For many years I have had a picture hanging on the wall of my office, a simple picture taken by a faithful missionary. A tiny wooden table is shown. A crust of bread remains to remind one of the evening’s scanty meal. A candle burns to provide light. Under the flickering light a Book of Mormon lies open for those who surround the table to see and catch the essence of its power.
Eleven wonderful people who sat at that table were touched by the gospel. Two humble young missionaries teaching from the Book of Mormon—the very copy shown in the picture—brought them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and subsequently led them into the cleansing waters of baptism.
The real power of the Book of Mormon is its amazing capacity to bring all of us to Jesus Christ. “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price” (2 Ne. 9:50). The invitation is beautifully stated by Amaleki, who said, “And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption” (Omni 1:26).
What is there about this book that causes men and women to come to Jesus Christ? Moroni, the last of the ancient Nephite prophets, gave us insight regarding this question as he exhorted readers: “When ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, … remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moro. 10:3; emphasis added). And Nephi, who began the record, said: “I … will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20; emphasis added). If we remember these mercies of the Lord, focusing on how merciful he has been and will be to us individually, our lives will be changed. We will come to him both figuratively and literally. We will know Jesus Christ, our Savior, and to know him is to have eternal life (see John 17:3).
This article will deal with three of the most prominent mercies of Christ mentioned in the Book of Mormon: the Atonement, hope, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
First and foremost among the mercies of Christ is the great Atonement. Throughout history, prophets have spoken of the redemption of man through the shedding of Christ’s blood (see 3 Ne. 11:10; Moro. 7:23; Jacob 6:8). Nephi saw that through the goodness of God all mankind may escape from “that monster, death” (2 Ne. 9:10) and that “the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel” (2 Ne. 9:12). Then he exulted: “O how great the plan of our God!” (2 Ne. 9:13).
Although the gift of immortality is given freely to all, it is clear that in order to enjoy the full benefit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and return to the presence of God and Christ, everyone must keep the commandments and receive the ordinances of the gospel. To begin with, each soul must have faith, repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost.
King Benjamin preached of Christ’s taking upon himself a tabernacle of clay, of his suffering “pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7). The Nephite prophet spoke of a scourging, a crucifixion, of death and final resurrection, “that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name” (Mosiah 3:9).
The message of King Benjamin was Christ centered, so powerful that all of his people desired to enter into a covenant with God “to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God” (Mosiah 5:5). Because of that covenant, they were called the children of Christ, “his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
We must always remember that the spiritual effects of the Atonement are conditional. Said Alma: “Ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7:14).
Everyone will be blessed by the Atonement of Christ. For all of our Heavenly Father’s children who came to earth, temporal death—the death of the mortal body—is overcome by the blessing of resurrection, which is given freely to all as a result of the Savior’s Atonement. Spiritual death, however—separation from God—can only be avoided by repenting, being born again, and living worthy to be with God in his kingdom forever. This blessing, too, comes only through the Savior’s Atonement, for “there is none other name given whereby man can be saved” (D&C 18:23).
It is never too early to begin learning of the mercies of Christ.
Sister Hammond and I enjoy the opportunity to visit with our children and grandchildren. I recall an occasion when we were visiting the home of our daughter and her young family. It was night, and at the insistence of the parents, three of the girls had prepared themselves for bed, joined in family prayer, kissed us all good night, then gone obediently and happily to their bedroom. Several minutes had passed when my wife and I peeked through the partially opened door. There they lay on their tummies, each resting a tiny chin on her hands. Eyes wide open, they listened intently as the eldest, 11 years old, read to them from her Book of Mormon. We wept tears of happiness that night as we realized how these little ones had been captivated by the power of modern scripture which teaches the mercies of Christ and his Atonement.
To the honest in heart there lies enfolded in the pages of the Book of Mormon a distinct sense of hope, destiny, and life—an assurance of a better world. The lonely who seemingly have no one to love them, the bitter who blame others for their unfortunate state, the destitute who are bereft of even a minimal sustenance, the sick who know something of exquisite pain, the abused who are innocent victims, and all of us—even though beset by our mistakes or sins—can feel the power of hope embrace us as we reach for this book of books, the Book of Mormon.
I recall the day I stood in the Manti Temple to seal two beautiful young people for all eternity. My wife had preached the gospel to the lovely young woman while they were traveling together on an airplane. The woman had become interested, and both she and her husband were taught the gospel and were baptized by the full-time missionaries. A year had passed and now they were in the temple.
