1 And now I, Moroni, write a few of the words of my father Mormon, which he spake concerning faith, hope, and charity; for after this manner did he speak unto the people, as he taught them in the synagogue which they had built for the place of worship.
Textual: Without any transition except this announcement, Moroni has left the overt explanation of liturgy and has changed subjects. What we have in chapter 7 is an inserted sermon. The text is presented in the first person, and it is given as the words of Mormon, just as earlier discourses that Mormon inserted in his text are assumed to be the text given by the author.
A possible connection between the liturgical information in the previous chapters and this inserted sermon comes from the final verse of the previous chapter:
9 And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.
The overt liturgical discussion ended with a generalized statement of the types of events in the church meetings, but not a specific. What we have following immediately appears to be a specific instance of the preaching and exhorting. This would be given as a sample, for the nature of such preaching and exhorting is that it would change with every instance. In modern LDS worship, we understand that there will be speakers in sacrament meetings, but we expect that the texts of their talks will differ from other weeks (even though we are also accustomed to the repetition of certain phrases within those talks).
Another piece of information se have in verse one is that there is a continuation of at least the terminology attached to a place of worship. Mormon gives this discourse in a synagogue “which they had built for the place of worship.” This follows the descriptions of synagogues from earlier in the Book of Mormon (Alma 16:13; Alma 26:29, and others). The particular label of synagogue may be a convenient description used in Joseph’s translation, or it may indicate that there was a conceptual continuation of the previous practice. In the Old World, a rift developed between the non-Christianized Jews and the Christians. The wider the rift, the greater the divorce in practice and descriptive language. Modern Christians meet in churches, not synagogues, a result of that rift and the change in vocabulary that resulted to define differences, not to emphasize continuity. In the New World, there was no such rift, as there is no indication of any remnant of non-Christianized Nephites. Their theology had already been pre-Christian, and the great destructive event prior to the appearance of the Christ is described as having destroyed “the wicked,” or those who did not accept the Christ. The appearance of the Savior created a rather dramatic new beginning, but not one that was required to make a differentiation between the new and the old such as occurred in early Old World Christianity.
2 And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.
The beginning of the formal address begins in the same way as a formal written piece. There is the introduction of the person. It would seem that the cultural form of written and oral presentation have at least this introductory form in common. The colophon is the personal introduction, and we have seen it in several holographic books in the Book of Mormon. We find the same introductory declaration of person in this discourse.
Mormon also indicates that he speaks “by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Following the post-Messianic-appearance understanding of the godhead, Mormon makes a distinction and separation between the Father and Christ, which was not the theology of the pre-Messianic-appearance Nephites.
Mormon’s next statement is also interesting. He notes that it is “because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.” (italics added). We have so little information about who was permitted to “preach and exhort” that it is presumptuous to make too much of Mormon’s statement, but he does appear to indicate that he is speaking by right of calling. Certainly Mormon would be expected to be one of the elders, and not necessarily a designated teacher. However, he functions here as a teacher in the role of providing exhortative discourse. Whether this is simply rhetorical introduction that declares his priesthood function as well as his name, or whether there was some limitation on the pool of speakers in the congregation is not known.
3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
4 And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
We have the presence of the term “peaceable” in this preamble to the discourse. This is a term not previously used in the Book of Mormon, but a fairly common description from the New Testament. Certainly we may expect that the New Testament usage has informed its presence in the translation at this point. However, the question is what it might mean.
We find the use of the word “peaceable” in 1 Timothy:
1 Timothy 2:1-2
1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
The context here is a “quiet and peaceable life.” That context suggests that the understanding of peace is a physical, not a metaphysical one. It is descriptive of a way of living that may be associated with quite. It is therefore a contrast to contentious and violent lives. Similarly:
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
In James there is more o the potentially metaphysical in verse 17, but it is anchored in action in verse 18. These spiritual benefits come to those “that make peace.” In these contexts we must remember the words of the Savior in the Beattitudes:
9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
The social conditions in first century Judah were quite stressed, and both social and political stresses were great. Not long after the death of the Savior came a rebellion against Roman authority that resulted in the destruction of the temple. Peace in Jesus’ day was not an abstract, but a very real hope and need.
