Moroni 7:16-21 – Standing in the Light of Christ – LeGrand Baker

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing (Moroni 7:16-21).

Mormon’s priesthood sermon in Moroni 7 falls automatically into three sections. The first is his greeting. He acknowledges the remarkable qualifications of the men in his congregation. He addresses them as his “beloved brethren. In verse 3 he says why they are a select group, and it is probably not wrong to read into what he says that they are there by invitation.

3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven (Moroni 7:3).

Verse 3 seems to say that each of these men had already received the Second Comforter (see D&C 88:1-5). If this is true, then they now sit on a precarious precipice: their options are either eternal salvation or becoming sons of perdition (see D&C 76:32-35). Given the apostate environment in which they lived, the latter may have been all to common among others of their associates.

Verses 4 and 5 are the transition into the second section of his sermon. Mormon says:

4 And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also (Moroni 7:4-5).

The second part of Mormon’s sermon draws a sharp distinction between the real and the apostate claims to priesthood authority, and personal and group righteousness (zedek). Mormon’s warning to his friends is also a description of our world, just as it was of the growing apostasy in the New Testament church. Similarly, Timothy’s warning was not only applicable to his times, and to our own times, but it is also an apt description of the world in which Mormon and his friends lived.

1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-).

In previous posts I have already discussed sections one and two of Mmormon’s sermon. Now, before we get to part three, we need to consider verses 16-21 which are the transition between the second part where he warns them of the real dangers of that precipice, and the third part where he teaches them the only way the danger can be avoided.

In verse 16 he describes “the Spirit of Christ” as the universal guide by which all people can know good from evil. “The Spirit of Christ” is usually identified by LDS leaders as one’s conscience. We easily understand that, because our experience teaches us that our conscience does, in fact, help us distinguish right from wrong. However, Mormon tells his friends there is also another source of truth to which they must look. The problem with our conscience is that sometimes it can actually get in the way of our knowing truth. That is because our conscience gets its definitions of right and wrong from the teachings of one’s culture, and therefore, usually cannot define right from wrong in an absolute sense. My favorite example to demonstrate this is a story I have heard Hugh Nibley tell several times.

All students who enroll at BYU must take a Book of Mormon class in their freshman year. Nibley spoke Arabic fluently so he was always assigned to teach that class for the students from the middle east. He observed that when a teacher gets to the place where Nephi cuts off Laban’s head, some Christian students say the story cannot be true because God would never ask Nephi to do that. But when middle eastern students get to that place, they say that the story cannot possibly be true because Nephi would not have had problems with his conscience. He would have just cut the head off .

Another example is this: children who grow up in an LDS society where they are taught to live the word of wisdom know that tobacco and alcohol are real sins because their conscience tells them so. Thus, in our sub-culture we can say with conviction that their conscience teaches them right from wrong. In other sub-cultures the argument against tobacco and alcohol is not that they are sin, but that they are harmful and using them is foolish. Those people’s consciences will tell them using the stuff is stupid, but probably not that it is sinful. In other sub-cultures where everyone just does it, their consciences are silent on the question, and will remain so until the person is taught differently.

Probably the best known examples in the scriptures are the invented rules and regulations the Pharisees attached to the Law of Moses. Jesus admonished them, “Judge not according to your traditions, but judge righteous judgment (JST John 7:24).” They, of course, did not listen and eventually executed him—not for committing any real crime—but for breaking their cultural rules.

Here is another example that I mention because it very relevant in our own time: One of the most emotionally charged cultural wars we are fighting withing the United States just now is the question of whether homosexuality is a real sin, or only a sin because culture has defined it that way. One argument is that it is unnatural and therefore a real sin. Since it is unnatural to about 90% of the population, for them that is a sound argument. However, the other 10% insist that it is perfectly natural to themselves, and for them to try to change who and what they are would be a violation of Self. Therefore, they argue, trying to force them to change or imposing a legal inferiority upon them — those are the real sins. The question of gay marriage has turned the question of cultural sin into a legal question of Constitutional proportions. The Supreme Court can settle the legal question, but the moral question will still remain the property of American sub-cultures.

Mormon’s sermon is addressed to his friends whom he trusts really do know the difference between right and wrong. But he does not ask his friends to rely exclusively on their consciences in order to know the ultimate truths that will assure their salvation. For that, he reminds them, they must rely on “the Light of Christ.” (Since he uses that phrase differently from “the Spirit of Christ” it is reasonable to believe that he did not understand them to mean the same thing.)

