Nephi’s Teachings (part 2)
Last time, we discussed the life of Nephi and Nephi as a man. Today we are going to talk about Nephi’s teachings. In our last discussion, we saw that Nephi was the true founder of the Nephite civilization. He was the first ruler, the leading prophet, progenitor of many of the people, and the chief record keeper. We also saw that Nephi had a two-fold purpose in his writing. His first purpose, as he says, is “to persuade our children . . . to believe in Christ, for . . . it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). His second purpose, though not as clearly articulated—but just as evident and also very important—was to defend the rightness of the Nephite position against the Lamanites and their traditions, which accused Nephi of having wrongfully usurped the leadership of these people.
In the small plates, which is all we have of Nephi’s writings in the Book of Mormon, Nephi advances the thesis that “the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20). He then proves this thesis in several ways: First, he advances six stories. These stories tell about his family’s travels in the wilderness, leaving Jerusalem, getting the brass plates, and crossing the ocean. In each of these stories, Nephi, the one who obeyed the Lord, was miraculously delivered, usually from the threats of his rebellious brothers.
Nephi also proved his thesis by reporting visions in which he witnessed the atonement of Jesus Christ. That Atonement provides the means by which the Lord is able to be merciful and to bless us as we repent of our sins, make us mighty, and deliver us from the powers of Satan.
Finally, Nephi’s third proof of this thesis was the prophecies of the last days. Nephi saw, in vision and in the writings of Isaiah and others who had seen the vision, the last days and the way in which the Lord would send power down from heaven to rescue his people, even though they may be threatened with destruction. These are the three proofs Nephi advances for this thesis, which pervades his writings, particularly the book of 1 Nephi.
Nephi concluded the small plates, which were his last writings, with one grand summary of the doctrine of Christ, the fundamental teaching sent by God to men everywhere. We find his summary in 2 Nephi 31, where Nephi explains this message as having been narrated to him by the Father and the Son, presumably at the time when Nephi saw the baptism of Christ in vision. Nephi said that the gospel is sent down to earth because they all have sinned, and “the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God” (1 Nephi 15:34). So, the gospel is sent to enable men to be cleansed from their filthiness that they might be able to enter into the kingdom of God.
Nephi’s final focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ indicates how central this teaching was to all of Nephi’s teachings. You have to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ, in its fullness, was new to Lehi, Nephi, and their families after they left Jerusalem. The gospel was not presented to them in its fullness as they were growing up as part of the Jewish culture in Jerusalem around 600 B.C. And so we see Lehi and Nephi in a new light here. They each receive independent visions of the atonement of Christ. They see the baptism of Christ, that Christ is crucified and resurrected, and the two of them become independent witnessed of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it was taught to them in a vision by God and by angels sent for that purpose.
The Nephites and the Lamanites both, in early days, showed a similar reluctance to replace the Law of Moses in their lives. The same reluctance that was evident among the Israelites. We find, in Jacob, an account of Sherem, a man who comes teaching among the Nephites and accuses them of abandoning the Law of Moses in their lives. Sherem’s complaint against Nephi’s brother Jacob gives us some insight as to what it was like for these people to receive this teaching from Nephi. Jacob records: “And it came to pass that he [Sherem] came unto me, . . . saying: Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak with you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ” (Jacob 7:6).
We learn from this that Nephi and Jacob are using the phrases “gospel of Jesus Christ” and “doctrine of Christ” interchangeably. Gospel is an English word that was made up by translators of the King James Bible to translate terms such s “the good news” in the New Testament, or “glad tidings” in the Hebrew Old Testament. Lehi first used this term when he was teaching his family about the great vision of the tree of life, reported to us in 1 Nephi 10. Nephi said, “And it came to pass after my father had spoken these words he spake unto my brethren concerning the gospel which should be preached among the Jews” (1 Nephi 10:11). He was looking forward to the time that Christ would come and teach them.