Similarly in the time of Mormon, peace would hardly have been an abstract concept. We do not know when this sermon was given, but Mormon’s long career in the military begins at sixteen, so we may presume that this sermon is given at some time during the terrible military conflicts that consumed most of Mormon’s life. Peace was a goal, not a stable social state for Mormon, and his praise for those who were able to make peace with their neighbors is a poignant contrast to his military career.
5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
Mormon is referencing the teachings of the Savior when he appeared in Bountiful. The discussion of good gifts, and particularly the relationship between ones visible works and internal righteousness comes from 3 Nephi 14:7-20. Mormon presents the information with only the indication that this is the “word of God.” What is cited is a paraphrase, not a precise recitation of the text. There is an expectation that the congregation will be familiar with the referenced verses, and that they will understand both the allusion and the way in which the original text has been recast in Mormon’s usage.
Mormon uses the example the Savior gave to apply to his understanding of the goodness of the people to whom he is speaking. It is not a generic concept, but a specific reference to this people and their “peaceable walk” as noted in the previous scripture. Mormon is noting their righteousness in difficult circumstances, and that their righteousness shows in their actions towards others. In this case, it shows in their peaceableness in the midst of terrible conflict.
8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
This is Mormon’s extrapolation from the lesson of the scriptures. The reference to the evil man who gives a gift is part of the Lord’s sermon in Bountiful, but the grudging giving is not. There is a similar teaching in the New Testament, but it is not in exactly the same terms or context:
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
7 Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.
The intent of the 2 Corinthians passage is to emphasize the generosity. In Mormon, the text is given to indicate that the reception of a gift to God depends upon the intent. Where one encourages giving, the other (Mormon) emphasizes that giving must be done with a certain intent, or it is of no value to God.
Mormon is setting a very high requirement for the saints of the church. He is telling us that when we pay our tithing with a grudging heart, it is counted to us as though we had never paid it all. When we attend our church meetings, it is as if we had not at all if we do not bring the right spirit with us. Of course there is value in practice, repetition, and in working through low points in our lives, but that is not his particular message. Mormon is emphasizing the need to achieve the state were we not only act the right way, but we are the right way.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
The point that Mormon is making deserves some clarification. There are times when there is a point to praying when there is not yet full intent. Brigham Young said of such occasions:
“If I do not feel like praying, and asking my Father in heaven to give me a morning blessing, and to preserve me and my family and the good upon the earth through the day, I should say, "Brigham, get down here, on your knees, bow your body down before the throne of Him who rules in the heavens, and stay there until you can feel to supplicate at that throne of grace erected for sinners." (Brigham Young. Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 16: 28.)
While this might appear to be a contradiction to Mormon, the context of Mormon’s words tell us that there is a difference in meaning that is important. Mormon is beginning with a text from the Saviors Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in 3 Nephi. The Savior used several examples to show that one’s intent should be toward God, and not for the accolades of men. Mormon’s elaboration follows that theme. Prayer is not received of God if it is given for men. If that is its purpose, it might achieve that purpose, but not the higher function of communication with God. For that, we need to have true intent.
Brigham Young’s statement is slightly different. He is not addressing those who pray to impress others, but rather those who might neglect prayer that they know they should offer. Brigham Young is telling us that at times we must work to have the intent, even if it is not immediately present.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
Mormon references his original source without citing it. He is point to the following:
3 Nephi 14:11
11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
The connection if obvious, but it is not a direct citation. What we have is Mormon creating sufficient reference that the source is recognized, but keeping his discourse in the looser mode of a paraphrase where he can more easily mold the model texts to his current purpose.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
The forms of these comparisons follow the form established in the model text, but Mormon expands on the examples. He is faithful to the literary phrasing, but invents the specifics of the images. Specifically, Mormon is going to turn his discourse in a slightly different direction by focusing on the concept of evil. It begins with the cited scripture that speaks of “evil” men knowing how to give good gifts. This original connotation of “evil” is simply an opposition to the nature of the goodness of God. It is the same as the natural man.
