Cover image: Christ’s Prayer, by Derek Hegsted.
After two days of rich spiritual experiences, the resurrected Christ appeared once again to his “other sheep. As 3 Nephi 27 opens, we see the Nephite Apostles gathered together in “mighty prayer and fasting.” When Jesus appeared, he asked them, “What will ye that I shall give unto you?”
Imagine being asked that question! Their answer was surprising—“we will that thou wouldst tell us the name by which we shall call this church.” Apparently there had been disputations among the people about this matter. They already knew how the Lord felt about disputations. One of the first things he had told them after introducing himself was—“there shall be no disputations among you.” Why disputations arose among the Nephites concerning the name of the church is not clear.
“How be it my church save it be called in my name?” (3 Nephi 27:8)
There have been many General Conference addresses over the years where prophets have counseled that the correct name of the Church be used.
In April 1948, President George Albert Smith said, “Don’t let the Lord down by calling this the Mormon Church. He didn’t call it the Mormon Church. It is all right for us to believe in the Book of Mormon. He expects us to do that, but he told us what to call this Church.”
In November 1971, President Harold B. Lee said, “When [the Lord] revealed the name by which the Church was to be called, he used some interesting expressions. … He didn’t say Mormon Church; he didn’t say LDS Church, but the clear, firm, unequivocal statement, ‘even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’”
Elder Russell M. Nelson said in April 1990, “Note carefully the language of the Lord. He did not say, ‘Thus shall my church be named.’ He said, ‘Thus shall my church be called.’ … Before any other name is considered to be a legitimate substitute, the thoughtful person might reverently consider the feelings of the Heavenly Parent who bestowed that name.”
In an Ensign article in March 1994, Dallin H. Oaks wrote, “The First Presidency has requested that we not refer to ourselves as ‘the Mormon Church’ but by the name the Lord gave his church by revelation: ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’”.
In a “Letter to Members of the Church,” the First Presidency (Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and James E. Faust), issued February 23, 2001, this plea is renewed: “The use of the revealed name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is increasingly important in our responsibility to proclaim the name of the Savior throughout all the world. Accordingly, we ask that when we refer to the Church we use its full name wherever possible.”
In the May 2011 Liahona, Boyd K. Packer wrote: “Obedient to revelation, we call ourselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rather than the Mormon Church. It is one thing for others to refer to the Church as the Mormon Church or to us as Mormons; it is quite another for us to do so.” M. Russell Ballard, wrote in the same publication three years later in May 2014, “[T]he Lord makes clear that [the full name of the church] is not only a formal title but also the name by which His Church is to be called. Given His clear declaration, we should not refer to the Church by any other name, such as ‘Mormon Church’ or ‘LDS Church.’”
However, the nicknames of the Church still persisted. This all changed in October 2018 General Conference where President Nelson delivered an address titled, “The Correct Name of the Church” where he strongly expressed his desire that the name used by the Church be corrected. This time, the change was going to happen, no matter what the costs might be, financial and otherwise. (I was the mission secretary at the time in California, and the changes we had to make in missionary email addresses, missionary support websites, etc. were massive! I can only imagine what it was like for those who had to make all the world-wide adjustments.)
President Nelson said:
The Lord impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He decreed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As you would expect, responses to this statement and to the revised style guide have been mixed. Many members immediately corrected the name of the Church on their blogs and social media pages. Others wondered why, with all that’s going on in the world, it was necessary to emphasize something so “inconsequential.” And some said it couldn’t be done, so why even try? Let me explain why we care so deeply about this issue. But first let me state what this effort is not:
It is not a name change.
It is not rebranding.
It is not cosmetic.
It is not a whim.
And it is not inconsequential.
Instead, it is a correction. It is the command of the Lord. Joseph Smith did not name the Church restored through him; neither did Mormon. It was the Savior Himself who said, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
President Nelson then quoted the verses we have been discussing from 3 Nephi 27:
“Ye shall call the church in my name. …
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church.”
Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended.
What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.
Next, President Nelson ties the name of the Church to the promises we made to Christ at our baptism, and which we renew weekly through the ordinance of the sacrament.
Every Sunday as we worthily partake of the sacrament, we make anew our sacred promise to our Heavenly Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. We promise to follow Him, repent, keep His commandments, and always remember Him.
When we omit His name from His Church, we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.
I love how President Nelson was not dissuaded from this necessary correction by the magnitude of this task in this age of digital technology:
Brothers and sisters, there are many worldly arguments against restoring the correct name of the Church. Because of the digital world in which we live and with search engine optimization that helps all of us find information we need almost instantly—including information about the Lord’s Church—critics say that a correction at this point is unwise. Others feel that because we are known so widely as “Mormons” and as the “Mormon Church,” we should make the best of it.
If this were a discussion about branding a man-made organization, those arguments might prevail. But in this crucial matter, we look to Him whose Church this is and acknowledge that the Lord’s ways are not, and never will be, man’s ways.
Lastly, President Nelson promises that the Lord will bestow unimaginable blessings upon the members of his church if they endeavor to restore the correct name of the Church:
My dear brothers and sisters, I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen. We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
Christ Defines His “Gospel” – “The Doctrine of Christ”
Although the church being called after Christ’s name is a necessary condition for it to be his church, it is not sufficient. Jesus stated that “if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8; emphasis added).
Robert Millett provided these insights:
Anyone can organize a church. Anyone can name that church The Church of Jesus Christ. And yet, as the Master affirms, it will not be his church unless it is built upon his gospel. We cannot really be built upon Christ’s gospel if we do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Those who labor tirelessly to lighten burdens or alleviate human suffering but at the same time deny the fact that Jesus Christ is God cannot have the lasting impact on society that they could have through drawing upon those spiritual forces that center in the Lord Omnipotent. (“This Is My Gospel” in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9–30)
Without of the fulness of the gospel, many worldly ideas and movements seek to occupy center stage. Some in today’s world focus upon Jesus as a loving teacher, guide, and moral leader, but downplay the fact of his divinity. Even those who teach in schools offering doctorates in Theology often lack faith, and emphasize scholarship, and topics such as such as “textual criticism,” rather than spiritual matters.
I love this quote from C. S. Lewis:
I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, 55-56)
One of Christ’s most straightforward proclamations regarding the essence of the gospel can be found in 3 Nephi 27, beginning in verse 13: “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.” Jesus’s commitment to do whatever the Father asked him is perhaps the ultimate expression of what the gospel is all about. This response of Jesus becomes a pattern for our response to the will of Jesus Christ, that is, being willing to do all he asks of us.
And what was the Father’s will for his son? 3 Nephi 27:14-15:
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
I love the image of Christ being lifted up so that by him all men may be lifted up to stand in the presence of the Father. This privilege will be given to all mankind, but how long they are allowed to remain in his presence is according to how well they have lived by the principles of his gospel. In the next few verses, Christ defines exactly what his “gospel” means.
Richard O. Cowan has summarized the gospel plan in the following ten statements: (See “The Church Shall Bear My Name and Be Built upon My Gospel” in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9–30)
1. All will be judged according to their works. “I [will] draw all men unto me, . . . to be judged of their works (3 Nephi 27:14).
2. No unclean thing can enter God’s presence. “And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom” (3 Nephi 27:19).
3. God sent Christ to be crucified for the sins of the world. “My Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross” (3 Nephi 27:14; see also John 3:16).
4. Only through Christ’s atoning blood can we become clean. “Therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood” (3 Nephi 27:19).
5. In the light of point number four, faith in the Savior is the logical and obvious first principle of the gospel. The righteous will be cleansed “because of their faith” (3 Nephi 27:19).
