neither do I believe that he would have denied, at the peril of his life; so firm was he that he could not be made to deny what he has affirmed to be a divine revelation from God. . . .
I have never heard that any one of the three or eight witnesses ever denied the testimony that they have borne to the Book as published in the first edition of the Book of Mormon. There are only two of the witnesses to that book now living, to wit., David Whitmer, one of the three, and John Wh[itmer], one of the eight. Our names have gone forth to all nations, tongues and people as a divine revelation from God. And it will bring to pass the designs of God according to the declaration therein contained.;
What about Oliver Cowdery's 1839 Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints?
This is a document, critical of Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling, that purports to have been published in 1839 by Oliver Cowdery. The earliest copies in existence are dated 1906. The document was “discovered” by the Reverend R. B. Neal, who was a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association. No references to this document exist prior to 1906. This document was believed to be authentic for many years, until it was discovered that it consists primarily of three sources:
- A selection of Cowdery’s phrases taken from various issues of the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate that were removed from their original context and inserted into statements that are not Oliver’s
- Criticisms of Joseph Smith borrowed from David Whitmer’s 1887 An Address to All Believers in Christ
- Original material (i.e., written by the forger) in which most of the serious attacks on Joseph Smith are to be found.
Historians now agree that the 1906 document is a forgery.
Richard Lloyd Anderson summarized the difficulties with the provenance of the document in an Ensign article in 1987:
In 1906 the “mountain evangelist” R. B. Neal, a leader in the American Anti-Mormon Association, published a document with much fanfare but without evidence of the document’s authenticity. Reverend Neal claimed that the publication was a reprint of an 1839 document explaining Oliver Cowdery’s apostasy: Defence in a Rehearsal of My Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints. “No more important document has been unearthed since I have been engaged in this warfare,” R. B. Neal asserted. With such convictions, one can be sure that Reverend Neal would have produced evidence to prove that the original actually existed. But all we have is his 1906 first printing, which is silent about why no one had ever heard of the document until a half century after Oliver Cowdery’s death.
—Richard Lloyd Anderson, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, April 1987.
Ronald Huggins has recently summarized the problems with the content of the document:
This makes it all but certain that the Defence was plagiarized from the Messenger and Advocate. The only way someone could make a case for its authenticity at this stage would be to prove that Cowdery was in the regular habit of plundering phrases and paragraphs from his earlier writings and dropping them without rhyme or reason into his later ones.
—Ronald V. Huggins, “Jerald Tanner’s Quest for Truth – Part 3,” Salt Lake City Messenger, Issue 111 (November 2008)
A detailed analysis showing the reliance of the forged Cowdery document on the two historical sources is presented below.
Comparison against sources
The text of the alleged Cowdery document was produced using a combination of phrases written by Oliver Cowdery in the Messenger and Advocate during the time that he was editor, and a rephrasing of information from David Whitmer’s An Address to All Believers in Christ.
