Lesson 44: I Speak unto You as If Ye Were Present
Purpose: To help class members understand the warnings and counsel given by Mormon and Moroni to people living in the latter days.
SCRIPTURE DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. Mormon exhorts the latter-day descendants of Lehi to repent, believe in Christ, and be baptized.
2. Moroni prophesies that the Book of Mormon will come forth in a day of great wickedness.
3. Moroni exhorts people in the last days to believe in Christ.
Every once in a while we become aware through some news feature that a dying parent has left what is called a “legacy letter” for children who will be growing up without that parent. Sometimes it is a series of letters, to be opened when the child starts school, or graduates, or is married, so that the child knows that the missing father or mother wanted to be there on those important days. Other times it is a single letter, where a mother or father tries to condense a whole life’s wisdom, and all a loving parents hopes for a child, into a few lines that the child can use as a guide to his life.
If you were to write a legacy letter for your children or grandchildren to read after you are gone, what kinds of things might you include, and why?
In a way, the entire Book of Mormon is a legacy letter, written by the righteous descendants of Lehi to their descendants, those who will hear the gospel in a distant day, after generations of apostasy and spiritual ignorance. When Mormon abridged the records of his people into the volume we have as The Book of Mormon, he selected those stories and teachings that would accomplish much of what you have just indicated you might put into a legacy letter: a reminder of who they are, an urgent invitation to live life in the best way possible, a call to look to the Messiah for salvation, and an assurance of the ancestor’s love.
But as Mormon reached the end of his abridgement of the records, he added a personal note, a legacy letter from Mormon himself to the descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites who would read his words in the last dispensation. Let’s read that letter, in Mormon, chapter 7, and think of it in terms of a loving father writing his last words to his wayward family:
1 And now, behold, I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words I speak:
2 Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel.
Why is this knowledge so important that it’s the first thing Mormon writes? (What does it mean to be of the house of Israel? Why does Mormon’s audience need to know they are included? Recall the blessings that God promised to the house of Israel, and note that this alerts Mormon’s readers to know they are eligible for those blessings: priesthood, assurance of exaltation as well as salvation, extension of these blessings to posterity, and the responsibility to carry this gospel to all peoples of the earth)
3 Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved.
4 Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.
We could see these two verses as an ultra-compact version of the two greatest commandments, as Jesus summarized them during his mortal ministry: Repentance is bringing ourselves into alignment with the will of God, fulfilling the “first and great commandment” to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37-38); not killing our fellow man is the very least we can do to fulfil the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew22:39).
A friend of mine asked what I think is a great question about verse 3. “Why is repentance a pre-condition for salvation? (If my kid were drowning, I would put no pre-conditions on his salvation.)” [ Julie Smith] What do you have to say in answer to that?
Of all the things Mormon might have chosen to counsel his descendants with regard to their personal behavior or their treatment of each other, why did he warn them against the shedding of blood?
5 Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed up.
6 And he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead, whereby man must be raised to stand before his judgment-seat.
7 And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.
8 Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall beset before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.
So Mormon gives a synopsis of the mission and atonement of Jesus Christ, and points his readers to the path whereby they can be part of the redemption offered by him.
I’d like to take a closer look at one phrase in verse 5: “the knowledge of your fathers.” That can be understood in two ways, given the oddities of English grammar.
One understanding would be “to know who your fathers are.” If that is the way we take this phrase, why would Mormon think it is important for modern-day descendants of Lehi to know that they descend from people like Nephi and Benjamin and Alma and Abinadi and Moroni? We invest a tremendous amount of resources, both in teaching and in physical facilities, to make it possible for Church members to know who their fathers are. Why? … and yet I heard this week, from an unimpeachable source, that a study shows that no more than 2% of Church members have ever searched out the name and facts about a previously unknown ancestor and taken that name to the temple. Comments?