Nephi later records his own prophecies about the future teaching of the gospel to his own descendants. In 2 Nephi 30;5, he says: “And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.” Revelations given to Joseph Smith repeatedly inform us that the fullness of the gospel is to be found in the Book of Mormon. That fullness is presented in three particular chapters in the Book of Mormon, which spell out in detail just what the gospel message is, and in which the gospel message is framed by the opening and closing statements “this is my doctrine” and “this is my gospel” (3 Nephi 11:30, 32, 35, 39; 3 Nephi 27:21). Each of these three chapters is quoting Jesus Christ himself as the one presenting the gospel message. (In the first of there chapters, the one written by Nephi [2 Nephi 31], Nephi also quotes the Father as well as the Son.” These three chapters, which are marked off with these bookend statements identifying them as statements of the gospel, all fall into the pattern set by Nephi in presenting his basic gospel message in chapter 31 of 2 Nephi. In verse 2, Nephi says, “Wherefore, the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ.” And then at the end of the chapter, in verse 21, Nephi says, “And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end.”
We have the same kind of phrasing in 3 Nephi 11, where the Savior, speaking to the Nephites, says: “And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me” (v. 32). He then repeats the gospel two or three times and concludes by saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine” (v. 35).
In 3 Nephi 27, the third chapter where the gospel is presented, the Savior has appeared to his disciples, and there he says: “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you” (v. 13). He then presents the same message that we have seen in the previous two chapters and concludes, saying, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel” (v. 21). So Nephi sets, in 2 Nephi 31, a pattern that is followed by the Savior himself in two subsequent statements or chapters in 3 Nephi.
I want to go through 2 Nephi 31 with you, then, and look at the teachings of Nephi. Nephi is presenting this chapter at the end of his writings and sees it as the central basic teaching that must be grasped by his children if they are to be persuaded to believe in Christ. In verse 4, after announcing that he will write a few more words concerning the doctrine of Christ, Nephi reminds his readers of the vision he reported earlier about the baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist. He says, in verse 4: “Wherefore, I would that ye should remember that I have spoken unto you concerning that prophet which the Lord showed me, that should baptize that Lamb of God, which should take away the sins of the world.” And then he raises a question, and it is an interesting kind of question, because the Lamb of God isn’t like us. He is not a sinner. He asks:
And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fill all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!
And now, I would ask of you, my beloved brethren, wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water?
Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men [and now he tells us what it is that the Savior is doing for us] that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments.
Wherefore, after he was baptized with water the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove,
And again, it showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he [Jesus] having set the example before them.
And so we get this picture of Jesus humbling himself before the Father, being baptized in water, and receiving the Holy Ghost. That is the core concept that is presented to us. Nephi says this shows us “the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate.” So the gate is this humbling. What does humbling before the Lord suggest? Nephi is going to tell us how this applies to us sinners.
Nephi quotes Jesus, saying: “And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren [Nephi is now speaking to his family], can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?” (2 Nephi 31:10). Then he turns and quotes the Father. It would be interesting if we had a full account of that first vision that Nephi is reporting, because obviously a lot more happened and a lot more was said than is recorded back in 1 Nephi 11. That is a very brief account, but here we are getting extra detail from that vision. And the Father said: “Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.” So now the father echoes what has been said in the vision—i.e., repent and be baptized. Nephi continues: “And also, the voice of the Son came unto me [so in this vision, Nephi hears the voice of the Father and then he hears the voice of the Son], saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do” (2 Nephi 31:12).
And so again we have the pattern. First, we have the pattern in the vision. We see Jesus himself setting the pattern—humbling himself, being baptized, and receiving the Holy Ghost—and then we see the Father and Jesus repeating the pattern to Nephi, who hears their voices. Nephi concludes, or sums this up, by saying: “Wherefore, my believed brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son [and now he puts some extra wording in’, with full purpose of hearth, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins?” (2 Nephi 31:13).
