3 Nephi 9:21-22 — LeGrand Baker– ‘as a little child,’ and also Ether 12:26-39 — meaning of humility
3 Nephi 9:21-22
21 Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
22 Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved.
The Savior’s words in these two sentences has much to teach us: “to bring redemption unto the world,” is his primary purpose and “to save the world from sin” is the way the Savior accomplishes that redemption.
The word “therefore” creates the relationship between the Savior’s purposes and our responsibilities described in the second sentence.
“Therefore, whoso repenteth”is the method we must use to enable the redemption: “and cometh unto me as a little child” is the ultimate consequence of true repentance. Those two parallel structures create a one-to-one relationship between redemption and being as a little child.
“Redeem”has different meanings in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and often a still different one in the Book of Mormon. Elsewhere I have shown that, in the Book of Mormon, to be redeemed frequently means to be brought into the presence of the Savior (see Ether 3:10-13, 2 Nephi 2:3-4, 2 Nephi 1:15, Alma 58:41).
It is my observation that the most frequent quoted scripture used to define what it means to “become as a little child is this one:
19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19-20).
The interesting to me is that King Benjamin’s list of the characteristics of “a little child” map remarkably well to the sequence of the Savior’s Beatitudes (see the chapters in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord). and contain the same ideas as Peter’s sequence of how to make one’s calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:1-11).
In the Mosiah scripture, the emphasis is usually focused on “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” The thing that bothers me is that emphasis also suggests the helplessness of the child to do anything except submit. That problem would be solved if we shifted our thinking from a child who had no other choice to the spiritually mature person described in the Beatitude: “And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”(3 Nephi 12:10).
Another evidence that Benjamin was describing a quality of spiritual maturity is this from the Savior to the brother of Jared:
14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters (Ether 3:14).
That asks a question: If we shift the meaning of “childlike” from the helplessly immature to the spiritual mature, then how do we define “as a little child”? The Savior was again talking about the quality of person when he uses a child as an example. He says, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:15 & Luke 18:17, see 3 Nephi 11:37-38).
Matthew reads differently and adds an important criterion: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
Humble is one of the characteristics mentioned by King Benjamin, and here, in the Savior’s statement, “humble himself as this little child” becomes the key to our understand. The best discussion of humillity that I know is in the Book of Mormon. But before we discuss that, may I tell you a short story.
One day I stopped to visit my daughter and her family. Little two-year-old Chelsea was in the tub having a bath. She heard my voice and came running into the living room to meet me. “Grandpa,” she shouted, all dripping wet, holding out her arms, wanting to be picked up and hugged. As I held her in my arms, wetness and all, I understood what it means to be like a little child in the Kingdom of God. The little girl in my arms was completely, simply, Chelsea. She needed no clothing to define who she was. At that moment she was only herself; trusting, but not noticing she trusted; vulnerable, but unaware of her vulnerability because it did not concern her; loving, and finding fulfillment and identity in the moment of her giving her love. In her unabashed dripping-wetness Chelsea was wholly free to be herself–to express her love–to BE the expression of her love.
I suppose we are all like that. When we are stripped of all the masks and facades of the artificial needs and fears by which we define our Selves, then we may kneel naked, vulnerable, and unashamed before our loving Heavenly Father. When one is childlike in that nakedness, he is free. He knows and loves the voice of Him by whom he walks. Nothing can bribe him because in his Saviour all of his needs are satisfied. Nothing can threaten him because in the arms of his Saviour he can find no fear. He may not have all the information he needs all the time, but his Friend has, and one can always ask when one does not know. When one is naked in that way, one may begin to know as he is known and see as he is seen. Only when one is comfortable with that kind of nakedness may he be clothed in a “robe of righteousness” and become one who may “inherit the kingdom of God.”
The quality of one’s soul that permits him to be humble enough that he can be simply himself matures into the power of celestial glory. In describing his vision, the Prophet Joseph mentioned first humility and then the attribute of knowing and being oneself:
92 And thus we saw the glory of the celestial, which excels in all things—where God, even the Father, reigns upon his throne forever and ever;
93 Before whose throne all things bow in humble reverence, and give him glory forever and ever.
94 They who dwell in his presence are the church of the Firstborn; and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace (D&C 76:92-94).
I suspect when one know one’s Self in term of the Savior’s love, then the question of one’s obedience will become moot because the question of his motive will have no practical meaning. Obedience will simply be one of the fruits of love, and his absolute obedience the simple expression of his absolute freedom to BE.
Now lets read those verses in the in the Book of Mormon that teach us what humility means there. In these passages, Moroni has expressed his concern because of his weakness in writing, and says he fears the Gentiles will mock.
26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace [probably hesed] is sufficient for the meek [those who keep the covenants they made at the Council in Heaven (Psalm 25)], that they [the meek] shall take no advantage of your weakness;
27 And if men come unto me [veil—same meaning as elsewhere in the Book of Mormon] I will show unto them their weakness [singular]. I give unto men weakness [singular] that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me [veil]; for if they humble themselves before me [veil], and have faith [pistis] in me, then will I make weak things [plural] become strong unto them [the covenant of invulnerability]. (Ether 12:26-27)
We get a key to understand what the weakness is in the next verse:
28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness [still singular], and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.
Here, “bringeth unto me” appears to be the source of strength to replace the weakness. That is confirmed a little later on.
37 And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness [singular] thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.
If being “made strong” is “sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father”— that is if strength is being in God’s presence as it says here and implies in verse 28— then our weakness [singular] is being outside of God’s presence.
38 And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood.
39 And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things (Ether 12:25-41)
Now we have the key to understanding what humility means to this prophet. It has to be defined in such a way that it satisfies both his usage in verse 27 (“for all men that humble themselves before me ”), and also his usage in verse 39 where he writes that the Savior spoke to him in “plain humility.”
One cannot imagine the Savior’s talking to Moroni in a subservient way like a child would talk to his father. So if the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are using humility the same way, then being humble as a little child must mean something different from being submissive as we think of a child as submissive.
The key to the meaning is in Moroni’s explanation: “even as a man telleth another in mine own language.” When I envision that conversation, I see two people talking as friends (hesed)— no airs, no facade, no masks— just two friends, with no more pretenses then a naked child, souls exposed as they discuss the most sacred of all things.
If that’s what humility means, then we might read verse 27 this way:
27 And if men come unto me [veil—same meaning as elsewhere in the Book of Mormon] I will show unto them their weakness [the contrast between being in and being outside my presence]. I give unto men weakness [take them out of my presence] that they may be humble [come to know themselves as they really are]; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me [same as Moroni didl]; for if they humble themselves [have no masks] before me [veil], and have faith [pistis] in me, then will I make weak things [plural — all the things that get in the way of our being ourselves] become strong unto them [the covenant of invulnerability]. (Ether 12:27)
It seems to me that is what it means to become as a little child: to just be oneself — to become again as pure as we were before we came here, our soul as naked as a little child.