Another understanding of the phrase “the knowledge of your fathers” would be to possess the same knowledge that your fathers had. What kinds of knowledge might an ancestor have had Mormon cared about being known today? How about old knowledge that might not have been forgotten, exactly, but which needs to be rediscovered in every generation – how about knowing with the same certainty that your great-grandmother had that Jesus is Christ, or that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, or that a priesthood blessing can heal?
It seems to me that Mormon had in mind both of those understandings of the term “the knowledge of your fathers, because he refers to both in Mormon 7:9-10:
9 For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.
10 And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. Amen.
We might want to clarify verse 9 a little, with its somewhat ambiguous “believe that” and “believe this.” In verse 8, Mormon spoke of the record of the Jews – the Bible – that would eventually come to Mormon’s people. So in verse 9, when he refers to “that,” he speaks of the Bible, and when he refers to “this,” he speaks of his own record, or the Book of Mormon. So, he says, the Book of Mormon is written that you might believe the Bible, and if you believe the Bible you will also believe the Book of Mormon.
Is that a little circular reasoning? “Believe X so that you believe Y; believe Y so that you believe X”? What do you have to say about the Bible reinforcing the Book of Mormon, and vice versa?
The Book of Mormon writers very often make clear, as Mormon does here, that the Book of Mormon is directed chiefly to the descendants of Lehi – a descent that, so far as I am aware, does not include me, or most of you who, like me, are of European descent – we are the Gentiles the Book of Mormon speaks of as coming to settle among the people of Lehi. That sometimes makes me feel like an outsider, like I’m reading over the shoulder of someone who has more claim on the Book of Mormon than I do. Yet we members of the Church who are of European ancestry, whose link to Israel comes through a somewhat different line than the children of Lehi, have a history that parallels the Book of Mormon. We descend from the house of Israel, as do the Lehites. Our ancestors once knew the gospel, then, either through being led away captive into Babylon and being lost from the Israelites, or else through the loss of gospel understanding that followed the death of Christ and the apostles, we, like the Lehites, were in the position of needing to be taught who we were and what the gospel is – a teaching that came through the Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. When I read verse 9, indicating the close relationship the Bible and the Book of Mormon have – that each book reinforces the other, and that to believe one book is to believe the other – then I no longer feel as I often do, an outsider, a borrower of the Book of Mormon.
The end of chapter 7 is the end of Mormon’s abridgement of the Nephite records. Mormon’s son Moroni, takes up the record with the beginning of chapter 8. His words are some of saddest, loneliest passages ever recorded:
1 Behold I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon. Behold, I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father.
2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
3 And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not.
4 Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not.
5 Behold, my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.
6 Behold, four hundred years have passed away since the coming of our Lord and Savior.
7 And behold, the Lamanites have hunted my people, the Nephites, down from city to city and from place to place, even until they are no more; and great has been their fall; yea, great and marvelous is the destruction of my people, the Nephites.
8 And behold, it is the hand of the Lord which hath done it. And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.
9 And now, behold, I say no more concerning them, for there are none save it be the Lamanites and robbers that do exist upon the face of the land.
10 And there are none that do know the true God save it be the disciples of Jesus, who did tarry in the land until the wickedness of the people was so great that the Lord would not suffer them to remain with the people; and whether they be upon the face of the land no man knoweth.
11 But behold, my father and I have seen them, and they have ministered unto us.
12 And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. Behold, I am Moroni; and were it possible, I would make all things known unto you.
Moroni’s loneliness comes through loud and clear in this passage – yet listen to what he writes only a few lines later:
11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.
12 Behold, he created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man.
13 And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep, from which sleep all men shall be awakened by the power of God when the trump shall sound; and they shall come forth, both small and great, and all shall stand before his bar, being redeemed and loosed from this eternal band of death, which death is a temporal death.
What is it that allows Moroni, even in his lonely and hunted condition, to avoid despair, even be jubilant?
[Summarize and testify]