|Cowdery’s alleged “Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints”||Source text and/or commentary||Actual source|
|Defence in a Rehearsal of my Grounds for Separating Myself from the Latter Day Saints
By Oliver Cowdery
Second Elder of the Church of Christ
|This Defence is not protected by a copyright, as I wish no man to be confined alone to my permission in printing what is meant for the eyes and knowledge of the nations of the earth.||The author desires this work circulated as much as possible, and will grant the Privilege of reproduction to any reliable house that will make application to him.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|“God doth not walk in crooked paths; Neither doth he turn to the right hand, Nor the left; neither doth he vary From that which he hath said.”|
|Pressley’s Job Office, Norton, Ohio, 1839||There was no “Pressley’s Job Office” in Norton Ohio|
|DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD:-I offer you a “Defence” which I am grieved to make, but my opposers have put me to the necessity, and so far as my memory serves, I pledge my veracity for the correctness of the account.|
|I deny that I have ever conspired with any, or ever exerted any influence to destroy the reputation of the First Elder, although evidence which is to be credited assures me that he has done everything he could to injure my standing and his influence has been considerably exerted to destroy my reputation and, I fear, my life.||While employed here he became acquainted with the family of Isaac Hale, of whom you read in several of the productions of those who have sought to destroy the validity of the book of Mormon. It may be necessary hereafter, to refer you more particularly to the conduct of this family, as their influence has been considerably exerted to destroy the reputation of our brother, probably because he married a daughter of the same contrary to some of their wishes||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|You will remember in the meantime, that those who seek to vilify my character have been constantly encouraged by him.||You will remember, in the mean time, that those who seek to vilify his character, say that he has always been notorious for his idleness. This gentleman, whose name is Stowel, resided in the town of Bainbridge, on or near the head waters of the Susquehannah river.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|There was a time when I thought myself able to prove to the satisfaction of every man that the translator of the Book of Mormon, was worthy of the appellation of a Seer and a Prophet of the Lord, and in which he held over me a mysterious power which even now I fail to fathom; but I fear I may have been deceived, and especially so fear since knowing that Satan has led his mind astray.||I trust I shall be indulged, for the purpose of satisfying many, who have heard so many slanderous reports that they are lead to believe them true because they are not contradicted; and besides, this generation are determined to oppose every item in the form or under the pretence [pretense] of revelation, unless it comes through a man who has always been more pure than Michael the great prince; and as this is the fact, and my opposers have put me to the necessity, I shall be more prolix, and have no doubt, before I give up the point, shall prove to your satisfaction, and to that of every man, that the translator of the book of Mormon is worthy the appellation of a seer and a prophet of the Lord. In this I do not pretend that he is not a man subject to passion like other men, beset with infirmities and encompassed with weaknesses; but if he is, all men were so before him, and a pretence [pretense] to the contrary would argue a more than mortal, which would at once destroy the whole system of the religion of the Lord Jesus; for he anciently chose the weak to overcome the strong, the foolish to confound the wise, (I mean considered so by this world,) and by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:200.|