6. We must repent of all our sins. “Repent, all ye ends of the earth” (3 Nephi 27:20).
7. Baptism continues the cleansing process. “Come unto me and be baptized in my name” (3 Nephi 27:20).
8. We are sanctified through receiving the Holy Ghost. We are to be “sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that [we] may stand spotless before [him] at the last day” (3 Nephi 27:20).
9. We must remain faithful to the end. Salvation comes only to those who continue in “faithfulness unto the end” (3 Nephi 27:19). Note how in this verse the Lord employs both “faith” (referring to our trust in him) and “faithfulness” (referring to our resulting good works).
10. By following the gospel of Jesus Christ, we will be exalted in the celestial kingdom. “Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (3 Nephi 27:22). Interestingly, the phrase “lifted up” is used not only in reference to the Savior’s crucifixion, but it also refers to our ultimate exaltation (D&C 5:35).
This message is also called the “doctrine of Christ” by Nephi (son of Lehi) in 2 Nephi 31:17, 20:
For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost ….Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
Joseph Smith taught:
Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the Kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost. (TPJS 198)
After baptism, those who take upon them the name of Christ seek to be led by the power of the Holy Ghost. 2 Nephi 32:3 and 5 tell us to “feast upon the words of Christ” because they will “tell you all things what ye should do.” However, the words of Christ are not necessarily written in scripture, for the Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things that ye should do.” Each person who has taken the Holy Ghost as his/her guide is entitled to the personal revelation needed to make good decisions as he/she travels on the strait and narrow path that leads to life eternal.
The Desire of the Three Nephites
The next chapter, 3 Nephi 28, records one of the most intriguing accounts in the Book of Mormon. This is the final day of the Savior’s formal three-day ministry among his “other sheep.” Mormon informs us that he could not even record a “hundredth part of the things” which Jesus taught unto those people (3 Nephi 26:6). We are told that what we have is the “lesser part,” and that “greater things” would be made known to those who believe the things the Lord has given us (see 8–10). In light of what Mormon reveals to us next, I cannot imagine what these “greater things” might be! I have always wondered if those greater things were contained (at least in part) in the sealed portion of the gold plates. It would have been so much easier to carry and hide the smaller portion Joseph actually translated. Was the sealed portion included as a reminder to all of us that there were greater things?
Jesus spoke to each of his disciples, “one by one,” and asked them, “What is it that ye desire of me, after that I am gone unto the Father?” (3 Nephi 28:1). I can only imagine what that must have been like! The possibilities seem overwhelming.
The request of the nine was to come immediately into the kingdom of God upon death, which is the wish of many of the faithful. But the desire of the three to remain on the earth that they “might bring the souls of men unto [Christ], while the world shall stand” is a “greater work” (see 3 Nephi 28:9). Christ told Peter, “Thou desiredst that thou mightest speedily come unto me in my kingdom. I say unto thee, Peter, this was a good desire; but my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done” (Doctrine and Covenants 7:4-5).
Characteristics of the Three Nephites
Clyde Williams identifies ten major characteristics recorded by Mormon concerning these three individuals. (“The Three Nephites and the Doctrine of Translation” in The Book of Mormon: 3 Nephi 9–30)
- They, like John the Revelator, will “never taste of death” (3 Nephi 28:7). In the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Translated bodies cannot enter into rest until they have undergone a change equivalent to death” (TPJS 191).
- They will “be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality” (3 Nephi 28:8). “This change from mortality to immortality, though almost instantaneous, is both a death and a resurrection” (McConkie, Mortal Messiah 4:390). There is no funeral, no mourning, no grave. For translated beings, their death is more like an ordinance than a time of parting and separation.
- The Three Nephites were told they would experience no pain while they dwelt in the flesh. They are not subject to disease or suffering that commonly afflict man. However, like God, they do experience sorrow “for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 28:9). Sometime between AD 245 and 300 the wickedness among the Lamanites and Nephites became so widespread that “the disciples began to sorrow for the sins of the world” (4 Nephi 1:44). By AD 326 the wickedness had become so prevalent that the Lord took the Three Nephites away from openly ministering among the people (Mormon 1:13; 8:10).
