2 Nephi 2:26-30 — LeGrand Baker — free to choose
2 Nephi 2:26-30
26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.
30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen. Please remember that I feel free to write what I write here because I trust that each of you will know these ideas are only my opinions. If they are true, then they are true. If not, you may hope that some day I will have enough good sense to change my mind.
When I was a boy in seminary, I was taught that there were three consequences of the fall. First, that our spirits were removed from the presence of God and would forget what it was like to be there. Second, that our spirits could come to this world to get a physical body, but that body would eventually die. Third, that in this world we would be subject to sin. I was also taught that the atonement took care of the fall because, first and second, everyone would be resurrected and brought back into God’s presence, and third, it would be possible to repent and be forgiven. I had a testimony then, that those principles are true and I still have that testimony. However since then, the simple, somewhat flat, black and white picture sketched there in the barest outline has been filled in. It now has taken on brilliant color, and it has become three dimensional, with a breadth, height and depth that I could never have imagined when I was a boy. The Book of Mormon has been largely responsible for that change, and this sermon by Lehi is a major factor in giving the picture its three dimensional perspective.
Lehi’s assumptions about the fall seem to be somewhat more complex than simply that we left God’s presence to get a body and became subject to sin. Let me try to briefly describe what I think he is saying and why he is saying it. That task is difficult, because his information was first hand. He had seen all things from before the beginning. He apparently read in the book given him by the Saviour the purposes and plans of the Council in Heaven. He not only knew what was going to be done, and when, but he also knew who the people are, and who have which assignments. That last bit is going to take a little explaining, so let me digress just a little.
In Section 138, President Joseph F. Smith identified the following two groups of people as being present at the meeting which the Saviour attended in the spirit world between the time of his death and his resurrection. Some of those in the first group were Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah, as well as the ancient Nephite prophets. All of those in this group had already lived in mortality, and were “dead.” The other group consisted of those who had not yet lived in mortality. Some of those who were named in President Smith’s revelation are: the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and others “who were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work.” Of these, Joseph F. Smith wrote, “I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men.”
First lessons” is an interesting phrase. We tend to equate that sort of phrasing with the idea of remedial, or simple, like first grade or kindergarten. But these “first lessons” included teaching their children how to come to Christ (Alma 13), expelling Satan during the war in heaven, and creating the world (Abraham 3-6). The people in the meeting President Smith described, both those who were “dead” and those still in the pre-earth spirit world, had known each other and worked together for eons. Lehi had seen the Council, he would have recognize his friends, remembered their assignments, and their impact on the fulfillment of his own assignment –even if that impact would follow his life on earth by thousands of years (as would the Prophet Joseph’s), or precede it by only a hundred and twenty years (as would Isaiah’s). I suspect that there is a group of friends — a very large group of friends, not just a few, for President Smith describes them as “an innumerable company of the spirits of the just.” (v.12) — who were friends there, will be friends again. Some, those who live at the same time and same place in mortality, are also friends here. But others may be anyway. For example, I presume that means that the friendship between Joseph Smith and Moroni was a very long standing one and that Moroni had a perfect memory of their friendship even if Joseph had temporarily forgotten. Nephi also knew who the Prophet Joseph was, and what his mission would be, as I presume did Lehi also.
My point is, if one is going to discuss the meaning of the fall, with even an inkling of the background from which Lehi discussed it, it seems to me one must do so (even in a very limited way) within the context in which Lehi would have understood it. And Lehi’s understanding was intimate with people and events which stretched to both ends of eternity.
I suppose I ought to stop here and call attention to some things modern prophets have said about this earth, before I discuss the meaning of the fall to the people on the earth. The first is a statement made by the Prophet Joseph. Joseph re-wrote the entire revelation of the 76th Section of the D&C in poetry form. The poem was published in the Times and Seasons (Feb. 1, 1843), and reprinted in the August 1843 issue of the Millennial Star. A few stanzas read as follows:
Speaking of those who fear the Lord “and live for the life that’s to come,” Joseph wrote,
I’ll surely reveal all my myst’ries to them —
The great hidden myst’ries in my kingdom stor’d;
From the council in Kolob, to time on the earth,
And for ages to come unto them I will show
My pleasure and will, what the kingdom will do:
Eternity’s wonders they truly shall know.
