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Diedrich Willers Letter (1830)

D. Michael Quinn, trans. and ed., "The First Months of Mormonism: A Contemporary View by Rev. Diedrich Willers," New York History 54 (July 1973):317-33.


Reverend Brethren

The greatest fraud of our time in the realm of religion is certainly Joseph Smith, the alleged translator of a book entitled: "The Book of Mormon, an account written by the hand of Mormon upon plates taken from the plates of Nephi wherefore it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi and also of the Lamanites written to the Lamanites which are a remnant of the house of Isreal [Israel] and also to Jew and Gentile written by way of commandment and also by the spirit of prophesy and of revelation. Written and sealed up and hid up unto the Lord that they might not be destroyed to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof; sealed by the hand of Moroni and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by the way of Gentile the interpretation thereof by the gift of God an abridgment taken from the book of Esther [Ether]--also which is a record of the people of Jared which were scattered at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people when they were building a tower to get to heaven which is to shew unto the remnant of the house of Isreal [Israel] how great things the Lord has done for their fathers and that they may know the covenants of the Lord that they are not cast off forever and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ the eternal God manifesting himself unto all nations. And now if there be fault it be the mistake of men wherefore condemn not the things of God that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ."

The publication of the above work of deception stems from a speculation which is intended to benefit the financial interests of the publisher and those who are allied with him. Like deceivers of earlier centuries, this man claims to associate with spirits and angels. Because the plates from which the original was translated, according to the allegation, were of gold, in the region hereabouts this book is known by the title "The Golden Book." Since this work was printed in this region, I want to inform you of the following, according to the most credible reports:

1) The history of the origin of the book.

In the month of July [in 1829], Joseph Smith made his appearance in Seneca County, in the neighborhood of Waterloo, about six miles from my hometown. There a certain David Whitmer claimed to have seen an angel of the Lord, so Smith proceeded to his house, in order to complete the translation of the above work himself. According to the reports, only there could he work--where men who have had association with the other world also reside. This is the eleventh place where he had worked on the translation of his work and where men saw angels.

He asserted that the angel of the Lord appeared to him and made it known that in the neighborhood of Palmyra there were golden plates in the earth, upon which was described the doings of a Jewish prophet's family, associated with many not yet fulfilled prophecies. The angel indicated that the Lord destined him to translate these things into English from the ancient language, that under these plates were hidden spectacles, without which he could not translate these plates, that by using these spectacles, he (Smith) would be in a position to read these ancient languages, which he had never studied, and that the Holy Ghost would reveal to him the translation in the English language. Therefore, he (Smith) proceeded to Manchester township, Ontario County, and found everything as described, the plates buried next to the spectacles in the earth, and soon he completed the translation of this work.

Upon receiving this report, I hurried immediately to Whitmer's house to see this man, in order to learn the actual source of this story and to find out how it might be possible to nip this work in the bud. However, I received the reply from Whitmer's father that Smith had already departed to take his translation to press. I tried to expose the clumsy deception to this man, and he was silent about Smith's pretension, which is such that it is not worthy of refutation.

Since last year all of the neighboring congregations have been frequently and earnestly warned to beware of this so-called Golden Book [Book of Mormon] and not to buy any. The above-named Smith, however, found his followers. The security had been given to the printer for the payment of his work, and about 10,000 copies of the book have been printed, which are supposed to be sold for $1.75 each. Already in this region more have been sold than one would have expected, and the unbelieving and godless vermin have now gone to Pennsylvania in order to scatter their books among the public. The author has already been frequently challenged to demonstrate his inspiration, as did the Apostles, through genuine miracles. Naturally he cannot perform such. His followers, however, claim that through their preachers devils have been cast out recently. It goes without saying that this is allowed only in the presence of their own followers. The dear Savior has already pronounced their judgment for such false exorcists. Matthew 7:22-23.

