The purpose of this article is to explore the “precepts” (doctrine) found in the Book of Mormon that can enable us to draw nearer to God if we diligently apply them.
A few years ago, I attended a BYU Education Week class. The teacher drew the diagram above to illustrate the various ways the “Spirit” is manifested. It is like an ascending staircase or rungs on a ladder. It begins with the light of Christ and ends with being born again by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
I like this diagram because it illustrates the various ways humankind experiences the manifestations of the Spirit as taught in the standard works. In this series of articles I have so far been focusing on the last two steps. Let’s take a moment and reflect on the first two steps. I’ll provide a brief explanation.
The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. The Light of Christ is not a being, it is not a member of the Godhead. The Light of Christ is an influence, it influences mankind for good (conscience) and helps prepare those who are responsive to receive the power of the Holy Ghost.
The power of the Holy Ghost is available to honorable men and women who have not received baptism. Moroni promised that anyone who reads the Book of Mormon could have a manifestation from the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:4-5). The Bible gives the example of Cornelius, the Book of Mormon of Abish (Alma 9:16). They were honorable people who had experience with the power of the Holy Ghost even though they were not baptized members of Christ church.
The gift of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost are reserved for those who have received the ordinance of baptism. Click here for the Bible Dictionary
There are General Rules and Then There are Exceptions to the General Rules
The Book of Mormon provides examples of those who experienced conversion by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost according to the pattern taught by Nephi (2 Nephi 31:13); however, there are other examples, three to be exact, that don’t fit neatly into the pattern we’ve studied so far; they are exceptions to the rule:
1. The Book of Mormon describes Alma and the four sons of Mosiah as “the vilest of sinners” on one page (Mosiah 28:4) and a few pages later refers to them as holy prophets of God (Alma 10:7; 20:15).
Alma and the four sons of Mosiah were busy seeking to destroy the church of God. This all came to a sudden halt when an angel appeared to them. Even though the angel spoke directly to Alma, those who were with him joined in the experience. They all fell to the earth in astonishment. Alma “became dumb, that he could not open his mouth, yea, and became weak…carried helpless” and laid before his father. Two days later, when Alma regained his strength, he testified, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit”. (Mosiah 27:19, 24).
Why did the Lord send an angel to these young apostates that resulted in Alma’s conversion? The Book of Mormon answers this question:
And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith (Mosiah 27:14).
The angel came because of the prayers and faith of his people, and Alma’s father, who prayed with much faith.
2. The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as being a wild and ferocious people who delighted in murdering the Nephites (Alma 17:14-15). For example, King Lamoni would kill his servants if they allowed his flocks to be scattered (Alma 17:27-29).
The four sons of Mosiah, like Alma, also experienced the mighty change and became servants of the Lord. They desired to teach the Lamanites and so they plead with their father many days for permission to impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites. King Mosiah inquired of the Lord and received a promise they would be delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:1-9).
The Book of Mormon details the first conversion of a Lamanite. Ammon, one of the sons of Mosiah became a servant to king Lamoni. He won the kings confidence when he miraculously defended the kings flocks. The king was astonished at Ammon’s power thinking that he must be more than a man. Ammon used this opportunity to teach the gospel to King Lamoni. King Lamoni believing the words of Ammon prayed saying:
O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people.
And now, when he had said this, he fell unto the earth, as if he were dead. Alma 18:41-42
After some time passed, Lamoni arose and declared:
“I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth, and be born of a woman, and he shall redeem all mankind who believe on his name.” Alma 19:13
Lamoni had seen a vision of the Lord’s coming, the Lord poured out his Spirit on Lamoni and his houshold to the extent that “their hearts had been changed; that they had no more desire to do evil” (Alma 19:33, 36). Those who believed were baptized, and a church was established among them (Alma 19:35-36).
Why did the Lord pour out his Spirit on the Lamanites beginning with king Lamoni and his household? The Book of Mormon answers this question:
“Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites” (Ether 12:15).
3. In the 5th chapter of Helaman two sons of Helaman, Nephi and Lehi, are having great success teaching the gospel to the Nephites and Lamanites. While traveling to the land of Nephi they were taken by an army of the Lamanites and cast into prison. After being held in prison for many days, the Lamanites decided to slay them. But when they came for them, Nephi and Lehi were “encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not”. The Lamanites, and dissenters from the Nephites were astonished. While Nephi and Lehi were surround by a pillar of fire they were overshadowed by a cloud of darkness. They also heard the voice of the Lord telling them to repent. One of the Nephites, Aminadab, who once belonged to the church of God, told those who were witnessing this event, nearly three hundred souls:
“You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you” (Helaman 5:41).
When they did as Aminadab said the cloud of darkness was dispersed and they were all encircled about by a pillar of fire.
“And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words” (Helaman 5:45).
Why did the Lord pour out his Spirit on men who were prepared to kill Nephi and Lehi? Again, the Book of Mormon answers this question:
“Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (Ether 12:14).
Why would people described as vile sinners and wild and ferocious murders be blessed with marvelous conversion experiences?
The answer is the same for each of the three accounts: Heavenly Father answers the prayers of righteous parents, missionaries, and any one who exercises faith.
