2 Nephi Chapter 31
Chapters 31 and 32 of 2 Nephi are particularly known for their discussion of the concept of the "doctrine of Christ" (Jacob 7:2; Jacob 7:6; 2 Nephi 31:2; 2 Nephi 31:21; 2 Nephi 31:32:6). But, what exactly is the doctrine of Christ? It would seem that the doctrine of Christ is simply another name for the gospel of Christ or the gospel of Jesus Christ. Other expressions for the doctrine of Christ in this chapter include "the way" or "the word."
We are taught repeatedly in latter-day scripture that the Book of Mormon contains the "fulness of the gospel of Christ" (D&C 20:9; D&C 27:5; D&C 42:12). Yet we have observed there are some specific teachings missing from the Book of Mormon such as information regarding the details of the spirit world, the three degrees of glory, celestial marriage, and the temple endowment. Does the Book of Mormon, then, really contain the doctrine of Christ or the gospel of Christ in its fulness? Let us explore this question.
To begin our discussion, let us consider the question, What does gospel mean? What is the gospel?" The term gospel comes from the Old English godspell which is derived from god (meaning "God" or "good") and spel (meaning "story"). Gospel, then, literally means "God story," "good story," "good news," or "glad tidings." The LDS Bible Dictionary defines the gospel: "The good news [gospel] is that Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement for mankind that will redeem all mankind from the grave and reward each individual according to his/her works" (682). The gospel of Jesus Christ, then, is the atonement of Christ, the "good news" that our sins may be forgiven by virtue of the Lord's atonement, and that we may return to our celestial home. Without his atonement, we are lost. In one sense, then, the Book of Mormon does contain the fulness of the gospel. The doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon is sufficient to bring us home to him. The Book of Mormon is a rich source of divine teaching regarding the Lord's atonement.
But are the Book of Mormon's teachings of the atonement alone really sufficient? We actually want more than to come home to him. We want to be exalted in his presence. We want to inherit the blessings of the highest kingdom in the celestial heaven. If we are to earn our exaltation, wouldn't it be helpful if we knew more details (more than we can read in the Book of Mormon) about the spirit world, the three degrees of glory, the ordinances of the temple, including celestial marriage? Elder Bruce R. McConkie expanded the definition of the gospel to include more about the principles and specific applications of the Savior's atonement. He defined the gospel as: "the atonement. But the gospel is also all of the laws, principles, doctrines, rites, ordinances, acts, powers authorities, and keys needed to save and exalt fallen man in the highest heaven hereafter" (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 134). By another definition, then, the doctrine or gospel of Christ in its fulness includes all that is necessary for our exaltation and some of this is not contained in the Book of Mormon.
It would seem, then, that the ideal combination of teachings would include the Book of Mormon's teachings on the doctrine of Christ (the simpler version of requirements for celestial salvation) plus the materials specific in other modern-day scriptures that lay out the requirements for exaltation.
In our discussion of chapters 31 and 32, we will concentrate on the basics of the doctrine of Christ-those principles that allow us to understand and take advantage of the Savior's atonement in our lives (see also 3 Nephi 11-15 and 3 Nephi 27:13-21). By these teachings, we may come to Christ and become one of his sons and daughters. This doctrine is the "only way . . . under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Nephi 31:21). It is the only doctrine with the power to save.
Though any attempt to itemize the tenets of the doctrine of Christ must necessarily include elements of individual subjectivity and bias, it would probably be reasonable and helpful to do so. The most conventional formulation of the doctrine of Christ consists of six elements: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism of water; (4) Gift of the Holy Ghost; (5) Enduring to the end; and (6) Eternal life. An interesting side note is that the loss of the 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript by Martin Harris resulted in our having access today to 2 Nephi 31 and its wonderful account of the doctrine of Christ. We're all familiar with the negative aspects of the loss of the 116 pages, but D&C 10, in explaining why the small plates of Nephi should be used to replace the lost portion of the manuscript, actually points out a major advantage of including the small plates of Nephi. The Lord teaches that the Lord's prophets and disciples in the Book of Mormon had prayed that the doctrine of Christ should be made available to our dispensation, and the inclusion of the small plates of Nephi (particularly 2 Nephi 31) was going to make that possible (see D&C 10:45-46). The reader may wish to note that the six basic elements of the doctrine of Christ listed above are mentioned in D&C 10 (faith and eternal life in verse 50; repentance, baptism, and gift of the Holy Ghost in verse 67; and enduring to the end in verse 69).
It is fascinating to note Nephi's technique in expounding on these six basic parts of the gospel of Jesus Christ. At no point in 2 Nephi 31 does he simply list the six gospel elements that he is discussing-as a modern writer would do. It is only by accumulating the repeated elements in the chapter that we can see clearly how Nephi understands the gospel. These six elements are mentioned a total of 64 times in this chapter with the following frequencies: faith (8), repentance (14), baptism (19), Holy Ghost (9), enduring (8), and eternal life (16)-all within 2 Nephi 31. The striking fact is that exactly this same method is used by the Savior in his two presentations of the gospel as reported by Mormon in 3 Nephi 11 and 3 Nephi 27. This raises the possibility that the same method may have been used when the Father and the Son presented their gospel to Nephi in that original vision given at the first camp in the wilderness (1 Nephi 11-15).
I will provide you, the reader, a seven-step formula. This formulation differs somewhat from the standard six-element formulation above. This change is deliberate, and it is made to teach more detail concerning the basic tenets of the doctrine of Christ. This is certainly not a formula in the sense of a check list meant to be mechanically followed one time through in sequence. It is a formula whose steps must be all kept simultaneously in mind and worked on continuously. An enriched understanding of these features of the doctrine of Christ can result from a study of the background materials I will mention as we go along:
1. Faith-including faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. For a more thorough discussion of this principle see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 9, Revealed Faith; chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith; and chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith. We all possess the initial subtle motivation to obey the commandment to be baptized and to obey all other commandments because of those things we have felt, heard, or read-sometimes through the testimonies of others. As we begin to obey, there is always a necessary element of deliberate effort. When we do succeed in obeying, this deliberate element is deliberate faith. We must obey simply because it's the right thing to do. We must obey even when we are often and compellingly resisted by our natural selves. With successful obedience, we are blessed with an incremental acquisition of sequential gifts of the Spirit. These are increments of the attributes of Christ. The accumulated total of these gifts of the Spirit we have acquired through our obedience are the sum of our revealed faith. Among the other blessings of revealed faith is the ability to obey more easily. The Lord is able to bless us with gifts of the Spirit-with revealed faith-only because of his atoning sacrifice and death. This is so because his blessings-his spiritual gifts to us-are inevitably grander than the efforts or "works" we expend to qualify for those gifts. According strictly to the principle of justice, it is not fair that he award us so generously for our relatively paltry efforts. Hence, it is only through his atoning sacrifice and death that he is allowed to so bless us.
