Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 48

Following this dismaying decline of Nephite civilization documented by his father, Moroni picked up the recorder's task, but he did not write to any living audience. Rather, he directed his final testimony-in fact, three final testimonies-to those who would receive the record in the last days. A book that began with three witnesses of Christ ends the same way but with a difference-with three final declarations of the Savior from the writings of one man. Moroni's experience was painful, for he observed in life, in history, and in vision the pollution and destruction of three glorious civilizations-his own Nephite world, the Jaredite nation, and our latter-day dispensation.

Calling out to those in the latter days who would receive the Book of Mormon "even as if one [were speaking] from the dead," Moroni focused inexorably upon the future reader. "Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present," he wrote, "and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing." His despair, which was tinged with both disappointment and anger, is evident in his words. The Conclusion of the Book of Moroni

In what was by then a desperate and virtually day-by-day existence, Moroni recorded the third witness of his faith. He had "supposed not to have written more," but inasmuch as he had not yet perished, he continued his witness to the end. Even though the Lamanites were putting to death every Nephite that would not deny the Christ, Moroni would not deny him. "Wherefore," he wrote, "I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life."

But the classic contribution in Moroni's supplementary material is his recording of his father's masterful teaching on the theme Moroni had already developed in his own writing-that of faith, hope, and charity. Mormon's sermon was directed unto those "that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ," to be so recognized because of their "peaceable walk with the children of men." Teaching that "all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil," Mormon taught that everyone can make this assessment-a variation on Lehi's teaching about opposition in all things-because "the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; . . . for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God."

The ability to see these choices clearly and accurately is provided by "the light of Christ," a free gift to all even if it is not always received or cultivated. By this divine illumination we are to "search diligently in the light of Christ" that we "may know good from evil." And if we "will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not," he said, we "certainly will be [children] of Christ." But as for the ability to do these things, to actually "lay hold" on what has been recognized as good, is a matter of motivating faith in Christ which takes genuine effort.

Even from the beginning, long before Christ had actually come to earth, such faith was available to the children of promise. Mormon wrote, "God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing. . . . And all things which are good cometh of Christ." Thus, by the ministering of angels and by the Lord's word through his prophets, "men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ."

The same principle obtained after Christ came. Then, too, "men [are] saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God." But neither faith nor the miracles it brings were to cease "because Christ ascended into heaven." Rather, those who have faith in him will continue to cleave unto every good thing and thus be worthy to receive every good thing. The most dramatic of these gifts will be the power to witness and perform miracles as may be necessary for the well-being and salvation of the "children of Christ." True to the end, Christ lovingly claims these who have faith in him, and he advocates their cause before the great bar of justice.

That kind of redeeming faith, Mormon taught, leads to hope, a special, theological kind of hope. The word is often used to express the most general of aspirations-wishes, if you will. But as used in the Book of Mormon it is very specific and flows naturally from one's faith in Christ. "How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall [as a consequence] have hope?" Mormon asked. This is the same faith-leads-to-hope sequence that Moroni used, saying, "Ye may also have hope . . . if ye will but have faith."

What is the nature of this hope? It is certainly much more than wishful thinking. It is to 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." That is the theological meaning of hope in the faith-hope-charity sequence. With an eye to that meaning, Moroni 7:42 then clearly reads, "If a man have faith [in Christ and his atonement] he must needs [as a consequence] have hope [in the promise of the Resurrection, because the two are inextricably linked]; for without faith [in Christ's atonement] there cannot be any hope [in the Resurrection]."

