Moroni 7:8-11 – One Cannot Bribe a Prophet – LeGrand Baker

Moroni 7:8-11

8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.

This statement is still in the context of Mormon’s discourse about the validity of priesthood ordinances and covenants. As with the previous verses, these words are applicable on one level to the high school seminary student and, in a different way, to the mature priesthood congregation to whom Mormon was speaking.

Not just the seminary student, but each of us who live in this fallen world is forever encountering someone who wants to give us something that entices. Evil gifts are like a succulent worm attached to a hook, attached to a line, attached to a rod, attached to the arm of a hungry man who will consume the fish that expected to eat rather than to be eaten. Our world is full of such hungry men and women who hide hooks within pleasurable barbs. “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” is a warning that has been echoed by wise men for more than 2,000 years. The generosity of an enemy is a dangerous thing. As recently as 500 years ago Ophelia returned Hamlet’s gifts with this timeless lament, “to the noble mind, rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. {1} In a somewhat different context Hamlet described his most bitter enemy in these vivid terms, “O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! … one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” {2}

Even prophets have a long history of being offered gifts by their enemies. Alma and Peter were offered money; Mormon was offered a military command; many have been threatened with imprisonment or offered freedom if they will only abandon their integrity. Their enemies seem to judge the prophet’s integrity by their own lack of it.

It is a simple truth that one cannot bribe someone by offering what the person does not value, nor can one bully someone by threatening to take away what does not matter.

One is not permitted to help a prophet who does not have the prophet’s best interests at heart. That is true of prophets but is equally true of everyone who is wise.

Those are principles that apply to just living in this world, but Mormon was talking to his “beloved brethren” about Melchizedek Priesthood covenants and ordinances. In that context, Mormon’s observations are especially accurate. In terms of priesthood gifts, whether it is a blessing, an ordinance, or a prophecy, an evil man cannot give a good gift. The LDS Church policy is that if a man is later found to have been unworthy, the ordinances he performed prior to that finding are still valid and do not have to be repeated. However, in Mormon’s world, he is talking about apostates who claim to have authority they do not have, “and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness (4 Nephi 1:27).”

Mormon also observes that an evil man cannot even pray effectually. That is because his prayer cannot be directed by the Holy Ghost, and therefore cannot be binding upon the Lord.

In terms of priesthood covenants, good gifts are given according to one’s ability to give and according to the recipient’s needs. That is equally true with material gifts as it is with spiritual blessings. For one who has charity and lives the law of consecration, giving in is as natural as breathing. Receiving such gifts with thanks and appreciation should be equally natural when one is aware that love rather than some hidden hook is the motive behind the gift.

But if the gift is a hook, hidden within the pretense of charity, the giver is evil and so is his gift. As Mormon warned, “Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.”

One of my favorite stories in church history is about how Martin Harris’s wife Lucy tried to bribe young Joseph Smith into letting her see the plates, apparently so she could invest in them and get a share of whatever the gold was worth. Her’s is the perfect example of what happens when someone tries to bribe a prophet. The story, as it is told in a chapter of my book called Joseph and Moroni, is as follows: {3}

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Trouble with Lucy Harris

Mrs. Harris is an important part of the story of the relationship between Joseph and the angel Moroni for three reasons. First, she was the cause of much of the friction between the Prophet and the angel. Second, her being an obstacle to Joseph’s work contributed to a number of important events relating to the translation of the Book of Mormon. And third, because she created such trauma for Joseph and for his family and friends (and perhaps for Moroni too, if angels can experience trauma), it is instructive to see how Joseph and the angel dealt with her.

At the time when Joseph and Emma were getting ready to move to Pennsylvania, Joseph owed debts totaling about $50. He did not have the money but did not want the people he owed to think he was leaving town to avoid paying them. He decided he would try to borrow that amount from a friend and then use it to pay everyone else. With this in mind, Joseph asked his mother to ask Martin if he would lend him the money.

