Sunday, December 06, 2020

Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9

 Come Follow Me: Moroni 7-9

With this penultimate lesson on the Book of Mormon, we read some of the final thoughts of Moroni.  This is his final farewell to us.  Perhaps in these last chapters of the Book of Mormon, we read the key concepts to lead us to Christ and exaltation in God’s kingdom. 

Real Intent, Faith, Hope and Charity
Ch 7

What we get first are more of the words of Mormon, who sent letters, teaching and giving advice to his son in the last few years before the final destruction.  Moroni is quoting his father decades after the final destruction. Perhaps these are Mormon’s final words to his son, and Moroni wishes to share them with us.

At some point in Mormon’s life, there were synagogues and true believers in Christ for him to address.  It may be that these few believers were among the few true believers that would later be hunted down by the Lamanites for not denying the Christ.

“…by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.  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” (vv 5-6)).
There are two key points to being a good person.  First, being involved in good works or behavior. Second, that there is real intent, or pure intentions behind the works.  When watching bad or evil behavior, it is easy to determine a person is bad.  We see someone kill or steal, and we think it is a bad person, because the works are evil.  But real intent is also important, and Moroni will note this again in what is perhaps the most well known LDS missionary scripture in the Book of Mormon: Moroni 10:3-5. Without real intent, we are giving lip service at best, and are hypocrites at worst.  How often do we praise a famous wealthy person for doing what appears on the outside as a great act, such as donate money or time to a worthy cause, only to find they have done it for their own benefit to pursue their own wealth and fame.

To only be doing good on the outside for one’s own glory, and not for the glory of God, means our hearts are not in the right place.  We must, therefore be careful in how we consider others.  Just doing or saying something that seems good, does not mean the person is seeking God’s path.

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” (v 13).

Fortunately, Mormon tells us there is a way to see what is good and what is evil.  The things which are truly good, do not just seem good on the outside.  They will also encourage and invite us to “do good continually” and to “love God.”   So, if a person does something that seems good, but they do it to receive glory and praise from the world, then it is not of God. It is an act of man that may do good things on the surface, such as feed little children or provide a benefit to the poor, but it does not touch the soul of man. 

And that is a problem with much of the effort in the world today: they focus on the flesh, but not on the eternal welfare of others.  They feed the body, but the spirit dies of starvation.  So it is with some of the government programs we have.  We feel we benefit people by giving them food stamps and welfare assistance, and in some sense we do.  But do we satisfy their bodies, while allowing the spirit of man to wither and die?  The prophets have encouraged us to be self reliant, and that work is good for man, for instance.  Do we help or hurt people by giving a partial solution that looks great on the outside, but still leaves them starving for God on the inside?
Also, we live in a time when people no longer "invite," but rather attempt to shame people into believing and conforming.  Extremism, much of which is brought on by those seeking to save the world through political or social activism on both the right and left, often choose anger and shaming as their methods to get people to tow the line. This is not the way God normally works. Man has God-given agency. God doesn't want people forced to comply with his laws, but wants them to freely choose to believe and obey. This is why the Book of Mormon focuses so much on faith, hope and charity; and less on pure obedience. Even discussions on the Law of Moses (based on enforced conformity) are set in the understanding that it is to lead us to Christ and the higher law.

Babylon, or the world, offers a solution that feeds the natural man, but not the eternal nature of man. In this format, Satan stirs people up to anger. They do not become the "peaceable followers of Christ."  

There is a way to determine just where a person, political or social organization, nation, or other organization stands in regards to good and evil:

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 everything 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.  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.   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.  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” (vv 16-19)
What encourages us to believe in Christ and do good works is of God.  All else is not celestial.

And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?  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” (vv 20-21).
There is no way to lay hold upon good things or to do good things without faith, hope and charity.  What kind of faith? Only that faith which leads us to believe in Christ.  Again, there is one way to do truly good works, and that is with real intent.  Real intent comes from the person or persons who seek Christ and to live a Christ-like life.  Feeding hungry people is not in and of itself a good or eternal work.  Feeding both their bodies and spirits is a good work.  Leading them to Christ is a good work, which all Christians may do.  And as others do good works and seek to lead people to God, they also may perform good works to the level of understanding of God they have.
Evil comes when men seek to get gain of some sort, including wealth, power, and prestige. There are many who donate to the poor in order to get attention from the world. Sadly, some charities spend some donations on the needy, but the main staff receive unnecessarily large salaries out of the donations.

Evil also comes when people try to establish that something sinful should be viewed as good. Isaiah, often quoted in the Book of Mormon, noted those who "called evil good, and good evil" (Isa 5:20).