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a specific and vital kind of faith. As we earnestly and deliberately strive to obey and emulate him (exercise our deliberate faith), we are blessed with a personal knowledge of him and a personal relationship with him. We are also blessed with a love for him and profound gratitude for his atoning sacrifice on our behalf. We are affirmed by the revealed knowledge that he loves us, and we are inclined to openly avow our love for him and our desire to follow his example-to obey him and strive to be like him.
Faith is listed here first in the list of tenets of the Lord's gospel. We should not, however, see faith as just a first step. Rather, faith is required of us and sustains us in each step of this mortal journey as we endure faithfully to the end.
2. Repentance. For a more thorough discussion of this principle, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 4, Repentance. Repentance is the vital step-wise process of changing from someone who fails to obey the Lord's commands to one who is obedient. When an individual begins to obey after a history of failure to do so, we refer to his obedience as repentance.
We might summarize the essential steps in repentance as humbling oneself before the Father and covenanting to then obey forever after. But there is also a third step. Repentance also includes the reparation or recompense we must make for the injury we might have inflicted on others due to our previously sinful behaviors (thoughts, feelings, words, actions).
3. The ordinance of baptism. The principle of baptism is a far richer concept than the reader may initially suppose. For a more thorough discussion of this principle, please see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18, Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth. See also volume 2, chapter 5, The Holy Ghost.
Baptism of water. In the ordinance of baptism of water, we affirm our intention and willingness to identify ourselves with his people and enter into a covenant to take upon ourselves his holy name (2 Nephi 31:13) and obey him. We evidence our sincere desire to return to God's presence, desiring it above all else, "with full purpose of heart . . . with real intent" (2 Nephi 31:13). We also communicate our desire to actively and enthusiastically seek out the mind of God in order that we might conform to his will. We agree to join with his people here on earth and serve them in their striving to keep the commandments and progress spiritually.
The actual entering into the covenant of obedience imposed by the ordinance of baptism does not occur at the moment of baptism. Rather, it occurs at the moment we repent of sins and commit to forego those sins in the future.
Baptism of the Spirit. This is the receiving of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by someone with proper authority (2 Nephi 31:12). This essential gift bestows the power of personal revelation, or at least enhances one's ability to receive personal revelation, without which there can be no spiritual progress. It also enables and authorizes an individual to participate in the third part of the ordinance of baptism, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Thus, the individual is more apt to grow spiritually at a greater rate because of the baptism of the Spirit.
Baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This third component of the ordinance of baptism embodies the principle of reconciliation and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost. Again, we are motivated to repent of sins and obey the Lord's commands by our faith in the Lord Jesus, especially at first by our deliberate faith. The "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" is the very process or "ordinance" by which man progresses spiritually here on earth. It is the process by which the blessings of the Lord's atonement are extended to any individual.
Here is how it works: As a man strives to obey the Lord's commands, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit of Promise, observes his efforts. When his efforts and motivations in obeying are judged adequate and appropriate, the Spirit grants the blessings of the Lord's atonement and forgives him of his sins (he is justified). Justification is the removal of the penalty for sin imposed by the law of justice. The Holy Ghost then changes his very heart by (1) purging from his soul-burning out of his soul as if by fire-increments of the specific imperfections (increments of his natural self that made it difficult for him to obey) of which he is repenting and (2) granting him an increment of the divine attribute he is striving to obey. These latter two processes together comprise the phenomenon of sanctification. For a more thorough discussion of the principles of justification and sanctification, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification. This is an ongoing process that continues over a lifetime, and it must be repeated hundreds and thousands of times. Over time, through the influence of the Spirit of God, the iniquity, carnality, sensuality, and every other evil thing may be "burned out" of the repentant soul as if it were by fire. The person who has been thus cleansed becomes a "new creature" of the Holy Ghost. When the Holy Ghost blesses someone in this manner, it is said that he is "applying the atoning blood of Christ" or that he has "cleansed their garments by the atoning blood of Christ."
It is important to acknowledge that the very essence of baptism is not what is done to the individual, but rather what the individual covenants to do.
Can a mortal really ever be perfect? An individual who is born of the Spirit or totally converted is indeed referred to in the scriptures as being "perfect" (JST Genesis 17:1; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 19:21; Colossians 4:12; 1 Peter 5:10). He may not be just like Christ-perfect in an absolute sense-and is certainly not immune from committing sin. Yet, his spiritual progress has earned him the right to be considered "justified before God" and "perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32-33). Such an individual eventually comes to abhor sin and cleave unto righteousness (see Alma 13:12).
The process of "baptism" centers on the ordinance of the sacrament. When we partake of the sacrament, we recommit ourselves to the Lord's commandments. Rather than doing so in general terms, it seems more effective to commit ourselves to a specific goal for the coming week. We should prayerfully search our soul and ferret out a specific and small area where we need to improve. Then we should commit to do better in that specific area. If we live up to our commitment, the Spirit will honor us. We will be blessed to receive justification (forgiveness) and sanctification (purging of a part of our natural self and a granting of an increment of a gift of the Spirit). We thus take a small step toward becoming like Christ. Once we have taken a small step, then we are ready for another, and another, and another. This process continues throughout our lives. Being involved in the process is vital. It implies the attitude of humility and willingness to strive and improve to become more like the Savior.