When Mother Smith arrived at the Harris farm, she asked Mrs. Harris if she could talk with Mr. Harris. Mrs. Harris wanted to know all the reasons for the visit, so Lucy Smith told Lucy Harris why she had come. To Mother Smith’s surprise, Lucy Harris declared that she would give Joseph the money. When Joseph’s mother declined the offer, Mrs. Harris announced, “I am coming to your place to see him, too, and I will be there on Tuesday afternoon, and will stop over night.”

When Tuesday came, so did Mrs. Harris. Joseph’s mother told the story of her visit in some detail, and in doing so, made no attempt to disguise her disdain for the visitor. Mother Smith recounted that after Mrs. Harris was “well seated,” she began to quiz Joseph about the plates. She said if he was telling the truth about having them, he must show them to her; then, she said, “she was determined to help him publish them.”

He explained he could not show them to anyone. Relative to her offer of assistance, he told her he would prefer to deal with her husband.

That was not the response Mrs. Harris wanted, for, as Mother Smith observed, “she considered herself altogether superior to her husband,” and she continued to tease Joseph about seeing the plates.

“Now, Joseph, are you not telling me a lie? Can you look full in my eye and say before God that you have in reality found a record, as you pretend?”

To this Joseph replied, rather indifferently, “Why, yes, Mrs. Harris, I would as soon look you in the face and say so as not, if that will be any gratification to you.”

Then said she, “Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter and I shall want to do something about the translation—I mean to help you any way.”{A}

With this statement about her wanting a “witness” the conversation ended for the evening.

The next morning, Mrs. Harris reported she had received her witness. She said she had a dream in which “a personage appeared to her” and told her that her attitude toward Joseph and her insistence upon seeing the plates were “not right in the sight of God.” The personage then showed her the plates of the Book of Mormon and said to her, “Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.” The dream was so vivid to her that she was able to describe the plates “very minutely” to the Smiths.{B}

The dream had satisfied Mrs. Harris’s curiosity but not her determination to control this young man and his gold. She did not trouble Joseph about seeing the plates any more that day, but in all other respects she acted just as she had the night before. She would invest in Joseph’s treasure whether Joseph wanted a partner or not. He finally gave in, but recognizing that she was not as willing to be useful as she was determined to dominate, he refused to accept her money as a gift. He would not be indebted to her in any way that could not be readily defined and entirely repaid. He agreed to accept $28 from her—but only as a loan.

Joseph realized that if he was to remain free to obey God he could not accept constraining help from anyone. He understood, though Mrs. Harris did not, that one may assist a prophet only if one does not use that assistance as a lever with which to try to control the prophet.

A short time later, Martin Harris insisted on giving $50 to Joseph. In contrast to Joseph’s determination to not accept help from Mrs. Harris, he accepted the gift from Martin. He understood it to be an expression of love from Martin, and Joseph’s willingness to receive it is evidence that he trusted his friend. Joseph promptly used Martin’s money to pay his debts, and he returned the $28 to Mrs. Harris. {C}{4}

Later Martin had served as scribe while Joseph translated the plates. Martin was so convinced by what Joseph was doing that he believed if he could show the translation to his wife, she would lso believe. Martin borrowed 116 manuscript pages that Joseph had already translated and took them home to show Mrs. Harris. Joseph never saw those pages again. Joseph’s mother registered her belief that Lucy Harris had stolen them, intending to use them to embarrass Martin and Joseph. {5}

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FOOTNOTES FOR ESSAY

{1} William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.

{2} William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5.

{3} Joseph and Moroni, The 7 Principles Moroni taught Joseph Smith is one of the books in this website under “published books.”

{4} LeGrand L. Baker, Joseph and Moroni, The 7 Principles Moroni taught Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Eborn Books, 2006), pages 54-57

{5} Lucy Smith, History, 131-32.  This story is told in Joseph and Moroni, chapters “The Loss of the 116 Pages” and “What Happened to the 116 Pages?,” 62-68.

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FOOTNOTES FROM JOSEPH AND MORONI

{A} This story is reported in Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother (Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1954), 114-117.

{B} Lucy Smith, History, 117.

{C} Lucy Smith, History, 117-18. Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:19.

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