And so we see here that since Jesus humbled himself before the Father, being sinless, this is a guide to us that we are to humble ourselves. How do we humble ourselves? We repent with sincerity of heart. Nephi repeats four different points, emphasizing sincerity—full purpose of heart, no hypocrisy, no deception, and real intent. You get the feeling that he means you have to be sincere with your repentance. And then repenting, by baptism, you witness unto the Father “that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” (v. 13).
Now, Nephi has introduced a new phrase—”baptism by fire,” compared to “baptism by water.” Of course, fire and water are usually used as opposites, aren’t they? Why are we getting these two different phrases? Why are they calling it “baptism by fire”? What is the function of fire? And is it literally fire? It doesn’t seem to be. There are no flames described. Why is it being called “fire” in this case? Nephi goes back to quoting, and he will answer these questions:
But, behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying: After ye have repented of your sins [What are we getting? New information? We are getting repetition, aren’t we? This is the third time through], and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments, by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, and can speak with a new tongue, yea, even with the tongue of angels, and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me.
And so there is a great responsibility that comes to people as they receive the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Verse 15: “And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be save.” And so, after one receives the baptism of water and then of fire, he muct endure to the end or he cannot be saved. “And now, my beloved brethren,” Nephi goes on to testify, “I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved” (v. 16).
We have essentially five points that have been made now. What is the first thing that Nephi says we have to do? The first thing we have to do is repent. Repentance is followed by baptism of water. These are two things that are under our control, aren’t they? We can repent by humbling ourselves. Can anyone repent for you? Not even God can repent for you. Your mother can’t do it; your kids can’t do it; we can’t do it vicariously for the dead. Everyone has to repent for himself or herself. Who chooses to be baptized? You do! That is your choice. The bishop or the missionaries interview you, and you say “yes” or “no.” What do we accomplish? What are we saying by being baptized? We witness to the Father, Nephi says, that we are willing to take the mane of Christ upon us and keep his commandments. Nephi specifically said that in being baptized, Jesus was renewing this covenant—that is, Jesus was making a covenant with the Father that he would keep all His commandments, that he would be obedient.
Who made this covenant before? It tells us in the Doctrine and Covenants, which calls this covenant “the everlasting covenant” or the “everlasting gospel” (D&C 88:133; 101:39; 66:2; 101:39, 138:19). The covenant that the father made with all his children before they came to earth was that if they would repent, and be baptized, and receive that baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end, that they would saved. So, this is the everlasting covenant given to all human beings. Likely, we took that covenant before we came here, and so as we are baptized, we renew that covenant, don’t we? We take it in this life, based on our repentance in this life, and open up in our own lives the prospect that we might be saved. That possibility is created as we make that covenant.
Nephi calls repentance and baptism the gate by which we enter, and that gate puts us on a straight and narrow path. In verse 17, Nephi says:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; [and if you enter the gate with full purpose of heart and sincerity, what happens?] and then cometh a remission of your sins [and how are your sins remitted?] by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
That is the purpose of the fire, isn’t it? The fire is a purifying, or cleansing. It cleanses us of our sins and purifies us. And fire, of course, is the ultimate cleansing agent. Why baptism of water? Why water? Paul pointed out in the New Testament that baptism is like burial and resurrection. That is the image that came to him. That is not being mentioned here, is it? Nephi is using a different kind of image. The one thing that is helpful in this regard is to remember that all sacred covenants require individuals to cleanse themselves before they take the covenant. You do a physical cleansing of your body in preparation for the spiritual benefits that come as a result of the sacred ordinance that involves God.
So the baptism is a way of presenting ourselves symbolically as being cleansed as far as we can cleanse ourselves. As a response, God cleanses us truly, in our spirits and our souls, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. It’s something we can’t do for ourselves, can we? Can we make the Spirit come into our lives? What does he call it? Joseph Smith calls it the “gift of the Holy Ghost.” It is a gift that comes to us when we are fully repentant, fully worthy, and make this covenant and are baptized. Who knows if we are really sincere? Baptism of water really goes a long way toward humbling us. If we are willing to take the time to make the ordinance, dress up, and go down into the water and submit ourselves, it is a way of submitting ourselves completely to him, putting ourselves completely at his mercy and begging for his help, isn’t it?