Mormon subtly shifts this simple opposition of the nature of man and god to a qualitative difference. The introduction of the devil shifts the connotation from evil-as-natural-man to evil-as-opposite-of-good.
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Mormon uses the concept of opposition to create a great polar divide. God stands on one pole as the representative of Good, and the devil stands on the other pole as the representative of Evil. These two forces represent the most essential of all diametric oppositions. There for, all that is good must come from God, by definition, and all that is evil must come from the devil, by definition.
Of course man has agency, but in this symbolic system, Mormon is placing man directly in the middle of the symbolic opposites. In Mormon’s imagery, man sits in the precise balance of good and evil, and it is man’s agency that will listen to the “enticings” to move toward one pole or the other.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
Here is the constant dilemma of man-the-agent. We see the enticings, but often we do not judge them well. When man elects to follow the enticings of Satan, he is rarely saying to himself, “I think I will be evil.” Rather, the enticing truly is enticing. It really does appear to be something desireable. Often it is a truly desireable short term benefit that belies the long term loss of the blessings of God. For this reason, Mormon warns us to be sure that we do “not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.” The problem is that while the two polar opposites do exist, from our vantage point in the middle, we often do not see clearly the ultimate end of our actions. The enticings of Satan might seem easy, or fun, or profitable, while God frequently calls us to hard action, to work and to sacrifice. Not seeing the ultimate end, we easily mistake the short term enticings.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
Rhetorical: Mormon understands that his base text is understood by his audience past the direct allusions. They understand as well the rest of the verses that are part of that sermon. Therefore, he makes a rather remarkable and startling reference. He declares that “it is given unto you to judge.” This is remarkable because his audience would remember that during the Lord’s sermon he stated:
3 Nephi 14:1
1 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged. (italics added)
Mormon would appear to his audience to be directly contradicting the Savior! Mormon would have done this intentionally to heighten the attention of his audience. By making such a bold statement that appears contrary to expectations, he would have the audience paying even greater attention to the way that he would resolve this seeming contradiction.
Of course, Mormon is not contradicting what the Savior intended, only the form in which the intention was phrased. In the Bountiful redaction, as well as in the New Testament Sermon on the Mount, this statement that we should not judge is followed by a qualifying statement:
3 Nephi 14:2
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
The intent is not that we should never judge, but that we understand that when we do judge, our measuring stick will be turned upon our own performance during the final judgment. It is for this reason that Mormon turns his alteration of the phrase from the negative proscription to positive prescription.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
The way to judge is clear if we have the Spirit of Christ. This is the answer to a potential problem with the powerful principle of agency. If we sit in the middle of the two tugging poles of Good and Evil, how can we know which is which? Mormon has warned us that man often sees evil in the good, or good in the evil. How can we know the difference if they can appear to be interchanged?
While it is true that in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the principle of Free Agency was made operative, the eating of the fruit had another important effect. Mankind really did gain the capacity to know Good from Evil. Without the guarantee that humanity was capable of distinguishing between Good and Evil, there would have been no hope in a world where Satan's influence could camouflage evil in so many attractive packages.
The Spirit of Christ, or the Light of Christ, is a gift of God. It may even be seen as the gift that accompanied the partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Light of Christ is our guarantee that all humanity has the internal measure against which we may test all experience and know of its eternal goodness or evil.
The Light of Christ does not depend upon the preaching of the gospel, it is inherent to our existence wherever we are. How does this Light combine with the principles of Free Agency and Faith to begin to exalt even those who are ignorant of the teachings of the gospel?
For all peoples in all times, in all societies, there is a right and a wrong. While anthropologists know that the definitions of exactly what is right and wrong may vary from culture to culture, yet there is a culturally defined set which creates a known set of "right" and a known set of "wrong". Regardless of where or when we live, humans are always in a position to act on their agency. Faith always works to allow the step into the unknown. Both Free Agency and Faith are principles that operate in the mundane world as well as the spiritual.
When men act, they have the opportunity to test their actions against what they know to be right. To the degree that they choose right, they are making the same exercise of proper agency as those who are conversant with God's plan. To the degree that such people make active choices to follow what they understand to be right, they are, in principle, doing exactly what we are doing when we actively follow the precepts of the gospel.
