“For a Wise Purpose”

Ed J. Pinegar, Richard J. Allen

Mormon includes the small plates of Nephi in his record “for a wise purpose” as inspired by the Spirit. He does not know why but seeks to do the will of the Lord. Little does he know of the future tragic loss of the first 116 pages translated from the larger plates of Nephi—and the need to provide an alternative record of a more spiritual character concerning the same time period in the Book of Mormon account.

The Story of the 116 Lost Pages

Martin Harris, having written some one hundred and sixteen pages for Joseph, asked permission of my son to carry the manuscript home with him, in order to let his wife read it, as he hoped it might have a salutary effect upon her feelings.
Joseph was willing to gratify his friend as far as he could consistently, and he inquired of the Lord to know if he might do as Martin Harris had requested, but was refused. With this, Mr. Harris was not altogether satisfied, and, at his urgent request, Joseph inquired again, but received a second refusal. Still, Martin Harris persisted as before, and Joseph applied again, but the last answer was not like the two former ones. In this, the Lord permitted Martin Harris to take the manuscript home with him, on condition that he would exhibit it to none, save five individuals whom he had mentioned, and who belonged to his own family.
Mr. Harris was delighted with this, and bound himself in a written covenant of the most solemn nature, that he would strictly comply with the injunctions which he had received. Which being done, he took the manuscript and went home.
Joseph did not suspect but that his friend would keep his faith, consequently, he gave himself no uneasiness with regard to the matter… .
[After several weeks with no news from Martin Harris, Joseph travels a great distance to meet with him and check on the manuscript.]
“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.”
“Oh, my God!” said Joseph, clinching his hands. “All is lost! all is lost! What shall I do? I have sinned—it is I who tempted the wrath of God. I should have been satisfied with the first answer which I received from the Lord; for he told me that it was not safe to let the writing go out of my possession.” He wept and groaned, and walked the floor continually.
At length he told Martin to go back and search again.
“No,” said Martin, “it is all in vain; for I have ripped open beds and pillows; and I know it is not there.”
“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, for perhaps the Lord would forgive him, after a short season of humiliation and repentance. 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. (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother [Salt Lake City: Stevens & Wallis, Inc., 1945], 124–129)

Commentaries and Insights on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1