QUOTE: “Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the three witnesses, — (Harris — Cowdery and Whitmer) I said to him, — ‘Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?’ Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.'” -John H. Gilbert, Book of Mormon typesetter, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, p. 548. [source]
QUOTE: “When the time came for the three witnesses to see the plates, Joseph Smith, myself, David Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, went into the woods to pray. When they had all engaged in prayer, they failed at that time to see the plates or the angel who should have been on hand to exhibit them. They all believed it was because I was not good enough, or, in other words, not sufficiently sanctified. I withdrew. As soon as I had gone away, the three others saw the angel and the plates. In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” -Martin Harris, as quoted by Anthony Metcalf, Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, p. 347. [source]
COMMENTARY: Not quite like they teach it in Sunday school, is it? But what do I know? I’m just another apostate.
It does seem to be confusing! In the introduction of the Book of Mormon there is a section where eight other witnesses of the plates state:
“Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath 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 shown 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.”
I just have to wonder, if the reality of the testimony of the three witnesses is not what it appears to be, why the testimony of the eight witnesses would be any more trustworthy, especially since the statement you reference was prepared for them rather than composed by them.