- For the twelve Nephite disciples, the glorious final day the Savior spent among the Nephites was in effect a Judgment Day. They were given the promise of entering with the Savior into his kingdom. They were promised that they would be even as the Savior is, and like the Father. It was a sure promise to mortal men that they could become gods.
- Translated beings have knowledge and wisdom given unto them that exceed human perspective. The Three Nephites were “caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things” (3 Nephi 28:13; see also 13:36). We do not know what wisdom and glory they received, what future visions they beheld, as they were forbidden to speak of what they saw and heard, even being denied the “power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard” (28:14; emphasis added). Perhaps one additional idea is worth our consideration at this point. The Lord entrusted this sacred knowledge with the Three Nephites because he knew they could be trusted. He knew they would keep confidential those things revealed to them. Mormon was careful to let us know that while these three began to minister upon the face of the earth, “they did not minister of the things which they had heard and seen because of the commandment which was given them in heaven” (3 Nephi 28:16).
- As Mormon began writing and editing this portion of the Nephite history, he was uncertain as to the actual condition or state of the Three Nephites. Were they mortal or immortal (3 Nephi 28:15, 17)? Only after inquiring of the Lord did he come to the knowledge that they had experienced a change in their bodies. While they were no longer subject to pain and sickness, “this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day [the resurrection]” (vv 38–39).
The scriptures are not clear on the exact differences between transfigured beings and translated beings. However, the scriptural use of these terms seems to indicate “that transfiguration is more temporary, as in Matthew 17:1–9 and Moses 1:11, occurring primarily to permit one to behold spiritual things not possible in the mortal condition” (Mark McConkie, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1486). Conversely, “translated beings experience a long-term change” that culminates at the time of their resurrection (Mouritsen in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1485). It appears that these Nephite disciples were first transfigured and then translated.
- Another blessing enjoyed by translated beings is that wicked or evil men and women have no power over them. Three times they were cast into fiery furnaces and twice into dens of wild beasts their enemies. However, the Lord delivered them each time without harm (see 3 Nephi 28:21–22; 4 Nephi 1:32–33)
The scriptures indicate that these three disciples were able to use “the power of the word of God” to destroy the prison walls and to deliver themselves out of the depths of the earth (4 Nephi 1:30). Like Enoch of old and Nephi, the son of Helaman, these translated Nephites had such power that all things were done according to their word (see Hel 10:5–10; Moses 7:13).
- They have the power to show themselves to whomsoever they desire. And the converse is true. They can keep themselves from being seen by anyone they do not want to see them. The only stipulation required for them to show themselves is that they must pray to the Father in the name of Jesus for that power.
Mormon declares, “They are as the angels of God” (3 Nephi 28:30). This would seem to mean that travel and distances are of no consequence to them. Mormon prophesied that “great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day” of the Lord (v 31).
- One of the most significant characteristics of the Three Nephites is that Satan can “have no power over them” (3 Nephi 28:39). Like some in king Benjamin’s day, they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). The fact that Satan could no longer tempt these three is further evidence that for them the day of judgment had been moved up.
- Mormon concluded his revealing treatise on the Three Nephites by reminding us that they were to remain in this translated state until the “judgment day of Christ,” or in the words of the Savior until “I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven” (3 Nephi 28:7, 40).
The Ministry of the Three Nephites
Mormon identifies five major groups these Three Nephites would minister to. First, they would labor among the faithful Nephites and Lamanites who remained after the appearance of Christ on the American continent. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith declared: “While in every instance the Nephite Twelve are spoken of as disciples, the fact remains that they had been endowed with divine authority to be special witnesses for Christ among their own people” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:158; italics in original). We are told that they still continued to minister to Mormon and Moroni from time to time. Moroni revealed, “My father and I have seen them, and they have ministered unto us” (Mormon 8:11; see also 3 Nephi 28:26).