|1. When the Church of Christ was set up by revelation, he was called to be First Elder, and I was called to be the Second Elder, and whatever he had of Priesthood (about which I am beginning to doubt) also had I.|
|2. But I certainly followed him too far when accepting, and reiterating, that none had authority from God to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, as I had then forgotten that John, the beloved disciple, was tarrying on earth and exempt from death.|
|I am well aware that a rehearsal of these things at this day will be unpleasant reading to the First Elder; yet so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so. Without rehearsing too many things that have caused me to lose my faith in Bro. Joseph’s seership, I regard his frequent predictions that he himself shall tarry on the earth till Christ shall come in glory, and that neither the rage of devils nor the malice of men shall ever cause him to fall by the hand of his enemies until he has seen Christ in the flesh at his final coming, as little short of a piece of blasphemy; and it may be classed with that revelation that some among you will remember which sent Bro. Page and me so unwisely to (3) Toronto with a predication from the Lord by Urim and Thummim that we would there find a man anxious to buy the First Elder’s copyright. I well remember we did not find him, and had to return surprised and disappointed. But so great was my faith, that, in going to Toronto, nothing but calmness pervaded my soul, every doubt was banished, and I as much expected that Bro. Page and I would fulfill the revelation as that we should live. And you may believe, without asking me to relate the particulars, that it would be no easy task to describe our desolation and grief.||Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money: and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning without any money. Joseph was at my father’s house when they returned. I was there also, and am an eye witness to these facts. Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|Bro. Page and I did not think that God would have deceived us through “Urim and Thummim,” exactly as came the Book of Mormon; and I well remember how hard I strove to drive away the foreboding which seized me, that the First Elder had made tools of us, where we thought, in the simplicity of our hearts, that we were divinely commanded.||Jacob Whitmer and John Whitmer were also present when Hiram Page and Oliver Cowdery returned from Canada. Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelation from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of men: and some revelations are of the devil.” So we see that the revelation to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.||David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon (David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887).|
|And what served to render the reflection past expression in its bitterness to me, was, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the Angel of God whose voice, as it has since struck me, did most mysteriously resemble the voice of Elder Sidney Rigdon, who, I am sure had no part in the transactions of that day, as the Angel was John the Baptist, which I doubt not and deny not.||Not only have I been graciously preserved from wicked and unreasonable men, with this our brother, but I have seen the fruit of perseverance in proclaiming the everlasting gospel, immediately after it was declared to the world in these last days, in a manner not to be forgotten while heaven gives my common intellect. And what serves to render the reflection past expression on this point is, that from his hand I received baptism, by the direction of the angel of God—the first received into this church, in this day.||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:14.|
|When I afterward first heard Elder Rigdon, whose voice is so strikingly similar, I felt that this “dear” brother was to be in some sense, to me unknown, the herald of this church as the Great Baptist was of Christ.