There may be times in any society, when the cultural definition of "right" is contrary to the definition of God. In all of these cases, there is always the Light of Christ, which knows the difference. All humanity has the opportunity to learn to listen to that eternal measure, and to obey it. We may all choose not only our cultural right, but a higher, eternal right.
Lest we think that this is a farfetched concept for others who do not know the gospel, it is still a principle operative in modern society. Modern American society has a set of definitions about what is "right" in our society. Many of our business practices, many of the books we read, the songs we listen to, may be "right" in the eyes of society, but clearly wrong when measured against the Light of Christ.
All humanity, regardless of their exposure to a knowledge of the plan of God, has the ability to progress by learning to exercise their Free Agency to make correct active choices. All of us have the opportunity to exceed the righteousness of our cultural definitions by listening to the Light of Christ, which can teach us what is right on a higher, eternal plane.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
Mormon tells us that we may use the essential opposition between Good and Evil as the means of distinguishing the two, if we understand the purposes of God. The more we understand and believe in the purposes of God, the more we are able to judge if any action leads us towards those purposes or away from them. This becomes a sure judge, as there are only two directions, toward God or away from him. Therefore, if we understand God, we may therefore understand those things that lead toward him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Rhetorical: Mormon began this section with a startling reversal of the expected formula from the Sermon on the Mount. After explaining the way that his interpretation expands upon that original scriptural touchpoint, he closes by bringing the loop back to the expected verses. The ends with the concept that we are judged by the way we judge. This very direct citation of the verses makes the connection explicit, and confirms to his audience that he has reconciled the two, and ended with essential agreement with the Savior’s statement, even though is original jump-off point appeared contradictory.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
Mormon concludes his section on judging and transitions into his next topic. The conclusion is an exhortation that they use this principle to judge correctly. The transition is that they should “lay hold of every good thing.” In the immediate context, the “laying hold” is contingent upon recognizing the good in the good things. What Mormon will do is shift this emphasis. What was emphasizing the selection of the good will now sift to the holding on to the good things.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
The explicit shift comes in the rhetorical question of how one might lay hold upon every good thing? By asking how it might be done, the shift is made from the judging to the acquiring. How is this to be done? Of course it should be remembered that good things are, by contextual definition, those things that lead us toward God.
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.
[of which I said I would speak]: There is no antecedent to this phrase. Mormon is stating that he has some kind of promise that this discourse would cover the topic of faith, but that promise is not contained in the discourse itself. We can only assume that this promise was made in some context outside of the discourse. Perhaps the promise of the topic was the particular reason for the gathering of the congregation that heard this discourse originally. We do not know.
[now I come to that faith… and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing]: Mormon is making an interesting connection here. He is promising that we may “lay hold on every good thing,” and that it is faith that will allow us to do this. Key to his interpretation will be the understanding of the good things as those things that lead towards God.
22 For behold, God knowing all things, being from everlasting to everlasting, behold, he sent angels to minister unto the children of men, to make manifest concerning the coming of Christ; and in Christ there should come every good thing.
Mormon’s ultimate definition of the good things will be the benefits of the gospel as available through the atonement of the Savior. He had been speaking of God, however, and so he must tie the good things of God to these blessings that come through the Savior. That is the reason that he explicitly begins with God as the author of the plan, being one who knows all things from the beginning. This position of foreknowledge allowed God to provide the Savior for us. Christ is therefore the manifestation of this knowledge of God – this understanding that the atonement would be the very thing that we needed to be able to lay hold on every good thing. Those “good things” are available to use though Christ’s atonement.
23 And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
24 And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christ; otherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.
25 Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.
Mormon understands spiritual history as being divided by the coming of the Atoning Messiah to the New World. While Christian practice divides our accounting of time into before and after the birth of Christ, Mormon divides the nature of faith into two periods. Mormon’s periods do not center on the birth, however, but on the appearance of the Savior in the New World.
