The Book of Mormon was not just an important religious book for the membership of a relatively small nineteenth-century American church. Nor is it just an interesting record of an ancient people. The Book of Mormon is essential to the message of truth that Deity is imparting to man in this dispensation.
When President Ezra Taft Benson gave his inaugural general conference address as prophet, seer, and revelator, he emphasized the need not only “to say more about the Book of Mormon,” but also “to do more with it.” This is a necessary step, he taught, for Church members to do the work of the kingdom, strengthen themselves, and become more acceptable to God. He emphasized the warning of condemnation found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:56–58 if we neglect the Book of Mormon. [D&C 84:56–58] (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 5–6.)
The Doctrine and Covenants, however, does more than just warn us. It is an unparalleled source of information on what the Book of Mormon is and what it can do for us. This is true especially of those revelations that Joseph Smith received from 1828 to 1830. Of those thirty-five sections, fifteen contain major commentary on the ancient record. Since the Doctrine and Covenants contains the revelations of God for our generation, it represents the voice of the Lord concerning the Book of Mormon.
Among the insights the Doctrine and Covenants provides is the role that the Book of Mormon plays in individual salvation and in the mission of the restored gospel and the Church. It also instructs readers on how to use the Book of Mormon. By heeding these guidelines, Church members can benefit more fully from the Book of Mormon in their daily religious practices as they work toward eternal life. They can also better fulfill their responsibility to share the scriptures with the world.
References to the Book of Mormon generally fall into one of seven categories: instructions to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the preservation of the record to fulfill the Lord’s promise, purposes to be served by the translation, testimony of the truth of the fulness of the everlasting gospel as contained in the book, instructions for studying the book, consequences for those who reject it, and promises made to those who believe its content.
Instructions to the Prophet. The Doctrine and Covenants emphasizes that the first assignment from the Lord to Joseph Smith was the translation of the Book of Mormon. All other work he was to accomplish was dependent on his fulfilling this assignment. (See D&C 5:4.)
The instructions and chastisement that the Lord gave the Prophet also help us to know how each person should study and use the book. We learn that the Book of Mormon was made available through the mercy and power of God. (See D&C 1:29.) If we transgress in our responsibilities toward it, we shall fall. (See D&C 3:9.) Trampling upon the counsel of the Lord concerning the book will lead to a loss of privileges. (See D&C 3:14–15.)
However, God is merciful, and if we repent, we can again be called to the work. (See D&C 3:10.) Our work may not be the translation of the Book of Mormon, but we share with the Prophet the responsibility to transmit it to the four corners of the earth.
Preservation of the Record to Fulfill the Lord’s Promise. The Lord promised his holy prophets and disciples in ancient America that the gospel they recorded would be made known to the Lamanites (and the various groups that comprised them) and to other people who would possess their land. (See D&C 3:16–20; D&C 10:46–49.) Through the fulfillment of his promise, the Lord would also show those who were familiar with the Bible that he had other sheep, also of the house of Jacob. (See D&C 10:59–61.) The Book of Mormon serves as support and evidence that the Bible is a true record of God’s word and work through his servants. (See D&C 20:10–11.)
Purposes of the Book of Mormon. The Lord uses the Book of Mormon as a vehicle to accomplish several things:
With it, he will bring the Lamanites back into active participation in the blessings of the house of Israel. The Lord specifies, too, that Lamanites is a broad term including many specific descendants of the ancient Americans: Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lemuelites, Ishmaelites, as well as all those who became Lamanites because of dissension. (See D&C 3:16–18; D&C 10:48.) The Book of Mormon provides the Lamanites with “knowledge of their fathers” and “the promises of the Lord,” so that “they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and … through their repentance … be saved.” (D&C 3:20.)
He will clarify the gospel of Jesus Christ and lessen the confusion and dissension among God’s children about what is true. The Book of Mormon brings “to light the true points of [Christ’s] doctrine,” in order to “establish [his] gospel.” (D&C 10:62–63.)
He will provide evidence to the Jews that Jesus was indeed the Christ, “that they may believe the gospel, and look not for a Messiah to come who has already come.” (D&C 19:27.)
He will prove to both Gentiles and Jews through the miracle of the Book of Mormon’s translation and through the message the book contains that he “does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old.” (D&C 20:8–11.) Through these means, God shows his children that he is unchanging in his concern and in his work to provide for their salvation. (See D&C 20:12.)
