116 Pages of The Book of Mormon Lost
Back when Joseph Smith, the man who restored Christ’s Church, first started translating the Book of Mormon, his good friend, Martin Harris, began nudging him to take the first 116 pages to show his wife and a few close friends.
Joseph went to the Lord in prayer and asked this favor. The Lord told him no. Martin wasn’t satisfied, and begged Joseph to ask once again.
Martin still wasn’t satisfied. Joseph wanted to make his friend happy, after all, Martin had freely given much money and time to Joseph because of his faith in the work. And so Joseph went back to the Lord. Finally the answer was “yes,” but it came at a price.
For three weeks Joseph waited for his friend to bring back the manuscript. As time stretched on and on his worry increased. At last his fears were confirmed when Martin came and told him the pages had been lost, stolen from his home. As described by Joseph’s Mother:
“He [Harris] took up his knife and fork as if he were going to use them, but immediately dropped them. Hyrum, observing this, said ‘Martin, why do you not eat; are you sick?’ Upon which Mr. Harris pressed his hands upon his temples, and cried out in a tone of deep anguish, ‘Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul.’
“Joseph, who had not expressed his fears till now, sprang from the table, exclaiming, ‘Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?’
“‘Yes; it is gone,’ replied Martin, ‘and I know not where.’ …
“‘Then must I,’ said Joseph, ‘return with such a tale as this? I dare not do it. And how shall I appear before the Lord? Of what rebuke am I not worthy from the angel of the Most High?’
“I besought him not to mourn so,…” continues his mother. “But what could I do to comfort him, when he saw all the family in the same situation of mind as himself; for sobs and groans, and the most bitter lamentations filled the house. However, Joseph was more distressed than the rest, as he better understood the consequences of disobedience. And he continued pacing back and forth, meantime weeping and grieving, until about sunset, when, by persuasion, he took a little nourishment.
“The next morning, he set out for home. We parted with heavy hearts, for it now appeared that all which we had so fondly anticipated, and which had been the source of so much secret gratification, had in a moment fled, and fled forever.” (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954, pp. 128–29.)
Joseph lost the power to translate after that. He went for quite some time humbling himself and repenting. It was not an easy time for him, or for Martin.
Because of the choices these two men had made, the first book in the Book of Mormon: Another testament of Jesus Christ, the Book of Lehi, was lost. But this was not as dire a situation as we might think.
The Lord in His infinite knowledge knew this might happen, and so He directed Lehi’s son, Nephi, to keep another sort of record of the same years. While we have lost a great account with the missing pages, we still have everything the Lord’s deems necessary in the words of Nephi.
This example of the lost manuscript of the Book of Mormon is illustrative in many ways. It shows God love and providence, our need to rely on Him and it shows that the Lord works with His leaders and prophets to shape them through divine tutoring. Always He guides and then always He waits to see how that guidance is received. Mormons believe, and the Book of Mormon attests, that He is not surprised by those uses of agency. He knows them. He knows us perfectly. He anticipates them and can overrule them for our learning and benefit.
Personal application of the 116 Pages of the Book of Mormon includes knowing that the pages of our own life that we may have given away–through neglect or ignorance or resistance to God–are not unknown to God. He can and is still sovereign, working those experiences to our ultimate spiritual growth, while affording us our ability to choose. There is no other way to grow.
The portions of the Book of Mormon we now have are rich and vital and contain the message of the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in powerful dramatic accounts of the people who lived on the American continent, having left Jerusalem at the time of 2 Kings, preceding the destruction of the people there as prophesied.
We invite each of you to read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.