In the world as it was before Christ appeared to the Nephites, prophets promised that he would come. During this period, God still manifest the good things that came through the promise of the Atoning Messiah, and he did this in “divers ways.” Even though there was no atonement, and therefore technically mankind was fallen, nevertheless this promise of Christ was sufficient to allow for the good things to be manifest to mankind. Nevertheless, all of this was based on the promise of his coming, not the fact of his coming. These prophets, and all those who looked for the good things were exercising great faith in something that was promised, but had not yet occurred.
26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.
The appearance of Christ in the New World constituted for Mormon a proof positive that God fulfills his promises. The prophets promised that the Atoning Messiah would come. He did. For Mormon, there is no room for doubt that the record of the ancestors is correct. This Atoning Messiah did come, and therefore faith is God is justified for God fulfills promises.
Even though the appearance of the Atoning Messiah altered the nature of faith in the sense that the promise was no fulfilled, it still did not remove the need for faith. Even knowing that the Savior had come, man must believe in his name to lay hold on all good things. For Mormon, the foundation of faith has shifted. In the pre-Messianic-appearance world, faith rested on the foundation of prophetic promise. In the post-Messianic-appearance world, it rested upon the foundation of that very appearance. That reality shores up the new requirements of faith, that we believe in the effectiveness of Christ’s words to lead us to the good things of God.
27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?
[have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven]: This question is required because Mormon has asserted that there is a fundamental shift in the foundation of faith. Faith was based upon the less-than-tangible words of the prophets. Now that it is founded on an event that cannot be denied (for Mormon it was absolutely undeniable), the legitimate question is whether or not a need for faith remains. Of course the answer is that faith is still required, and Mormon uses the idea of miracles as an indication that faith is still operative. Why miracles? Because we don’t understand them. They cannot be foundations for knowledge, else they are not miracles. The very idea that miracles exists tells Moroni that we still require faith to understand and believe in those miracles.
28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.
29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
Moroni expands just a bit on the mission of the Savior in that he has fulfilled law, and therefore the law of Moses may be done away. Nevertheless, this shift from the law of Moses to the gospel of Christ does not automatically redeem us. There is a difference between Christ’s universal sacrifice, and our agency to accept that sacrifice. This is the intent of the phrase: “he claimeth all those who have faith in him.” The Atonement happened, but it is conditional even if it is sure. It absolutely happened, but we must absolutely accept it, or it is of no effect on us.
[they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing]: Mormon begins to tie everything together. Those who have faith in Christ are those who will “cleave unto every good thing.” He uses this as a definition, without explaining why it is so. The assumption that is made is that those who truly follow Christ make the commitment to live the gospel, and that, by definition, is the way that one may lay hold of all good things.
30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
This verse was unfortunately split from its reference. The reference at the end of the previous verse is to the ministrations of angels. Mormon has equated then ministrations of angels as a type of miracle that is still being performed. The conditions upon which the angels minister is still that very “strong faith” that is the subject of Mormon’s discourse.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of [men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
[office of their ministry]: The “ministry” is the thing that the angels do on earth. The “office of their ministry” refers to their divine assignment. The angels appear because they are sent to us, and the “office of the ministry” simply indicates the job that they are to do.
[to call men unto repentance]: This is the work of the angels. They are to call men to repentance. Of course they typically do not call individuals to repentance, leaving that task to the prophets and other men (and women) called of God for that purpose. However, they do at times directly intervene, as with Paul and Alma the Younger.
[to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father]: Angels come to earth on assignment from the Father, to do that work which is part of the goals of the Father. They assist in fulfilling the covenants because God has promised that he will pay attention to us, and provide us the opportunities to lay hold of the blessings of the gospel.
[to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him]: The most typical way in which the angels fulfill their function on earth is to communicate with the “chosen vessels fo the Lord” who are the prophets and others who can then bear firm testimony to the rest of us.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.
[that the residue of men may have faith in Christ]: This phrase must be tied to the previous verse where the angels speak to the prophets. They speak to the prophets in order that the rest of us (the “residue”) may have faith. While those chosen few may have more direct knowledge than faith in certain things, it is upon their testimony of those things that we may lean when we are developing our faith. We do not expect that the Father and the Son will appear to us directly, but we may know that they did to Joseph Smith. Our task of faith is therefore not so completely removed from our experiences. For those who knew Joseph, the touchstone of their faith was a frequently a conversation away. They could speak with one who had had the experience.
