Moroni was a prophet well prepared for the responsibility of bridging two worlds: from the beginning it seems that he was sensitized to the spiritual anguish and disintegration of modern society. He was born into a righteous home, but was surrounded by a world which, like much of contemporary society, was pervaded by violence and degradation. All the external influences of society were at war with his parents’ desire to raise a righteous son. His father, Mormon, described the tide of evil that was sweeping the land as a “complete revolution”—both social and spiritual—against the values which just two centuries earlier had created a civilization rivaling the City of Enoch in the perfection of its peace. (Morm. 2:8; cf. 4 Ne. 1:16.)
In a profound sense, then, Moroni was born into two worlds: one of decadence, in which the people were “without principle, and past feeling” (Moro. 9:20), and another of faith, in which parental righteousness ensured continued exposure to the gifts of the Spirit. Like the children of Noah, Lot, Lehi, and, in fact, of every active Church member, Moroni grew up at the frontier of decision between these two worlds.
The scriptures provide only a limited account of Moroni’s family relationships and focus solely on father and son, but the glimpses suggest a tie rich with natural affection, strengthened by mutual concern for the ministry. The very structure of Moroni’s writings reflects a profound respect for his father. His initial writings (Morm. 8 and Morm. 9) were intended to do no more than complete his father’s record. 1 Later, when Moroni added his own book, approximately two-thirds of its space was devoted to a presentation of his father’s teachings and letters.
Mormon’s gratitude and love for his son are equally apparent. At his son’s birth, Mormon gave him the same name as that held by one of the mightiest generals in Nephite history—a general so significant that nearly a fifth of Mormon’s abridgement focuses on his deeds. Perhaps implicit in the name is a father’s dream that his son, like the general before him, would be, in the words Mormon had written, “a strong and a mighty man; … a man of a perfect understanding; … a man who [would] labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people,” and a man who above all would be “firm in the faith of Christ, … even to the loss of his blood.” (See Alma 48:11–13.) If that was the father’s hope, it was amply fulfilled. When Moroni was called to the ministry, Mormon wrote to his son indicating his happiness concerning the calling and the joy he felt in observing Christ’s goodness to his son. “I am mindful of you always in my prayers,” Mormon wrote, “continually praying unto God the Father … that he … will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” (Moro. 8:3.)
Moroni served under his father as a leader of ten thousand in the great battle that culminated in the destruction of the Nephites. (Morm. 6:12.) Father and son were also both witnesses to the spiritual decay that brought about this destruction, and they shared an unflagging concern for a people hardened against the strivings of the Lord. (Morm. 6:17–22, Moro. 9:3–6.) Their joint efforts were motivated not only by the immediate demands of the time, but also by faith in the Lord’s covenants with his people. As Moroni stated, “These things which we have desired concerning our brethren, yea, even their restoration to the knowledge of Christ, are according to the prayers of all the saints who have dwelt in the land.” (Morm. 9:36.) Both Mormon and Moroni understood their stewardship over the sacred records as part of a grand plan through which the Lord’s covenants to restore the gospel to their brethren would be fulfilled. (See W of M 1:2, 8; Morm. 8:15; Moro. 1:4, Moro. 10:1.) It is in this connection that the Doctrine and Covenants refers to Moroni as the holder of the keys of the stick of Ephraim. (D&C 27:5.)
With the loss of his father and his people, Moroni inherited a burden of loneliness virtually unparalleled in human history. By the time of his first entry on the plates, Moroni had already wandered alone for some sixteen years; and another twenty years were still to pass before he finally sealed up the records. (See Morm. 6:5, Morm. 8:6; and Moro. 10:1.) Perhaps only Ether before him had shared the experience of being left alone to record in scripture the total destruction of a people. (See Ether 15:33–34.)
Moroni’s opening words are suffused with an infinite sorrow:
“I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not. …
“The Lamanites have hunted my people … from place to place, even until they are no more. …
“And I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone.” (Morm. 8:5, 7, 3; italics added.)
Moroni’s isolation connects him in significant ways with modern life. Our century, perhaps more than any other, has been experienced by people outside the Church as a century of loneliness. The increasing disintegration of families, the anonymity and isolation of modern urban life, the problems of old age—these and related phenomena have created broad undercurrents of loneliness throughout much of our society. Moroni was forced to confront these problems in their starkest form. Because of his allegiance to Christ, he was condemned to live out his days as a fugitive from human society. “I make not myself known to the Lamanites,” he wrote, “lest they should destroy me.
“For behold, … they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.
“And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.” (Moro. 1:1–3.)
Moroni chose to suffer isolation from the world rather than alienation from God. But Moroni knew that men become truly isolated only to the degree that they harden themselves against the promptings of the Spirit. (See Moro. 10:21–34.) The gifts of the Spirit obliterate the sense of loneliness, because “all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ” (Moro. 10:17), and he who walks with Christ is not alone. As one contrasts the condition of Moroni with the fierce society of his Lamanite brethren, one begins to wonder which is the true victim of separation. What greater loneliness can there be than isolation from God? And what greater consolation can there be than that expressed by Moroni when he said, “I have seen Jesus, and … he hath talked with me face to face”? (Ether 12:39.)
