Sunday, August 29, 2021

Against Wisdom, Part 4: Gold Standard

O remember, remember, my son Helaman, how strict are the commandments of God. And he said, If ye will keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land, but if ye keep not his commandments, ye shall be cut off from his presence. And now remember, my son, that God has entrusted you with these things which are sacred, which he has kept sacred, and also which he will keep and preserve for a wise purpose in him, that he may show forth his power unto future generations.

—Alma 17:9 RE

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

In my opinion, the publication of the Book of Mormon is the greatest miracle since Christ’s resurrection. The path of scripture we’ve traced thus far really amounts to a mere prelude for the Book of Mormon and the effects it has had and will have on the destiny of humanity. In this installment, we’ll consider the book’s path of development, Satan’s opposition to it, and the Lord’s hand in bringing it forth.

Previously, we’ve examined God’s continual efforts to transmit truth to the human family. Beginning with Adam and Eve, God has continually sought to illuminate the path that returns humanity to a relationship with God. And the Adversary has fought tirelessly against God’s efforts, knowing that truth is the greatest enemy to his diabolical plan. The path we’ve traced thus far has left us with a rather tattered, corrupt, and incomplete library of scripture in the Biblical canon, suffering not only from the insults of human tampering, but also from misinterpretation and exploitation.

The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the antidote to the prior failures encompassed in the Bible. Yet, in actuality, we know very little about how the book actually came forth. Rather than retracing the entire familiar history, I’m going to focus on a few particulars we should consider. 

First, let’s trace the plates for a bit. After Nephi began the record in the new world, the Lord instructed him to create a parallel record, focusing on the spiritual and revelatory aspects of the Nephite history, which Nephi did without understanding why such a record would be necessary. 

Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not. But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men. For behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words. And thus it is. Amen. (1 Nephi 2:14 RE)

We have developed the habit of calling this second record the “small plates” and the more secular history the “large plates.” Interestingly, the small plates were passed down in the priestly line through the descendants of Nephi’s brother Jacob, while the large plates continued in the kingly line of Nephi’s posterity. This dual situation continued for approximately 500 years until the time of Benjamin, when the small plates were full. Then they were joined with other records in the kingly line and passed down for a further 500 years. Ultimately, for a thousand years, lines of record keepers kept, preserved, guarded and recorded the Nephite record. 

We could cite many statements about the importance these record keepers felt. Here are a few:

And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of these sayings to his son, that he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom. And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and also the sword of Laban, and the ball or director which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, everyone, according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him. (Mosiah 1:3 RE)

And now, my son Helaman, I command you that ye take the records which have been entrusted with me. And I also command you that ye keep a record of this people according as I have done, upon the plates of Nephi, and keep all these things sacred which I have kept, even as I have kept them — for it is for a wise purpose that they are kept — and these plates of brass which contain these engravings, which have the records of the holy scriptures upon them, which have the genealogy of our forefathers, even from the beginning. And behold, it has been prophesied by our fathers that they should be kept and handed down from one generation to another, and be kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord until they should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, that they shall know of the mysteries contained thereon. (Alma 17:7 RE)

And Nephi, the son of Helaman, had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, giving charge unto his son Nephi, who was his eldest son, concerning the plates of brass, and all the records which had been kept, and all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem. Then he departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth. And his son Nephi did keep the record in his stead, yea, the record of this people. (3 Nephi 1:1 RE)

We can learn from all the above quotes (and others) just how important the record keepers knew their role to be, and just how seriously and carefully they fulfilled their responsibilities, including appointing their successors. This ensured that when Christ came and asked to see the records, Nephi could present him a collection of work that was accurate and largely complete. Nevertheless, the Lord instructed Nephi to add material that had been overlooked, then he gave them further material to include. This demonstrates the attention and care Christ gave to preparing the Book of Mormon record. Even more amazing, the Lord made clear that the record was not even for the Nephites. Over and over he told them to record his words so they could be had by the latter-day gentiles: 

And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem — they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry — do not ask the Father in my name that they may receive a knowledge of you by the holy ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of, that these sayings which ye shall write shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the gentiles; (3 Nephi 7:4 RE)