Great things of the future I’ll show unto them,
Yea, things of the vast generations to rise;
For their wisdom and glory shall be very great,
And their pure understanding extend to the skies.
And before them the wisdom of wise men shall cease,
And the nice understanding of prudent ones fail?
For the light of my spirit shall light mine elect,
And the truth is so mighty ’twill ever prevail.
And the secrets and plans of my will I’ll reveal,
The sanctifi’d pleasures when earth is renew’d;
What the eye hath not seen, nor the ear hath yet heard,
Nor the heart of the natural man ever view’d.
In those verses are two ideas to which I wish to call especial attention. The first is that those about whom the Prophet is speaking are promised that they may see the Council and know its secret plans (sode). The second is the information that the place where the Council met was Kolob, which is identified in Abraham 3:13-16 as the central star and temple of the universe. (I read “nearest unto me” to mean temple, or, if all creation is considered sacred space, then it would mean the Holy of Holies. This seems to me to be a more likely interpretation than the idea that the phrase suggests a geographical location in the universe.) describes his own sode experience.
I, Joseph, the prophet, in spirit beheld,
And the eyes of the inner man truly did see
Eternity sketch’d in a vision from God,
Of what was, and now is, and yet is to be.
Those things which the Father ordained of old,
Before the world was or a system had run,
Through~Jesus, the Maker and Saviour of all –
The only begotten (Messiah) his son
Of whom I bear record, as all prophets have,
And the record I bear is the fulness-yea, even
The truth of the gospel of Jesus — the Christ,
With whom I convers’d in the vision of heav’n.
I marvell’d at these resurrections, indeed,
For it came unto me by the spirit direct:
And while I did meditate what it all meant,
The Lord touch’d the eyes of my own intellect.
Hosanna, for ever! They open’d anon,
And the glory of God shone around where I was;
And there was the Son at the Father’s right hand,
The Prophet Joseph then wrote:
In a fulness of glory and holy applause.
I beheld round the throne holy angels and hosts,
And sanctified beings from worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
For ever and ever. Amen and amen.
Then follows the Prophet’s testimony which is so often quoted from Section 76. But this too is broader than the other, giving priceless information about the meaning and extent of the atonement.
And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea, he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God on his throne.
And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and only begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour as ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.
The other reference I wish to use for a background to my discussion of the fall is from John Taylor’s editorial in the 29 August 1857 issue of The Mormon. I quoted it in full earlier, so wish to call attention to only a part of it here.
Knowest thou not that; eternities ago, thy spirit, pure and holy, dwelt in thy Heavenly Father’s bosom, and in his presence, and with thy mother, one of the Queens of heaven, surrounded by thy brother and sister spirts in the. spirit world, among the Gods. That as thy spirit beheld the scenes transpiring there, and thou growing in intelligence, thou sawest worlds upon worlds organized and peopled with thy kindred spirits, took upon them tabernacles, died, were resurrected, and received their exaltation on the redeemed worlds they once dwelt upon. Thou being willing and anxious to imitate them, waiting and desirous to obtain a body, a resurrection and exaltation also, and having obtained permission, thou made a covenant with one of thy kindred spirits to be thy guardian angel while in mortality, also with two others, male and female spirits, that thou wouldst come and take a tabernacle through their lineage, and become one of their offspring. You also choose a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world, (and had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle) to be your head, stay, husband, and protector on the earth, and to exalt you in the eternal worlds. All these were arranged, likewise the spirits that should tabernacle through your lineage. Thou longed, thou sighed, and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fell from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob. Leave thy father and mother’s bosoms, and all thy kindred spirits, come to earth, take a tabernacle, and imitate the deeds of, those you had seen exalted before you.
Now, to review the most important points, and add a couple other relevant ones. Kolob is “nearest to God.” It is also the site where the Council met. It was there where Joseph saw “the Son at the Father’s right hand….on his throne….round the throne holy angels….” The earth, “had fled and fell from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob.” The implications of Abraham 3 to the end, is that this earth was the first world which was created by the Council. Elsewhere the earth is called the “footstool” of God, which suggests that it is the part of the throne by which one ascends to sit upon the throne. This earth is the “altar” of the universe, upon it the Saviour performed his atoning sacrifice; and from the elements of this earth, the Saviour obtained the Celestial elements of his own resurrected body.