The years alone brought with them not only a profound understanding of the problem of loneliness, but also a deepened perception of the meaning, significance, and destiny of family bonds. Part of the little we know of his travels derives from an account of an incident that occurred on April 25, 1877, the day the Manti Temple site was dedicated. Early that morning, President Brigham Young is reported to have gone to the site and said, “Here is the spot where the Prophet Moroni stood and dedicated this piece of land for a temple site, and that is the reason why the location is made here, and we can’t move it from this spot.” 2 As is apparent when one considers Moroni’s work in the current dispensation, his years of isolation from the family of men must have deepened his appreciation for the eternal family and his awareness of the significance of temple work. Much of what Moroni told the young Joseph Smith during their first encounter takes on added meaning in this context. After describing the nature and location of the plates, Moroni, with slight variations, quoted the passages from Malachi which the Savior had expounded and caused to be written when he appeared to the Nephites (see 3 Ne. 24–25):
“For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” (JS—H 1:37; cf. Mal. 4:1; 3 Ne. 25:1.)
Only someone in Moroni’s position, cut off in time from both ancestors and descendants, could begin to appreciate the unspeakable loneliness of being left eternally with “neither root nor branch.” And he could understand the hope implicit in the words that followed:
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. …
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.” (JS—H 1:38–39 and D&C 2; cf. Mal. 4:5–6, 3 Ne. 25:5–6.)
The Manti Temple incident and the references to the prophecies of Malachi suggest Moroni’s concern for the day when the Lord would remember “the promises made to the fathers.” For Moroni knew the content of those promises and the magnitude of the faith that had elicited them. He knew the prophecies of Isaiah, and repeated the insistent Book of Mormon admonition to our generation to search them. (Morm. 8:23.) And he testified that “as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with [the saints who have gone before me].” (Morm. 8:23.)
As a prophet without a people, Moroni’s audience was the future. “Behold,” he wrote, “I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Morm. 8:35.) From the wealth of his own spiritual life and the history of Jaredite civilization, he assembled a collage of insights designed to have particular relevance to our time. Having witnessed the collapse of one civilization and having abridged an account of the demise of another, Moroni was particularly conscious of the causes of social disintegration and of the need to record the principles necessary to reverse it. He knew from personal experience that the decadence that ultimately pervaded the Nephite and Jaredite societies could prove fatal.
It is particularly poignant that it was Moroni who translated and abridged Ether’s record. Indeed, with the combined insight of both prophets, there is good reason to assume that the passages Moroni preserved for us are those of greatest significance in averting the calamities which befell their societies. (cf. D&C 1:17.)
What Moroni discerned in the events he reported was a process. Nephite society, like the Jaredite society before it, had suffered the sickness of decadence; and Moroni, like his counterpart, Ether, had witnessed the fatal stage of the disease? 3 The letters from Mormon to his son reported that the people “in this part of the land … are also seeking to put down all … authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost.” (Moro. 8:28.) “They are without order and without mercy, … and I cannot any longer enforce my commands. And they have become strong in their perversion; and they are alike brutal, sparing none, neither old nor young; and they delight in everything save that which is good.” (Moro. 9:18–19.) By the end of the process, society degenerates into total anarchy and savagery.
The process of increasing corruption is the antithesis of the process of faith depicted in Alma 32: it is the ripening of the seeds of unbelief into a tree of death. As Moroni records, men in this vicious cycle do not merely cease to believe; “they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.” (Morm. 9:20; italics added.) As belief wanes, men are no longer susceptible to the gifts and revelations and guidance of God. They forget the Lord’s abundance and come to love money and costly apparel more than their fellowmen. Speaking of precisely this type of self-centered pride in the last days, Moroni asks:
“Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that … endless happiness [is of greater value] than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
“Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” (Morm. 8:38–39.)
In a world guilty of such vices may arise secret combinations for power and gain which are “most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God.” (Ether 8:18.) As society at large becomes increasingly apathetic about principles of righteousness, incentives of status, power, and wealth become more enticing, and secret combinations arise and proliferate. At first merely festering sores, these combinations ultimately destroy all authority and order. “When ye shall see these things come among you,” Moroni warned, “ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation,” for “they have caused the destruction of [the Jaredites], and also the destruction of the people of Nephi.” (Ether 8:24, 21.)
Contrasting with this process of decadence and death are the affirmative teachings of Moroni, which characterize the process of sanctification and life. The six brief chapters with which the book of Moroni begins are a repository of some of the most sacred practices in the ecclesiastical life of the Nephites. But these chapters are not merely appendices on ancient church procedure; they also constitute a skeletal picture of the only type of community (other than a family such as Mormon’s) capable of withstanding the buffetings of a disintegrating world. Surely Moroni must have longed for the church community of these chapters, which was “nourished by the good word of God,” and whose members met “together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” (Moro. 6:4–5.)