In our day, the modern prophets have experiences and strong faith of their own upon which we may lean, and the times of Joseph Smith are not so far distant that they are relegated to the mists of ancient past. We may know that the faith that we are developing is based on realities that were known to someone not long ago – and some of the same things are known to men (and women) in our own days. The ministration of the angels does not come frequently, but when it does, it comes to assist us in a faith that that has hope in real experience with the divine, even it is not immediately our own experience.
33 And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
This is not a direct citation, but rather a reference. This specific phrase is not found in other texts, but it is certainly consonant with the teachings of the Savior. In this case, therefore, when Mormon says “Christ hath said” he is referring to a teaching, not a saying.
34 And he hath said: Repent all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, and have faith in me, that ye may be saved.
This reference comes closer to a citation, with a large portion of the phrase repeated from the Savior’s words in 3 Nephi:
3 Nephi 27:20
20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Mormon has indicated that faith may be established upon the words of other who have experience with the divine. For Mormon, the best example of such communication with the divine is the appearance of the Atoning Messiah at Bountiful. Of course we understand that one must have faith in that event, but for Mormon is was a solid reality upon which firm faith could be built. Because that had happened, we may understand (and therefore have faith) that the other promises of God will be fulfilled.
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last day, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
Mormon restates his case concerning faith an miracles. Not only are there still miracles, but our faith can be one of them. Notice the chain of Mormon’s logic: if God will show us the truth of his great plan, can we deny that miracles exist? The very revelations that come from God through his special intermediaries is a continuing witness to the miracles that continue in our world.
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
The threads are pulled together. Since miracles come by faith, and there are miracles, therefore there is faith. This is the plan of God, that we have faith and that our faith have reasonable objects upon which it may rest.
[if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain]: If there are those who think that miracles have ceased, or for whom they really have ceased, then this is an indication of a lack of faith, as faith precedes the miracles. If miracles have ceased, then it is a sorry state for mankind, for it must mean that there is no faith, for miracles will follow faith. If we have no faith, then we are lost, for there is no way to lay hold of the “good things” without faith.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.
For a world without faith, the consequences are dire. If we have no faith, then we remain as if “there had been no redemption made.” That is, we are in a state where the atonement of Jesus Christ cannot apply to us.
39 But behold, my beloved brethren, I judge better things of you, for I judge that ye have faith in Christ because of your meekness; for if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church.
Rhetorical: As Mormon ties up the various threads, he makes a wonderful allusion to his earlier discussion of judging. He had discussed the nature of judging, and now he declares that he is judging his audience! Since he has said that one may judge if they have the Spirit of Christ, he certainly is claiming spiritual confirmation of this judgment and declaration. This is also a reprise of the “judgment” he declared in verse 4.
In this case, he judges them well. “I judge that ye have faith in Christ.” Mormon provides this statement as a benediction, but one with teeth in it, for he also declares “if ye have not faith in him then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church.” If we are to be members of this church, faith is a requirement.
This is not to say, of course, that we must have a full or strong faith. As Alma taught in chapter 32, there are stages in the growth of our faith, and all stages are welcome and essential in the church. What Mormon is saying is that if we are to have a church that is based on Christ, then it is absolutely essential that we have faith in Christ. They cannot be separated.
40 And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
Moroni had declared that Mormon would speak on faith, hope, and charity. Of course this trilogy of concepts owes its terminology and ordering to Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Of the three terms, the one lease discussed is hope. Mormon attempts to fill that need by asking in what we should have hope.
41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
42 Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
Our hope is our vision of the possible. We need not hope that the sun will shine. We have hope in those things that are possible, but not yet attained. It is this future perspective that defines hope. There is no hope that the past will change, but only the future.
Mankind may have hope in all kinds of future events, but the one that is related to faith is the hope of the promised blessings of the eternities. God has made the promise. This same God who fulfilled his promise to send the Atoning Messiah has promised that if we obey the commandments and endure to the end, then we may enjoy the blessings of heaven. We do not enjoy them on earth. We cannot fully enjoy them on earth. However, we can look forward to those blessings, and know that they are possible. This is where hope and faith become intertwined.
