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.
Pratt’s description was originally published in his groundbreaking book, The Millennium (1835), the first independently published Mormon work, and the first book of Mormon poetry (outside of hymnals).
Christ’s Ministry to the Nephites,
by Parley P. Pratt
- Four generations should not pass
- Until they’d turn from righteousness,
- The Nephite nation be destroyed!
- The Lamanites reject his word.
- The gospel taken from their midst,
- The record of their fathers hid,
- They dwindle long in unbelief,
- And ages pass without relief.
- Until the Gentiles from afar,
- Should smite them in a dreadful war,
- And take possession of their land,
- And they should have no power to stand.
- But as their remnants wander far,
- In darkness, sorrow and despair,
- Lo! from the earth their record comes
- To gather Israel to their homes.
- First to the Gentiles ’tis revealed,
- The prophecy must be fulfilled;
- That they may know and understand
- His gospel, and no more contend.
- Hear! O ye Gentiles, and repent,
- To you is this salvation sent;
- God to the Gentiles lifts his hand,
- To gather Israel to their land.
The Millennium (1835)
Especially in his early poetry, Pratt is more notable for the ideas he describes than the quality of the expression. In other poetry he expresses his ideas more powerfully, but here the ideas themselves carry the work. He takes the decline to the gentiles, through the retribution against the Lamanites and to the responsibility this gives us.
I’m not quite certain what Pratt’s characterization of the Gentiles smiting the Lamanites as “war” is about. While the treatment of the American Indians, which Pratt identifies as the Lamanites, by European colonists was certainly “dreadful,” I’m not sure that it was a war in the sense commonly used in the 19th century, in which two armies faced each other on a series of battlefields. In what sense exactly did Pratt perceive the conflict as a war?
Perhaps more relevant, though, is Pratt’s view of how the gospel is first taken away from the Nephites and then later given to the Gentiles. What we can learn from this poem, and from Mormon’s account in the Book of Mormon, is that we have a responsibility for the gospel and truth that has been given to us.