Prior to the ceremony I asked them both to bear a brief testimony. As the groom began to speak, I noted his deep reverence; the dignity he possessed; his stately carriage of body; the long, carefully woven braid which hung down his back; the handsome, striking facial characteristics which indicated his Cherokee ancestry. His testimony included these poignant words: “Two years ago I could never have stood in this holy place and felt the feelings I feel now. There was too much pain, too much suffering, too much pride. Now, I am changed. The pain and pride are gone from my heart. The love of the Savior, Jesus Christ, has made me a different man—a new man. I express my love to him and to you, my brothers.” How tender that moment was. Hope had conquered bitter feelings to make a better man. The Atonement and the hope of Christ had taken the pain and the sickness from this young man we saw in the temple, for Christ died that he might take upon himself “the pains and the sicknesses of his people” (Alma 7:11). Our friend had been spiritually begotten of Christ. He was full of joy!
All of us may experience this joy, as Alma taught members of the Church in his day (see Alma 5:14–19, 26–34). Alma’s words give each of us opportunity for spiritual self-examination. This might induce some personal concerns, but enduring hope may also spring from it. Among the questions which we should ask ourselves are these: Have we been spiritually born of God? Has there been a mighty change in our hearts? Have we walked keeping ourselves blameless before God? Have we been sufficiently humble? Are we stripped of pride?
If the answer to these provocative questions is no, then Alma prompts us with the surging power of hope, in these words: “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you” (Alma 5:33). To members of the Church, the commandment is that we prove ourselves in all these things and thus receive the mercy of Christ. To those who have yet to embrace the gospel, an invitation to come and be baptized is extended, that they may have hope and “be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life” (Alma 5:62).
“And what is it that ye shall hope for?” asked the prophet Mormon. “Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” (Moro. 7:41).
When the Savior appeared to the Nephites on the American continent, he chose twelve disciples. It is recorded at one point that they unitedly prayed for that which they most desired; “and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Ne. 19:9). Following their baptism, their desire was realized; “the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (3 Ne. 19:13). After thanking the Father for allowing the Holy Ghost to be given to his chosen twelve, Christ said, “Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words” (3 Ne. 19:21).
His followers have always been hungry for the word of the Lord, for they have been taught that it is essential to their salvation. “I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3). Is there anything more wonderful than being shown what it is that God would have us do? The disciples also sought the companionship of the Holy Ghost because they knew that through him the will of the Lord could be revealed to them constantly (see D&C 8:2–3; D&C 18:18). To have the guidance of the Holy Ghost is truly one of the mercies of Christ.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why we would want to have the Holy Ghost. Mormon said, for example: “And because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God” (Moro. 8:26).
Christ told the Nephites another important reason to seek the Holy Ghost. “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 Ne. 27:20). This sanctification is a necessary step in salvation.
Moroni added yet another reason for wanting to have the Holy Ghost when he stated: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5). Thus our testimonies come by the power of the Holy Ghost.
As we contemplate the mercies of Christ, we think again of the wonder of having the Holy Ghost. He will tell us all things we should do. He will fill us with hope and perfect love. He will sanctify us, in order that we may stand spotless before Christ. Through him we may know the truth of all things.
I recall an occasion when nearly 600 members of the Church were packed into the small chapel at Achacachi, Bolivia. It was my first opportunity to meet the wonderful Saints who lived on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Dressed in their finest native costumes, they had come to worship God and to meet the new mission president with “hair like snow.” As I spoke to them, I raised my Book of Mormon high over my head and asked how many had brought theirs to the meeting. The response was electrifying as the vast majority raised their precious books above their heads.
As I raised my Book of Mormon again, I continued: “And how many of you have read the book all the way through?” Once again they responded with enthusiasm by waving their books high in the air. Even the youth and many of the children held their books high enough for me to see. I was thrilled with their response.
Then I felt the hand of the district president on my arm. Leaning forward, he whispered, “Oh, President Hammond, not all of them have read the Book of Mormon. Most of them cannot read at all, nor can they understand Spanish. They speak Aymara. They were simply following your example by waving the books above their heads.” Somewhat embarrassed, but not wanting to appear flustered, I asked them another question, which was translated into Aymara. “Well, if you cannot read the Book of Mormon, why do you carry it with you?” A lovely little woman stood up and timidly responded, “Because I know that what I carry in my hands contains the true word of God.” There was a ripple of approval from the congregation. An old man then rose slowly to his feet. With dignity he stood among his peers, holding the Book of Mormon tightly. Tears welled up in his eyes as he said: “It is true that I cannot read, but I tell you that I can feel its power here.” He tenderly pressed the book to his heart. The Holy Ghost had shown him the “truth of all things” (Moro. 10:5).
The Lord himself testified of the truthfulness of the book, saying, “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). Only Christ could have extended to us the mercies we learn of within its pages.
Referring to this volume of sacred scripture, President Ezra Taft Benson said: “There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the Book of Mormon. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called ‘the words of life’ (see D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 7).
As we hunger and thirst, we must feast on the word. We cannot nibble or gingerly sample the offering, for then we will be in grave danger of starving our spirits.
The Book of Mormon contains a fulness of the gospel. It is through this fulness and the matchless saving power of Jesus Christ that all men may come unto him. “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moro. 10:32), for he stands with open arms and bids us all to come and partake of his boundless mercies and endless love.