Faith in Christ and hope in his promises of resurrected, eternal life can come only to the meek and lowly in heart. Such promises, in turn, reinforce meekness and lowliness of heart in that believer. Only thorough disciples of Christ, living as meekly as he lived and humbling themselves as he humbled himself, can declare uncompromised faith in Christ and have genuine hope in the Resurrection. These then, and only these, come to understand true charity-the pure love of Christ. And what are the characteristics of such a love born of faith and hope? "Charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

The essential nature of this transcendent virtue of charity is clear in Mormon's declaration that without it we "are nothing," that of the many Christian virtues, charity "is the greatest of all." This is consistent with what Paul would later teach in slightly different language but to the same end- that it matters not how many other virtues we possess or how many good things we have done if true charity is lacking. Without true charity in the heart of the servant, these good works would be as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal," and in the end they would be "nothing." The means-or in this case the motive-is essential to the meaning of the end, the action. In just the sequence that Mormon taught it, Paul affirmed that faith, hope, and charity are the three great virtues that, as Christians, we must cling to and try to demonstrate, "but the greatest of these is charity." It is instructive to note that the charity, or "the pure love of Christ," we are to cherish can be interpreted two ways. One of its meanings is the kind of merciful, forgiving love Christ's disciples should have one for another. That is, all Christians should try to love as the Savior loved, showing pure, redeeming compassion for all. Unfortunately, few, if any, mortals have been entirely successful in this endeavor, but it is an invitation that all should try to meet.

The greater definition of "the pure love of Christ," however, is not what we as Christians try but largely fail to demonstrate toward others but rather what Christ totally succeeded in demonstrating toward us. True charity has been known only once. It is shown perfectly and purely in Christ's unfailing, ultimate, and atoning love for us. It is Christ's love for us that "suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not." It is his love for us that is not "puffed up . . . , not easily provoked, thinketh no evil." It is Christ's love for us that "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." It is as demonstrated in Christ that "charity never faileth." It is that charity-his pure love for us-without which we would be nothing, hopeless, of all men and women most miserable. Truly, those found possessed of the blessings of his love at the last day-the Atonement, the Resurrection, eternal life, eternal promise-surely it shall be well with them.

This does not in any way minimize the commandment that we are to try to acquire this kind of love for one another. We should "pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be filled with this love." We should try to be more constant and unfailing, more longsuffering and kind, less envious and puffed up in our relationships with others. As Christ lived so should we live, and as Christ loved so should we love. But the "pure love of Christ" Mormon spoke of is precisely that-Christ's love. With that divine gift, that redeeming bestowal, we have everything; without it we have nothing and ultimately are nothing, except in the end "devils [and] angels to a devil."

Life has its share of fears and failures. Sometimes things fall short. Sometimes people fail us, or economies or businesses or governments fail us. But one thing in time or eternity does not fail us-the pure love of Christ. Thus, the miracle of Christ's charity both saves and changes us. His atoning love saves us from death and hell as well as from carnal, sensual, and devilish behavior. That redeeming love also transforms the soul, lifting it above fallen standards to something far more noble, far more holy. Wherefore, we must "cleave unto charity"-Christ's pure love of us and our determined effort toward pure love of him and all others-for without it we are nothing, and our plan for eternal happiness is utterly wasted. Without the redeeming love of Christ in our lives, all other qualities-even virtuous qualities and exemplary good works-fall short of salvation and joy.This idea of "pure" love, personified by Purity Himself, moved Moroni to his loftiest expression in this third "final" testimony of Christ. Note how Mormon ended his magnificent sermon on faith, hope, and charity, and set the stage for Moroni's concluding witness.

To his unseen latter-day audience, that is Moroni's ultimate appeal-for purity, a purity that is represented in Christ and is possible for us only through the cleansing grace of Christ. Bridging from his father's magnificent sermon to his own concluding lines, Moroni wrote, The covenant of the Father unto the remission of our sins. Purity. Holiness. Character and conscience without blemish. All these through the grace of Christ, which cleanses our garments, sanctifies our souls, saves us from death, and restores us to our divine origins. Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 4, 348-351.

