They Wrote to Us As If We Were Present


With prophetic foreknowledge and understanding, Book of Mormon prophets focused their words of counsel and warning on the issues and needs of the latter days.

They Wrote to Us As If We Were Present

Most authors write a book with the intent that the book will be read by the author’s contemporaries. Even scriptural books such as the New Testament Gospels and Epistles were authored primarily for dissemination of the good news among investigators and Church members in the early Christian era. In contrast with the usual pattern, however, the prophetic authors of the Book of Mormon prepared it primarily as a witness and a warning to people far removed in time and culture from themselves.

Moroni, the final author of the Book of Mormon, prefaced his writings with a discussion of the conditions on the earth in the day when the Book of Mormon would come forth (see Morm. 8:15–41). He said: “Behold, 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). Having viewed our day and circumstances through the foreknowledge of God and by the power of Christ, the principal authors of the Book of Mormon—Nephi, Jacob, Mormon, and Moroni—spoke specifically on issues and topics of great relevance: the importance of the Atonement, the danger of pride, the importance of prophets, the role of families, and the promise that the Lord fulfills His covenants.

The Importance of the Atonement

In a world in which people wander down many paths seeking direction and fulfillment, the Book of Mormon bears witness that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:17).

The Book of Mormon clarifies that mankind’s fallen state made the mission of Jesus Christ and His Atonement necessary. Amulek, for example, observed, “Yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made” (Alma 34:9). Jacob testified that the Atonement “prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit” (2 Ne. 9:10). This redemption, Lehi said, comes to each of us “through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8).

Amulek taught that the Atonement would not be “a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:10). The person to make the sacrifice “will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:14). Amulek also helped believers understand that the Atonement applies to everyone everywhere and in all times, including those listening to his words a century before the central events of the Savior’s Atonement: “If ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (Alma 34:31; emphasis added).

In addition, the phrase “infinite and eternal sacrifice” refers to the depth and breadth of the Savior’s Atonement, to the quality as well as the quantity of his suffering. Alma said that Jesus would “take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people,” that he would “take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people,” and that he would “take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:11–13). Having experienced everything personally, the Lord knows “according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).

Given the centrality of the Atonement in the eternal plan, we can understand why Nephi wrote, “We talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ” (2 Ne. 25:26); why Nephi’s brother Jacob rejoiced, “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace!” (2 Ne. 9:8); and why Nephi’s father, Lehi, said, “Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth” (2 Ne. 2:8). Alma summarized:

“And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.

“And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:14–15).

The Danger of Pride

Opinion polls asking about the world’s greatest problems often include responses such as the economy, disease, crime, political corruption, or the environment. According to the Book of Mormon, however, one of the world’s main problems is an attitude best described as pride. In the Book of Mormon, pride seems to be the most individually and collectively destructive sin.

Jacob, for example, noted that unless those “who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches … come down in the depths of humility, [God] will not open unto them” (2 Ne. 9:42). Upon seeing our day in vision, Nephi observed that “the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes” (2 Ne. 26:20) and pointed out that pride leads to secret combinations and priestcrafts (see 2 Ne. 26:22, 29–30). He also warned, “O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!” (2 Ne. 28:15). Alma’s words about envy, mocking, and the lack of humility remain as applicable to us today as they were to his original audience: “Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5:28).

Moroni voiced a feeling shared by other Book of Mormon prophets that “the wearing of very fine apparel” often evidences pride (Morm. 8:36). Alma observed that the Zoramites focused on “their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things” (Alma 31:28). When the Nephites were full of pride, Samuel the Lamanite confronted them by saying, “Ye are cursed because of your riches, and also are your riches cursed because ye have set your hearts upon them” (Hel. 13:21). He then warned, “Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities” (Hel. 13:22).

Mormon, expressing a similar concern, reflected on the foolishness of people who, when greatly blessed, “do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God … because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity” (Hel. 12:2). The cause of pride, Mormon explained, is that people “do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them,” that they “will not that he should be their guide” (Hel. 12:6). Mormon lamented to Moroni that “the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction” (Moro. 8:27). This implicit warning implores us not to stray down a similar course.