Well, Nephi goes on to say that after we go through the gate (repentance and baptism), we are in this straight and narrow path, the path that leads to eternal life. And we have done this according to the commandments of the Father and of the Son. We have received the Holy Ghost. We have witnessed unto the Father unto the fulfilling of the promise he had made that “if ye will enter in by the way,” ye should receive (2 Nephi 32:5).
What promise was this? What promise is being referred to here? When was this promise made? It hasn’t been mentioned, has it? But that is the promise of the gospel that was given to us in the premortal existence and is given to us again now. If we will enter in by the way and keep the commandments, we will receive the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the witness, as Nephi calls it here, of the Father and the Son that this promise is being kept. When the Holy Ghost comes to us, it is God saying, “I accept your repentance. You are forgiven of your sins. If you keep these commandments, you will have eternal life.”
We can’t see eternal life. It is a long way in the future. This witness from God is something no one can concoct. We can’t create it ourselves. It is something that we recognize. It is pure and holy, and it comes from God, and that is his witness to us that we are doing the right, that the gospel is true, and that he accepts our repentance and our covenant to keep his commandments.
“And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?” (2 Nephi 31;19). Is there something odd about our list of things? Repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end, and being saved—is there something missing? Are you looking for something else? When we learn the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, what did we learn first? Faith! Where’s faith in all this? Did you notice that? Nephi never mentioned faith.
The other Book of Mormon prophets tend to present the gospel much the same way Nephi does, by starting with repentance. But now Nephi fills the gap. “Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him” (v. 19). Nephi hasn’t forgotten faith, and he is not going to leave it out. But he sees faith as something that doesn’t happen first but is necessary for the entire process—and you rely on Jesus Christ at every step. You rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (v. 19). Verse 20: “Wherefore, ye much press forward with a steadfastness in Christ [steadfastness in Christ is faith], having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ [and by that, he means following the guidance of the Holy Ghost], and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
Nephi goes on to conclude in verse 21: “Now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way.” You might remember that in the New Testament, the word used to refer to the gospel was “the way,” and the Christians were even known as “the way.” That was the informal name for the church. We are called “Mormons” and they were called “the way.” Nephi says, “This is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” Nephi continues: “And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end” (v. 21). The word doctrine in the New Testament literally means “teaching.” This is the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is the teaching of the Father. This is the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
Well, let’s go back quickly now and look at what we have learned about these six basic elements of the gospel message Nephi has described. First of all, repentance. Repentance is always the starting point. It is part of the gate whereby we enter the straight and narrow path; yet even being holy, Jesus humbled himself before the Father, setting for us the example of repentance, humility and total sincerity as keys to repentance. People must follow the Son “with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of [their] sins” (2 Nephi 31:13). Repentance is the true key, the turning point, the means or essential step for all who would come unto Christ. The phrase “come unto me” refers to this process of repenting and being baptized. That is what we can do. We come unto Christ when we do these things, and then he blesses us with his Spirit.
Baptism is the other part of the gate. It is by repenting and being baptized that we can follow the Son through the gate and enter the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life. Baptism is an external witness to the Father of an internal commitment that individuals are willing to take upon themselves the name of Christ by baptism and are willing to keep Christ’s commandments.
The Holy Ghost, as Nephi teaches, comes to those who are baptized. Christ promises that the Father will give the Holy Ghost to any repentant person who is baptized in Christ’s name. Using an alternative description of this gift, Nephi explains to his brothers that only after repentance and baptism “cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost” (v. 13).
The language “baptism of fire” in chapter 31 seems directed at this second function of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost—that of cleansing the recipient from sin. In his third function of this phrase, Nephi says that the remission of sins comes by fire and by the Holy Ghost. So the baptism of fire purifies the recipient and, in the words of Moroni at the very end of the Book of Mormon, leaves him “holy, without spot,” or perfect in the grace of Christ (Moroni 10:33).