Write the things which I have told you, and, according to the time and the will of the Father, they shall go forth unto the gentiles. (3 Nephi 10:4 RE)

And he saith, These scriptures which ye had not with you, the Father commanded that I should give unto you, for it was wisdom in him that they should be given unto future generations. (3 Nephi 11:6 RE)

At the end of the Nephite civilization, Mormon and later his son, Moroni, grappled with completing the record, abridging 1000 years of Nephite history, and providing what would be most needed in our day. Mormon spoke about his specific purposes in writing the record:

And these things do the spirit manifest unto me; therefore, I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam, and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil; and also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you; and also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness, besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus whom they slew was the very Christ and the very God. And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. (Mormon 1:12 RE)

When the time came for the record to go to the Gentiles, God went to some lengths to ensure Joseph was prepared. By the time Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon plates, he had undergone four years of training, including meeting annually with the resurrected Nephi, who ultimately held responsibility for the records transferred from Judah, for the kingly line of Joseph, and for the Book of Mormon plates. We know almost nothing of Joseph’s interviews with Nephi each year on the Autumn equinox. Joseph told us very little about them:

Accordingly as I had been commanded, I went at the end of each year and at each time I found the same messenger there and received instruction and intelligence from him at each of our interviews respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days. (JSH 4:1)

What “instruction and intelligence” were necessary to prepare an uneducated teenager to stand in the Holy Order line of record keepers? How carefully and deliberately did Nephi prepare for the handoff of the 2,400-year effort to preserve a pure record? We may never know those details, though we do know Nephi took a terrible risk in handing the record to a mortal. So long as the record remained “sealed up” by Moroni, it was in God’s care. But once it was handed to a mortal man, all manner of opposition could, and did, work against it. 

Remember, if history tells us anything, it’s that God’s word is rarely safe in the hands of mortals. Joseph was warned in the strictest terms concerning the responsibility that fell to him. 

Now, to begin to appreciate the full import of this Book of Mormon record without the need for hundreds of pages, we’ll have to resort to a list: 

Attributes of the Book of Mormon

  • The direct continuation of the record going back to Eden, which included all the holy prophets and the religion of the Fathers.
  • Prepared by a line of prophets in the Holy Order, under special care and guidance from God.
  • Recorded on metal plates throughout to prevent alteration by uninspired scribes.
  • Multiple copies of certain information prepared in anticipation of events 2,400 years in the future.
  • Designed to establish, and where necessary, correct the truth of the Bible.
  • Abridged and prepared by prophets and seers who saw our day and uniquely understood what would be required.
  • Sealed up and protected by God’s care for 1,400 years, to come forth unchanged and uncorrupted.
  • Translated by the gift and power of God for the gentile audience.
  • Targeted also to the Jews and other remnants of Israel for the specific purposes of restoring their covenant status, bringing them to Messiah, and fulfilling the covenants of God.
  • The keystone of the Marvelous Work and Wonder purposed by the Father.
  • The only record currently available that came forth under such circumstances, demonstrating the long-game approach of God. The Book of Mormon has been planned, prepared, and shepherded by God for millennia, specifically to play its role in our day.

I began this post by stating that the publication of the Book of Mormon is the greatest miracle since Christ’s resurrection. In light of the above, I feel such a statement is overwhelmingly vindicated. 

Nevertheless, even in the face of such impressive power, wisdom and planning, the Adversary has done what he can to fight against God. Obviously, he’s sought to discredit the record through all manner of sophistry. The arguments of mortals against the Book of Mormon have ranged from alternative origin theories, to linguistics, archaeology, geography, history, biology, theology, personal attacks and mockery. In other words, we’re back to tactic one from Part 1 of this series: Believe it not. 

And yet, the convincing power of the book is such that millions have flocked to its standard, despite Hell’s best efforts to discredit the work. So two other tactics have come into play. Let’s examine them both.

Tactic Five: Exploitation

For most of the 192 years since the book’s publication, the churches that accept the book have largely not accepted the book. Rather than giving this record the preeminent place it deserves as the gold standard for doctrine, practice and truth, many have instead treated it as a proof text for their own claims, and validation for their own man-made practices. 