4. I never dreamed however, that he would influence the Prophet, Seer and Revelator to the Church of the Latter Day Saints, in to the formation of a secret band at Far West, committed to depredations upon Gentiles and the actual assassination of apostates from the church, which was done in June last and was only one of many wrong steps.
|Sydney Rigdon was the cause of almost all the errors which were introduced while he was in the church. I believe Rigdon to have been the instigator of the secret organization known as the “Danites” which was formed in Far West Missouri in June, 1838.|
|These are facts which I am rehearsing, and if they shall be called in question, I am able to establish them by evidence which I can bring forward in abundance.||I have now given you a rehearsal of what was communicated to our brother, when he was directed to go and obtain the record of the Nephites. I may have missed in arrangement in some instances, but the principle is preserved, and you will be able to bring forward abundance of corroborating scripture upon the subject of the gospel and of the gathering.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
|Still, although favored fo God as a chosen witness to bear testimony to the divine authority of the Book of Mormon, and honored of the Lord in being permitted, without money and without price, to serve as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon, I have sometimes had seasons of skepticism, in which I did seriously wonder whether the Prophet and I were men in our sober senses when he would be translating from plates through “the Urim and Thummim” and the plates not be in sight at all.||No men in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites, from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up his church, and especially, when corruption had spread an uncertainty over all forms and systems practiced among men, without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a “good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:15.|
|But I believed both in the Seer and in the “Seer Stone,” and what the First Elder announced as revelation from God, I accepted as such, and committed to paper with a glad mind and happy heart and swift pen; for I believed him to be the soul of honor and truth, a young man who would die before he would lie.|
|Man may deceive his fellow man, deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may seduce the unstable, untaught in the ways of righteousness and peace, for I felt a solemn awe about me, being deep in the faith, that the First Elder was a Seer and Prophet of God, giving the truth unsullied through “Urim and Thummim,” dictated by the will of the Lord, and that he was persecuted for the sake of the truth which he loved. Could I have been deceived in him?||Man may deceive his fellow man; deception may follow deception, and the children of the wicked one may have power to seduce the foolish and untaught, till nought but fiction feeds the many, and the fruit of falsehood carries in its current the giddy to the grave; but one touch with the finger of his love, yes, one ray of glory from the upper world, or one word from the mouth of the Savior, from the bosom of eternity, strikes it all into insignificance, and blots it forever from the mind! 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, and in those mansions where perfection dwells and sin never comes, I hope to adore in that DAY which shall never cease!*||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:16.|
|I could rehearse a number of things to show either that I as then deceived, or that he has since fallen from the lofty place in which fond affection had deemed him secure.|
|I remembered his experience as he had related it to me, and lacking wisdom, I went to God in prayer. I said: “O! Lord, how dark everything is! Let thy glory lighten it, and make bright the path for me. Show me my duty. Let me be led of thy Spirit.”|
|Shall I relate what transpired? I had a message from the Most High, as from the midst of eternity; for the vail was parted and the Redeemer Himself, clothed in glory, stood before me. And He said:||This was not long desired before it was realized. The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us his will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the vail was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the gospel of repentance!||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:15.|
|“After reproving the Latter Day Saints for their corruption and blindness in permitting their President, Joseph Smith, Jr., to lead them forth into errors, where I led him not, nor commanded him, and saying unto them,||The revelation on polygamy was given fourteen years after the translation of the Book of Mormon, and after Brother Joseph had drifted into error and blindness. As I have stated, the scriptures are plain concerning the matter of a prophet or any man once chosen of God, being afterwards deceived and led into error.|
|‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when I said it not unto him, thou shalt withdraw thyself from among them.”||God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to “separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so should it be done unto them.”|
|And I testify that Jesus whose words I have been rehearsing, hath even so commanded me in an open vision.||I believe that the angel Moroni, whose words I have been rehearsing, who communicated the knowledge of the record of the Nephites, in this age||Oliver Cowdery, (April 1835) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
|The Lord revealed to me that the First Elder is leading the Saints astray, and ordered me to quit them after delivering the message which this “Defence” delivers. I shall ever remember this expression of the Saviour’s grace with thanksgiving, and look upon his amazing goodness to me with wonder.||We have seen from a revelation given to Brother Joseph, that he broke the commandments of God from the beginning. Now, as the wicked will be cut off, the people being clean before the Lord, and this Choice Seer being a holy man, the people in this condition will be fitted to give heed to him, and they will not be led astray by him|
|When I had sufficiently recovered my selfpossession to ask in regard to the errors into which Joseph Smith, Jr., was taking the Saints,||God only knows how I have grieved and suffered and plead with him for you for the past forty-eight years, that you might repent and be enlightened by the Holy Ghost to see the errors into which you have been led.|
|the Redeemer instructed me plainly: “He hath given revelations from his own heart and from a defiled conscience as coming from my mouth and hath corrupted the covenant and altered words which I had spoken. He hath brought in high priests, apostles and other officers, which in these days, when the written Word sufficeth, are not in my church, and some of his deeds have brought shame to my heritage by the shedding of blood.||You have changed the revelations from the way they were first given and as they are to-day in the Book of Commandments, to support the error of Brother Joseph in taking upon himself the office of Seer to the church. You have changed the revelations to support the error of high priests. You have changed the revelations to support the error of a President of the high priesthood, high counselors, etc.|
|He walketh in the vain imaginations of his heart, and my Spirit is holy and does not dwell in an unholy temple, nor are angels sent to reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.”||But so it is, and it is wisdom that it should be so, because the Holy Spirit does not dwell in unholy temples, nor angels reveal the great work of God to hypocrites.|
|I bowed my face in shame and said: “Lord! I intreat thee, give me grace to bear thy message in print where I fear to take it by word of mouth.”
And he said, “The grace is given thee,” and he vanished out of my sight.