The third function of the Holy Ghost seems to be that of giving a witness to the convert from the Father and the Son. So, just as baptism by water constitutes a witness from the convert to the Father, so the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is a witness from the Father and Son to the convert. It witnesses of the Father and the Son; thereby fulfilling the promise of the gospel that if you “enter in by the way,” ye shall receive (2 Nephi 32:5).
Nephi further warns, in connection with this spiritual baptism, that if, after all this, one denies Christ, it would be better not to have known Him. Nephi then treats faith in Jesus Christ as a fundamental principle that underlies all the other principles and ordinances of the gospel and ties them all together. This same sense was present in Joseph Smith’s original Wentworth Letter, which announced the first principles and ordinances of the gospel that are now rendered in our Articles of Faith. Nephi delays discussing faith until the end of his presentation because faith is the link between what one does to enter the gate and what one must do thereafter. One cannot have gotten into the gate “save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19). And after getting into the path, Nephi says that one cannot obtain salvation except by pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ.
The Gift of the Holy Ghost, in its revelatory function, seems particularly designed to aid converts with the final requirement, the fifth element—that they endure to the end, for unless men and women endure to the end in following Christ’s example, they cannot be saved (v. 16). But as Nephi explains later when he expounds on his presentation, for all those who enter in by the way and have received “the Holy Ghost, it will show unto [them] all things what [they[ should do” (2 Nephi 32:5). Having reduced the message of the gospel to its essentials, Nephi then emphasizes one last time that “this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you” (2 Nephi 32:6).
Now, there is a little additional twist in enduring to the end, because, as Nephi presents are the end of chapter 31, it seems to imply pressing forth in faith, hope, and charity. This trio of concepts occurs repeatedly in Book of Mormon sermons in connection with this point of the doctrine of Christ. The three are clearly indicated in Nephi’s closing summary where he instructs people to endure to the end and press forward with a steadfastness, or faith, in Christ, “having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men” (2 Nephi 31:20), which is our definition of charity.
Let’s understand that just a little bit more. Why would people have hope? What is the basis of the hope of salvation, as Nephi explained it? Do people have a good reason to hope that they might be saved at this point? What is that reason? There is a real need for hope. People need hope, they need peace, they need happiness. We need reassurance. Is there anything that has happened in this process that makes it reasonable for us to hope? He laid out, step by step, what we must do to have this goal of eternal life. We can really do it. He has shown us the way. Has he done anything to encourage us? Go back to the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. That is a witness from the Father that we have been forgiven of our sins, and that becomes the basis of hope, because if you receive that witness, God has spoken to you. He has blessed you with his Spirit.
You might start to think it is possible. You have been a sinner, and you thought it was not possible [to be forgiven]. Like Alma, you want to hide from the presence of God when you realize that you are just a sinner. And then to feel that Spirit and to have it guiding you gives you the sense that it might be possible. You begin to hope, and that same Spirit, because it cleanses you from sin and you turn from selfishness and focus on yourself, makes it possible for you to feel the love that God has for others.
And you can begin to conduct your life with that kind of love or charity. Then you understand what the scripture means when it says, basically, without charity, we are nothing (see Moroni 10:21). If we truly have this Spirit of Christ in our lives, if the Holy Ghost comes to us and blesses us in this way, we become charitable towards others. It is a sign that people have that true Spirit in their lived, guiding them. Their hearts have been changed, again to use King Benjamin’s language from Mosiah 5:2, 7, and from Alma 19:33.
Well, the reward promised to those who endure to the end is that they shall be saved. Nephi supplements the words of the Father by insisting that unless individuals follow Christ by repenting and being baptized and enduring to the end, they cannot be saved. Quoting the Father a second time on this point, Nephi says that all who do these things “shall have eternal life,” or “be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 31:20, 21). This teaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ is Nephi’s central teaching.
