Moroni Chapter 8
Moroni 8:11-12 Mormon's letter to his son Moroni on the evils of original sin and infant baptism. Little children are alive in Christ .
Moroni 8:16 Mormon passionately condemns those who would teach of original sin and infant baptism: Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear .
This chapter consists of a letter written by the prophet Mormon to his son Moroni. It's likely that Mormon sent this letter on the occasion of Moroni's first call to the ministry. The size, organization, and prominence of the Church of Jesus Christ at this point in time is not clear. It is clear that Mormon was the prophet and that some organization of the Church was still intact.
The main purpose of the letter is to point up the evils of an apostate doctrine that had crept into the Church-that of original sin with its consequent need for infant baptism.
Before proceeding with our study of Mormon's letter, let us briefly review some basic formative doctrinal issues.
The transgression and fall of Adam and Eve introduced into the world, for all mankind, physical death and a temporary separation from God or spiritual death. All men will eventually die, and all men will live out their lives on earth outside the presence of God. The Lord's atonement has completely abolished, for all men, these two consequences of Adam's transgression. No man is responsible for Adam's fall, and no man will have to suffer, at least eternally, any consequences of it. Because of the Savior's atonement all men will be resurrected, and all men will return, following this mortal phase, to the presence of God, at least long enough to be judged by him.
The long-term problem shared by each man is the "fall of you"-the "permanent" spiritual death or separation from God that results from a man's committing even a single sin. The law of justice is unyielding. If a man commits a sin, he is then ineligible for entrance into any degree of glory. Fortunately, for those of us who are accountable, the atonement also includes provisions whereby we can overcome the consequences of our own sins, based on our obedience and repentance. In this way each of us may one day overcome the otherwise "permanent" spiritual death each of us has suffered because each of us has committed sin. Our sins can be forgiven by our Savior.
There are some among us who are not accountable. These include children under the age of eight years and people who are mentally handicapped. These may break a commandment, but they cannot be accounted as guilty of sin (D&C 29:47). They are assessed no penalty by the law of justice. They therefore cannot bring about their own spiritual death. They are thus "alive in Christ" (verses 12, 22) and automatically qualify for entrance into a kingdom of glory. They, like the rest of us, are free from the consequences of Adam's fall because of the atonement.
For completeness, one other point is worth our consideration. At the end of this second phase (second estate) of our existence, which includes both our earthly mortal sojourn and our stay in the spirit world, we will all be judged as to which kingdom of glory is appropriate for us.
An important issue is sin. Each and every person who inherits a degree of glory must become free of sin, justified, or "reconciled to God" (2 Nephi 10:24; 2 Nephi 25:23; Jacob 4:11). In the end, every knee shall bow and every person will accept Jesus Christ and his atonement. Every man will repent, and the blessings of that atonement will be extended to him. The effects of his sins will be overcome. The penalty for his sins-assessed by the law of justice-will be removed, and he will be admitted into a kingdom of glory. Only a few will refuse to repent and will remain "filthy still." These will go forever with Satan and his angels. The judgment of each of us will be evident in the resurrection. We will come forth with an eternal body that is celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or a "perdition" body.
And what are the essential factors in this judgment? How will the Lord determine which degree of glory each of us inherits? There are three major factors in the judgment of each of us:
1. The level of spiritual progress each of obtained in the premortal world is the first important factor in the judgment. Of those to whom much has been given, more will be expected. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3; see also Luke 12:48). At the end of the premortal phase of our existence, we all had progressed to various degrees. Some had, because of their diligence and obedience, progressed to an advanced level of achievement. Others were less obedient in the premortal world and made less progress. As we enter mortality, the veil is drawn, but the veil does not completely hide our premortal proclivities. We are responsible for the progress we made there before coming to earth. Those who had reached a higher level in their progress will be expected to continue on to progress here at a more accelerated rate. Of those who had attained a lesser level there, less will be expected here.