4. Enduring to the end (2 Nephi 31:20). See Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 7, Spiritual Growth-Gifts of the Spirit and chapter 8, The Blessings of Spiritual Growth. It is interesting that the Church has recognized enduring to the end as the fifth basic gospel principle only in the past decade. Neither the authorized ordinances nor the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost will guarantee eternal life. Only those who endure to the end can be saved. It seems clear that spiritual progress must be an ongoing process. It is an active process and not a passive one. There seems to be no such thing as a plateau in an individual's spiritual maturity. When progress slows to a stop, then backsliding will inevitably begin to occur. The key to continued progression, and thus to "enduring to the end" is to maintain one's relationship with and receptivity to the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. Without such a relationship it seems impossible to maintain that vital eternal perspective and attitude. When the spiritual or eternal perspective is lost, then only the world and worldliness remains, and all spiritual progress ceases. We must never cease to deliberately strive to progress and improve ourselves. Only in this way does our responsiveness to the promptings of the Spirit remain fresh and alive. The principle of "no pain, no gain" certainly applies in the area of spiritual progress as much as any other. An element of personal grit and will power (character) is essential.
Some may think of enduring to the end in terms of "hanging on by one's fingernails" or "putting up with" or "sticking it out." Such terms miss the spirit of real enduring. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: "Patient endurance is to be distinguished from merely being 'acted upon.' Endurance is more than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance; it is not only acceptance of the things allotted to us (Alma 29:3; Alma 29:6). . . . True enduring represents not merely the passage of time, but the passage of the soul" (CR, April 1990, 43). Endurance means an ongoing proactive effort that results in continuous growth.
As one's progress continues, then his continued obedience is almost assured. Scripturally, an individual who is ever-striving is said to stand "steadfastly" and "always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of [his] sins; and [he] shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created [him], or in the knowledge of that which is just and true" (Mosiah 4:11-12).
There are several scriptural references to the principle of enduring to the end. An individual who is successfully enduring to the end is willing to "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life" (Mosiah 18:9). To endure to the end is to be "steadfast and immovable"-the scriptural phrase for spiritual maturity (Mosiah 5:15).
5. Receiving the promise of eternal life. See Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 16, Calling and Election Made Sure. Joseph Smith wrote: "When the Lord has thoroughly proved [a man], and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure" (TPJS, section three, 1838-39, 150). He may be sealed up to eternal life. The doctrine or gospel of Jesus Christ articulates the only way by which a person may access eternal life.
6. Resurrection. See "Resurrection" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 7, Salvation. Both the doctrine of resurrection and the doctrine of the final judgment (see the following item) were regarded by the prophet Joseph Smith as being among the first principles of the gospel (TPJS, 149, 365).
7. Final judgment. See Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 9, The Judgments. An ancillary principle, closely related to resurrection and judgment is eternal life which is life forever in the presence of God. And intimately related to eternal life is eternal spiritual growth or progression in the direction of becoming like God.
Another major Book of Mormon passage that contains a summary of the gospel or doctrine of Christ is 3 Nephi 27:13-21.
Throughout the Book of Mormon, the many statements regarding the gospel (the doctrine of Christ) contain variations in terminology and are often elliptical (characterized by economy of expression), leaving out one or more of the seven points in any one articulation. However, for an audience familiar with the basic pattern, the allusion to that pattern is perfectly clear. These elliptical references often take the form of merismus, a classical rhetorical device in which the division of an important topic or statement into component parts allows for its full invocation by explicit listing of selected parts only. In the Hebrew Bible, merismus occurs as concise or condensed expressions that, by mentioning the first and last or more prominent elements of a series, invoke the entire list (A. M. Honeyman, "Merismus in Biblical Hebrew," Journal of Biblical Hebrew 71 :14). In other words, once a pattern is established in the form of A, B, C, D, E, F, G (such as the elements of the gospel or doctrine of Christ), the mere mention of two or more of these items, such as A and F, is used to represent the entire series. Understood as a formula composed of a list of ordered items, the gospel lends itself well to this rhetorical device. For example, a typical Book of Mormon merism states that believing in Jesus and enduring to the end is life eternal (see 2 Nephi 33:4). While repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost are not explicitly mentioned, they are implied by the use of merismus. A conservative count of gospel-related merisms in the Book of Mormon gives at least 130 meristic statements of the gospel or doctrine of Christ (Noel B. Reynolds, "The Gospel of Jesus Christ as Taught by the Nephite Prophets," BYU Studies 31/3 :31-50). The technique of merismus is also found in the Bible. For example, Mark 16:16 quotes Jesus's statement of his gospel to his disciples as follows: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." This and other similar passages are often used to argue that all that is required for salvation is faith in Christ, or faith and baptism (see also Ephesians 2:8; Matthew 3:11; Matthew 24:13-14, Acts 2:38; Acts 19:4-6, and Romans 1:16). We therefore learn that scriptural statements that explicitly state a lesser number of requirements for salvation, implicitly invoke the entire list of five (faith, repentance, baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end). This same technique was used by the Savior in his later presentations of the gospel to the Nephites as reported in 3 Nephi 11 and 3 Nephi 27.
2 Nephi 31 Nephi's discourse on the doctrine of Christ
2 Nephi 31:3 My soul delighteth in plainness.
2 Nephi 31:4-7 If the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
2 Nephi 31:13 Follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent .
2 Nephi 31:17-21 After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, 1 would ask if all is done? Behold I say unto you nay, for ye have not come this far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.
1 And now I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you, my beloved brethren. And I cannot write but a few things, which I know must surely come to pass; neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob.
verse 1 "I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you" Beginning with 2 Nephi 25:7 Nephi has been delivering his final prophecy based on what he learned during his great vision while camped in the Valley of Lemuel some forty years prior to his writing this sermon. The first section of this final sermon or "prophesying" extends from 2 Nephi 25:7 to this verse (2 Nephi 31:1). An interesting observation is that this sermon is clearly identified by a technique called "inclusio." In this technique the writer marks off a section of his text by repeating at the end of the section a phrase or statement made at the beginning of the section. In 2 Nephi 25:7, Nephi wrote: "I proceed with mine own prophecy." Here in this verse he ends the section of prophecy with "I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying." Note that this sermon is marked off doubly. Note that in 2 Nephi 25:4 Nephi says "my soul delighteth in plainness." This statement is repeated verbatim in 2 Nephi 31:3 where he says again "my soul delighteth in plainness."
The second section of Nephi's teaching those things he learned in his great vision in 1 Nephi 11-15 is contained here in 2 Nephi 31. Using, again, the technique of "inclusio," he refers in 2 Nephi 31:2 to "the doctrine of Christ." This segment will end in verse 21 where he again says, "the doctrine of Christ."