Now I would like to move to some other important points that Nephi makes, because just as his teaching of the gospel was derived from visions in which the Lord and his angels taught Nephi personally, so Nephi also gave his people a great legacy of prophecy about they own people and about the future triumph of the gospel in the world. In his great vision, the vision they shared on separate occasions, Nephi and Lehi had also seen the future demise of their own people. The anguish and deep afflictions caused by this knowledge were softened only by further knowledge, also given in vision, that there would be a restoration of the gospel to the Gentiles and to the house of Israel, who would get another chance to receive the gospel.
Nephi describes that great future day in his own vision and enlarges it with explanations to his brothers and with his interpretations of Isaiah. In fact, probably one of the best summaries of this prophecy of Nephi’s comes after Nephi has been reading Isaiah to his brothers. At the end of 1 Nephi 22, Nephi undertakes to explain to Laman and Lemuel and his other brothers what these teachings of Isaiah, or the prophecies of Isaiah, mean. If you look at chapter 22, you see his brothers come to him and say, “What do these things on the brass plates mean?” Nephi tells them in verse 3:
It appears that the house of Israel, sooner or later, will be scattered upon all the face of the earth, and also among all nations.
And since they have been led away, these things have been prophesied concerning them, and also concerning all those who shall hereafter be scattered and be confounded, because of the Holy one of Israel; for against him will they harden their hearts; wherefore, they shall be scattered among all nations and shall be hated of all men.
So Nephi, first prophecies—from his own vision, and from his father’s, and from Isaiah’s writings, and from other things that he has read—that the children of Abraham, the covenant people of Israel, will harden their hearts against the Lord, against Jesus, and that they will be scattered throughout the world and among all nations. That is the first part of the picture.
Then he says that he has seen in vision, and that he sees in Isaiah, that these Israelites shall eventually be nursed by the Gentiles—as babies of the Gentiles. They will be brought in as infants and will be nursed and strengthened, brought up as children, and the Lord has lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard. In verse 6 we are looking at a future time when the Gentile nations will receive the gospel, and accept it and they will become the standard and the ones who will bring Israel back. In verse 7, Nephi says straight out: “The Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered” (1 Nephi 22:7). And then he says, “The Lord will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles” (1 Nephi 22:8). And again, you hear the language, the echoes from Isaiah. So, what Nephi is doing is saying that anyone can understand Isaiah if he or she reads it by the Spirit of the Lord.
Well, if we read Isaiah, we don’t see it all. But what Nephi has seen is Isaiah describing the same vision that Nephi had. He has a leg up on us, doesn’t he? He uses Isaiah’s language to describe his own vision: “After our seed is scattered the Lord will proceed to do a marvelous work” (v. 8). In verse 9 he says that it is “not only unto the Gentiles [that this work will be of great value] but unto all of the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the father of Heaven unto Abraham.” At this time Nephi says—and this is a favorite phrase of his that he borrows from Isaiah—that the Lord will “make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations” (v. 10).
What does it mean to “make bare his arm”? Is it a strange kind of statement? Does Nephi mean like on the beach, kind of to show off his muscles? Why is it not already bare? Is God not there? Does he not already have his power? Well, I think His power will become more visible. The truthfulness of this gospel will become more evident as God unveils His arm, as He makes His arm bare, and His mighty work will become more convincing, more clearly the work of God in these last days. Nephi returns to this many times. He says, “Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations” (v. 11). God is going to show everybody who he is and that this is his work, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.
He goes on in verse 12: “wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.” And then Nephi goes on to add one further point, one further major element, to the prophecies of the future. He tells what will happen when the nations of the world begin to combine against Zion, and against the people of the Lord, and against the covenant people of Israel who return to the Lord, because, in verse 14, he says: “Every nation which shall war against thee, O house of Israel, shall be turned on against another.” Later in that verse, he says, “All that fight against Zion shall be destroyed.”
And how will this all end? Nephi tells us: “Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men” (v. 15), “the fullness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men” (v. 16), and God “will preserve the righteous by his power . . . The righteous need not fear; for . . . they shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire” (v. 17). And so the power of heaven will be sent down from heaven upon the earth to save the people of Zion, and there is a wonderful description of that back in chapter 14 of 1 Nephi. The righteous will not perish; they will be saved, and in verses 25—26 we read that the Lord will “feed his sheep, and in him they shall find pasture. . . . Because of the righteousness of his people, Satan has no power.”
