I love the Book of Mormon. It is one of the first books I read as a little child. In 1962 my mother was a California public school teacher who had just been introduced to the Book of Mormon. I was five years old and learning to read. Mother and I would sit down on our couch before bedtime and read aloud from the Book of Mormon. It was the first time through for both of us. I can honestly say I learned to read from reading the Book of Mormon.
I have read from it’s pages almost every day of my life. I lost track of how many times I have read it from cover to cover. I’m sure it’s over fifty. Carol and I carry on that reading tradition started so many years ago by reading it aloud to each other every night. It is a fascinating book. I always find something new each time I read it. I have never been disappointed by the Book of Mormon. It has remained constant throughout my life.
As found on the title page of the Book of Mormon, the purpose of the book is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord has done for their fathers. It was written that they (the remnant) may know the covenants of the Lord, and know that they are not cast off forever. The purpose of the book is also to convince us, the readers, both Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.
The Remnant of the House of Israel
The Book of Mormon was written specifically to the remnant of the House of Israel, but is also intended for all, both Jew and Gentile. The remnant of the House of Israel is clearly identified in 3 Nephi 21:23 where the Lord calls the Nephite audience before him and their posterity, “my people,” the remnant of the house of Jacob.
It is important to know that the Lord describes them with this identity as “my people” throughout His sermon and prophecy. This careful limitation of the reference to the Lord’s people should not be applied broadly. It does not include gentiles. Mankind should not change His meaning. He is speaking about a single, identified group as “my people,” and it is those standing before Him, as well as their descendants.
Speaking to Nephi, the angel stated, “Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the remnant of the house of Israel (and this remnant of whom I speak is the seed of thy father)…” (1 Nephi 13:34). Notice that the definition of the remnant to whom the prophecies apply has now been given. The distinction between the “gentiles” and the remnant is apparent here. We gentiles are not the remnant.
The Importance of the Book of Mormon
It is important to show the remnant the “great things the Lord hath done for their fathers” because every dispensation of the gospel has left only a remnant behind. Christ’s work is designed to preserve a remnant and at the end, gather all remnants together again. The restoration that was given to the prophet Joseph Smith has likewise put itself in a position where now it can only produce a remnant– but one that will be preserved and not abandoned. The Book of Mormon is to help the remnant know who they are.
“… for this very purpose are these plates preserved, which contain these records—that the promises of the Lord might be fulfilled, which he made to his people; And that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ, and be glorified through faith in his name, and that through their repentance they might be saved.” (D&C 3:19-20)
The Remnant Will Build the New Jerusalem
In the last days, and we are now in those days, the remnant is prophesied to build a city which shall be called the New Jerusalem. It will be built upon the American continent. The first official mission of the church was sent out to find the Lamanites. They went to the borders of the United States which, at that time, ended in Missouri. The Lamanites were located still to the West of Missouri, but the missionaries could not get there. The New Jerusalem will not necessarily be built in Missouri. That’s just as far as they got.
The “Gentiles” in the Book of Mormon are the members of the LDS church. With regards to the remnant, the Gentiles are supposed to help the remnant understand who they are and the promises made to them (1 Nephi 15:13&17 and 3 Nephi 21:2-7). By helping the remnant learn again of the covenants of the Father made to them, the Gentiles will be allowed to participate with the remnant in building the New Jerusalem. Without entering into this covenant alongside the remnant, the Gentiles have no right to be here and will be swept off the land before the New Jerusalem is built on the Remnant land.
The Most Correct Book
The Book of Mormon can convince people that Jesus is the Christ or Anointed One if they will follow the admonition in Moroni 10:4-5 to read it with a sincere heart and real intent to understand the message. The book stands as its own witness. It cannot be explained away as a work of fiction or plagiarism. The Title Page ends with a warning about not condemning the book by finding fault with it. This warning is significant because it demonstrates who the Lord’s sheep are. His sheep hear His voice and His voice is clearly evident throughout the Book of Mormon. But it takes humility to hear it.