A third brief section of Nephi's sermon involves the first five verses in 2 Nephi 32. This small segment ends with Nephi again saying in 2 Nephi 32:6, "this is the doctrine of Christ." The entire sermon on those things he learned in his great vision in the place of the family's first encampment, then, extends from 2 Nephi 25:4 to 2 Nephi 32:6.
"my beloved brethren" Nephi has been addressing his fellow Nephites in the land of Nephi.
2 Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ; wherefore, I shall speak unto you plainly, according to the plainness of my prophesying.
verses 1-2 As Nephi begins to wind up his writing, he leaves us with the impression that he can only write a few more things. Thus we can assume that he will give us only those things which he considered to be of vital importance. Obviously the concepts of the "doctrine of Christ" as discussed in this chapter are among those vital concepts. There is one true "doctrine of Christ" or gospel, to which all who desire a fulness of salvation must ultimately subscribe.
"a few of the words of my brother Jacob" Nephi has quoted "but a few words" of Jacob's teachings in 2 Nephi 6-10-Jacob's two-day lecture to his fellow Nephites.
3 For my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
verse 3 "For my soul delighteth in plainness" See the commentary for 1 Nephi 13:29.
"For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding." This is an important principle of revelation. When the Lord speaks to a man, he wants that man to understand plainly. Hence, he must condescend to the man's intellect and speak to him on a level that will allow the man to understand. Obviously the Lord's prophets are not always sophisticated by the world's intellectual standards, and revelation must be given to each "in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding" (D&C 1:24; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27).
4 Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed unto me, that should baptize the Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.
verse 4 Here Nephi reminds his readers of his great vision of the tree of life during which he saw Jesus's baptism by John the Baptist (see 1 Nephi 11:27). He then uses this vision of Jesus's baptism as the keynote that introduces his vital discussion of the doctrine of Christ to follow in the remainder of 2 Nephi 31. In this discussion, he is relating what he learned about the doctrine of Christ during his great vision in 1 Nephi 11-15. This account, to follow here in 2 Nephi 31 is the most authoritative and unfiltered account we have of the basic doctrine of Christ. You will note in the discussion below that he was actually team-taught by the voices of both the Father and the Son. Each of them will be quoted three times. The only known passage in ancient or modern scripture where the Father and the Son personally teach a prophet their gospel is found in 2 Nephi 31. Nephi is relating in his own words what he learned there in the Valley of Lemuel under this most unusual divine tutelage. Nephi did not include an account of this unparalleled experience in his initial account of the larger vision (1 Nephi 11 through 15) of which it was a part, but held it back for emphasis in these, his final writings.
John the Baptist's ministry was obviously of such importance that other prophets were accorded visions of it (see Isaiah 40:3-4; and Malachi 3:1). Perhaps Isaiah and Malachi also were also taught the essential elements of the doctrine of Christ following their visions of the baptism of Jesus.
5 And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
verse 5 "to fulfil all righteousness" This oft misunderstood phrase is of profound importance. What does it really mean? The phrase implies that Jesus had to be baptized in order to be considered completely righteous. But, wasn't he absolutely righteous already? Was he not already spotlessly free from sin? Can one improve on that? The "usual" or "conventional" explanation for Jesus's having to be baptized is that baptism is a commandment, and Jesus was complying with that commandment in spite of his "not really needing to be baptized." He was simply setting a good example for us.
Actually, there was nothing arbitrary in Jesus's desire for baptism. He was not simply seeking baptism as an outward and unnecessary sign of his obedience. He was not seeking merely to set a good example. The ordinance of baptism was, for him, just as essential as it is for you and me. It is vital to remember that righteousness is not simply the absence of sin or wickedness. It is not simply the avoidance of sins of commission. It is also the active seeking of the mind and will of God and the anxious and willing conformity to that will once it is procured. It is the process of introspection and discerning those ways in which our character and behavior fall short of the Lord's example. It is the spiritual growth granted us by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost when we make sufficient effort to amend our behavior and attitudes-when we repent. When John the Baptist expressed reluctance to baptize Jesus, the Savior responded, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness" (Matthew 3:15). It is clear that neither the Baptist nor Christ could have been considered completely righteous had not the baptism occurred. Even the Son of God, "according to the flesh," was required to humble himself and witness before the Father. Though the Son had committed no sin, the Father obviously expected him to make additional progress while here in mortality toward acquiring the mind and character of the Father. This progress would occur line upon line, precept upon precept in the same process of sanctification in which we are commanded to participate. Baptism, with its three separate parts, is an integral part of spiritual progress. Spiritual growth here on earth-even that of Jesus during his mortal ministry-is enhanced and accelerated by the ordinance of baptism. Indeed, we may say that baptism is the ordinance by which we are blessed to grow spiritually.
So, righteousness includes the proactive seeking after spiritual growth. In contrast, at the time of Christ's mortal ministry "righteousness" was understood to mean merely conforming to the obligations and covenants that God had spelled out in the Mosaic law. A "righteous man," under Mosaic law, showed unswerving and exacting faithfulness in keeping his religious obligations-in not violating the complex and challenging rules and regulations spelled out in the Mosaic law.
Today we also must avoid those sins of commission, that is breaking the laws of the gospel. But in addition, we must actively strive to become more like the Savior, to acquire those attributes which he possesses. If we do not, then we are guilty of sins of omission. We fail to make those sufficient strides in our spiritual progress that the Lord expects of us. The mortal Christ was the perfect embodiment of righteousness. We must earn our exaltation in exactly the same way Jesus obtained his. As baptism was required of Christ that he might be an heir of salvation, so it is required of all who seek that blessing. Jesus was baptized because the baptism of water is required for entrance into the kingdom of God and also that he might qualify himself to fully participate in the process of spiritual growth (again, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18, Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth). Through the ordinances of baptism of water, baptism of the Spirit, and baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost his painful mortal experiences including his agony in Gethsemane and on the cross yielded maximal spiritual growth even for him.
Did Christ really "fulfill all righteousness" by being baptized (emphasis added), or were there other ordinances or covenants with which he complied? Was it necessary, for example, for Jesus to have hands laid upon his head and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost or the priesthood? Did he comply with the temple ordinances of the day? Of course he willingly sought the privilege of obeying and conforming himself to all of these saving ordinances.
