The following comes from Elder John A. Widtsoe in Conference Report, April 1938, p.49:
OLIVER COWDERY AND DAVID WHITMER
Perhaps the event of that troubled year which gave keenest sorrow was the loss of Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer from the membership roll of the Church two of the three original witnesses to the Book of Mormon, men held in high esteem by the Church. Oliver Cowdery was excommunicated, and for many years remained outside the Church, rather than to confess his error and repent. David Whitmer withdrew from the Church rather than to face trial upon the charges made against him.
That surmise is more accurate than most. David was not excommunicated, he withdrew, but he did not withdraw to avoid a trial. These are his words:
You can see from reading those five charges against me, that I had already left the Latter Day Saints, when they were brought up against me. Also that I had already left them when they gave me a trial and cut me off. You can see this from the fourth charge which says:
“In neglecting the duties of his calling and separating himself from the church while he yet had a name among us.”
So this fact is established, and I want the brethren to remember this because it is important, as you will see later on why I left the Latter Day Saints. (Saints’ Herald Vol. 34, No. 7, February 5, 1887)
More from Widtsoe:
The absence from the councils of the Church of these fine men who had been so gloriously blessed by heaven was grieved by the whole Church membership. Though these men were no longer members of the Church, yet they always maintained the truth of their testimony as found in the Book of Mormon, and their belief in the divinity of the revelations given to Joseph Smith, the Prophet.
After David discovered that revelations were being changed, he lost faith in all Joseph’s post-Book of Mormon revelations, and considered him to be a “fallen” (rather than false) prophet.
Moreover, Oliver Cowdery, after some years, humbly entered the waters of baptism again, and was on his way to plead with David Whitmer to return to the Church, when death overtook him. Both affirmed with their last breath the truth of their testimony regarding the Lord’s latter-day work. Their knowledge of the truth of the restored Gospel, did not leave them.
That is wrong. The truth they “affirmed with their last breath” was the Holy Book of Mormon, not the Book of Commandments, the Doctrine and Covenants or anything else not found in the Book of Mormon. The second statment is dishonest, “Their knowledge of the restored Gospel” was of the gospel in the Book of Mormon, not the D&C. In David’s own words he said:
I did not say that Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer had not endorsed the Doctrine and Covenants in 1836. They did endorse it in 1836; I stated that they:
Came out of their errors (discarded the Doctrine and Covenants), repented of them, and died believing as I do today.
I have the proof to verify my statement. If anyone chooses to doubt my word, let them come to my home in Richmond and be satisfied. In the winter of 1848, after Oliver Cowdery had been baptized at Council Bluffs, he came back to Richmond to live, and lived here until his death, March 3, 1850. John Whitmer, when he left the Latter Day Saints in 1838, owned some land at Far West, Missouri (adjoining this county), and lived upon it from 1839 until his death at Far West, July 11, 1878. He came to Richmond very often.
Now, in 1849 the Lord saw fit to manifest unto John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself nearly all the remaining errors in doctrine into which we had been led by the heads of the old church. Also that when God’s own due time came for building up the waste places of Zion, that the Church of Christ must be established upon the teachings of Christ in the two sacred books.
We were shown that the Doctrine and Covenants contained many doctrines of error, and that it must be laid aside; Now I hope you understand me on this point. There is no disagreement between my testimony and the testimony of these brethren. They were led out of their errors, and are upon the record to this effect, rejecting the Doctrine and Covenants. (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in the Book of Mormon, 1887, pp. 1-2)
More from Widtsoe:
Naturally the question arises: How could these men, both of whom had seen the angelic guardian of the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated and the plates themselves, and one of whom in addition had been privileged to have converse with heavenly beings, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, how could such men so conduct themselves as to endanger their Church membership or be content to remain outside the Church?
The presumption that they were “endangering” their Church membership, i.e. their salvation is perposterous. David lived a long, healthy life according to what God revealed – the Bible and the Book of Mormon. His salvation was safe on those foundations. The D&C on the other hand lacks secondary support for D&C 132, the pinnacle of Mormonism.
They had knowledge, beyond that of other men, of the reality and divinity of the events which led to the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The answer to the question is simple, and well understood by all. These brethren did not use their knowledge in conformity with the order of the Church as set forth in the revelations of the Lord.
Which was the point! David, Oliver, and Martin stayed with the doctrine of the New Testament and the New Covenant of the Book of Mormon, Joseph did not.
That is, they entered forbidden paths; (1) they did not obey the commandments of God. (2) The practices of their lives did not correspond with their knowledge. (3) A sombre thought accompanies this doctrine. To possess knowledge, and not to use it, or not to use it properly, is a sin. (4) The failure of the human will to render obedience to God’s law is not only unintelligent and unwise, it is sinful. (5)
1. How is the Book of Mormon forbidden?
2. How is following the teachings of the book you were called to testify of disobeying God? It explains the “why” not this nonsense.
3. Indeed, see what the Lord said to them in D&C 84:
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church UNDER CONDEMNATION.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And THEY SHALL REMAIN UNDER THIS CONDEMNATION UNTIL THEY REPENT AND REMEMBER THE NEW COVENANT, EVEN THE BOOK OF MORMON and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to DO ACCORDING TO THAT WHICH I HAVE WRITTEN—
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. (D&C 84:55-58)
4. LDS have assumed Oliver, Martin and particularly David were lovers of darkness more than light; of sin more than righteousness. In fact, they (David in particular) stood for the light as it is found in the Book of Mormon more than Joseph, Widtsoe, Sperry, or Ludlow.
More from Widtsoe:
On one occasion the Lord said to the Church, through the latter-day Prophet:
There are many who have been ordained among you, whom I have called but few of them are chosen. They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.
Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were in the noon-day of knowledge, yet walked in darkness. Wisdom had departed from them. Therefore they were in sin.
I’m sure David would forgive such ignorance.