The four other groups that the Three Nephites would minister to are the Gentiles, the Jews, the scattered tribes of Israel, and all nations kindreds, tongues, and people (3 Nephi 28:27–29). We do not know the specifics of their labors among these groups, but we do know that those among whom they labor will not know them (verses 27–28). My own family history has stories where specific miracles that occurred in their lives were attributed to these three men. I can’t wait until all such stories are gathered together and we can watch them in a wonderful Fireside in the sky! I imagine that they brought many souls unto Christ “because of the convincing power of God which is in them” (v 29).
The Pursuit of Happiness, Peace and Rest
What was the result of Christ’s ministry among the Nephites? They lived in peace and happiness for 200 years. 4 Nephi is one of those gems in scripture—in the space of a few short verses we see the fruition of everything that the rest of the Book of Mormon prophets have been trying to instill in their people.
When I think of peace and happiness, I think of Abraham when he was dwelling in the land of the Chaldeans. He says, “I saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence.” This verse makes me laugh, because it seems like the understatement of the year! After all, his father Terah had just allowed him to be offered as a human sacrifice! Something was missing which his soul cried out for. In the first part of Abraham 1:2 we read some interesting things.
And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
What were the things he perceived that he was lacking in his life? Happiness, peace, and rest. What are the things that Abraham perceived would bring him happiness, peace and rest?
Contrast Abraham’s desire with the desire of those who lived just prior to the Savior’]s coming to the Americas. Helaman 13:38 reads, “ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” Notice two things in this verse. How did they seek for happiness? Through doing iniquity. What does Samuel say about that philosophy? That it is contrary to the nature of righteousness. How is “righteousness” qualified? “That righteousness which is in our great and eternal Head.” Who is that? Jesus Christ.
With that in mind, consider again the scripture in Abraham 1:2. What does it mean to be a “follower of righteousness”? Moses 7:47 reads, “Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world.” In this verse, how is “The Righteous” being used? As a divine title of the Savior. How does this information affect our understanding of the verse in Abraham 1:2? Abraham, “being a follower of Jesus Christ, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of Jesus Christ, and to possess a greater knowledge.”
Why do you think knowledge was so important that it is mentioned twice in this verse? Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Knowledge of a thing engenders love of it. The more perfect the knowledge, the more fervent the love.” Notice that both times knowledge is mentioned it directly follows the desire to be a “follower of righteousness.” What type of specific knowledge do you think Abraham was referring to? The knowledge of Jesus Christ. This is the happiness, peace and rest that Abraham sought after. Consider how it relates to these verses in Doctrine and Covenants 84:19‑20, 23‑24:
19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
20Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
Abraham sought for happiness, peace and rest, and found it in acquiring greater knowledge of Jesus Christ and using that knowledge to shape the way that he lived his life. The Nephites followed a similar path, and for a short time in their history also found happiness, peace and rest. Although we share these same goals, and are anxiously engaged in this great work, we cannot achieve this if we are too concerned with ourselves. The only way that we can overcome this is to a seek greater knowledge of Jesus Christ and seek to be a greater follower of his righteousness. This state was achieved by those who saw the resurrected Christ in America. They entered into his rest and partook of the fulness of his glory.
Characteristics of a Zion Society
However, just prior to describing the Zion society, Mormon inserted a short but very poignant warning in 3 Nephi 30:1‑2
Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying: Turn, all ye Gentiles from your wicked ways; and repentof your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel.
Why do you think Mormon wanted us to have this warning before reading on? Because he knew that we could also enter into that type of rest if we would heed his warnings. It also anticipates the latter half of 4 Nephi when the people forget to live by the standards which brought them that lifestyle in the first place.