"how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!" Note how the importance of this question is underscored by its ending with an exclamation point rather than a question mark. It seems likely that Nephi's intent here is not really to ask a question. Rather he is making a vitally important statement.
verses 6-8 Notice the verb tenses in these verses ("the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness;" "he was holy;" "after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove"). Nephi uses the past tense to describe events yet in the future. This is a common form of verb usage among Hebrew prophets and is often referred to as the "prophetic perfect" tense.
6 And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized by water?
7 Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
verse 7 "he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments" The Book of Mormon teaches that Christ is separate and distinct from the Father and that the Son is subservient to his Father. See also 3 Nephi 11:11; 3 Nephi 11:32; 3 Nephi 26:2. Also, during Christ's personal ministry among the Nephites he demonstrated his separateness from the Father and his deference to him as he prayed to the Father on their behalf (see 3 Nephi 17:15-18; 3 Nephi 19:19-34).
8 Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove.
verse 8 "in the form of a dove" This phrase leads to an incorrect impression. Joseph Smith taught that the Holy Ghost does not change himself to the form of a dove. Rather the dove appeared after Jesus's baptism as a sign that the Holy Ghost was present. Joseph explained: "The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come [accompanied by] the sign of the dove" (TPJS, 275-76).
9 And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.
verse 9 "It" refers to the Spirit of God. "He" refers to the Savior. "Having set" is yet another example of the prophetic perfect verb tense.
"the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate" Is a straight path the same as a strait one? Certainly not! A straight path is one without deviation. A strait path is one that is strict, narrow, and rigorous. In these verses, Nephi is emphasizing the strictness of the path; that is, all who would be exalted must comply judiciously with the ordinances of the gospel. Nephi is also emphasizing the narrowness of the gate. The gate consists of repentance and baptism. For a discussion of why the word straitness (rather than straightness) is appropriate here, see the supplemental article Strait and Straight in the Book of Mormon.
verses 10-15 An interesting feature of these verses is that Nephi quotes alternatively both the Father and the Son leading to the conclusion that he probably had previously had an audience with both of them. A similar experience was had by Enoch (see Moses 7:50; Moses 7:53; Moses 7:59).
10 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
11 And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
verse 11 The principle of repentance is a vital tenet of the doctrine of Christ, and it is mentioned four times in 2 Nephi 31 (see also verses 13, 14, 17). In this chapter Nephi does not define repentance, however. What exactly is repentance? We know that it is essential for each of us to repent to allow the atoning influence of Jesus Christ to intervene on our behalf and cleanse us of our sins. We know that those who repent enjoy a newness of life and an increase in light, while those who refuse to repent lose light (see D&C 93:39). But what is the essence of repentance? See the commentary above on repentance. Again, it is change. The change wrought during repentance must be very real and must take place in our hearts, in our minds, and in our actions or behavior. The changes of repentance must lead us in the direction of eventually living the whole law, obeying the law more conscientiously.
Is there any difference between the terms obedience and repentance? Are the two synonymous? We use the word repentance when we wish to emphasize what? The word repentance implies change. The individual who has not been obeying but then begins to obey has repented. As also mentioned above, the process of true repentance also includes making amends or recompense for the effects of previous sins.
12 And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
verse 12 "He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost" This verse refers to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Did the Nephites have the Melchizedek priesthood which provides the authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost? They did. See the commentary for verse 18 below.
13 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism-yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.
verse 13 "with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent" Here is an important principle of the "doctrine of Christ." It seems clear that to qualify to receive communication from the Holy Ghost and thus from the Lord, a man must be free of hypocrisy. What is hypocrisy? If a man represents himself, or at least implies by his words or his actions that he has attributes he does not possess, he is a hypocrite. It would seem that if a man is free of hypocrisy, then we would say of him, He possesses "real intent" (Moroni 10:4); he has "nothing wavering" (James 1:6); a "sincere or honest heart (D&C 8:1)."
Parenthetically, we must be cautious not to judge a man as being a hypocrite. If a man's outward actions and speech seem to represent him as being more righteous than he really is, then perhaps his outward actions simply represent his deliberate efforts to grow spiritually. Perchance he is "experimenting upon the words" of Christ in an attempt to acquire genuine gifts of the Spirit.
"then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" In order to have a chance at exaltation, it is necessary to experience the complete or total ordinance of baptism. This complete ordinance consists of three parts. They are: the baptism of water, the baptism of the Spirit (receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost), and the "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost." See a summary of these three parts above.
Notice that in the phrase "and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" (emphasis added) the baptism of fire follows genuine repentance and baptism by water. It also follows the ordinance of bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is thus the third part of the ordinance of baptism.
"then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel" After the sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost have completed their work, an individual can "speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel." It is likely that this phrasing suggests that the Holy Ghost simply enables an individual to speak, like the angels, the words of Christ.
This phrase may also have reference, at least in part, to the phenomenon of "speaking in tongues" or the "gift of tongues." We know that speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues are two of the gifts of the Spirit, two evidences of the true Church and signs that the Lord is working with his people. But what are those gifts? What does it mean to speak in tongues? An example of speaking in tongues is found in the second chapter of Acts in the New Testament. On the day of Pentecost-some fifty days after Passover and a day that was traditionally observed as the occasion when Moses had received the law from God on Sinai-the Holy Ghost was poured out upon the disciples in a manner they had never known before. Luke records in verses 1 through 6: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting." Both the Hebrew word ruakh and the Greek word pneuma may be translated as "wind, breath, or spirit." The "rushing mighty wind" that was felt by the early saints thus symbolized a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit. "And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them." That is, the people witnessed "tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them" (New International Version) or "flames like tongues of fire distributed among them" (Revised English Bible). "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language." The word confounded in this passage means confused or bewildered.
This monumental event in the history of the Christian Church made it possible for the gospel to be preached by simple men to people of other tongues. So speaking a foreign but known tongue is a manifestation of the gift of tongues. We have numerous examples of this phenomenon in the history of the Church, times when either the speakers or the listeners were actuated by the Spirit of the Lord, when a foreign language was spoken or understood, and thus when communication and edification followed. This happens regularly with our full-time missionaries. By hard work and consistent effort and practice-and, most importantly, through a rich endowment of the Holy Ghost-elders and sisters are enabled to acquire language skills in a miraculously short period of time. They recognize and understand and feel things that would normally require many years to master. It is an everyday occurrence that staggers the learned and the wise of the world.