While we begin with faith, hope helps us through the trials. Close your eyes for a moment and envision yourself in that last day, standing before Christ and having him embrace you. How does that make you feel? Think of the peace, quiet joy, and increased faith such thoughts bring. This is hope.

As we develop faith, hope becomes the anchor to our souls(Ether 12:4), which helps carry us through trying times.  As we grow in faith and hope, we desire to be more Christ-like, and so learn to develop the love of Christ, which is charity.

One thing we sometimes do not understand is that faith, hope and charity are gifts.  We cannot easily develop them on our own, no matter what works we do.  Instead, they are given to us, as we grow closer to God. Mormon encourages us to pray with all the energy of heart to have charity (Moroni 7:48) and God will pour out the gift of  agape love upon us.  If we knock, if we ask, if we seek it, God will give it to us as a free gift.  But we must have real intent.  We must truly desire it, and not just give lip service.  To the level we are ready to receive it, God will bestow it upon us, as he will provide all other gifts we seek.

Little children are saved in Christ
Chapter 8

Moroni provides to us a letter from his father, which Mormon sent him soon after he was ordained an elder, possibly over his own synagogue, and regarding baptism of children.  It may seem an anachronistic 19th century attack aimed on some Christian faiths, but there are elements that go beyond the modern Protestant view.  Mormon and Moroni’s world is falling into an apostate state, and Moroni has asked his father about the practice of some to baptize their little children.  It is not a modern problem, but a sign of apostasy that occurs when people do not understand the atonement of Christ.

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” (v 8).

Note that there IS a curse of Adam.  There is a falling of man from God’s presence. Mankind cannot return back to God because of his fallen nature.  All are dead physically and spiritually. They need a physician to heal them.  They need to follow the prescription given by the physician: faith, repentance, covenants, ordinances, and receiving the Holy Ghost.

However, through Christ, little children are automatically saved in Christ.  There is no need for circumcision or baptism for little children, because Christ’s gift resurrects all of them.  Because of Christ’s gift, temporal and spiritual death have no power over little children, as they are incapable of sinning.  Only when they reach the age to understand right from wrong, and are able to sin, will they also need to repent and receive the covenants and ordinances of God. Only then will they need the physician to heal them, so they can live forever with their little children.

So, what does this have to do with Moroni’s emphasis on faith, hope and charity in these last chapters?  We must learn to have the faith, hope and charity of a little child, in order to be saved with them through Christ. 
Moroni 9, Pure Evil
Four years ago, when the Book of Mormon was last studied in Sunday School, this chapter was not covered in the manual. Now, given the changes in the world, perhaps it is important to study it.

We see that the people, who once saw Christ and became a Zion society for two centuries, have now devolved. Those who were once surrounded by angels are now surrounded by demons. The three Nephite disciples, who could not taste of death, have been removed. The Spirit of God has completely left them. Lehi's prophecies about the Land of Promise are now complete. No longer are the people in the spiritual presence of God, and their depravities will soon cause them to be destroyed out of the land.

In this letter to his son, Moroni, Mormon notes:

"And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another." (Moroni 9:3)

We live in a time of anger. The left hates the right. The right hates the left. The social justice warriors are angry against the alt-right warriors, and vice versa. They justify their anger, as they are all certain that God is on their side. Yet, they are all giving in to the enticings of Satan, who stirs men up to anger continually. This anger eventually leads to such atrocities as we see here in Moroni 9. We've seen it in the past: Hitler turning his people to anger against the Jews. Ku Klux Klan angered against freed black people. Whether we gas them en masse, or lynch them one at a time, the anger is what justifies the atrocities.

For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually." (Moroni 9:5)
As I write this, we are going through the recounts of the presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. President Trump is challenging several swing state counts, claiming massive election fraud. Although he has not won any court cases and his own attorney general has declared there is no evidence of widespread fraud in the election (enough to change the election results), he continues to stir up his followers to anger. As a non-partisan, I've been excoriated by several of his followers on social media for stating where the evidence currently takes us. Some of Trump's followers have encouraged the president to declare martial law and retain the office, contra the Constitution. I'm sure that if the election were to have gone to Trump in this same manner, the left would be equally angry. 

Angry people do not listen to reason or evidence. They are founded upon a set of beliefs that cannot be changed, regardless of the facts or evidence. Such leads to the conditions we find in the last days of the Nephites and Jaredites.

This is in great contrast to what Mormon taught in chapter seven on faith, hope and charity. 

So, where do we currently fit on the spectrum of Christ-like love on one side, and pure evil anger on the other side? What must we do to accept the invitation to "come unto Christ and be perfected in him"?  We'll discuss that in the next lesson.


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