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The final lesson for the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine class covers Moroni 7-10, the final Book of Mormon prophet’s closing advice to readers, including teachings about faith, hope and charity, the conditions of salvation, spiritual gifts, the role of the Holy Ghost, and how to judge between good and evil. The motivation for this latter counsel is somewhat captured in this poem, which looks at the extremes to which our friends can sometimes push us, and the feeling of being lost or torn between opposites that can happen if we try to follow their advice.
Including the sacrament prayers in Moroni 4, and indeed all the instructions in Moroni 2 through 6, seem almost like an afterthought to the Book of Mormon—kind of like “Oh, yeah, you’ll need to know this stuff too.” And these instructions only make sense if they are written for us today, for Moroni himself is apparently the only surviving follower of Christ at his time and place. Evidently the peoples of the Book of Mormon had this information recorded elsewhere and Mormon didn’t include it where it was given (presumably at the time of Christ’s visit). Of course, the basic ideas and symbolism in the ordinance is described elsewhere in the Book of Mormon and the rest of our scriptures, and there it is clear how central the ordinance and its symbolism is to the gospel.
I often wonder how Mormon managed to keep it together. He saw his own civilization decaying around him, perhaps while he was in the midst of abridging the record of the Jaredites, summarizing the details of their decline and destruction, which was so similar to his own. Yet despite this, in the final chapters of Ether (12-15 are covered by this lesson), Mormon talks about the role of faith. Its an example of faith, I suppose, that he was able to show its importance while he himself must have felt in the midst of trials. And perhaps it is from enduring these trials that Mormon himself gained such insight into faith.
The Book of Ether contains the story of the Jaredites — a story that parallels the overall history told in the Book of Mormon. And, as I’ve observed here before, the story also is somewhat similar to that of the early Saints, who travel to a foreign land at the direction of the Lord, seeking a place where they may live in righteousness. Ether 1-6 tells the beginning of this story, including the revelations given to the Brother of Jared, his exemplary faith and the journey of his people to the promised land. While their home has descended into chaos because each person can not communicate with others due to the confounding of the language, still, I think, they must have had some longing for the familiar surroundings of their homes.
As Mormon completes his own record in Mormon chapters 7, 8 and 9, he prophesies about the role that the Nephite records will have in the future, saying that the record will come forth in the latter days, in a day of great wickedness, and urging readers of the book to believe in Christ. This role of the Book of Mormon was a very common theme in Mormon poetry, including this poem, written under the pseudonym “Equator.”
Mormon, the book in the Book of Mormon written by its compiler, is perhaps the most depressing of the book of scripture. It might be subtitled ‘the Decline and Fall of Nephite Civilization.’ And its author was all but hopeless in his assessment. But unlike Gibbon’s perhaps better known description of decline and fall, Mormon also describes the future effects of his record, predicting that millions will be convinced to come to Christ by the story he tells. In the following poem, Parley P. Pratt also traces this same history, in part three of his poetic description of Christ’s ministry to the Nephites.
In the final minutes of his visit with the Nephites (3 Nephi 27), Christ makes clear that the church established for the Nephites must bear his name and teach his gospel. He even specifies elements of his gospel: the atonement and resurrection, the final judgment, repentance, baptism, faith in Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. I don’t think it would be very hard to connect any Mormon doctrine to this list.
Poetry by Joseph Smith? That is certainly not what Joseph Smith is known for, nor is it often claimed that he was a poet in all the writing and studies made about him. [Orson F. Whitney is the exception that comes to mind.] But the following poem, when published in 1843, carried his byline when it was published. As a paraphrase of D&C 76, this poem fits well, I think with the Gospel Doctrine Book of Mormon lesson #41. As Christ teaches to the Nephites in this lesson (3 Nephi 22-26) he focuses on making sure that their scriptural cannon is complete, adding the neglected prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite and the to them unknown teachings of Malachi. And then he expounds all things unto them. Doesn’t section 76 have that kind of “exposition of all things” feel to it?
Gospel Doctrine lesson 40 for the Book of Mormon talks about a subject that isn’t explored as often in Mormonism today: The Gathering. In Joseph Smith’s day it not only mean the gathering, literal and spiritual, of the House of Israel, but it also meant the gathering of Mormon converts to the ‘center place’ of the Church. While we don’t call for the gathering of Mormons to a single place today, the concept is still important when we examine the role of the House of Israel and the times preceding the millennium. The scriptures, including the Book of Mormon in 3rd Nephi 16, 20 and 21, teach that the House of Israel has been scattered and that it will be gathered in the last days.
In the middle of his visit to the Nephites, Christ leaves the people for the night and then returns the following day (as recounted in 3 Nephi 17-19). Before he leaves, and then again after he returns the next day, Christ teaches the Nephites about prayer, and provides them with examples of prayers—one of which they were unable to even record. These prayers call to mind the model prayer that Jesus provided in the New Testament, the Lord’s Prayer, itself used as an oft-repeated prayer throughout Christendom and the inspiration for many pieces of poetry, including the following by W. W. Phelps:
Following the destruction that accompanied Christ’s crucifixion, the Nephites and Lamanites didn’t see relief, or light, until his resurrection and visit to the Americas. This story, found in 3 Nephi 11, is the culmination of the Book of Mormon narrative, the central meaning of the book. His arrival is also the central point of Parley P. Pratt’s poem Christ’s Ministry to the Nephites. Included in his book of poetry (arguably the first Mormon book of poetry aside from Emma Smith’s Hymnal), this poem is also among the first published poems to reference the Book of Mormon, as well as the first to retell poetically its central story.
During the crucifixion of Christ as portrayed in 3rd Nephi, the devastation seems like it is beyond our understanding. Certainly the descriptions portray devastation on a level that no one today has experienced. The very earth reacts to the death of the Savior, and continues that reaction, apparently until his resurrection on the third day. May we never experience anything like that. But the portrayal raises an interesting theological issue, one that Parley P. Pratt picked up on in his earliest Mormon poetry.
With the beginning of what we Mormons can call the fifth gospel, the Book of Mormon begins the story of Christ’s birth, life, death and visit to the Americas, all from the perspective of the people’s there. And the initial story in 3rd Nephi is quite different from those in the New Testament. Here we see signs and wonders also, but they are more widely known and come under a threat of violence. The faith of the believers in 3rd Nephi was tried publicly and directly, while the faith of the few who knew anything about the import of the events in Bethlehem (principally Joseph and Mary) was tried mainly in private, in embarrassment or humiliation.
Spiritual history is replete with types and shadows. The similarities that appear between events in widely-separated places and times lead to the conclusion that the Lord is trying to point out some truth to us, something we need to understand. I see a kind of repetition in this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson, in which Samuel the Lamanite tries to call the Nephites to repentance (Helaman 13-16). Samuel preached just a few years before the birth of Christ, and he prophesied about the destruction in the Americas that would accompany Christ’s crucifixion soon afterward. But somehow his prophecies don’t sound very different from those that we hear concerning Christ’s second coming.
Chapters 6 to 12 of Helaman highlight what Mormons have come to call the “pride cycle” — the cycle from righteousness and prosperity to pride and wickedness to suffering and to humility and repentance, leading back to righteousness and prosperity. Its a fascinating concept, one that I’m afraid we use too often to describe the world and others, and too little to refer to ourselves. I mean, when was the last time you asked yourself where you were in the “pride cycle?”