2. In addition to our premortal attainments, another factor is vital in the judgment. Here in mortality people face a wide variety of circumstances that will significantly impact the progress they are able to make here. Were they born in or out of the Church? Did they inherit an advanced and enlightened culture with all of its opportunities, or were they born into a disadvantaged "third world" situation where they had to deal with poverty and deprivation? Did they have an opportunity to hear the gospel, or did they live and die without ever encountering the gospel message? How were they treated here? Did they have loving parents who nurtured and encouraged them? Or, did they live in an unfavorable situation where they were abused and neglected? The variety of circumstances faced by mortals here on earth is practically endless, and surely these circumstances are considered by an all-knowing Savior as he judges us for the progress or lack of progress which we have made.
3. The final essential factor in the judgment is the spiritual progress each of us has made in this second phase of our existence. This spiritual progress consists of the spiritual gifts we have earned in the process of obedience, justification and sanctification. How much progress have we made in acquiring the attributes of Christ? How have we done in trying to become like him? Only the Savior is able to judge our progress. There is no set amount of progress that will qualify us for the celestial heaven. The absolute amount of progress will be assessed by an all-wise Savior based upon the other two factors.
All three of these factors will combine and reveal what the individual truly is in his heart. Some of us will be of celestial ilk, some of us terrestrial, and some terrestrial. The Lord will judge. Ultimately we will be placed in a degree of glory where we belong, where we are happiest, where we feel comfortable, where we fit in, where the people are like us.
If we consider all of the people that have died on earth in an unaccountable state, we would certainly conclude that not all of them would be comfortable and happy in a celestial state. Even among unaccountable children, there are great differences. It is apparent that some of them are inclined to yearn for celestial glory. Others would be uncomfortable in a celestial setting, and they will fit better, and be happier, in a lesser degree of glory. Like all of us, each will be judged, by an all-wise Lord who will know their heart and judge them as if they had received the gospel in an accountable state. He will place them where they are eternally comfortable (D&C 137:5-9).
The essential doctrinal errors responsible for the practice of infant baptism include:
1. The failure to understand that Christ's atonement automatically and unconditionally abolishes for everyone any eternal consequences of Adam's transgression, hence "men will be punished for their own sins and not for Adam's transgression" (Article of Faith 2).
2. The failure to understand also that no one is responsible for his own sins unless he is accountable. Infants and young children who have not reached the age of eight years or mentally deficient individuals are regarded as "innocent" and free of sin by the Lord. Baptism is regarded by the entire Christian world as the mechanism for removing sins. Unaccountable individuals, therefore, need no baptism.
It is interesting to note the evolution of the "original sin" doctrine. It seems to have, at its fundament center, the false notion that Adam and Eve's disobedience in the garden was an act of overt rebellion against God, an attempt to usurp the knowledge available only to the gods. This notion paints a dark and negative picture of Adam and Eve. It is then quite natural to see how the notion evolved toward the assumption that all mankind inherited their evil tendencies, that they corrupted the whole human race, and that those tendencies were manifest from the very birth of each person. Perhaps this notion is simply a perversion of the true doctrine of the "natural man" (see the commentary for Mosiah 3:19).
Parenthetically, it should be noted how much more ennobling and soul-satisfying is the true doctrine of the fall and the true nature of Adam and Eve. We know that the fall was a foreordained act, a God-inspired and pre-designed plan for the perpetuation of the human family, and that Adam "fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).
A further extension of the apostate doctrine is that because of Adam's corrupt and evil nature, man does not really possess agency. He has no ability to choose good over evil. He is bound to sin. It is possible that such passages as Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 7, might have contributed to this notion. In that letter Paul refers to himself (and by presumption to all men) as being "carnal [and] sold under sin" (Romans 7:14). Paul portrays himself as a depraved and helpless creature who muddles in sin as a result of a carnal nature. He is an evildoer with little or no hope of deliverance. Joseph Smith's inspired revision of Romans paints a truer picture of Paul (see JST Romans 7:14-17).