He will instruct us in what we need to know, especially concerning the foundation of the Church and the gospel. In particular, we are to use the scriptures to build up the Church. (See D&C 18:3–5; D&C 33:16.)
The Fulness of the Everlasting Gospel. The Doctrine and Covenants repeatedly attests that the Book of Mormon contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that we should teach the principles therein. (See D&C 27:5; D&C 42:12.) The Lord also testifies that the gospel contained in the ancient record is true: “He [Joseph Smith] has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.” (D&C 17:6.)
Instructions for Studying the Book. Because of the significance of the Book of Mormon, President Benson has counseled us to make the record “the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 5–6.) The Doctrine and Covenants contains many directions on the necessity and means of studying the book.
The Lord addressed Oliver Cowdery about some of his questions concerning the Book of Mormon and his ability to understand and translate it. The directions are recorded in sections eight and nine. In section eight, we learn that we receive knowledge when we ask “in faith, with an honest heart, believing that [we] shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records.” (D&C 8:1.) The knowledge comes through the spirit of revelation—the Holy Ghost telling us in our minds and our hearts. (See D&C 8:2–3.) Verses ten and eleven reiterate that faith is the key to obtaining knowledge from the Book of Mormon. [D&C 8:10–11]
Section 9 cautions that the Lord does not enlighten our minds without effort on our part. Although the section discusses Oliver Cowdery’s efforts to translate, verses 7 to 9 relate generally to receiving divine guidance: “You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.” (D&C 9:8.) By this, we realize that our input into the study of the Book of Mormon is very important.
In section 11, we learn the proper place that studying the Book of Mormon should assume in our lives. The Savior advised Hyrum Smith to seek for wisdom, not riches, and to study the word that had already gone forth and the word that was then being translated (the Book of Mormon). He was advised to prepare for teaching the gospel by obtaining the word of the Lord in the scriptures. (See D&C 11:7, 16, 21–22.) This section is particularly instructive because it can be applied to anyone who desires to serve in the Lord’s kingdom. (See D&C 11:27.)
Considering how much emphasis the Lord has placed on the creation, preservation, and translation of the Book of Mormon, can we really afford to place less emphasis upon its study and use? Apparently, we have failed to fulfill our obligations regarding it. The Church was chastised and brought under condemnation for treating lightly the new covenant—the Book of Mormon. (See D&C 84:54–57.) In the October 1988 general conference, President Benson encouraged us to remove that condemnation and, instead, win the promises associated with treasuring it up in our hearts and sharing it with the world. (See Ensign, Nov. 1988, pp. 4–6.)
Consequences for Unbelievers. The Lord is uncompromising in spelling out the consequences for those who fail to read the Book of Mormon and heed its teachings. He promised that woe would come to those who would not hearken to his words in the translation. (See D&C 5:5–6.) More specifically, he said that the testimony of the three Book of Mormon witnesses would “go forth unto the condemnation of this generation if they harden their hearts against them;
“For a desolating scourge shall go forth among the inhabitants of the earth, and shall continue to be poured out from time to time, if they repent not, until the earth is empty, and the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.” (D&C 5:18–19.)
In several other places, the Lord clearly reminds us of the condemnation and judgment awaiting “those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it” (D&C 20:15), or who treat it with vanity and unbelief and do not remember the Book of Mormon. (See D&C 84:54–57.) The condemnation includes both the Church and its members as well as nonbelievers.
Promises to Those Who Believe. On the other hand, the Lord has made many marvelous promises concerning the Book of Mormon. Balanced with his words of condemnation in section 84 are his promises: if we remember the book and do what is written therein, we will “bring forth fruit meet for [our] Father’s kingdom” and we will be forgiven of our sins. (See D&C 84:57–58, 60–61.)
Elsewhere, the Lord tells us that if we believe on his words (in the translation), we will be visited with a manifestation of the Holy Ghost and be born of him. (See D&C 5:16.) In his instructions to Hyrum Smith and “all who have good desires,” the Lord promises that, after studying the Book of Mormon, all things will “be added thereto.” (D&C 11:22, 27.) The greatest promise he has given relative to the Book of Mormon is in Doctrine and Covenants 20:14: “Those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life.” [D&C 20:14]
The Lord has left no doubt about our responsibility relative to the book: “I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true.
“And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written;
“For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.
“Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.” (D&C 18:2–5.)
Familiarity with the modern-day revelations about the Book of Mormon enhances our understanding of its role in the Lord’s work today and helps us study it more effectively. We are expected to realize, as the Lord declared, that this ancient record is indeed the foundation of his church.