Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, then he added the powerful thought that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book”. My focus in this chapter is to show from the pages of the Book of Mormon how the prophet-writers got nearer to God.
The Savior taught, “Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day”. 3 Nephi 27:20
The Savior is teaching that repentance, faith in His name, baptism, and reception of the Holy Ghost will make His followers spotless at the judgment day. This verse is a general statement of the entire plan of salvation. It teaches how we get nearer to God
In another verse the Savior teaches about the Godhead, saying:
…“The Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one” 3 Nephi 11:36.
Studying the scriptures this way is like constructing a building with bricks; each brick adds one more part towards the completion of the structure.
Enos-How He Got Nearer to God
The book of Enos is only one chapter in length. Even though it is small it stands out because it teaches precepts (doctrine) showing how Enos got nearer to God.
Enos is the son of Jacob, Nephi’s younger brother. When Jacob saw that he was getting old, he talked with Enos about taking on the responsibility of care taker and contributor to the plates that would eventually be part of the Book of Mormon. Enos agreed to take the plates and promised to care for them.
Enos begins his account by stating, “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins”. This short sentence is packed with doctrinal implications.
There are two parts to this sentence. The first part is about wrestling with the Lord in prayer, the second part is about obtaining a remission of sins. We’ll look at the first part next, and the second part will follow.
Wrestling with the Lord in Prayer
Enos uses the term “wrestle” to describe his prayer before God. We generally associate the word “wrestle” with the idea of a physical struggle with another individual. Wrestle and prayer are an odd combination of words, yet this is how Enos decided to record his experience for those who would read his testimony.
This language conveys the feeling that his prayer was a struggle, it was difficult, requiring great effort. He gives more detail, “I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens”.
What caused Enos to call upon Heavenly Father with such determination—all day and into the night? He continues his account.
“I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker…”
Enos went to hunt beast in the forest. It wasn’t until he was already on the hunting trip that he started thinking about his father’s words about eternal life and the joy of the saints. Apparently something happened after he left for the forest. It appears the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him and provided the spiritual wherewithal that made it possible for Enos to call upon the Lord all day and into the night.
Why was Enos calling on the Lord with such resolve? He answers, “…my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, in supplication for mine own soul”.
Enos was praying for his “own soul”. He said the thoughts of eternal life sunk deep into his heart. To me this means his thoughts turned to Jesus Christ and how the atonement applied to him personally, to his eternal life. At one point, Enos asked the Lord, “how is it done?” The Lord answered, “because of thy faith in Christ”. Enos was focused on the Savior’s atonement in his supplication for his own soul.
Obtaining a Remission of Sins
The second part of the sentence we looked at above, “before I received a remission of my sins”, addresses the precept (doctrine) of, “remission of sins”. Enos said that the result of his wrestle with the Lord in mighty prayer was that he received a remission of sins. Remember, there are two baptisms necessary in order to complete the baptism covenant: the baptism of water and the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior taught about the second baptism saying, “…they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins” 3 Nephi 12:2.
The Book of Mormon teaches that there is only one way to receive a remission of sins; and that is by fire and the Holy Ghost. Enos’s wrestle with the Lord in mighty prayer resulted in his baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost.
As we learned in part 1, the scriptures use a variety of terms to describe the second baptism:
1. Mighty Change
3. Born Again
4. Becoming a son or daughter of Christ
5. Remission of sins
6. Baptism with fire and with the Holy Ghost
Putting It All Together
I have a couple of questions at this point in our study that will focus attention on some important doctrinal points.
Enos says that his father Jacob “taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. Enos grew up in the home of a prophet. He obviously knew the gospel plan, had faith in Christ, was baptized and received the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Like us, he had a testimony, and had spiritual experiences. Like us, he sinned, repented and sought forgiveness. But until he wrestled with the Lord in mighty prayer he never received a remission of sins. A question arises out of all of this: what is the difference between forgiveness of a sin(s) and remission of sins?
Before answering this question, a few thoughts on scripture need to be considered.
In truth, the scripture we’ve been given are a great treasure, but there is more needed. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“The last word has not been spoken on any subject. Streams of living water shall yet flow from the Eternal Spring who is the source of all truth. There are more things we do not know about the doctrines of salvation than there are things we do know”. A New Commandment: Save Thyself and Thy Kindred!, Ensign, Aug 1976, 7
The Book of Mormon doesn’t provide an answer for every question. Students of the scriptures who attempt to squeeze doctrine into a neat and orderly, one size fits all, will be frustrated in their attempts.
We need to view doctrine in proper perspective. Instead of viewing doctrine as a detailed, complete blueprint or technical drawing, I think we should view it as general statements given by prophets who readily confessed that they saw through a glass darkly (1 Corin 13:9,12), don’t understand everything (1 Nephi 11:17), and are aware of their limitations and weaknesses (1 Nephi 19:6). All who follow Christ see through a glass darkly, this includes the apostles and prophets, but the Lord has assured his followers that what we have been given is adequate for us to receive exaltation (Helaman 3:29-30).
What is the Difference Between Forgiveness and Remission of Sins?
Even though the words are sometimes used interchangeably (Enos 1:2 and1:5) there is obviously a difference. However, I don’t know of a scripture that clearly teaches the difference and I’ve been unable to find a church leader clarifying the difference.