Since infants, according to the apostate doctrine, from their births possessed the evil nature of Adam through inheriting it from Adam himself. Since the apostates failed to understand the nature of the atonement and the concept of accountability, then logically they falsely concluded that infants need baptism.
One other point is worth mentioning. In the scriptures, it is clear that the blessings of the atonement have been extended to all mankind since the days of Adam. Even though Christ's blood was not shed until the meridian of time, the blessings of his atoning blood have always been available to all men. The scriptures refer to this phenomenon by saying that Christ is the Lamb "slain from the foundations of the world" (Revelation 13:8; Moses 7:47). It has been suggested that declaring an infant or young child innocent and free of sin until the age of eight years may not be simply an arbitrary designation by the Lord. Infants are also not innocent because they are good by nature. Certainly there was an opportunity to sin in the premortal world, and doubtless all individuals left that realm guilty of sin. Infants and children are innocent because the Lord has decreed them so. The actual mechanism whereby they are made innocent is that at the moment of their mortal birth into mortality all infants are cleansed by the blood of Christ's atonement. This has been so since the time of Adam.
What a difference it might have made in the Christian world if the following simple truths had not been lost from the Bible: "And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold, I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world" (Moses 6: 53-54; also JST, Genesis 6:55-56).
1 An epistle of my father Mormon, written to me, Moroni; and it was written unto me soon after my calling to the ministry. And on this wise did he write unto me, saying:
verse 1 "An epistle of my father Mormon, written to me . . . soon after my calling to the ministry." The date at the bottom of the page shows the date to be "between AD 400 and 421." We know that this date refers to the time Moroni transcribed this letter onto the plates of Mormon. This letter and the one that follows (Moroni 9) must have been written by Mormon sometime shortly before or after the hill Cumorah battle of AD 385. We know that Mormon was slain shortly after that great battle (Mormon 8:3).
It would appear that prior to Mormon's death, Moroni had been called to an important priesthood calling, and in that calling he had become involved in a doctrinal dispute. Perhaps he presided over a congregation. Apparently the notion of infant baptism had crept into the Nephite church. Moroni probably wrote to his father seeking counsel. In his letter, the prophet Mormon expresses his dismay over the fact that a disputation has arisen and then discusses the concept of accountability and the false notion of infant baptism, calling it a "gross error."
2 My beloved son, Moroni, I rejoice exceedingly that your Lord Jesus Christ hath been mindful of you, and hath called you to his ministry, and to his holy work.
verse 2 We find evidence of a powerful parental bond between father and son. Mormon addresses Moroni on three additional occasions as "my beloved son" (Moroni 9:1; Moroni 9:6; Moroni 9:11).
3 I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.
4 And now, my son, I speak unto you concerning that which grieveth me exceedingly; for it grieveth me that there should disputations rise among you.
5 For, if I have learned the truth, there have been disputations among you concerning the baptism of your little children.
6 And now, my son, I desire that ye should labor diligently, that this gross error should be removed from among you; for, for this intent I have written this epistle.
verse 6 Mormon exhorts Moroni, as the newly ordained priesthood leader, to "labor diligently" to eradicate this apostate doctrine.
7 For immediately after I had learned these things of you I inquired of the Lord concerning the matter. And the word of the Lord came to me by the power of the Holy Ghost, saying:
verse 7 Mormon's letter obviously does much more than express his opinion. Rather it expresses the "word of the Lord" on the matter.
8 Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me.
verse 8 As mentioned above, one of the most insidious of Satan's heresies, which he has promulgated on earth, is the notion that little children are born in sin and, unless baptized, are doomed to eternal damnation. Satan has been at it almost since the beginning of the earth and has spread this heresy to all corners of the earth. 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 they apply to little children (see JST, Genesis 17:4-8; Genesis 17:11). By the third century the false notions of original sin and infant baptism had crept into the church in the Old World and obviously in the New World as well.