2) Various weighty volumes could be written against the contents of this book which consists of 588 pages. The style is so insipid and wretched that even men of mediocre intelligence can recognize it. It is nothing more than a tempting work of man. I have read only a little of it and would wish to be excused from this effort, but it is the express request of my congregations which have obtained it for me so that I could read it.

The first two books are called the book of Nephi and describe the family of a so-called prophet Lehi (about whom the Bible tells us nothing) and his four sons Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi. They are represented as descendants of Joseph who lived during the reign of Zedekiah, King of Judah. It is said that Lehi saw God in the heavens which had been opened unto him. (John 1:18; 4:24). This Lehi (elevated to the status of a prophet by man) prophesies concerning John the Baptist, that he would baptize at Bethabara and that the Messiah should be baptized by him. The author must not yet have learned that prophecies deal with future things, and that something which happened 1,800 years ago can no longer be a prophecy in this year, because it deals with the past. Nephi (the created prophet) even affirmed that in his own time he had seen in the heavens Mary the mother of the Savior with the child Jesus in her arms. Such false prophecies contrast with the prophecies throughout the Bible: 1) that they make prophecies about things which have already occurred, 2) that they have too much clarity which God according to his wisdom reserved for the bible prophecies, so that either men, as they seek to fulfill these same prophecies, do not give the honor of the fulfillment to themselves, which belongs alone to God the highest, or men try to subvert them, and thereby induce the Almighty to perform miracles where natural means would have sufficed.

According to God's command, this prophet's family departed Jerusalem so that they would not experience the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Nebukednezzar [Nebuchadnezzar], and to live for awhile in the desert. Shortly after, Nephi and his brothers travel again back to Jerusalem and bring Ishmael and his family back to their father Lehi. Ishmael, Abraham's son, however, must have been 1,800 years old by the time of King Zedekiah. The Bible certainly would not have concealed so great an age from us, since it established Methuselah as the oldest man. It says much more about Ishmael (Genesis 23), that he died when 137 years old and was gathered to his people. According to the history of the world, the Arabians in the 13th Century were the discoverers of the compass needle, but according to Nephi's book, God himself gave this family a compass in order to lead them across a great sea to the promised land.

As a punishment, God is supposed to have given the Lamanites a black skin, because they did not want to follow the Nephites. Prior to this they had been white and delightsome (as Asiatics). According to this assumption the origin of the Blacks would come from Laman, one of Nephi's brothers whom God had given a black skin because of his godlessness, and yet so many reasons exist to conclude that the origin of the Blacks came from Ham the son of Noah.

According to page 65 of the Book of Mormon, human reproduction was a result of the Fall; consequently, if Adam and Eve had not sinned, according to this principle, they would have had no children. The author in his blindness must have never read Genesis 1:28. Moreover, he maintains that if the Fall had not occurred, the animal creations would have been [illegible] and that they would have remained in their original condition, thus incapable of propagating themselves. The last refutation in Genesis 1:22 concerns the everlasting life of animals. The holy scriptures describe the death of man as a result of the Fall, and it is recognized that without the Fall the body of man would have remained in immortality. Never, however, do the holy scriptures mislead one to conclude that the death of animals resulted from the Fall.

In chapter 8 of the book of Moroni, a letter of his father Mormon is presented. To begin with, he writes that the Holy Ghost instructed him that children were wholesome, needing no baptism (Romans 3:12) and that those who claim that child baptism is necessary were filled with bitter gall and were without faith, love, and hope; and those who believe in child baptism must be consigned to hell. The holy scriptures, however, never prescribe damnation for belief in any kind of baptism, but instead for disbelief. (Mark 16:16). The scriptures also never assert that faith, love, and hope are fruits of the baptism of adults, but instead maintain that they are the fruits of the gospel and of the Holy Ghost (John 20:31; Romans 10:17; Galatians 5:22). When he writes that infant baptism invalidates the Atonement of Christ, then the Apostle Paul makes him (Mormon) a false teacher (Romans 6:3), who writes that everyone who is baptized unto Jesus Christ is baptized unto his death.