Following the Living Prophets

The Book of Mormon teaches the necessity of following the living prophets. For example, Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families were spared from the destruction of Jerusalem (see 2 Ne. 1:4). Similarly, Nephi led all “those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God” to safety (2 Ne. 5:6). The first Mosiah and Alma the Elder also led their people to safety (see Omni 1:12–14; Mosiah 24). Subsequent Nephites were delivered from their enemies by heeding the prophetic direction of Captain Moroni (see Alma 46–62) and were spared annihilation by following the leadership of Gidgiddoni and the chief judge Lachoneus, who are referred to as “great prophet[s] among them” (3 Ne. 3:19).

Among the Jaredites, “the people were brought unto repentance” when the king protected the prophets (Ether 7:25). In contrast, when a later king did not protect the prophets, “the people hardened their hearts” and “did reject all the words of the prophets” (Ether 11:13, 22), with the result that “the Spirit of the Lord had ceased striving with them, and Satan had full power over the hearts of the people” (Ether 15:19). They then reached “the fulness of iniquity,” which brought down upon them “the fulness of the wrath of God” (Ether 2:10–11).

The Book of Mormon shows the danger of rejecting living prophets while professing belief in dead ones. During events leading to their downfall, King Noah and his priests claimed to believe the words of Isaiah but rejected the contemporary witness of Abinadi (see Mosiah 11–17). The people of Ammonihah, being “a hard-hearted and a stiffnecked people” (Alma 9:5), quoted scripture while mocking Alma and Amulek, resulting in a tragic end for their city (see Alma 8–16). Nephi, son of Helaman, reasoned with those who rejected his warnings: “If God gave unto [Moses] such power, then why should ye dispute among yourselves, and say that he hath given unto me no power?” (Hel. 8:12). Nephi continued, “Ye not only deny my words, but ye also deny all the words which have been spoken by our fathers … concerning the coming of the Messiah” (Hel. 8:13).

To reject the words of the living prophets is to effectively reject the words of the prophets who have gone before. Specifically because of the people’s rejection of the “prophets and the saints,” the Lord caused the great destruction recorded in 3 Nephi 8 [3 Ne. 8] (see 3 Ne. 9:5, 7–9, 11–12). The Lord said, “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you” (3 Ne. 12:1). We can conclude that true happiness comes by giving heed in thought and action to the words we receive from the living prophets and apostles.

The Role of the Family

One of the most discussed issues in our day concerns the importance and role of the family. The Book of Mormon, which begins as an account of the Lord’s dealings with a single family, demonstrates that families form the fundamental unit of society. Nephi’s first comment respectfully refers to his “goodly parents” (1 Ne. 1:1) who taught him the way of the Lord. Lehi’s family-oriented priorities are apparent when he departs into the wilderness taking “nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents” (1 Ne. 2:4). In Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, his first desire after partaking of the fruit is to have his family partake (see 1 Ne. 8:12). Concerned that in his dream Laman and Lemuel refused to partake of the fruit (see 1 Ne. 8:4, 35–36), Lehi “did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them” (1 Ne. 8:37).

The Book of Mormon helps us understand how families should interact. We see Nephi honoring his father’s role as patriarch, including Lehi’s right to receive revelation for the family, in the incidents of the broken bow and the timing of their departure by boat for the promised land (see 1 Ne. 16; 1 Ne. 18). We also frequently read of parental concern for children in the Book of Mormon. For example, Alma the Elder and Mosiah struggled with anxiety over their children’s welfare (see Mosiah 27–28). Lehi gave inspired blessings to his children and grandchildren and taught them the plan of salvation (see 2 Ne. 1–3). Alma the Younger did the same by teaching, interviewing, and bearing witness to his sons according to their specific needs (see Alma 36–42; Alma 45).

Perhaps the greatest family-centered message in the Book of Mormon is that parents should continually teach their children about God and His righteousness through word and example. In an increasingly evil world, great comfort arises from the facts that the examples of parents and ancestors can have a particularly powerful effect on their posterity and that families can follow the truth and live in the light even in times of wickedness. Helaman noted this while explaining to his sons, Nephi and Lehi, why he gave them the names of their ancestors: “When ye remember them ye may remember their works; … that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them” (Hel. 5:6–7). He counseled them to “remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Hel. 5:12). Nephi and Lehi followed this counsel and were therefore able to work miracles among the people (see Hel. 7–11). Their lives testified of the influence of their father’s teachings and their ancestors’ faithfulness. Likewise, the 2,000 stripling warriors had great faith because they had “been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them” (Alma 56:47).