A second manifestation of tongues is when persons speak the pure Adamic language. We are told in modern revelation that our first parents were taught by God to read and write in a language that was "pure and undefiled" (Moses 6:6). The Adamic language continued among the children of men until the time of the Tower of Babel, at which time the speech of the people (except for the Jaredites, who took this sacred tongue with them to America) was confounded (Genesis 11:1-9; Ether 1:33-37; Smith, Way to Perfection, 67-69). The Adamic tongue was a powerful language that communicated not only words and ideas but also the power of God. "And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him" (Moses 7:13). Moroni seems in awe of the power of this language, as contained in the writings of the brother of Jared: "And thou hast made us [the Nephites] that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them" (Ether 12:24).
At the time of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and on many other occasions, Latter-day Saint men and women have enjoyed the gift of tongues. Because most of us, like Ammon, often "cannot say the smallest part which [we] feel" (Alma 26:16), speaking in the language of God, by virtue of a spiritual outpouring, seems to allow people to speak and rejoice and exult in the things of righteousness, to express their praise to God from the depth of their souls, and otherwise to give voice to that which is unutterable.
It is presumably this manifestation of the gift of tongues that many outside the true church seek to acquire or imitate. Many Pentecostals hold it as a tenet of their faith that one is not truly born again until he or she speaks in tongues. The prophet Joseph Smith, like Paul, his apostolic colleague, said that the gift of tongues is in some ways the least of the spiritual gifts but the one most sought after (see 1 Corinthians 14:8-32; TPJS, 246). Because Satan is so eager to deceive those who seek excessively for the gift of tongues (Ibid., 25, 162, 195), the Prophet declared that anything taught in tongues was not to be received as doctrine (Ibid., 229). "Tongues were given," he explained, "for the purpose of preaching among those whose language is not understood; as on the day of Pentecost, etc., and it is not necessary for tongues to be taught to the Church particularly, for any man that has the Holy Ghost, can speak of the things of God in his own tongue as well as to speak in another; for faith comes not by signs, but by hearing [and clearly understanding] the word of God" (Ibid., 148-49).
That statement of the prophet Joseph Smith leads us to the third manifestation of tongues and the one to which Nephi referred. "Do ye not remember," Nephi inquired, "that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost? Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ" (2 Nephi 32:2-3). The message is simple, straightforward, and deeply profound. Men and women who have been born of the Spirit, who are becoming new creatures alive in Christ, enjoy the gift and influence of the Holy Ghost. When they teach or preach, they do so by that same power. The result is that they convey not merely their own will and desires but the mind and will of Christ. Stated more simply, prophets speak with the tongue of angels in the sense that they speak with the power and persuasion of the Holy Spirit. They speak what angels would speak. They deliver what Christ wants delivered. It is as though angels have come and delivered the message, or, more powerfully, as though our blessed Redeemer himself has been present and has spoken to his people.
14 But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
verse 14 This verse and others suggest that repentance ought to begin to occur before baptism (see also verse 11 above). Certainly repentance is an ongoing process that continues throughout one's life. Then, what is the level of repentance that must occur prior to baptism? Apparently there is an obligatory initial basic change of heart, turning away from the world and from transgression and toward the Lord. Such an initial fundamental change is to precede baptism. Then after baptism there must be a continual changing until we have overcome all sin and can abide the whole law.
"and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me" What do you suppose the Lord meant by this most provocative statement? It is similar to a statement by Jesus to his apostles made during his final Passover meal: "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). Taken at its face, this verse seems to say that all those who have received the "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" "and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels" have reached a state of spiritual development so lofty that if they should deny Christ, they would be consigned to outer darkness. Certainly the only individuals in the eternities for whom it might have been better had they not known Christ would be the sons of Perdition who will live forever with Satan and his angels. All other people will be blessed by Christ and his gospel to receive a degree of glory. Perhaps we ought to be cautious about taking this verse too literally. In this verse we are exposed to one extreme of the post-mortal possibilities, that is perdition or outer darkness. Certainly, not all of those who have been exposed to the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost, the "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost," are capable of committing the sin against the Holy Ghost and being consigned to that awful fate.
As we progress toward godhood during this mortal sojourn, we enter into a succession of covenants with the Lord. The first formal covenant is that of baptism. We promise loyalty, dedication, obedience, and in return he promises us much more. With each covenant we make, we accept an obligation to keep that covenant. The consequences of breaking a covenant become ever more serious as we progress. Perhaps it may be said of each covenant that if we were to break it, it would have been better for us in the eternities if we had never made the covenant in the first place.
Another meaning may be implied here. It is true that those who are converted to the gospel then fall away and become more hardened and bitter against the truth than if they had never heard the gospel. The cause of this proclivity for bitterness is not entirely clear. It is perhaps due to the fact that no one ever falls away from the truth without an element of ambiguity that often leads to an almost subconscious fear of the eternal consequences. It would seem that this tortured individual gets some relief by railing actively against the Church and the gospel.
15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
verse 15 "the words of my Beloved are true and faithful" We don't usually think of words as being "faithful." People are faithful but not things. The word faithful may also be used as meaning "true and [capable of being] trusted" (Easton's Bible Dictionary).
16 And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.
verses 15-16 For a discussion of the important concept of enduring to the end, see the commentary for verse 20.
"Son of the living God" The Old Testament contains scores of names and titles of deity, including Shepherd, Savior, Redeemer, Lord, God, Rock, Almighty, Branch, Creator of Israel, Deliverer, Everlasting Father, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, Shield, Jehovah, Lawgiver, Light, Ruler, Stone, Star, Prince of Peace, Servant. Such divine epithets are found in every Old Testament book except Esther. Parenthetically, the word epithet has two quite different meanings. The first is "a characterizing word or phrase used in place of the name of a person or thing." An epithet is also "a word or phrase used invectively as a term of abuse or contempt" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary). Obviously, here the former meaning applies. According to Book of Mormon scholar Susan Easton Black, the Book of Mormon contains 101 epithets for Christ ("Names of Christ in the Book of Mormon," Ensign, July 1978, 60-61). In all, the 101 names or titles of Christ appear 3,925 times in the Book of Mormon's 6,607 verses. Black's tabulation shows that, on average, a name or title of Christ appears once every 1.7 verses. The frequent occurrence and variety of deific names and titles in the Book of Mormon distinguish the book from religious works created in the nineteenth century and place it squarely within the tradition of ancient religious texts.