Blaine Yorgason contemplating the the difference between forgiveness and remission of sins wrote:
“Forgiveness Not Always a Remission of Sins…there can be a difference between being forgiven of a sin and obtaining a remission of sins.
If a person commits a particular sin and then feels bad enough about it to confess it in humility and ask forgiveness of the Lord, he or she is freely forgiven of that sin…In our day the Lord has said, “I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness” (D&C 64:7).
Interestingly, this forgiveness seems to be granted even though the person may be committing other sins at the time. Thus, one who enjoys lusting may at the same time repent of and obtain forgiveness for stealing or lying. Or one who gossips may repent of and obtain forgiveness for immorality.” I Need Thee Every Hour, by Blaine M. Yorgason, p. 113-114.
At this point, let’s go back to the Book of Mormon for more examples of those who experienced the baptism of the Spirit, or in other words, fire and the Holy Ghost. As you read, ask yourself if the people who lived during King Benjamin’s reign repented and experienced the manifestations of the Holy Ghost prior to receiving a remissions of their sins.
The People Who Lived During King Benjamin’s Reign
King Benjamin was nearing the end of his life and was visited by an angel. He and his people already knew about the coming of the Savior (having the plates of brass and also the plates of Nephi in their possession, see Mosiah 1:16). The angel provided additional details. King Benjamin gathered his people into a group to teach them what he’d learned from the angel. He taught them about the Lord Omnipotent, Jesus Christ, taking on Himself a tabernacle of clay, working mighty miracles, and suffering death to atone for the sins of mankind. He also taught them the doctrine of the Fall, saying, “I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness…” (Mosiah 4:11). His words were carried into the hearts of his people by the power of the Holy Ghost to the extent that they were overcome and had fallen to the ground:
AND now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:1–3)
The people of King Benjamin were a righteous people. They were described as “a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:11), and a “highly favored people of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:13). They had constructed a temple (Mosiah 1:18), and there were many holy men among them (The Words of Mormon 1:17). Yet, prior to the experience recorded above, they had not received a remission of their sins! They had been baptized with water, but not with fire and the Holy Ghost.
Prior to this experience, the people of Benjamin were much like church members today: they had faith in Jesus Christ, they repented, were baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, and they received the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Let’s stop here and consider a few things:
As the scripture above teaches, the people of King Benjamin were baptized by the Spirit, receiving a remission of their sins, thus completing their baptismal covenant. I love reading this account. However, it raises at least two important questions:
- Was this their first experience with repentance?
- Was this their first experience with the Holy Ghost?
To answer Yes to either of these questions leads to difficulty. How could a people be described as a diligent people in keeping the commandments, a highly favored people of the Lord, and having many holy men among them, and at the same time conclude this is their first experience with the Holy Ghost and repentance? This conclusion runs counter to what the Book of Mormon tells us about King Benjamin and his people.
I think the obvious answer is no. The people of king Benjamin had established the church and built a temple many years prior to receiving a remission of their sins as recorded in Mosiah 4:3. They followed Christ by living the same gospel principles we do today. They had faith in Jesus Christ, repented, received baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Book of Mormon says they had prophets and holy men and “…they did speak the word of God with power and with authority…” However, with all this they had never fully completed their baptism covenant by receiving a remission of their sins until the day king Benjamin gathered them together. Before this day, they had repented and had experiences with the Holy Ghost but they had never received a remission of sins by fire and the Holy Ghost.
Remember, the Savior taught that a remission of sins comes through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 12:2), therefore, remission of sins and repentance are not the same thing; the gift of the Holy Ghost and fire and the Holy Ghost are not the same. King Benjamin’s people experienced something new, something they had never before experienced. It’s evident from this account that there are dimensions of repentance, and the Holy Ghost being taught in these chapters, that invites our study.
This is a new idea for most of those who are reading this, so I’ll repeat it for emphasis. The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of “forgiveness” and the doctrine of “remission of sins” are different, separate kinds of experiences. The Book of Mormon also teaches that the Holy Ghost is manifested in different ways.
With the example of king Benjamin’s people in mind it becomes apparent to the student of the Book of Mormon that there is more to the doctrine of repentance and the Holy Ghost than is generally recognized.
Nephi’s Teachings on the Doctrine of Christ Explains What Happened to Enos and the King Benjamin’s People
In 2 Nephi 31:13 Nephi teaches that there are three parts to the ordinance of baptism:
“…take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost…”
Nephi lays out three kinds of baptism in this verse:
1. Baptism by water
2. Baptism by the Holy Ghost (we would call this in our day the gift of the Holy Ghost because it comes as a result of baptism).
3. Baptism by “fire and the Holy Ghost”.
After receiving the first baptism, baptism by water, Nephi breaks down the experience with the Holy Ghost into two parts: “…behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost…”
In addition to Nephi’s teachings, we have the a scripture in Moses 6:60 that supports three baptisms:
“For by the water [baptism] ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit [Holy Ghost] ye are justified, and by the blood [baptism of fire] ye are sanctified” (I added the information in the brackets.)
Joseph Smith also taught there is one baptism, consisting of three parts.The prophet taught, “There is but one baptism; it takes the baptism of water, of the Holy Ghost, and of fire to constitute one full baptism.” (Daniel Tyler statement. They Knew the Prophet, Hyrum L. Andrus, p51. Also, The Words of Joseph Smith, P. 354, Andrew F. Ehat)