Joseph Smith said that the Book of Mormon was the “most correct book” of any book on Earth. This is because it was not translated by man. It was translated by God. He is the author of the book. He gave the words to Joseph through the Urim & Thummim, the seerstone and later by direct revelation as Joseph’s gifts were developed. The Book of Mormon did not get translated from reformed Egyptian into English. It was given by revelation from the Lord. At times, Joseph did not even look at the plates to translate.
The Fullness of the Gospel
The Gentiles are the European Latter-day Saints who descend from the bloodlines that overran and dispossessed the native people in North America. The Gentiles have rejected the fullness of the Gospel. The fullness of the Gospel was offered through Joseph Smith but the Saints flew to pieces like glass because it was contrary to their traditions. The fullness of the gospel requires the fullness of the priesthood, which Joseph possessed for a time until it was withdrawn as a consequence of the people’s unwillingness to rise up and enter into the presence of the Lord, similar to the Israelites in Exodus 20:18-21.
The lesser part of the gospel remained, but the fullness was withdrawn because it was rejected. In order to possess the Fullness of the Gospel, one must receive it from the Lord by entering into His presence and being taught directly by Him things that cannot be taught by man. They must be administered by the Lord. The fullness of the gospel also includes being brought back into the presence of the Father, which can only happen as the Lord brings you to Him. The LDS Church cannot administer the fullness of the gospel. This is the same thing that happened to the Israelites when Moses was taken from them.
Witnesses and the Keystone
The Lord called witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris saw the angel Moroni and the gold plates. Eight other witnesses saw the plates as Joseph showed them to them. They all remained true to their testimony as witnesses of the Book of Mormon, even if they left the church. Even though they had disagreements with Joseph, and were disaffected, they did not denounce their witness of what they had seen. But the Book of Mormon is not proven true by their witness, it is proven true by God’s individual witness unto our individual souls and in no other way.
The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion, although it is not necessarily the keystone of the LDS church. We can indeed get closer to God by studying it’s pages than by reading or studying any other book. It witnesses of Jesus Christ and teaches more about this atoning sacrifice for man than can be found in the Bible. It acts as an anchor to our faith because it is constant, just as the Lord is our true and constant friend. As I wrote in the opening section, I have never been disappointed by the Book of Mormon.
The Condemnation of Unbelief
Our response to the Book of Mormon directly relates to our desire and ability to hear the voice of the Lord. Unbelief is condemned. In the vocabulary of the Book of Mormon the word “unbelief” means that you do not understand correct doctrine. You accept false notions, or your understanding is so incomplete as to make it wrong. Unbelief can be found by those who do not bother to read the book as well as by those who profess to accept it, even among Mormons, but do not understand the doctrines found therein.
In D&C 84:49-58, the Lord condemned the people of the church because they took the Book of Mormon lightly. President Benson taught that the church was still under that same condemnation in 1984, over 150 years later. I believe the membership of the church has made great strides in removing the condemnation. I see a great love of the Book of Mormon displayed by members of my ward and stake. To their credit, they are striving to understand and accept the correct doctrine that is taught therein.
Seek to Recover My People Israel
Sadly and unfortunately, the depth of the doctrine found in the Book of Mormon is not taught clearly in the official study guides of the church, including the new guide that is to be used in this year’s study of the Book of Mormon. It is up to us to dig deep and find those hidden nuggets and to interpret the scripture the way the Lord intended. For example, the identity of the Gentiles as defined by the Book of Mormon is still not widely accepted. For the most part, the gentiles are “non-members.” This is simply not true.
The first effort by early missionaries to reach the people identified by the Lord as “my people” failed miserably, because the Indian lands were off limits to the missionaries. The last great effort to reach the Lamanites, called the Indian Placement Program, was spearheaded by Spencer Kimball and died a slow death after the 1970’s. I would be very interested to learn what you all think we should be doing to fulfill this part of our covenant with the Lord to “seek to recover the lost sheep remnant of this land and of Israel and no longer forsake them. Bring them unto me and teach them of my ways, to walk in them” (section 158). If we fail to recover them, we break the covenant.