Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ. [1]

In this lesson, the prophet Jacob confronts Church members who have begun to break the temple covenants they made in Nephi’s time. [2]  They “began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices.”  Stunned and grieving, Jacob pleads with them to renew their broken covenants and to “come unto Christ.”

The key to understanding this passage of the Book of Mormon is to remember that it is a temple sermon. Jacob had been consecrated a priest by his brother Nephi [3] ; as a result, he was the priesthood leader of the Nephite church. In the Nephite temple, as in our temples today, the people could come to commune with the Savior and enjoy His presence.

But the Nephites were more and more turning their backs on the Lord. After leaving the Lamanites behind, they had built up a new city in a new land, complete with a temple modeled after the great temple at Jerusalem. In this new city they had prospered and, probably through trade with others in the area, acquired quantities of precious metals, costly goods, and even slave wives known as concubines – “such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines.” [4]

To Enter into His Rest

Jacob’s overriding goal was to bring the people back to the Savior, to “persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest,” [5] “which rest is the fullness of his glory.” [6] To enter into the rest of the Lord is to return to the presence of the Son of God and to be exalted with Him in eternity. It is the purpose of temples to enable us to “enter into His rest.” This is why Jacob called the people to the temple to remind them of their covenants and to bring them to repentance.

Laboring in Sin”

Jacob begins this monumental sermon by announcing his purpose: “To magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up unto the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God.” [7]   He tells them that he is “weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been.”

The Nephites have only just started to depart from righteousness, but this departure has been swift and shocking to Jacob.  “As yet, ye have been obedient unto the word of the Lord,” he says, but “ye are beginning to labor in sin.” [8]

The lapse into disobedience has been sudden. The interesting expression “to labor in sin” hints at the cause of this disobedience. The work of the Nephites has suddenly shifted in its purpose; they no longer “labor in righteousness.” Instead of laboring for the purpose of building up Zion, they are now laboring “in sin” for the purpose of “searching much gold and silver.” [9]

Something new has happened in the young Nephite colony. Their hard work in establishing themselves in a new land has paid off, but the result is alarming:

And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they. [10]

Violation of Temple Covenants

As a result of “striking it rich,” the Nephites have quickly left behind the two important covenants of obedience and sacrifice. Instead of keeping the commandments of God and sacrificing their own interests for those of Zion, they are turning rapidly into citizens of the “great and spacious building” – the pride of the world-which their beloved Nephi had warned them against. [11]

In a matter of a few years, they had lost sight of their hope in Christ. Speaking of their fathers, Jacob says, “They believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name … And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him.” [12]

The young Nephite colony is thus violating the law of the gospel. They risk by this violation, as the ancient Israelites did at the time of Moses, to lose their opportunity to enter into the Lord’s rest, “as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israelwere in the wilderness.” [13]

The accession to riches has also made it possible for the men to buy up wives and concubines, thus violating the sacred covenant of chastity.  Because of your “wickedness and abominations,” Jacob says to the husbands, “ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children … and the sobbing of their hearts ascends up to God against you.” [14]

As Hugh Nibley observes, “In their frontier condition [Jacob’s] people had taken to the barbarian custom of collective wives, concubines, and the spectacular loot that barbarians love … the whole lot of them set their hearts on riches.'” [15]

Finally, the Nephites have abandoned the covenant of consecration – the pledge to sanctify their labors for the love of the Church and to provide for one another. Because of hard work and consecration, they had enjoyed abundant blessings and had lived for a generation “after the manner of happiness.” [16] But now everything was changing. Sudden prosperity has produced a sudden eruption of pride and discrimination against the poor. Jacob pleads with the people not to let this “pride of your hearts destroy your souls”:

Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you. But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ, ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good, to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.


One Is as Precious as the Other

The Nephites were actively “afflicting” their neighbor, “persecut[ing] him because ye were proud in your hearts.” [18] This practice of persecuting the poor, of showing no compassion for those who are less fortunate, of driving them away or treating them as unwelcome, is “abominable” to the Lord. As Nibley says, “It is not the wealth but the inequality that does the damage. Of unequal distribution he says, Do you not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other.'” [19]

Nephite persecution of the alien poor of the land has taken the evil form of racial prejudice. “A commandment I give unto you,” Jacob says, “which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness.” [20]

It might be useful for us today to take this warning to heart as we hear cries of hatred, suppression, and revenge even in our own midst against people who are different and less fortunate than we are. “How much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?”[21]

The people’s violation of sacred temple covenants is devastating to Jacob. “It grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my maker.” [22] He has watched this downward spiral take place within only a couple of decades (a solemn reminder that the Lord’s work is only a generation away from apostasy at any moment in time!).

Be Reconciled Through the Atonement of Christ

There in the temple he boldly pleads with them to repent and renew their covenants: “My brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell.” [23]If we wish to repent, we too must hearken, arouse our faculties, and shake ourselves out of a complacent slumber.

Jacob further pleads: “Beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection … and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God.” In the sacred temple, they can see the altar, the Holy of Holies, the very symbols of the presence of the Son. One can visualize Jacob gesturing to the inner sanctuary, begging his people to turn from their evil ways and enter into the Lord’s rest.

As did Jacob, he Prophet Joseph Smith beckons to us today to leave behind the pride of the world and the illicit lusts of the flesh – all who “labor in sin” – and seek the kingdom of God and “His rest.”

God has in reserve a time, or period appointed in His own bosom, when He will bring all His subjects, who have obeyed His voice and kept His commandments, into His celestial rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude, was the purpose of God in giving His laws to us … All the commandments contained in the law of the Lord, have the sure promise annexed of a reward to all who obey, predicated upon the fact that they are really the promises of a Being who cannot lie