17 Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
verse 17 "the things . . . that your Lord and your Redeemer should do" Nephi is writing. He is the speaker in this verse. Is it not presumptuous for Nephi to write that there are things which the Lord "should do"? This verse serves to emphasize that the law applied to the mortal Jesus Christ in much the same way it applies to each of us.
"baptism by water" This expression serves to emphasize that there is more than one kind of baptism-more than one part of the ordinance of baptism.
"For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost." Note here that a man's sins are not remitted or "washed away" by baptism. Rather they are remitted or burned out of his soul by the Spirit of God in response to that man's striving to repent. The reader is referred to the discussion of the three parts of the ordinance of baptism mentioned above.
18 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
verse 18 "strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life" We have stressed previously that "strait" does not mean "straight." Strait means narrow, exacting, and difficult. While some may object to the use of the word strait here, and in the following verse, rather than straight, there is significant justification for its use as discussed in the supplemental article Strait and Straight in the Book of Mormon.
"ye have received the Holy Ghost" "It is clear that the Nephites held the higher priesthood which we now call the Melchizedek priesthood. This provided them the authority to confer the Holy Ghost following a proper baptism" (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 volumes, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957-66, 1:123). A sure testimony of the Father and of the Son can only come by revelation from God through the Holy Ghost.
"unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made" This phrase refers back to the promise made by the Savior in verse 12: Those that repent and enter in through the gate of baptism will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
verses 17-18 After you have studied the commentary on the concept of "baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost" in verse 13 and in the chapter, Baptism, the Ordinance by Which We Grow Spiritually, you might be thinking that there can be no other more advanced principle of salvation to master. Think again! These materials explain that repentance and baptism and the remission of our sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost are only the beginning of a process. Obedience to these principles merely takes us through the "gate" and sets us on the "strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life." In subsequent verses, Nephi will tell us what else we must do.
19 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
verse 19 Here Nephi tells us more about the "strait and narrow path." The credit for getting us through the gate and onto the strait and narrow path belongs to Christ, not us. Once on the path, this verse implies, we must demonstrate our own independence and obedience.
"for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him" You might, as you survey the summary of the tenets of the "doctrine of Christ" in the introductory comments for this chapter, wonder if the principle of faith has been slighted. Actually the necessity of faith is found in several of the tenets of the doctrine of Christ. Manifesting a sincere heart-felt desire to return to God's presence is a manifestation of faith (deliberate and revealed faith). We evidence our faith as we seek understanding, as we repent, and as we accept baptism.
"relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save" This phrase implies that man lacks sufficient merit of his own to entitle him to return to the presence of the Lord. He must depend completely upon the grace of God. He is a beggar at the throne of grace (Mosiah 4:20). For a review of the concepts of the law of justice and grace, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
verse 20 "ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ" To be steadfast is to be firm of mind or purpose; fixed in principle. We must demonstrate that our change of heart is permanent, that our commitment to obey is stronger than the enticements of the world and the devil, and we must do this day after day, year after year, through thick and thin, through good times and bad.
"having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men" This phrase refers to two important gifts of the Spirit, hope and charity.
"having a perfect brightness of hope" "Brightness" connotes vividness and precision. Hope is not only the longing for righteousness and the yearning to return to the presence of God (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 365). It is also a gradually growing assurance-received over time as an incremental gift of the Spirit-that one is going to receive celestial glory. The hungering to return to our celestial home is the product of the change of heart that results from the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This desire for heaven is eventually added upon or affirmed by the Holy Spirit who bestows the gift of hope-again, that quiet assurance that one is indeed on the return path to the celestial home (see the discussion of the gift of hope in "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith and in "The Fruits of Faith" in volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith. Still further discussion of this topic is found in "The Rest of the Lord-the Gift of Hope" in volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification).
Like all other gifts of the Spirit, the gift of hope is given incrementally, line upon line, until eventually we may reach a "perfect brightness of hope" when we are quietly and humbly assured in our heart that we have earned the ultimate eternal reward.
"a love of God and of all men" Charity, or the pure love of Christ, may be defined as the longing for the exaltation of another individual as intensely as you long for the blessing of exaltation for yourself. As we seek to serve others and are purged of our imperfections by the Holy Ghost, this charity naturally follows (see a discussion of Charity in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 6, Charity as Empathy, and chapter 7, Charity as a Revealed Sense of Others.
"feasting upon the word of Christ" While we are on the strait and narrow path, what shall we do? The words of Christ hold the secret. Where do we find the words of Christ? They are contained in the scriptures, in the words and writings of inspired servants of the Lord, and in personal revelation to which each of us is entitled (2 Nephi 32:5). The words of Christ can only be truly understood through the ministrations and promptings of the Holy Ghost. And what does it mean to "feast"? The word speaks for itself.
"endure to the end" Endure to the end of what? In context it is clear that we must endure to the end of the path that leads to eternal life. And how long is this path? We do not reach the end of it until we are able to abide the whole law. "For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory" (D&C 88:22). But is it not true that most everyone leaves this mortal life with some deficiencies? Many depart early, before they have had much opportunity to strive along the path to spiritual progress. Are those things we have left undone in mortality taken care of by some sudden dispensing of virtue in the next life? That is unlikely. Most of us will still have some distance to travel, even after death, to reach the end of the path that leads to eternal life. I suspect that it will not be required of us to be able to abide the whole law in order to be judged worthy to enter Paradise. The key will likely be making significant progress along the road toward perfection-which progress is judged sufficient by the Lord. The key to endurance, then, is to maintain a determination to never stop progressing. We must never stop searching our soul for those commandments that are still causing us to stumble or for those commandments we are ignoring.
"thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" Joseph Smith enriched the concepts in verse 20 as follows:
After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the saints" (TPJS, 150; see also D&C 98:11-15; D&C 98:101:1-4; and 136:31).