"the curse of Adam is taken form them in me, that it hath no power over them" Christ's atonement automatically and completely removes the consequences of Adam's transgression and fall, not only for little children, but for all men.
"and the law of circumcision is done away in me" Among the Jews, circumcision was regarded as a sign of the covenant of the Lord with Abraham. After the Savior's atonement and fulfillment of the law of Moses, circumcision was no longer necessary (see D&C 74:5-7). At first, this phrase seems rather unrelated to this discussion of accountability, but a second look indicates that it is closely related. Apparently the level of innocence in children was a matter which arose in discussions between the Christians and the Jews in the meridian of time. Paul wrote that the law of circumcision and "the tradition [should] be done away, which saith that little children are unholy; for it was had among the Jews" (D&C 74:6). This suggests that one of the factors that lay behind the tradition of circumcision was a notion that children are not innocent.
9 And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children.
10 Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach-repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
verse 10 "humble themselves as their little children" The Savior's command for us to "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3) is not alone a call to humility and submission. It is also a call to become clean, innocent, and justified by virtue of the blood of Christ, through the justifying and sanctifying powers of the Holy Ghost.
"and they shall all be saved with their little children" All children who die before the age of accountability are saved in a degree of glory.
11 And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
12 But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism!
13 Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.
verse 13 Mormon, in this verse, assumes for a moment that the doctrine of "original sin" is a true doctrine. He then concludes that the myriad children who had died without baptism would then end up in outer darkness.
14 Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity, for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell.
15 For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism.
16 Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God; and I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear.
verses 13-16 It is obvious that Mormon is passionate in his feelings against those who espouse the doctrine of original sin and infant baptism.
The subjects of original sin and infant baptism in the Book of Moroni have resulted in criticism of the Book of Mormon. Some have accused the book of being "anachronistic" in that it addresses issues that would not likely have arisen at the time or in the setting of Mormon and Moroni. Some have seen the treatment of these issues as evidence that the Book of Mormon was created in nineteenth century North America. William J. Hamblin and Daniel C. Peterson addressed this criticism which has often been leveled by evangelical Christians against the Church. They wrote of these allegedly "anachronistic subjects":
They also fit many other periods of biblical and Christian history. Original sin and predestination, for instance, were major sources of contention between Augustine and Pelagius in the early fifth century, and in the years leading up to the Second Council of Orange in AD 529, Tertullian and the Anabaptists rejected infant baptism in, respectively, early third-century North Africa and sixteenth century Germanic Europe, which would seem to indicate that controversy on the subject is not limited to "nineteenth century North America" (FARMS Review of Books, volume 11, number 2, 1999, 203).
Mormon and Moroni both lived and wrote in the fourth and fifth centuries AD. It is most interesting to note that the same practices had crept into the Christian church in the New World.
"perfect love casteth out all fear" Fear of what? It would seem that there are many things in this world that may cause fear. Fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear and uncertainty about a life after this one, fear of people. This verse suggests that if we have a perfect love of God and of all people, then we will not fear. Modern revelation promises that on condition of "persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned" (D&C 121:41), "[their] confidence [shall] wax strong in the presence of God" (D&C 121:45). This parallels the promise of John: "Perfect love casteth out fear" (1 John 4:18-19).
17 And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love; wherefore, all children are alike unto me; wherefore, I love little children with a perfect love; and they are all alike and partakers of salvation.
verse 17 "And I am filled with charity, which is everlasting love" For a discussion of the fascinating concept of charity, see Charity as Empathy and Charity as a Revealed Sense of Others in chapters 6 and 7 in volume 2 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
18 For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.
19 Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy.
20 And he that saith that little children need baptism denieth the mercies of Christ, and setteth at naught the atonement of him and the power of his redemption.