|Prepare your hearts, O ye Saints of the Most High, and come to understanding. The prophet hath erred and the people are gone astray through his error. God’s word is open. We may read it.||Prepare your hearts, O ye saints of the Most High, for great things await you! Hasten ye, hasten ye, to the places of gathering, for after a little the indignation of the Lord will cease toward those who are called by his name, and when his arm must fall upon the wicked. His sword is bathed in heaven, and must fall upon Idumea, and who can stand amid the crash and fall of empires?||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1835) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 2:204.|
|There is no “First Presidency” there, no “High Priesthood” save that of Christ himself, no Patriarch to the church, and wonderful to tell, the “First Elder” hath departed from god in giving us these things,||High Priests were only in the church before Christ; and to have this office in the “Church of Christ” is not according to the teachings of Christ in either of the sacred books: Christ himself is our great and last High Priest.|
|and in changing the name of the church.||but when the heads of the church changed the name of the church to “The Church of Latter Day Saints,” (leaving out the name of “Christ” entirely) when they did this, and compiled the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, God had then given them over to blindness of mind|
|Oh, the misery, the distress and evil attendant upon giving heed unto the “doctrines of men!” The gospel has been perverted and the Saints are wandering in darkness, which a full cup of suffering is poured upon them. A society has been organized among them to inflict death upon those who are deemed apostates, with the knowledge and sanction of the First Elder.||Alas, the calamity of war, the extinction of nations, the ruin of kingdoms, the fall of empires and the dissolution of governments! O the misery, distress and evil attendant on these! Who can contemplate like scenes without sorrowing, and who so destitute of commiseration as not to be pained that man has fallen so low, so far beneath the station in which he was created?||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:159.|
|This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before those whom I am to warn, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth of what I have written.||On Friday, the 5th, in company with our brother JOSEPH SMITH jr. I left Kirtland for this place (New Portage,) to attend the conference previously appointed. To be permitted, once more, to travel with this brother, occasions reflections of no ordinary kind. Many have been the fateagues [fatigues] and privations which have fallen to my lot to endure, for the gospel’s sake, since 1828, with this brother. Our road has frequently been spread with the “fowler’s snare,” and our persons sought with the eagerness, of the Savage’s ferocity, for innocent blood, by men, either heated to desperation by the insinuations of those who professed to be “guides and way—marks” to the kingdom of glory, or the individuals themselves!—This, I confess, is a dark picture to spread before our patrons, but they will pardon my plainness when I assure them of the truth. In fact, God has so ordered, that the reflections which I am permitted to cast upon my past life, relative to a knowledge of the way of salvation, are rendered “doubly endearing.”||Oliver Cowdery, (October 1834) Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:14.|
|Bearing this message to them is the hardest work of my life, although many have been the privations and fatigues which have fallen to my lot to endure for the Gospel’s sake since April 5th, 1829.||She was driven, last fall, from Jackson county, by the mob, and was necessarily compelled to endure, with others, further afflictions and privations.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:13.|
|It is disgraceful to be led by a man who does not scruple to follow his own vain imagination, announcing his own schemes as revelations from the Lord. And I fear he is led by a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web. Having cleared my soul by delivering the message, I do not deem it necessary to write further on the subject now.||The mind is easily called up to reflection upon a matter of such deep importance, and it is just that it should be; but there is a regret occupying the heart when we consider the deep anxiety of thousands, who are lead away with a vain imagination, or a groundless hope, no better than the idle wind or the spider’s web.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:78.|
|Jesus has saved men in all ages and saves them now, and not by our Priesthood either. The “First Elder” errs as to that. The Lord has said, long since, and his word remains steadfast as the eternal hills, that to him who knocks it shall be opened, and whosoever will, may come and partake of the waters of life freely; but a curse will surely fall upon those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him.||“This cannot be brought about until first certain preparatory things are accomplished, for so has the Lord purposed in his own mind. He has therefore chosen you as an instrument in his hand to bring to light that which shall; perform his act, his strange act, and bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder. Wherever the sound shall go it shall cause the ears of men to tingle, and wherever it shall be proclaimed, the pure in heart shall rejoice, while those who draw near to God with their mouths, and honor him with their lips, while their hearts are far from him, will seek its overthrow, and the destruction of those by whose hands it is carried. Therefore, marvel not if your name is made a derision, and had as a by-word among such, if you are the instrument in bringing it, by the gift of God, to the knowledge of the people.”||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:79-80.|
|I no longer believe that all the other churches are wrong.|
|Get right, O! ye people, get right with God, and may the Lord remove his judgments from you, preserve you in his kingdom from all evil, and crown you in Christ.||May the Lord preserve you from evil and reward you richly for all your afflictions, and crown you in his kingdom. Amen.||Oliver Cowdery, Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate 1:112.|
March 3, 1839
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