The scriptures testify, abundantly so, of the propensity of men to sin. This is even true for those who have been given significant Spiritual experiences. One would suppose that those who have been so blessed would never sin again, but the scriptures and church history provide a different prospective. Prophets and church leaders are subject to sin and error just like the rest of us.
For example, Nephi, the son of Lehi appears to be a near perfect man. He does everything his prophet father asks of him, even with the intolerable burden of two older brothers working against his every effort. Nephi’s propensity for goodness is matched by his older brother’s propensity for wickedness. However, the impression of Nephi perfection is diminished when he reveals the turmoil going on in his heart when he says, “notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. 2 Nephi 4:17-18
Actually, I’m relieved that Nephi revealed this part of his mortal experience. It helps me relate to him and gives me hope. I think Nephi made many errors in the way he dealt with his brothers. If he would have been more kind to them things might have turned out a little better.
Other Book of Mormon prophets emerged from a life of sin to become examples of the power of the atonement. The father son prophets, Alma Senior and Junior were wicked men. The scriptures even characterize Alma Junior and his buddies, the four sons of the Mosiah, as the vilest of sinners. These boys were the sons of prophets and yet they wandered as far from the faith of their fathers as one can possibly imagine.
Amulek is another prophet, a late blooming prophet at that. He explained to the soon to be extinct citizens of Ammonihah that “…I never have known much of the ways of the Lord, and his mysteries and marvelous power. I said I never had known much of these things; but behold, I mistake, for I have seen much of his mysteries and his marvelous power; yea, even in the preservation of the lives of this people.
Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart.. Alma 10:4 – 6.
I can relate to Amulek, can you? He had the capability to ignore (harden his heart) the Lord when he was called, not just a few times, but many times. He calls this attitude of “I knew…yet I would not know”, rebelling against God. As those who are familiar with the Book of Mormon know, an angel appeared to Amulek and told him to help Alma. To his credit, this time he listened, and repented. And Amulek became a powerful teacher and a missionary companion to Alma.
The scriptures provide other examples of men who were sinful, but turned from their worldliness and served the Lord. In the Bible we have the apostle Paul. In the early days of the church we have Martin Harris.
Martin Harris is remembered by church members as a “wicked man” D&C 10:1. Elder Dallin Oaks said: “…I have been saddened at how he is remembered by most Church members. He deserves better than to be remembered solely as the man who unrighteously obtained and then lost the initial manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon”. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Witness: Martin Harris,” Ensign, May 1999, 35).
There is much more to Martin Harris. He was one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. How he became a witness is what I’ll focus on for the purpose of showing how even a man described as wicked by the Lord at one season in his life, is blessed to have a profound spiritual experience and become a witness at another season.
Martin was hopeful of seeing the gold plates. The following quotes are from A Rough Stone Rolling, p. 78. One day Joseph told him, “you have got to humble yourself before your God this day, that you may obtain a forgiveness of you sins. If you do, it is the will of God that you should look upon the plates.”
That same day Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris went into the woods in the light of day to obtain a manifestation from God. “They had agreed to take turns praying, first Joseph, then the other three. The first attempt brought nothing, and they tried again. Again nothing. Before they made a third attempt, Harris offered to leave, saying he was the obstacle. The remaining three knelt again and before many minutes…they saw a light in the air over their heads…After the appearance to Cowdery and Whitmer, Joseph went searching for Harris, who had gone further into the woods. Harris asked Joseph to pray with him, and at length…their desires were fulfilled.”
Martin apparently repented and obtained a forgiveness of his sins and was allowed to view the plates, see an angel, and hear the voice of God testify to the correctness of the Book of Mormon and commanded him to so testify to what he had seen.
The Lord is much more kind, loving, and forgiving than we can imagine when our hearts are soft, and we humbly seek Him with a submissive attitude, in meekness.
Can you add to this list of men or women who were given significant spiritual experiences even though they exhibited a proclivity for sin?
The primary purpose of this post is not to focus on the “sins” of prominent people, but rather to point out how merciful the Lord is–how quick He is to forgive those who are–quick to repent.