At a time in history when it was assumed that the word of God was closed, that there would be no additional scripture, that divine revelation was a thing of the distant past, it took great faith to bring forth the Book of Mormon, Church history author William W. Slaughter said Oct. 18 in the latest installment of the Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series organized by the Church History Library and held at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City.
A self-described "army brat," Brother Slaughter said he did not fully appreciate his father's experience in World War II until a few years ago when he and his wife visited the Coastal Watch towers in Delaware where his father had served.
"I came to realize that generation did not assume they were going to win the war," he reflected. "And so when I talk about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, for the people involved, it wasn't a given. It was an adventure. An adventure isn't always good, it isn't always bad, but it is the unexpected. It was an adventure of faith, action, doubt, testing of faith, trials and perseverance."
A photo archivist with the Church History Department and a co-author with Assistant Church Historian Richard E. Turley Jr. of the book How We Got the Book of Mormon, Brother Slaughter recounted some of the events and details attendant to the emergence of the Book of Mormon.
He said it transpired during the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant revival movement in the United States during the early 19th century.
It taught mankind's active role in drawing close to God, he said, and the concept of universal salvation replaced the fate of predestination.
Earlier, religious reformers such as William Tyndale, Jonathan Edwards and Ralph Waldo Emerson helped set the stage for a culture that allowed people to ponder, pray and seek, Brother Slaughter said. "Also, remember that Joseph Smith's America was a young America, inventing itself in science, religion, commerce, education, art, literature and social causes. The Lord does not work haphazardly. Meaningful, timely questions are answered when they have the context for them to be absorbed and understood."
In this climate, the Book of Mormon came forth. "It was a staggering achievement for Joseph to bring it about," Brother Slaughter said. "The mere fact that it exists is more of a miracle than any of us realize."
He traced the events and circumstances relating to it, including Joseph being shown the golden plates in the hillside by the angel Moroni, the description of the plates by witnesses such as Martin Harris and David Whitmer, the efforts to hide the plates from men with evil intent, the showing by Martin Harris of copies of some of the characters to a scholar who scoffed at the account of Joseph having obtained the record.
Brother Slaughter noted: "During the time Joseph had the plates, several people watched him translate." ... Joseph himself, however, refused to elaborate on the process, a process that he considered sacred. He said that it was not intended to tell the world all the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He said simply that he translated by the gift and power of God. In other words, the translation came by revelation. Joseph Smith could not read the language on the gold plates by himself."
Brother Slaughter spoke of the Three Witnesses who were shown the plates by an angel and the Eight Witnesses who were given the privilege to see and handle the plates. "After these witnesses returned to the house, Joseph's mother said, 'The angel made his appearance, at which time Joseph delivered up the plates into the angel's hands. He had fulfilled the charge he had received and could breathe a sigh of relief that the plates were safely out of his hands and that others could bear witness.' "
He said, "Future generations tried mightily to explain how a largely untutored youth could dictate a complex record of nearly 500 manuscript pages in a single draft over fewer than 90 working days. Millions have accepted Joseph's explanation as the only possible one, that he did it by the gift and power of God."
A convert to the Church, Brother Slaughter said he was introduced to the Book of Mormon in his youth. "I read it because my girlfriend was Mormon and had missionaries come over. I read it as a duty, but it rang so true. It rang so true. I read it again. I believed it was true. It is a positive force for anybody who reads it."
Concluding his lecture, he said, "Because Joseph pondered the question, prayed with faith, received an answer and acted on and endured with faith, like a warm spring breeze after a long, cold winter, Joseph Smith brought the world renewed hope. For those who heard and understood, the message he gave soothed their souls much like the sweet warmth of the sun."