Faith is a mechanism of action. Hope is not. Hope cannot replace faith, for it is entirely possible to hope without any action that might accomplish the hope. We might hope to become very wealthy, but decline to work toward that end. On the other hand, faith carries within its definition the need to act. Therefore the two principles work together. We have hope for something in which we can have the faith to believe, act, and attempt to achieve.
43 And again, behold I say unto you that he cannot have faith and hope, save he shall be meek, and lowly of heart.
44 If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart; and if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confesses by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity; for if he have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity.
[If so, his faith and hope is vain, for none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart]: This is not a new qualification in Mormon’s discussion. Verses 5-13 discussed the relationship of the actions to the motivation behind the actions. This is essential to his current argument. To lay hold of all good things, one must have faith, which involves actions. Those actions can only be good if our intentions are good, and that comes from being humble before the Lord so that our actions are in accord with the path he has laid out for us.
[for if he have not charity he is nothing]: The next move in this careful explanation is to link faith and hope to charity. Mormon has done this by moving from the external action of faith to the internal motivation of hope. Now that he is dealing with the heart of the person, and the need for humility, he can link charity to those concepts as the external evidence of the internal humility. Thus the progression of concepts moves from external (faith manifest in the actions we take), to the internal (the hope that motivates us to a specific type of faith), and finally a return to the external (in charity – the manifest external actions of one who is internally humble before God.) This is the reason that we are “nothing” without charity. This is the witness of the change in our hearts that is part of the path towards becoming like God. If we have not achieved this love of our fellow man (in at least some degree) we are not on the correct path, and “every good thing” will remain distant from our grasp because we are not doing that which is required to achieve it.
Reference: The idea that one is nothing without charity echoes verse 2 of 1 Corinthians 13:
1 Corinthians 13:2
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Reference: This verse follows very closely the passage in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
There is no question that 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 forms the model upon which Moroni 7:45 is written. Obviously, the same reason for similarity of language exists here as in other occasions where New Testament passages appear in the context of the Book of Mormon text.
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
Translation: The idea that “charity never faileth” comes from 1 Corinthians 13:8. It is reworked in this passage, however. The concept that one is nothing without charity is repeated, and then the simple statement that “charity never faileth.” Shorn of its context in 1 Corinthians, there is little to go on to understand the function of the phrase in this passage. Only against those unimaginable things that might fail in Paul (prophecies, miracles, knowledge) can we see the importance of the essential nature of this charity.
1 Corinthians 13:8
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
None of that is present in this verse. As the translation pulled terminological references from 1 Corinthians 13, this phrase was also part of the borrowed material, but not the context. This tells us that Mormon’s discourse did have a disconnection from the argument in Paul, but the nature of Mormon’s original has been obscured in the process of translation.
47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Mormon concludes the arguments of his discourse by emphasizing charity as the love of Christ. Of course the need for this definitional statement is directly related to the way in which the Greek was translated by the KJV translators. Other English translations do use the word love here instead of Charity. Therefore, this specific sentence must be included as a clarification of the English text, not part of a translation of a plate text.
The reason that this love is so important is that it is the witness of the humility of our souls, and that is the foundation for our hope and faith. All of these traits move us closer to God, and therefore, in the last days it may be “well” with us.
48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.
Mormon began his discourse with the need to lay hold of every good thing, which he quickly equated with the blessings of God. Knowing that this is a good goal, he had to describe the way to grasp it. The way, of course, is through the Savior, but that way is very specific. Even though Christ really did come, and really did perform the atonement, that reality becomes real in our lives only as we accept it and follow his ways. Following Christ requires faith, hence the need to discourse on faith.
When Mormon moves through the logic of faith, he runs through a set of related concepts that we know as faith, hope, and charity. Faith is required in that we must believe in Christ at attempt to live the commandments. Hope guides our faith by pointing us to the goal. Charity is that quality of Godhood that is the foundation for our actions as we move along this path. Because this love is so important to the process, Mormon’s conclusion requests that his audience pray for that love or Charity.
Textual: This is the end of a chapter in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002