Well, all that’s background. Now let’s get to the point. The questions are: What was the fall? What were its immediate effects? What were its ultimate purposes?
What was the “fall” as far as this earth is concerned? Was the earth inhabited by spirit people while it was “near” Kolob, or only after it “fled and fell”? What are the implications of the answer? That’s easy, I don’t know the answer, so I haven’t the foggiest idea what the implications are. But laying aside the question of the earth’s fall, lets look at the question Lehi poses: What was the fall as far as people who not occupy this earth are concerned?
First of all, the fall made it possible for specific members of the Council, and for others who had spirit bodies, to clothe those spirit bodies in physical bodies. Second, the world where one comes to receive these physical bodies is sacred but not “clean;” therefore it is, and must be, outside the presence of God — that is, it is outside the presence of God from the perspective of humans who can neither see him nor hear his voice. Third, there is an almost total memory loss on the part of those spirits who came into these physical bodies. Fourth, the fall places one in a physical environment where he can experience and find meaning in physical birth, growth, exhilaration, deterioration, and death; in an academic and emotional environment where one can learn through study, faith, observation, and experience; and in a spiritual environment where one can see and experience both good and bad, and learn to distinguish between them. These complexly intertwined environments can only exist in a world where the people have an almost total loss of their memory of the life, learning, and experiences which brought them here; and an almost total loss of ability to see and hear things other than those in a physical dimension.
Lehi seems very aware of this. While his discussion touches every facet of the fall, he focuses it especially on our loss of memory and the consequences of our not being able to remember who or what we were, why we came here, and what our assignment was.
When one is born into this world, he is innocent. That innocence is a gift of the atonement (D&C 93:38), and therefore evidences one’s having had faith in Christ before being born into this world. The evidence is in the fact that the blessings of the atonement come to one only after one has accepted them through the appropriate ordinances and covenants. If that law also held in the world before this one, each person born here must have accepted the Saviour’s atonement or he could not have been born innocent in this world. It seems to me that a little child’s absolute innocence is evidence of his previous faith, covenants, and holy works. But it also seems to me that one’s innocence is expressed largely in the fact that he cannot remember where we came from (Or, if remembering it, he is not able to communicate it until after that memory has been displaced by more immediate experiences.), and thus he is not able to anticipate what will come after. So, in terms of the functions of one’s physical body, and in terms of academic and emotional “realities” one will encounter here, he comes to this earth almost completely oblivious, callow, without guile, having almost no experience with which to judge happy from sad, good from bad, evil from righteousness. One comes, as Adam and Eve came, of one’s own volition, but having no memory of the part one played in the former world. Symbolically, every individual born into this world must partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One is then free to learn anew the meaning of pleasure, happiness, good, righteousness, joy in this world; and thus can learn anew in this world how to distinguish those positive feelings from their negative counterparts: pain, sorrow, bad, evil, darkness.
The object of all that background I gave at the beginning of this note was to illustrate that the forgetfulness which came when we were born, is not a little thing. Each of us had a great deal to forget. And our absolute innocence was accomplished in that complete forgetfulness, without which innocence would have been impossible.
But, even in our forgetfulness, there are some fundamental parts of us which were neither obliterated nor diminished. One example is the quality of one’s integrity. Job’s interesting, and I think accurate, account of one issue of the “war in heaven,” points that out.
A few verses from Job will illustrate this point.
3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause. (Job 2:3)
9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh.
10 What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips. (Job 2:9-10)
1 Moreover Job continued his parable, and said,
2 As God liveth, who hath taken away my judgment; and the Almighty, who hath vexed my soul;
3 All the while my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils;
4 My lips shall not speak wickedness, nor my tongue utter deceit
5 … till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.
6 My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live. (Job 27:1-6)
We come into this world innocent, but not defenseless. We come with our integrity, our fore-ordination, and a promise from God that no external power in hell or on earth will be sufficient to prevent us from keeping the covenants we made before we came here. Those covenants includes the promise of our ultimate redemption.