“Faith is a principle of action and of power, and by it one can command the elements and/or heal the sick, or influence any number of circumstances when occasion warrants (Jacob 4:4–7). Even more important, by faith one obtains a remission of sins and eventually can stand in the presence of God.” Bible Dictionary
Principles in Conflict
Over the decades, I have learned that nearly everything I thought was the “gospel truth”, sooner or later needed to be added upon. When I was young, I thought the Ten Commandments meant what they said, until I was drafted into the army and had to reevaluate one of them.
I’ve found myself reevaluating many things over the years. Some of you may find yourself needing to reevaluate your ideas about some things as you’ve read this series of articles. For example, king Lamoni and those who held Nephi and Lehi in prison were born again before they were even baptized (with the exception of Aminadab, it appears all or most of the others were not baptized members of the church).
When principles come into conflict, the higher principle prevails. It’s not my purpose to explore exception to the rules, but I think its important to realize that principles on occasion come into conflict. If I were living in Hitler’s Germany and my parents were hiding Jews, and Hitler’s Brown Shirts came to my parents door asking about questions, I would obey the higher principle, and deceive them to protect my parents and the Jews they were hiding.
Disposition to Do Evil
It’s important to have a correct understanding of the scriptures. Sometimes that can be difficult because of reading scriptures in isolation. The Book of Mormon states that the people of king Benjamin had no more disposition to do evil after they were born again. The same idea is stated in the account of king Lamoni’s conversion (Mosiah 5:2, Alma 19:33).
This leaves the student of the Book of Mormon with the thought that those who are born again are changed to the point that they are never again tempted to sin. However, further study reveals something different.
Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, received a remission of sins, and was a prophet. The following verse helps us see that even a prophet needs to repent and strive to do better after being born again:
“After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world…” (D&C 20:5).
King Benjamin taught his people the importance of maintaining a remission of sins (Mosiah 4:13, 26). If they couldn’t commit sin again why would he teach them how to maintain a remission of sins?
Alma asked church members in Zarahemla, ”Have ye spiritually been born of God?”, then he added, “can ye feel so now”? (Alma 5:14, 26).
Nephi counsels those who have been born again to “…press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…and endure to the end…” (2 Nephi 31:20).
As long as we’re in a fallen world we are subject to sin and error (the only exception would be those who are transfigured like the three Nephites).
Are There Degrees of Being Born Again?
I’ve wondered if everyone who is born again receives the same degree of the “mighty change”. I assume there are some things that are the same for all who are born again, and others things that may vary. Could the depth and breath of the change be different from person to person. I don’t know the answer, but I think the question is interesting.
A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
As I pointed out earlier, church members are not required to have strong doctrinal knowledge of the things of the Spirit in order to receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. There is however, a certain condition of the heart that needs to be met. The Savior emphasized the importance of this quality of heart, saying: “…ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…” (3 Nephi 9:20)
I don’t think this quality of heart is easily attained. It isn’t the kind of thing we wake up one morning and decide to offer to the Lord by noon. My experience with the Savior taught me that a broken heart and a contrite spirit is realized when we’re facing a crisis or trial of some kind and turn to the Lord with all our might, mind, and strength.
Full conversion is often realized in the furnace of affliction. The fiery trials encountered in the furnace of affliction have the potential to break hearts and create the needed contriteness of heart that results in a follower of Christ offering the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit, then as the scripture above declares, the Savior will baptize with fire and the Holy Ghost.
I’m of the opinion church leaders are responsible to teach basic gospel principles. Church manuals, meetings, and conferences attest to this. That said, the Lord would have us feast upon the words of Christ (2 Nephi 31:20). Feasting on the words of Christ is one of those things best done individually. Maybe it can be likened to climbing a mountain, ultimately it is done by individual effort.
It’s important to note that the injunction to feast pertains to the words of Christ. This narrows the subject matter down. If we’re going to grow in the Holy Ghost we need to focus our attention on those things that we’ve been given for that purpose. The Book of Mormon says that some church members look beyond the mark. Doing so can lead to frustration and difficulty instead of the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon says that there are those among us who “despise the words of plainness”. Apparently their not satisfied with what the Lord has given his followers to feast on (Jacob 4:14).
I hope I can persuade those reading my words to understand the importance of prioritizing their feasting. In other words, feast on those things that invite the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon, as Joseph Smith said, would help a man ”…get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Earlier I referred to something Elder Neal Maxwell wrote:
“Happily, many of us have already picked and been greatly nourished by the low-hanging fruit from the gospel tree. Yet, on the higher branches, much fruit still remains, unreached for and unplucked.” Neal Maxwell; Whom the Lord Loveth P 7-8.
I associate the low hanging fruit with the basic activity in the church many active members enjoy. I believe this level of commitment is settling for sacred power and gifts far below our privilege. The abundant feast of spiritual opportunity is found in the unplucked fruit on the higher branches. The low hanging fruit is nourishing, meeting our basic needs, while the fruit on the higher branches is where the abundant feast of sacred powers and gifts are obtained.
Each church member has a choice to make. We can be satisfied with diminished sacred experiences. Or we can exercise faith and reach for the fruit representing an abundant feast of sacred experiences.
The Book of Mormon provides the answers to what the higher hanging fruit is and how to pluck it.
I hope what I’ve written will motivate those who read it to reach for the higher hanging fruit. I have reached forth, plucked some of the higher hanging fruit, and experienced part of the feast. I continue to reach for more.
Click, Reaching for the Higher Hanging Fruit for additional thoughts on this important subject.