Often it works something like this:

  • The Book of Mormon is true (yes)
  • So therefore Joseph Smith was a prophet (yes)
  • And therefore the church(es) who claim their origins with Joseph must unavoidably be “true” (wait, what?)
  • So therefore the guys at the top are most unavoidably prophets as well (seriously?)
  • So naturally what they do, say, and teach must certainly be God’s very word and will (fat chance!)
  • Therefore you must give them your money, obedience and support, otherwise you will be damned (oh please!)

If you try pointing out what the Book of Mormon ACTUALLY teaches about many of their practices and beliefs, and about churches in general, you’re likely to find yourself thrown out (ask me how I know.)

So, unfortunately, Lucifer has managed to deflect and retarget belief in this most amazing scriptural record into belief in churches, trusting the arm of flesh, and accepting all manner of falsehoods. To be honest, it’s a pretty effective tactic. 

Before we move on, we need to examine the foundations of faith, and therefore the foundations of the Adversary’s attacks. According to the Lectures on Faith (3:2-5):

Let us here observe that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.

  • First, the idea that he actually exists.
  • Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes.
  • Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. 

Consider how the three items listed directly map to Satan’s efforts:

Notice how each of the factors required for faith in Jesus Christ has been the target of one of Lucifer’s primary attacks? It’s no coincidence, of course. Both Satan and Joseph Smith are well aware of what is required for saving faith. One promotes it, and one attacks it, but the concepts are eternal.

Tactic Six: Imitation

OK, here’s where things start to get really strange. Try as he might to destroy faith by attacking scripture, Satan recognizes there are still some few who will prioritize correct scripture above all and will actually try to live according to the Lord’s teachings. They value and seek after truth with open hearts and minds. Therefore the Adversary has come up with a special way to entrap those folks. To put it simply, in effect he says, “So you like scripture, do you? Here, have more. Have all you want!” 

To that end, we’ve seen the bizarre and recent proliferation of numerous pieces of Book of Mormon “fan fiction” in the form of false scripture, manufactured by deceived or conspiring men, with the intent of misleading believers into false paths. I’ve personally encountered the following imitation scriptures (and I’m sure there are more):

  • A record purporting to be from the Hagoth colony
  • A record purporting to come from copper scrolls hidden in a cave in the Philippines
  • The supposed “Book of Lehi”
  • The supposed Plates of Brass
  • The supposed “Lost 116 pages”
  • Various versions of the “Book of Remembrance” 
  • At least four separate claimants have published the “sealed portion” of the Book of Mormon (one of whom has an unimpressive imitation set of gold plates, interpreters, and sword of Laban.) It’s very strange that the “sealed portion” seems to have irresistible attraction for forgers, yet is the most un-forgible scripture of all. Anyone who understands what it should contain and when it is destined to be revealed is not taken in by imitations.

And the list goes on, diverging from Book of Mormon derivative works into wholesale pretended revelations declaring all sorts of nonsense. 

Having personally read a number of these fake volumes of scripture, I can testify that they are all poor imitations. Nevertheless, each has managed to convince some few adherents and earn some money and notoriety for the forgers. Each comes with a back story designed to impress the gullible, but none comes with the sort of back story that aligns with the level of care God has taken through the ages in working through the Holy Order for the publication and protection of scripture. Dreamers make up interesting fantasies, but ultimately radioactive spider bites don’t really bestow superpowers. That’s just lazy writing.

So now that we’ve gotten to somewhat modern times in our story, we’ll next consider how the miraculous coming forth of the Book of Mormon was managed and nurtured by God. Watch for that in Part 5. 

And now behold, I tell you by the spirit of prophecy that if ye transgress the commandments of God, behold, these things which are sacred shall be taken away from you by the power of God, and ye shall be delivered up unto Satan, that he may sift you as chaff before the wind. But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you — for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them — behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words. For he will fulfill all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promise which he has made unto our fathers. For he promised unto them that he would preserve these things for a wise purpose in him, that he might shew forth his power unto future generations.

—Alma 17:10 RE

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