His reminder to them in verses 18-21 is the introduction that leads to the third section of Mormon’s sermon. He says:

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith, of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing (Moroni 7:18-21).

If he is using “light” to actually mean “light” (the shechinah), then he is probably reminding them of their experiences within that light. In that context, Mormon is now going to spell out exactly what they must do to become “the sons of God.”

A corollary to his sermon is the letter Peter wrote to the temple-worshiping Saints of his own time. Our looking at the sequence in Peter’s letter is not really a diversion from discussing Mormon’s sermon because it is the same sequence as Mormon’s. It also begins with pistis and ends with charity, but it places them in a fuller context. In his letter, Peter outlined eight steps his readers must follow in order to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:1-10).

In the first 4 verses Peter uses faith — the Greek word is pistis and means the covenants {1} — to represent their temple service and describes the purpose of that service in words that are poetically beautiful. Then he lays out the 8 steps:

1 (is something one is given) faith (pistis) — the covenants of the early Christian temple service.
2 (something one is) “virtue” — the word actually means “manliness” — strength, intelligence, integrity.
3 (something one is) knowledge — I read that as truth in D&C 93:24. Knowledge of reality in sacred time.
4 (something one is) temperance — self control.

5 (our attitude toward others) patience — We must be patient with ourselves and God as well as with other people.
6 (an attitude toward others) “godliness” — the word actually means reverence. One can never hurt anyone or anything that one revers.
7 (an attitude toward others) brotherly kindness — the word is philadelphia and means fraternal love. Elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as “brotherly love.” It is focused love (hesed).
8 (an attitude toward others) charity — this is universal love. One cannot love everyone (charity) unless he can love them individually (philadelphia) (2 Peter 1:5-7).

The first four qualities in Peter’s sequence are the personal characteristics one must have. The second four are the attitudes and actions one must have toward others. Peter concludes this sequence with a warning that is very like Mormon’s:

8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ
9 But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.
10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall (2 Peter 1:8-10).

The point is, one can know lots of stuff, but that knowledge is “barren and unfruitful” if one does not crown it with brotherly love and charity.

The Savior says essentially the same thing to Nicodemus:

21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God (John 3:21).

He did not say one must know truth, rather “he that doeth truth cometh to the light.” That brings us back to where we were in Mormon’s sermon. He says

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.

If the light Mormon is describing is the shechinah, {2} that adds a whole new dimension to the meaning of his entire sermon.

The shechinah is the first thing a prophet sees and usually the first thing he mentions when reporting that he saw the Savior. Joseph Smith described it this way:

16 … I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! (Joseph Smith-History:16-17)

It is the cloud of light through which the Lord put his finger while speaking with the brother of Jared. It is the veil that separates man from God and was represented in Solomon’s Temple by the beautifully embroidered veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. {3} During the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles temple drama, Psalm 21 was sung as the king approached that veil, then as he symbolically both heard and saw God. {4}

Moroni alludes to that same ceremony in his brief recount of the Nephite temple service when he says,

30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing (Moroni 10:30).

In Mormon’s transitional statement between the second and third portions of his sermon, he also alludes to many parts of that same ceremony when he instructs his “beloved brethren,”

19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ [shechinah] that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold [with the hand] upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ [Psalm 2].
20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?
21 And now I come to that faith [pistis], of which I said I would speak; and I will tell you the way whereby ye may lay hold on every good thing.

What Mormon is saying is that the only real way one “may lay hold upon every good thing” is by the power of the covenants which brings one to charity.
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FOOTNOTES
{1} I will discuss pistis as we continue through Moroni 7. However, in the meantime you can also find it in chapter, “Meaning of ‘Faith’ – pistis,” in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 697-710, in the paperback edition, which is the one in this website.

{2} See shechinah in the LDS Bible Dictionary. The shechinah is discussed in several places in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord. You will find it as the light of Christ, as the veil, and as a cloud of light on pages 98, 102 & n, 140, 249, 263, 270, 373, 392, 468.

{3} For a discussion of the veil see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, chapters “The King at the Veil of Solomon’s Temple,” 390-397.

{4} This is discussed in three chapters of Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, “The King at the Veil of Solomon’s Temple”, 390-97; “The Veil Ceremony in Psalm 21,” 397-400; “Act 2, Scene 11: The King Enters the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s Temple,” 400-03.

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