21 Wo unto such, for they are in danger of death, hell, and an endless torment. I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing-
verse 22 The phrase "all they that are without the law" likely is intended to refer to those who are mentally deficient and are therefore incapable of understanding the law. It would seem that the doctrine is clear regarding the judgment of all those who, for whatever reason, die "without the law." They are judged by the Savior as if they had received the law (D&C 137:5-9). Those who would have accepted it and endured in living the commandments had they heard it will be assigned, at their death, to paradise and later to the celestial kingdom. Those not inclined to abide the gospel law fully will be assigned to a lesser glory (see also the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26).
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
verse 23 "putting trust in dead works" "Dead works" are religious works without saving merit because they are performed in the absence of true doctrine, true procedure, or true authority. An example is the baptism of little children.
24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.
25 And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins;
verse 25 "the first fruits of repentance is baptism" For a discussion of the phrase "first fruits" and its variations, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 2:9.
A person is motivated to true repentance by his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his atonement. An individual with this faith is naturally drawn to repent. Does baptism produce a remission of sins? How important is that remission of sins produced by baptism? Certainly baptism does produce in each individual a "clean slate." His sins to that point are blotted out. Baptism by itself, however, does not change the nature of any individual. If a baptized individual possesses a sinful nature, then he must still undergo the more gradual process of self-analysis, repentance, obedience, and the "remission" or purging of his sinful nature by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. See Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth in volume 1, chapter 18, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
26 And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.
verse 26 Mormon suggests that "meekness, and lowliness of heart" come as the result of "the remission of sins." As our sins our remitted, we tend to be imbued with a profound gratitude to the Lord and a heightened awareness of our dependence upon him and his saving mercy and grace. We begin to acquire the quality of "divine indebtedness" discussed in the introductory commentary for Mosiah 2:19. Please review that important commentary if you have not done so recently. An individual who possesses the gift of divine indebtedness also possesses a "broken heart and contrite spirit" (2 Nephi 2:7). He is truly meek and lowly of heart. He is hence more susceptible to promptings of the Spirit.
"which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love" This phrase refers to the two most lofty gifts of the Spirit, hope and charity. See "The Fruits of Faith" in Other Notes on Faith, volume 1, chapter 11 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
verses 25-26 These two verses demonstrate the Hebrew form of poetry called climax. For an explanation of this poetic form see the commentary for Mormon 9:12-13. Here in this verse the form can be seen in the following diagram:
And the first fruits of repentance is
baptism cometh by faith unto
the fulfilling the commandments; and
the fulfilling the commandments bringeth
remission of sins; And the
remission of sins bringeth
meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of
meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the
Holy Ghost, which
Comforter filleth with hope and perfect
love endureth by diligence unto prayer,
until the end shall come, when all the saints shall
dwell with God.
There are six repeated words or phrases in this climax-baptism, the fulfilling the commandments, remission of sins, meekness and lowliness of heart, Holy Ghost (paralleling Comforter), and love. The beginning point of the climax (or ascension of expression) is repentance, an essential step onto the path of eternal life. Repentance is followed by baptism, obedience, and so on, finally culminating in salvation as the righteous receive an eternal station with God.
27 Behold, my son, I will write unto you again if I go not out soon against the Lamanites. Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.
28 Pray for them, my son, that repentance may come unto them. But behold, I fear lest the Spirit hath ceased striving with them; and in this part of the land they are also seeking to put down all power and authority which cometh from God; and they are denying the Holy Ghost.
verse 28 Mormon is likely describing the Nephite people in general rather than any specific subgroup. They are perverting the ways of the Lord, and they are past feeling.
"they are denying the Holy Ghost" This phrase likely simply means that they are not responsive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It seems unlikely that these Nephites had ever achieved a level of light that would qualify them to commit the unpardonable sin.
29 And after rejecting so great a knowledge, my son, they must perish soon, unto the fulfilling of the prophecies which were spoken by the prophets, as well as the words of our Savior himself.
30 Farewell, my son, until I shall write unto you, or shall meet you again. Amen.