Fourth Nephi & Mormon – Evolution of Hopelessness — LeGrand Baker

Evolution of Hopelessness

There is a pattern in human affairs that historians first observed long ago. It is that a enthusiastic economic and cultural changes usually only last for three generations. By the fourth generation almost all vestiges of that enthusiasm have been lost. Jefferson described this phenomenon when he said, “A rich man’s son is rarely a rich man’s father.”

We see the pattern repeated many times in history. Here are just two examples: The first is the Puritans who came to the new world with much religious zeal. Their children enjoyed the fruits of their parents labors. The third generation were much more concerned with culture and wealth than with religion. Then came Rev. Jonathan Edward’s fiery but unsuccessful attempt to frighten the people into heaven. The second example is Russian Communism. It suffered the same fate. The first generation were ideologues. The second sought to consolidate their power. The third wanted their wealth to be inherited by their children rather than into the communal pot. So they “privatized” and wrote a new constitution. Now what we see in Russia is the fourth generation trying to define themselves.

It happens in Mormonism, but with individual families rather than with the whole Church. The reason is that in the Church there is always a dominant “first generation.” They may be new converts, or they may be 4th or 5th generation Latter-day Saints whose testimony and enthusiasm make them virtually first generation converts.

The Savior prophesied that would happen with the Nephites. He said:

32 But behold, it sorroweth me because of the fourth generation from this generation, for they are led away captive by him even as was the son of perdition; for they will sell me for silver and for gold, and for that which moth doth corrupt and which thieves can break through and steal. And in that day will I visit them, even in turning their works upon their own heads (3 Nephi 27:32).

In Fourth Nephi we watch it happen. The first symptom was their failure to keep the law of consecration. Both the causes and the consequences of that was a division between “us” and “others.” Then there surfaced another facet of human vanity: people will pay a lot of money to a charismatic preacher who will teach them that they can go to heaven without repenting. So the Nephites “began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.” To be successful, a false religion must use a language that sounds like truth, and must perform performances that resemble correct ordinances and covenants. So a characteristic of the Nephite apostasy was that they “did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.” Mormon’s brief description of this apostasy reads:

25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.
27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.
28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.
29 And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them (4 Nephi 1:25-29).

The tragedy of their apostasy is shown by Mormon’s using a phrase that had been defined by Alma many years before. Mormon wrote:

34 Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away (4 Nephi 1:34).

The phrase is “harden their hearts.” Alma’s definition is essentially “to choose to not know the temple covenants and ordinances.” For “temple” he uses the word “mystery.” (“Mystery” in the New Testament is the Greek, mysterion. I secrets imposed by initiation into religious rites. Testament. {1} A genius of the Book of Mormon is that it was translated into the words of the King James Bible, so the same words in one also mean the same thing in the other. That is a tremendous help is reading and understand the scriptures.) The account reads:

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 [not knowing the mysteries] is what is meant by the chains of hell (Alma 12:9-11).

In Fourth Nephi, that “the people did harden their hearts” denotes their deliberate rejection of sacred ordinances and covenants, and their replacing them with secret oaths and combinations. That sealed the fate of this fallen people. Mormon laments:

42 And it came to pass that the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton (4 Nephi 1:42).

As we read Mormon’s report of what happened, we hear in the background Alma’s lament that “wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10).” We see their wickedness mature into its full horror as Mormon describes the consequence of that apostasy. Falsehood, whether it is presented as religion, political principle, or cultural freedom, can never deliver the happiness it pretends to offer.

The desire for wealth and power turns from avarice, to contempt, to the desire to destroy. We see that evolution reach its full bloom as Mormon leads us, chapter by chapter, through his narrative, until it concludes with Moroni’s aloneness:

17 But I did remain among them, but I was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts; and because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake (Mormon 1:17) .

13 But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.
14 And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives (Mormon 2:13-14).

3 And I did cry unto this people, but it was in vain; and they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance. And behold they did harden their hearts against the Lord their God. ……
9 And now, because of this great thing which my people, the Nephites, had done, they began to boast in their own strength, and began to swear before the heavens that they would avenge themselves of the blood of their brethren who had been slain by their enemies.
10 And they did swear by the heavens, and also by the throne of God, that they would go up to battle against their enemies, and would cut them off from the face of the land (Mormon 3:3-9, 10).

5 But, behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed……
11 And it is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites; and every heart was hardened, so that they delighted in the shedding of blood continually (Mormon 4:5, 11).

2 But behold, I was without hope, for I knew the judgments of the Lord which should come upon them; for they repented not of their iniquities, but did struggle for their lives without calling upon that Being who created them (Mormon 5:2).

1 Behold I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon. Behold, I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father.
2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
3 And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not.
4 Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not (Mormon 8:1-4).

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FOOTNOTE

{1} A discussion of the meaning of mysterion is found in Raymond E. Brown, The Semitic Background of the Term “Mystery” in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968), 2-6.

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