The book of 4 Nephi covers the years 36 AD to 320. The first verse records that the disciples of Christ formed a church, and all who repented were “baptized in the name of Jesus,” and “received the Holy Ghost.” Notice the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are mentioned. Two years later, there were “no contentions” and disputations among them. Both Nephites and Lamanites were converted and dealt justly with one another. Not only that, but they had “all things common among them,” evidently living some form of consecration, and lived it joyfully.
Verse 5 records the “great and marvelous works” performed by the disciples, who performed “all manner of miracles” in the name of Jesus. They multiplied and became a “fair and delightsome people” (v. 10). They built cities, married and were given in marriage, and were “blessed according to the multitude of promises which the Lord had made unto them” (v. 11) They no longer observed the law of Moses, but walked after the Lord’s commandments, “continuing in fasting and prayer,” to “pray and hear the word of the Lord” (v. 12).
After a hundred years had passed away, all the disciples had passed away and there were “other disciples ordained in their stead” (v.14). Evidently, the organization of the twelve disciples in the new world was meant to continue like the twelve apostles in the old world. When a vacancy was created by the death of Judas, the remaining apostles met and prayed and chose Matthias. (See Acts 1:15-26.)
Four times in 4 Nephi (in verses 2, 13, 15, and 18), we are told there was no contention among the people. But in verse 15, we are told why: “because of the love of God which filled their hearts.” Many years have been covered in these few verses, and we might wonder why more details are not reported. The answer is that there was nothing to report because there was no drama. The people kept the commandments, and they “prospered in the land,” just as the Book of Mormon has repeatedly promised. Because of this, “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (v. 16).
There were no “manner of -ites,” in the land, and “the Lord did bless them in all their doings.” Contention is the opposite of unity, and “-ites” are evidence of division among the people. Rather than focusing on whether they were children of Nephi, or Laman, or Lemuel, they were called “children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (v. 17).
After Nephi died, his son Amos kept the plates, and there was still peace in the land. That is until verse 20, when a small part of the people revolted from the church and had “taken upon them the name of Lamanites.” The further we go through the Book of Mormon, the more being a “Lamanite” or “Nephite” is a matter of affiliation and belief rather than lineage and birth. Generations had passed away with no “-ites.”, so when this division begins, we notice that it doesn’t say the Lamanites revolted, but that a small part of the people took upon themselves the name of Lamanites. In verse 36, “there arose a people who were called the Nephites.” Verse 38 explains, “those who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites.” So we see that the people were distinguishing themselves more by belief than by their genealogy. This is an important point, because the Lamanites who survived the final battle could have been descendants of Nephi as well as Laman, meaning, modern day Lamanites are as well.
Notice that one of the central characteristics of the Book of Mormon people when they were prosperous is that they cared more about the group as a whole, than they did about their own individual needs. President Spencer W. Kimball once said:
[Bringing about Zion] can only be done through consistent and concerted daily effort by every single member of the Church…. First, we must eliminate the individual tendency to selfishness that snares the soul, shrinks the heart, and darkens the mind…. Second, we must cooperate completely and work in harmony one with another….Third, we must lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord. We begin by offering a “broken heart and contrite spirit.” We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings. We learn our duty and execute it fully. Finally we consecrate our time, talents, and means as called upon by our file leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit. (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign (May 1978), p. 81.)
In contrast, notice what the characteristics of the society were when it began to deteriorate. Suddenly the individual began to be the most important thing and everything collapsed. There is a great lesson there for all of us. We live in a world where the individual is set upon a pedestal. People are more interested in “what’s in it for me” than they are with how others will be helped.
The peaceful society of 4 Nephi reminds us of the future day ofthe Millennium. During the Millennium, what is it that will bind Satan? 1 Nephi 22:26 tells us that it is “the righteousness of the people.” It follows then that the loosing agent will be the unrighteousness of the people. Was this the case in 4 Nephi? What was the most prominent symptom of their unrighteousness? The exaltation of the individual and the ensuing pride which always follows it. In both the old world and the new, the people weren’t able to maintain their level of righteousness. In 4 Nephi, the people practiced prayer, fasting, and study of the words of the Lord, but then it appears that everything very quickly begins to deteriorate.