Mormon's Epistle on Infant Baptism, Moroni 8:1-24

These verses give the historical context for one of the most significant doctrinal discourses in the Book of Mormon. In the verses that follow, Mormon discusses the doctrine of accountability and the false notion of infant baptism. It appears from this introduction that Moroni had previously been called to an important priesthood position of responsibility. Moroni, in that new stewardship probably wrote to his father concerning an important matter of concern and conflict. In response Mormon gave him some fatherly, as well as some ecclesiastical, counsel concerning a very important doctrinal dispute that had arisen among the Nephites. The record is silent as to what prompted this doctrinal dispute or how the notion of infant baptism had crept in among the people. Mormon's epistle to Moroni is designed to correct any error that has been made or false doctrines that have been taught and to plainly teach the truth of the matter. This contextual introduction also bears the author's witness of the words that follow. They are not merely Mormon's opinions but are the mind and will of the Lord that have come by direct revelation to Mormon through the power of the Holy Ghost. This revelation begins with the Savior himself bearing testimony that the words, ideas, and doctrine that follows in Mormon's epistle are "the words of Christ" (see verses 7-8).

One of the most insidious of Satan's heresies that the has promulgated in the earth is the notion that little children are born in sin and, unless baptized, are doomed to eternal damnation. The Nephites were not the first or the only people to have introduced among them this false and damming notion. By the third century the heresies of original sin and infant baptism had crept into the church in the Old World. This early Christian controversy has its roots in even earlier attempts by Satan to undermine and destroy the true doctrine of the Atonement and pervert the true ordinance of baptism. As far back as Abraham's day it was necessary for the Lord to rebuke those who espoused this false doctrine and to clarify the doctrines of accountability and baptism as it applies to little children (see JST, Genesis 17:4-8, 11).

Baptism is for the remission of sins. In order for baptism to be of efficacy there must also be faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and complete repentance. Since little children and those who because of mental or physical deficiencies never mature in the moral or spiritual sense are not accountable (see D&C 20:71; D&C 29:49-50; D&C 68:25-27), it is impossible for them to sin. Without accountability there is no sin. Without sin there is no need for repentance and baptism.Because little children cannot sin they cannot bring about their own spiritual "fall" or estrangement from God. The only spiritual death they experience, therefore, is that which comes upon all mankind by reason of the fall of Adam. Thus they are "alive in Christ" because the atonement of Jesus Christ has redeemed all, including little children, from the effects-both temporal and spiritual-of the fall of Adam. Those, then, who die without achieving personal accountability are redeemed and saved by the mercy, goodness, and pure love of Christ as evidenced by his atoning sacrifice. They become heirs of the celestial kingdom. (For an extensive doctrinal discussion of this concept see Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "The Salvation of Little Children," Ensign, April 1977, pp. 3-7 ) Joseph Fielding McConkie, Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4, 354-357.

The "Fruits" of Repentance and a Remission of Sins, Moroni 8:25-30

The first fruit of repentance is baptism. True repentance is born of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There absolutely cannot be any repentance or remission of sins without faith in the redemptive power of the Savior. Hence, repentance is a "fruit" of faith. Baptism for the remission of sins-both the baptism by water and the baptism by fire-comes as a result or fruit of "faith unto repentance" (see Alma 34:14-17). The remission of sins comes by the power of the Holy Ghost as one exercises faith in the Lord, repents in all sincerity of soul, submits to the ordinance of baptism, keeps the commandments, and lives in such a way as to warrant being "born again' (see 3 Nephi 9:20; Alma 5:14) and becoming "new creatures in Christ" (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins. A remission of sins comes by repentance and by obedience to God's laws and commandments. In fact, repentance and obedience are intertwined. There cannot be true repentance without also a conscientious effort to keep all of God's commandments. Too often we tend to think of forsaking sin as merely stopping doing the one sin of which we are repenting. That is necessary, of course, but repentance that yields a remission of sins requires much more. President Spencer W. Kimball taught that there is no true repentance if we forsake only some selected sins but continue to embrace sinfulness. "That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life." (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p 203.)

Obedience to God's commandments is not only an indicator of our true repentance but is also a fruit of our faith in the Lord (see James 2:17-18). When we exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we are naturally drawn to repentance. True repentance, in turn, naturally leads us to greater righteousness and firmer obedience to God's laws, ordinances, and commandments. These by-products of faith when combined together are the "all we can do" which in Turn yields a remission of sins by the grace of Christ (see 2 Nephi 25:23).

The remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart. Meekness and humility are part of repentance and are also fruits of faith. These necessary spiritual qualities precede repentance and a remission of sins. Here, however, Mormon is saying that they come after a remission of sins. Both are correct. It may be that what Mormon is referring to is an even greater change of heart and spiritual nature that comes by the power of the Holy Ghost after one repents, is born again, and receives the cleansing baptism of fire that remits sin. The spiritual gifts that accompany this experience include an increase in one's meekness and humility. In addition, Mormon states that the Holy Ghost also works on the hearts and souls of men and women whose sins have been remitted, filling them with greater hope and perfect love-which is charity. "To renew the mind of man is the work of the Holy Ghost," Elder Orson Pratt explained. "The Holy Ghost [changes us] more thoroughly by renewing the inner man, and by purifying the affections and desires, and thoughts which have so long been habituated in the impure ways of sin. Without the aid of the Holy Ghost, a person who has long been accustomed to love sin, and whose affections and desires have long run with delight in the degraded channel of vice, would have but very little power to change his mind, at once, from its habituated course and walk, and to walk in newness of life. Though his sins may have been cleansed away yet so great is the force of habit that he would, "without being renewed by the Holy Ghost, be easily overcome, and contaminated again by sin. Hence, it is infinitely important that the affections and desires should be in a measure changed and renewed, so as to cause him to hate that which he before loved, and to love that which he before hated: to renew the mind of man is the work of the Holy Ghost." ("The Holy Spirit," in Orson Pratt: Writings, of an Apostle, p. 57.)

Which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love. Hope and charity-the pure love of Christ-are gifts of the Spirit that come to one who prays with "all the energy of heart, that [he] may be filled with this love" and to all those who are "true followers of [God's] son, Jesus Christ" (Moroni 7:48; see also the corresponding commentary). The visitation of the Holy Ghost that fills one with hope and charity comes to disciples of Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, and continued obedience and faithfulness. Greater faith, hope, and charity are among the many fruits of spiritual rebirth and remission of sins.

Which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come] Not only is charity preserved and strengthened through continued faith and "diligence unto prayer," but charity in and of itself lends us spiritual strength which enables us to endure "until the end shall come." In the previous chapter Moroni included his fathers great discourse on faith, hope, and charity. One important phrase there was "charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever" (Moroni 7:47; see also Romans 13:10). One way in which charity endures forever is that the person who possesses it is better equipped to endure forever. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: "Until we have perfect love we are liable to fall and when we have a testimony that our names are sealed in the Lamb's book of life we have perfect love and then it is impossible for false Christs to deceive us" (Teachings, p. 9, italics added).

In these final verses of his epistle to Moroni, Mormon recounts the awful consequences of the spiritual decline of his people. He emphatically declares that it is Nephite pride that has brought about the destruction of the nation (verse 27; see also D&C 38:39; Ezra Taft Benson "Beware of Pride," Ensign, May 1989, pp. 4-7). Because of their pride and wickedness the Nephites in Mormon's area were seeking to ignore, minimize, or discredit the authority of all who would try to teach them the things of God (verse 28). Because they were "denying the Holy Ghost"-meaning that they were fighting against the Spirit and the things of God-their destruction and doom was sure and the prophecies about them were being fulfilled. Mormon's epistle ends with a farewell and a hint of possible subsequent letters or visits. Carol Cornwall Madsen, Mary E. Stovall, Heritage of Faith: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences, 28-30.

Spiritual Gifts, Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Spiritual gifts come to those who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, the gifts of the Spirit "are obtained through that medium" [the Holy Ghost] and "cannot be enjoyed without the gift of the Holy Ghost. . . . The world in general can know nothing about them." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938], pp. 243, 245; see also Elder Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1956, p. 72.)

The gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred on both men and women. So are spiritual gifts. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie declared in Nauvoo at the dedication of the Monument to Women: "Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness-in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord. He is no respecter of persons nor of sexes, and he blesses those men and those women who seek him and serve him and keep his commandments." (Ensign, Jan. 1979, p. 61.)

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