Going on, Nephi finally gives us remarkable personal insight into the application of the gospel in his own life. In 2 Nephi 2, in the well-known psalm, or prayer, of Nephi, this great prophet pours out his soul to the Lord, complete with an account of his personal struggles, of his faith, and his repentance, and of the power of the Spirit of the Lord as it has come into his life and as it has been so wonderfully manifest in his personal experience. Let’s look at 2 Nephi 4:17. Not only is this a wonderful personal revelation, it is also remarkable because it is written in beautiful poetic form, a poetic form that perfectly illustrates Hebrew poetic structures. If you study poetry in the Old Testament, one of the first things you have to learn about is parallelism, and you find out that everything is said twice. It can be said in different orders, but you have something that will be said twice—a sentence for example. Look at this sentence: “My heart sorroweth [all that A] because of my flesh [call that B].” Then it gets repeated, but the repetition will be slightly different, and it will intensify the meaning or expand the meaning in some important way. For example, let’s read all of 2 Nephi 4:17:
“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth [and now the poetic part begins]: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” Which is more intense, heart sorroweth or soul grieveth? Which is more intense, my flesh or mine iniquities? See how he intensifies that? But yet it is the same meaning, isn’t it?
As we read the two [phrases] against each other, they help correct the meaning of each one. They clarify. We understand more clearly what he is saying. “I am encompasses about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4:18). What is he surrounded by, or encompassed by? Temptations and sins. At the end of this Nephi is going to pray that the Lord will encircle him in the robes of his righteousness, as a contrast to this encircling by temptations and sins. “And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; [But what gives him hope?] nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support” (2 Nephi 4:19—20).
Verse 21: “He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.” What is he describing there? Of the things we have been talking about, what does this reflect? Baptism of fire. Nephi has been filled with the love of God even to the consuming of his flesh. It is an intense internal experience. He describes it as consuming his flesh. It is inside, not to be seen or heard. It is something he is feeling internally.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime.
And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And my eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
In verse 26, Nephi says that “the Lord hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow?” Nephi is admitting that he has suffered some depression. His soul droops in sin and his heart lingers in the valley of sorrow, because of his afflictions. What are Nephi’s afflictions? In chapter 15 of 1 Nephi, Nephi sorrows because of his afflictions. He said he considered his afflictions to be great above all. He was really feeling sorry for himself! What had he seen that was making him feel bad? The Lord had shown him a vision, at Nephi’s own request. The Lord had shown Nephi that his descendants would become apostate and be destroyed. Nephi considered his afflictions to be great above all. And so, now, his strength slackens because of his afflictions (see v. 26). He says, “Why should I yield to sin because of my flesh?” (v. 27). What is Nephi’s sin? He tells us here in verse 27: “Why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul?” He was letting Satan have a place to ruin his peace. “Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” Who is Nephi angry at? His brothers.
Nephi has trouble avoiding anger when he deals with his brothers. He cannot stand the way they handle this great opportunity. The great revelations, the promised land—they reject is all. Nephi cried out: “Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions” (2 Nephi 4:28—29). Nephi’s sin is that he is angry. He lets his soul become angry and discouraged, and for these things, he repents. In verses 32—33 he says, “My heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me!” Finally, Nephi sums up his basic position in one line in verse 34: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh.”
We have looked at three major elements in Nephi’s teachings. There are more, but I think that we have hit the major points. I would like to conclude with my testimony that the things Nephi is teaching us are true; that the gospel that Nephi taught so eloquently in this chapter of 2 Nephi 31 is the true gospel of Jesus Christ; and that if we will put it into our lives, as in this prayer that we have just read, we will have the same experience, as we feel the love of God coming into our lives, purifying our should and enabling us to stand in the presence of God. I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.