The End of the Zion Society
We are told that “there were those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing or costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls…” (v. 24) We see the frightening “P” word appearing after a long absence. And I am not referring to pearls. These have been the happiest of people on the face of the earth! What has changed? CS Lewis stated that “the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness . . . are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” (Mere Christianity) The Lord has stated that “if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27, see also 1 Peter 3:8, John 17:11, Mosiah 18:21, Moses 7:18).
In my own scriptures, I have printed off President Ezra Taft Benson’s landmark talk “Beware of Pride” which is divided into verses, like the scriptures. In this talk, given in April 1989, he gave asks a critical question:
The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that the Book of Mormon is the “record of a fallen people.” (D&C 20:9.) Why did they fall? This is one of the major messages of the Book of Mormon. Mormon gives the answer in the closing chapters of the book in these words: “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction.” (Moro. 8:27.) And then, lest we miss that momentous Book of Mormon message from that fallen people, the Lord warns us in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Beware of pride, lest ye become as the Nephites of old.” (D&C 38:39.)
I earnestly seek an interest in your faith and prayers as I strive to bring forth light on this Book of Mormon message—the sin of pride. This message has been weighing heavily on my soul for some time. I know the Lord wants this message delivered now.
President Benson said that the Book of Mormon was written for our day, and its scriptures are to be likened unto ourselves. His words are still compelling:
Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.
The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means “hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.” It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.
Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of “my will and not thine be done.”
What is the difference between this community in the new world and Enoch’s city of Zion?
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.
And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion. And it came to pass that the Lord showed unto Enoch all the inhabitants of the earth; and he beheld, and lo, Zion, in process of time, was taken up into heaven. And the Lord said unto Enoch: Behold mine abode forever. (Moses 7:18‑19, 21)
Note that Enoch continued in preaching and that it was only in the process of time that the city was taken into heaven. In Doctrine and Covenants 107:48‑49, we learn that Enoch lived in a Zion state for 365 years. How long did the Nephites last in a Zion state?167 years. Does that mean that if that community had continued for another 200 years that they would have been translated? For many years, even those that were not eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ had made the choice to have faith in their words, and had continued living in peace for decade upon decade. It was only when pride and the loss of unity became a characteristic of the people that the society changed. It appears that the Lord waits until his people have proven that they will always do his will. That they will always make the choice to have faith, even though the possibility of doubt exists. The disciples in the promised land of America, as a whole, failed to prove that they could do that. Instead, they again split into factions.
4 Nephi 1:46‑48:
46 And it came to pass that the robbers of Gadianton did spread over all the face of the land; and there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus. And gold and silver did they lay up in store in abundance, and did traffic in all manner of traffic.
47 And it came to pass that after three hundred and five years had passed away, (and the people did still remain in wickedness) Amos died; and his brother, Ammaron, did keep the record in his stead.
48 And it came to pass that when three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.
The startlingly rapid decline of the Nephites who had so much that was so good can be understood if we realize that their government was a theocracy. If you take that away, the people are left to their own devices to organize society. After having the ideal government, anything less is a slow spiral downhill. We see the people forming something of a tribal or family subculture of the society. Notice that the economy revolved around the trafficking of “gold and silver.” Ammaron was constrained to hide up the sacred records. The society had become focused on materialism, to the point that it could not tolerate the spiritual. And as we will see in the record of Mormon in the next six chapters, the result is the complete destruction of the Nephite society.
God’s Law Governing the Land of Promise
The Book of Mormon begins and ends with the destruction of a people. The first people to be destroyed are those in Jerusalem. At the end of the Book of Mormon, the entire Nephite nation comes to an end.The Book of Ether records the destruction of yet another people—the Jaredites. The Lord tells us that he confirms his word in the mouth of two or three witnesses. These societies are witnesses of the results of his covenants being broken. One of the great messages of the Book of Mormon is this warning. Moroni is especially warning us in the latter days. When you see these things happen, you will know how to fight them.Do we seefactions, disunity, or contention in the promised land of America today?