Although significant, the teachings about the church are overshadowed by the deeper and more central themes of faith, hope, charity, and the humble quest for Christ. These themes are prevalent both in the writings of Mormon which Moroni quotes and also throughout Moroni’s portion of the Book of Mormon. (See, e.g., Morm. 9:27–29; Ether 4:7, 11–19; Ether 12:23–41; Moro. 7; Moro. 10:4–23.) Their centrality in Moroni’s writings reflects two dimensions of his own experience. First, having witnessed the destruction of his people, Moroni was vitally interested in identifying the personal attributes that must be nurtured to avoid the onset of social decay. Where individual faith flourishes, society is less likely to enter into the pathway of unbelief and wickedness that ultimately destroyed Jaredite and Nephite civilization. One of the great passages Moroni included in the book of Ether proclaims:
“Whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4.)
Faith and hope for a better world are mutually supportive, and whether directed at improved conditions in this life or in the next, both inhibit the process of decadence. Both allay the despair and self-abandonment which lead to disintegration; both engender in their stead the abundance of good works that is the outer manifestation of charity. Moreover, men cannot possess faith, hope, and charity unless they are “meek, and lowly of heart” (Moro. 7:43); and accordingly, where these traits are found, the pride and envy and self-seeking that undermine social order cannot take root (see Moro. 7:45). Finally, to the extent that men are engaged in the humble quest for Christ, they are involved in a process whereby they may “lay hold on every good thing” (Moro. 7:21), which is quite the reverse of courting tragedy through decadence.
Moroni was anxious not only to prevent the seeds of decay from taking root in the individual and society, but also to see that the seeds of faith come to fruition, both in his own life and in the lives of others. Undoubtedly, no dimension of Moroni’s experience was more moving and profoundly personal than the process of coming to Christ. Like the brother of Jared, through whose experiences Moroni depicts the glory of an encounter with the Lord, Moroni himself had seen Jesus and been comforted by him. (Ether 12:39.) His concern for faith, hope, and charity was a yearning to help others partake in full measure of that which is “white, to exceed all … whiteness” and sweet above all that has ever been tasted. (1 Ne. 8:11; see Morm. 1:15.) “Were it possible,” Moroni wrote, “I would make all things known unto you.” (Morm. 8:12.) But since that was not possible, Moroni did all in his power to point the way. He pleaded:
“When ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moro. 10:4–5.)
We hear this scripture so often in the Church that we generally forget it was written by an individual who had experienced its meaning in ways that few mortals ever do. Not only did Moroni have unique insight into the power of faith; he also understood the significance of hope, both in sustaining faith and charity and in comforting the individual sincerely engaged in the struggle to endure and to attain perfection. Responding to Moroni’s fears about weakness in writing, the Lord told him that “because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.” (Ether 12:37.)
Above all, Moroni understood charity—the pure love of Christ. (Moro. 7:47.) He understood it because he had felt it emanating from Christ, and within himself. He had felt it radiating toward not only the future generations he addressed, but also toward the very individuals who had destroyed his people. No wonder that he added his father’s sermon on charity to his writings. The words are Mormon’s, but the concern—as evidenced by its inclusion in Moroni’s book—was shared by Moroni:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moro. 7:48.)
Moroni’s significance for our time is not limited to the molding influence he exerted on the final fifty pages of the Book of Mormon. He has likely had more contacts with our dispensation than any other ancient prophet. 4 As President Heber J. Grant has noted, the Lord allowed Moroni to meet the prophet Joseph Smith at Cumorah for four long years, to “instruct him regarding the principles of the gospel, and fit and prepare him to stand at the head of [the] Church, again established upon the earth, the Church of [the] Son, Jesus Christ.” 5 Moroni was often in the shadows during the formative years of Joseph’s youth. The prophet’s mother recorded, for example, that at the time Joseph first beheld the plates, “the angel showed him, by contrast, the difference between good and evil, and likewise the consequences of both obedience and disobedience to the commandments of God, in such a striking manner, that the impression was always vivid in his memory until the very end of his days.” 6
But however great Moroni’s role in preparing the young prophet, it is clear that his mission was in accord with his fundamental concerns and experiences while still in mortality. “Having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 14:6), and being filled with its spirit and power, Moroni’s central aim to the end was instilling in others the desire to follow the path he had taken:
“And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.” (Ether 12:41.)
“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall … love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” (Moro. 10:32.)
Infused into these lines is all the depth of Moroni’s earthly experience and all the vibrancy of his soul; they reflect the testimony of one who truly saw Christ, and suggest the promise and the glory awaiting all those who accept his challenge.
Morm. 8:1; Sidney B. Sperry, Book of Mormon Compendium, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968, pp. 18–24.
Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, p. 436, as quoted in the Ensign, Jan. 1972, p. 33.
See generally Hugh Nibley, Since Cumorah: The Book of Mormon in the Modern World, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970, pp. 390–409.
For accounts of several such contacts, see Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958, pp. 83–85, 99–101; B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church, 1:112–13, 124–27.
Heber J. Grant, Prayer Dedicating Statue of Moroni on the Hill Cumorah, July 21, 1935, quoted in LaPreal Wight, “I Am Brought Forth to Meet You,” Improvement Era, 53:781.
Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, p. 81.