Before we continue, we need to review the meanings of the word “redeem.” The Greek word translated “redeem” means to ransom or purchase. The Hebrew word means the same, except it carries the connotation that it is done by a brother or another close relative. Another meaning of
the word “redeem, as it is used in Job (19:26-30) and frequently throughout the Book of Mormon, is that one is brought into the presence of God.
Now, after all that introductory stuff, let’s look at what Lehi was saying. We will begin with verse 26.
26 And the Messiah [The word “Messiah” means the Anointed One. This name/title, Messiah, pulls one back into the context of the Council where Jesus was “the anointed Son of God, from before the foundation of the world.” (TPJS 265)] cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem [bring back to the presence of God] the children of men from the fall [their state of forgetfulness]. And because that they are redeemed [brought back into the presence of God] from the fall [Their forgetfulness is completely eradicated only when they are shown all things.] they have become free forever, knowing good from evil [because they have experienced both, rejected evil, been purified by the atonement, and been brought back into the presence of God]; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. [I think that means, according to the instructions one received at the Council.](2 Nephi 2:26)
One’s coming into the presence of God is a multi-leveled experience. The Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead, so to hear and harken to his promptings is a coming into God’s presence. The endowment is symbolically that in a more precise way. In each instance one receives instructions which will lead one along the path of the fulfilment of his covenants at the Council. Ultimately one can literally come into the presence of God and renew their covenants there. In each layer of this ascending cycle, Lehi’s words are relevant and true:
27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man [line upon line, precept upon precept, experience upon experience]. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life [ “Free to choose” is an active, not a passive state. Freedom is the ability to act without restraint. Choosing liberty and eternal life is never passive.], through the great Mediator of all men, [Accepting the blessing and responsibilities of the Saviour’s atonement is never passive either.] or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words [ “Faithful” means one’s doing what one has promised he will do.], and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit (2 Nephi 2:27-28).
In every level of one’s progression, obedience to the Spirit, is the key to knowing who and what one is, and what one must do to accomplish ones purposes here. The Saviour explained,
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
25 These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you.
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:24-27).
Lehi continued his instructions to his children by issuing this warning,
29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom(2 Nephi 2:29).
The ancient Egyptians believed that the retention of memory was the equivalent of having eternal life; and that eternal death and the loss of memory are the same. Alma seems to have taught something of the same concept.
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 12:9-11).
I think that a valid meaning of the phrase “to be redeemed from the fall” is that at the end of this age one is brought back into the presence of his Father with one’s memory absolutely in tact.
So what is the point of it all? The fall was not a casual thing. It apparently caused a great deal of trouble. It was probably the principle about which the war in heaven was fought. It obviously took a great deal of planning — both for us to get into it, and for us to get out of it. Given all that, one may assert that it must afford opportunity of inestimable value to our Father’s children, otherwise, why would anyone have bothered. To say that we came here to be judged, is correct, of course; but then, what does that mean. As I understand it, the object of the atonement is to save every individual in the highest degree of glory to which he is willing to ascend. And there can be no question but that a major function of this earth life and the spirit world which follows is to give each individual a maximum opportunity to define himself in terms of his own capacity to BE good. That is what the fall does, but how is it done? The answer which seems most likely to me, is this:
Each one of us came into this world innocent, in utter forgetfulness, and subject to being acted upon by everything from accident and bacteria, to evil people and evil spirits. God is not unkind; he did not throw us down here to torture us. So somehow it must be that one’s being in this environment, which sometimes seems so nearly to approximate hell, has great value. That value, I believe, is this. Everything in this environment testifies that it is temporary, tentative, of no eternal (and for the most part, of little real earthly) value. If one can learn that, and learn what is real and what has value, and get out of this world with an experiential knowledge of the difference between good and evil; having lived close enough to the Spirit that one’s memory of eternal things is restored in a large measure; and having accomplished the assignment — in this environment — which he was anointed in the Council to accomplish; then, by virtue of the power of the Saviour’s atonement, the person may once again become clean and innocent in his cleanliness. Only this time the innocence and cleanliness is secured in earned personal priesthood power rather than in forgetfulness. Thus if one is cleansed by ordinance, enthroned in charity, and sustained by his own choice and by the power of the atonement — and this within the environment of this world — then one becomes free indeed. Free to act, at liberty to BE, full of peace, having been redeemed into the eternal presence of a loving Father.
30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen (2 Nephi 2:30).