There is a LAW that governs promised lands – North and South America, Israel. (See Ether 2:8) The law which governs the land of promise is that “whoso should possess the land should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.” The Lord says, “I hope you got that. I’m going to tell you again. Ether 2:9 reads, “this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.” In case we still didn’t get it, the Lord repeats the message—hopefully the third time’s the charm. Ether 2:10 reads, “For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God.” We make promises to God, and he makes promises to us, and he is bound to live up to them when we are obedient to his commandments. (See Doctrine and Covenants 82:10)
Ether 2:11 makes this personal:
And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.
He put this verse in for our benefit, because the Jaredites were already destroyed and so were the Nephites. What does “continue” suggest in the 11th verse? Iniquity has already started, and if it is allowed to CONTINUE, it will result in the “fulness” of iniquity. This is the FOUNDATION of the law which governs this land.
I wish to include a quote from the Presidential Message on the National Day of Prayer and Return, 2020 issued September 26:
As we continue to combat the challenges ahead of us, we must remember the sage words of President George Washington during his first Presidential Address: “propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” As a country and a people, let us renew our commitment to these abiding and timeless principles.
There is an UP SIDE to the promise. You will be a FREE people as long as you serve the God of the land.
Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written. (Ether 2:12)
2 Ne. 10:10-14 adds light to this idea:
10 But behold, this land, said God, shall be a land of thine inheritance, and the Gentiles shall be blessed upon the land.
11 And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.
12 And I will fortify this land against all other nations.
13 And he that fighteth against Zion shall perish, saith God.
14 For he that raiseth up a king against me shall perish, for I, the Lord, the king of heaven, will be their king, and I will be a light unto them forever, that hear my words.
In verse 13, “Zion” is America.
Alma 45:16 is the CURSING part.
And he said: Thus saith the Lord God—Cursed shall be the land, yea, this land, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.
4 Nephi 1:43 states, “the people of Nephi began to be proud in their hearts because of their exceeding riches, and become vain like unto their brethren, the Lamanites.” This is a sad situation, where the believers begin to follow the world – a few steps behind, perhaps, but following nevertheless. In 1861, the Millennial Star observed:
If the breach is daily widening between ourselves and the world, as it is between the community of the Saints and the world, then we may be assured that our progress is certain, however slow. On the opposite hand, if our feelings and affections, our appetites and desires, are in unison with the world around us and freely fraternize with them…we should do well to examine ourselves. Individuals in such a condition might possess a nominal position in the Church but would be lacking the life of the work, and, like the foolish virgins who slumbered while the bridegroom tarried, they would be unprepared for His coming when it bursts upon them unexpectedly. (Oct. 5, 1861, Millennial Star 23:645-46)
When the Proclamation on the Family was given in 1995, I remember thinking that it was pretty much business as usual. But today, this document is a source of great controversy. It demonstrates that the gap between the values of the Church and the values of society has grown very wide. I am so grateful for a living prophet who has encouraged us to seek to build God’s kingdom and “Hear Him.”
I close with words from President Ezra Taft Benson:
The antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness. (See Alma 7:23.) It is the broken heart and contrite spirit. (See 3 Ne. 9:20; 3 Ne. 12:19; D&C 20:37; D&C 59:8; Ps. 34:18; Isa. 57:15; Isa. 66:2.) As Rudyard Kipling put it so well:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the kings depart.
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget.
Let us choose to be humble. We can do it. I know we can.
Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.
We must cleanse the inner vessel by conquering pride.
We must yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit,” put off the prideful “natural man,” become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord,” and become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble.” (Mosiah 3:19; see also Alma 13:28.)