Perhaps the sanctifying role of the family can best be summed up by two references from Jacob’s time. He commended the example of those families in which “their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children” (Jacob 3:7). It was undoubtedly such an expression of love in Jacob’s own home that caused his children to be taught “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Enos 1:1).

The Lord Remembers and Fulfills His Covenants

The Book of Mormon proclaims that in the last days the Lord will do significant things for the benefit of mankind. Many verses speak of the time when the Lord “will remember the covenant which I have made with my people” (3 Ne. 20:29). He will “bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph to the knowledge of the Lord their God” and “gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob” (3 Ne. 5:23–24). Included in this covenanted restoration are “as many of the Gentiles as will repent” (2 Ne. 30:2).

These promises refer to both temporal and spiritual blessings. After Nephi quoted some of Isaiah’s writings concerning the future, his brothers asked if Isaiah was speaking of things spiritual (see 1 Ne. 22:1). In responding that “the righteous need not fear” (1 Ne. 22:22) because the Lord “will preserve the righteous by his power” (1 Ne. 22:17), Nephi implied that salvation would come both temporally and spiritually. Mormon made the same point a thousand years after Nephi with his assurance that “if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment” (Morm. 7:10).

The Book of Mormon prophesies that the Lord will “proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel,” at which time He will pour out His wrath so “that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble” (1 Ne. 22:11, 15). The sacred record contains many of the Lord’s comforting promises to those who “come unto him” (2 Ne. 26:33). Just as anciently the Lord “verified his word unto them in every particular” (Alma 25:17), He shall likewise fulfill all His words in our personal and collective futures.

Written for Our Day

Many other topics of current relevance could be examined. For example, the Book of Mormon addresses the significance of scriptures, the value of record keeping, the necessity of repentance and obedience, the hows and whys of missionary work, the importance of prayer, the role of freedom and governments, and the true meanings of faith, hope, and charity. Over half the Book of Mormon concerns the events of the 150 years before the Savior’s appearance, though that period comprises only about 15 percent of the total time covered by the book. President Ezra Taft Benson offered a possible reason for that emphasis: “In the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming” (“The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 6).

Knowing that their words were destined for a future time certainly influenced the major authors of the Book of Mormon in their choice of topics, sermons, and experiences to record. Consider, for example, Nephi’s inspired commentary on the writings of Isaiah, found in 2 Nephi 25–30 [2 Ne. 25–30]. Twelve verses recount prophecy concerning the Jews (see 2 Ne. 25:9–20). An additional 21 verses speak about the future of Nephi’s own people (see 2 Ne. 25:21; 2 Ne. 26:11). By comparison, 121 verses—or about 75 percent of these six chapters—relate Nephi’s vision of the conditions of the world “in the last days, or in the days of the Gentiles” (2 Ne. 27:1). He commented that he knew his words would “be of great worth unto them in the last days” (2 Ne. 25:8).

The prophet Mormon, for whose great work of abridgment the Book of Mormon is named, experienced the destruction of his people. Like his son Moroni, he clearly directed his writings to a future era when the Lord would bring those records to light. Mormon said that he stood by as an “idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard” (Morm. 3:16). In his abridgment, he chose sermons and stories from his people’s past that would directly apply to our circumstances. He instructed those of a distant day about what to do to find true happiness and concluded his work with his witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The distant day to which he spoke is our day. Moroni completed the sacred record with the hope that we would be grateful for it and that we would “learn to be more wise” than his people had been (Morm. 9:31).

As we enter a new century and secular millennium, the Book of Mormon warns us of the dangers now facing individuals and nations. But it also confirms our faith and hope in Christ and reaffirms our understanding of those fundamental doctrines and principles that will help us stand firmly on the rock established by Christ in the midst of growing tides of unbelief. In addition to seriously studying the Book of Mormon, we are to live its teachings by conforming to its doctrines and righteous examples. Doing so allows us to obey the Lord’s command to “remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written” (D&C 84:57; emphasis added). As an integral part of the Lord’s new covenant, the Book of Mormon is, by divine design, not only a book for our day but the book for our day.

[illustration] Christ in Gethsemane, by Heinrich Hofmann

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark

[illustration] Moroni Burying the Plates, by Tom Lovell

[illustration] Temple line art by Patric Gerber

[illustration] Samuel the Lamanite Prophesies, by Arnold Friberg

[illustration] Mormon Abridging the Plates, by Tom Lovell

[photo] Photo by John Luke, posed by models

Byron R. Merrill is a member of the faculty of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University.