The sublime denouement of our sojourn on the path of life is having one's calling and election made sure, which means that a righteous man may be ultimately crowned with the knowledge "that he is sealed up unto eternal life" (D&C 131:5). Apparently this message is sometimes communicated by the "Second Comforter" who is Jesus Christ himself. For a discussion of the concept of having one's calling and election made sure, see the commentary for Helaman 10:4-7. See also the reference in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine mentioned above.
Joseph Smith taught further:
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even he will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions-Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn" (TPJS, 150-51).Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even he will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions-Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn" (TPJS, 150-51).
Joseph here teaches that when an individual receives the Second Comforter, he may be blessed with the ministrations of both the Father and the Son. It was mentioned above in the commentary for verses 10-15 that Nephi seems to have been taught face to face by both the Father and the Son. We may logically conclude that Nephi had his calling and election made sure. In this dispensation the saints have been encouraged to seek for this great blessing.
Brother Larry E. Dahl has written a word of caution:
The doctrine is true; the promise is sure. Perhaps, however, a word of caution needs to be added. There is the danger of focusing so intently on the final summit that we do not pay sufficient attention to more immediate, and for the moment, more important matters. Like the Jews of old, we could look "beyond the mark," thus impairing our spiritual vision, and stumble from the strait and narrow path (Jacob 4:14). A great lesson can be learned from the experience of Alma, recorded in Mosiah 26. The Lord covenanted that Alma would have eternal life even though Alma was not directly seeking that blessing. There is no indication in the record that he was even thinking about it. As the chief high priest (president) of the Church, Alma was deeply concerned about many of the rising generation who did not believe. Their hearts were hardened, they wouldn't pray, and they wouldn't be baptized. He pleaded with the Lord for guidance as to "what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God" (verse 13). He "poured out his whole soul to God" (verse 14). And the voice of the Lord came to him in response to his pleading. But before telling Alma how to deal with his problem, the Lord blessed him for his faith and devotion, and said, "Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life" (verse 20). Truly, "he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 10:39) ("The Doctrine of Christ" in The Book of Mormon: Second Nephi, The Doctrinal Structure, 373-74).
21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
verse 21 "this is the doctrine of Christ" For a discussion of the concept of the "doctrine of Christ," see the introductory comments for this chapter.
"the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God" There are some statements about the godhead in the Book of Mormon that might initially seem confusing. As here, these statements refer to the separate members of the godhead being "one God" or "one Eternal God" (see also Mosiah 15:5; Alma 11:44; Mormon 7:7). It would seem that the nature of the relationship of the three members of the godhead to one another leads to these statements. The three are so closely aligned and allied that they function as a single unit. Their powers, their influences, their intentions, their goals, their responses are indistinguishable and identical. The three, indeed, function as one God. There may be additional reasons why the three are one God that we are not yet given to understand. Note that their oneness is emphasized by the singular verb is-"which is one God, without end."
There may also be a historical reason why the Book of Mormon repeatedly teaches that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one God. This reason may have had its beginnings at the death of the righteous King Hezekiah of Judah. He was succeeded by his son, Manasseh who was twelve years old when he began to reign. He ruled Judah for fifty-five years and was certainly one of the most decadent and wicked leaders ever to reign over Judah. He built altars for the pagan God Baal, worshiped the "astral Deities" Mercury, Venus, and Mars, built altars to the pagan Gods in the temple of God, practiced the adulterous fertility rites, shed the innocent blood of many in Judah, and encouraged the practice of infant immolation. He even submitted his own son to the fire as a sacrifice to the gods. During his nightmarish reign, any righteous prophet of God had to go into hiding to avoid being murdered (2 Kings 21:1-16). Manasseh was succeeded by his equally wicked son Amon who was assassinated after only a two-year reign.
Amon was succeeded by his son Josiah who became "good King Josiah," and was one of the most righteous kings to lead Judah. He reigned some thirty one years and presided over a major religious reform. He restored the prophets to their proper place of leadership, tore down the pagan altars, and rebuilt the temple and returned the worship therein to its proper form. During the reign of Josiah, an interesting thing happened. The high priest Hilkiah found, in the temple as it was being restored, a manuscript largely containing the writings of Moses called "the book of the law." When this manuscript was read to King Josiah, he was overwhelmed and frightened to the point of tearing his clothes (2 Kings 22:11). The book contained stern warnings to Israel issued by the Lord, and its teachings became the very basis and theme of the religious reform advocated by Josiah. He called all the elders of Judah together and had the book read to them. He then made a personal covenant to uphold all the teachings and commandments contained in the book, and all of Judah's elders made the same covenant.
What was this book that so frightened the good King Josiah? It was the book whose name means "second law," referring to the "second law of Moses." It is the book Deuteronomy. What year was it found, and what year did the major religious reform of Josiah take place? About 621 BC. Was the Prophet Lehi around in 621 BC? Of course he was. And was he supportive of the religious reforms instituted by Josiah? Not only would he have been supportive, but he would have been actively helping with the reform.
So what has all this to do with the godhead doctrine as contained in the Book of Mormon? Just this: The most prominent theme contained in Deuteronomy is that found in Deuteronomy 6:4, the so called "Shema"-Judah's creed or confession of faith: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (emphasis added). This doctrine was particularly pertinent at the time of Josiah's reform since his immediate predecessors had immersed Judah in the idolatrous worship of many gods. Under the influence of the newly discovered book of Deuteronomy, Judah was absolutely committed to the doctrine of "one [true] God" in contrast to many false gods. Lehi and his family would certainly have also been completely committed to this doctrine, and they would have taught it as the gospel truth to their descendants.
Incidentally, it is interesting to note one additional main theme of the Book of Deuteronomy, the so called "Deuteronomic reform." In effect, this was, "If ye keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land. If ye do not, ye shall be destroyed-literally wiped off the face of the earth." This may have been the message that so frightened King Josiah and caused him to tear is clothes. Have you ever heard that theme? It is repeated many times in the Book of Mormon. It is the so-called promise-curse of the Book of Mormon.
The literature of the Book of Mormon fits the setting from which it comes.
2 Nephi 31 may have served the Nephite dispensation in much the same way that Joseph Smith's first vision has served this last dispensation. That is by providing the highest possible authority for its central claims.