I have read only about 100 pages in the Book of Mormon. The author, now established as a prophet through the transmission of his nonexistent plates, wants to elevate his book to the status of a canonical work through which the Spirit of God is revealed to men. Even with this he is not satisfied, but introduces a second Bible, and thereby expects it to be acknowledged that the Word of God is not complete. Moreover, he threatens damnation upon all who do not believe in his false bible. We must with the Apostle Paul await this curse upon such: Galatians 1:6-8.

3) What the ultimate object of this book concerns is its self-condemnation. The reprobate Jewish people are supposed to receive mercy once more and become part of the Church of Christ, and the Gentiles likewise are to be grafted into the true church. There are teachings which we have in the true Bible and we need no new Bible in addition. Such superfluous revelations conflict with the wisdom of God which has done nothing unnecessary. In all of His ways there has been the grandest design which has been achieved by the shortest means.

4) The effects of this book already extend upon members of various Christian persuasions. Some members of the Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, and Baptist congregations have given this book their approval, have been baptized by immersion, and formed their own sect. Because they baptize by immersion they are winning over many members of the Baptist Church (including General as well as Particular Baptists), first because of their teachings about the universal grace of God and lastly because of their agreement in attitude toward the proper subject of holy baptism.

This upstart sect calls itself the True Followers of Christ; however, because they believe in the Book of Mormon, they bear the name Mormonites. For the past several Sundays many people of both sexes have been immersed by them, and so many during the week that their numbers in the region hereabouts may amount to at least 100 persons. They have their own preachers whom I know, Oliver Cowdery by description and David Whitmer (the so-called angel-viewer) personally. Their sect, however, numbers still other preachers, unknown to me. The Book of Mormon, from which they all preach every Sunday, must be regarded by the converts as not only a symbolic book but even more as a second Bible to be used for godly instruction. Most of their present adherents were apparently General Baptists.

By itself this new sect may not astound the Christian Church. Past centuries have also had their religious monstrosities, but where are they now? Where are the sects of Nicolaites, Ebionites, Nasoreans, Montanites, Paulicians, and such others, which the Christian churches call fables. They have dissolved into the ocean of the past and have been given the stamp of oblivion. The Mormonites, and hopefully soon, will also share that fate. Most of their preachers have gone to Pennsylvania in order to make converts to their doctrines and also to carry a quantity of books to sell.

And so I am, your brother, commissioned by the Zion Congregation, imploring you to warn with the utmost urgency the residents of the Union, wherever our Magazine of the Reformed Church is read, against these new doctrines and against the purchase of these books.

In conclusion I will add the testimony of these unbelieving and godless men:

The Testimony of Three Witnesses

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, unto whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father, and; our Lord Jesus Christ have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, his brethren and also a record of the people of Jared which came from the tower, of which has been spoken, and we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice has declared it unto us, wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true, and we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates, and they have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man, and we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true; and it is marvellous in our eyes. Nevertheless the voice of the Lord commanded us, that we should bear record of it; wherefore to be obedient of God, we bear testimony of these things, and we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens, and the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

(signed) Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris.

And Also the Testimony of Eight Witnesses.

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, unto whom this work shall come that Joseph Smith, Jr., the author and proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which has been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated, we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work and of curious workmanship and this we bear record, with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken, and we give our names unto the world to witness unto the world that which we have seen: and we lie not, God bearing witness of it.--Christian Whitmer, Jacob W., Peter W., Jr., John W., Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, Samuel H. Smith.

I am acquainted with the Whitmers. During the past nine years, they were followers of the Methodists, Reformers, Presbyterians, Mennonites, and Baptists, and are unstable, spineless men; moreover, they are gullible to the highest degree and even believe in witches. Hiram Page is likewise full of superstition, and the Smiths are probably the close relations of Joseph Smith, Jr., author of the Book of Mormon.

With deep respect and love,

D. W.

Reverend L. Mayer and D. Young