There is much to distract us from the real focus of these chapters. The fundamental doctrines of Christ are at the heart of this week’s lesson, but they are demonstrated best in the last chapter of the reading assignment. My entire attention for this lesson is on the doctrine found in 4 Nephi.
Reading Assignment: 3 Nephi 27-28; 4 Nephi 1.
Additional Reading: Doctrine and Covenants 39:1-6.
Additional reading first
Doctrine and Covenants 39:2 holds the heart of this lesson within it. The first six verses of this section consist of an introduction of the Savior. It is about His power, his purpose, and the blessings for those who follow him. Verse two holds a philosophical gem about Christ that we don’t generally think about.
2 The light and the life of the world; a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;
What does this part of the verse mean? The first phrase reminds us that Christ, as creator of the universe in which we live, is the one who gives all things their life and movement. The planets don’t go anywhere without His power and direction to do so. Our very bodies can’t function and live without His light and power. King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon says we rely on the light of Christ to give us breath from moment to moment. Mosiah 2:21 says:
21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.
In a very literal way Jesus is the light and life of the world. There are figurative ways in which this is also true, but this statement is also completely literal in nature.
What about the second part? This part struck me as a powerful point I hadn’t thought of before. When we are baptized we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost makes it possible for us to comprehend spiritual things. Remember that in the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that light, truth, and intelligence are basically the same.
Without the enlightening power we receive from the Holy Ghost we cannot comprehend things of a spiritual nature. So the light of Christ shines throughout the universe, affecting every particle and its behavior, yet without the enlightening power of the Spirit to open our eyes to the truth of the gospel, nothing we are taught about Christ can sink in. We simply cannot comprehend it. It doesn’t matter how brightly his glory shines, how much truth he radiates or teaches, without the Spirit to give us the ability to comprehend it, we are as the darkness that cannot comprehend the nature of the light that shines around us.
There is a point I wish to make about all of this. In a moment we will look at the verses in 4 Nephi 1 that show how blessed and happy the people were because of their righteousness. They were baptized, received the Holy Ghost, and willingly lived the commandments. They were blessed beyond measure. Yet, for all this, there were those who rejected the gospel message and followed after the teachings of Satan, corrupting the doctrine and eventually rejecting it altogether.
What caused them to lose their happiness and all their blessings? Well, obviously it was their choice to reject the teachings of Christ. They rejected what He taught and they became wicked, but how does this happen?
Here is the transformation from a wicked society to a righteous society and back again. Before Jesus came and taught them the gospel the people were in varying states of wickedness. He told them that they were just not as wicked as those he had destroyed. Even after Christ left the people it took a year or two to convert everyone. Many of them were still trying to kill His disciples, but their miracles and testimony converted them in the end.
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
They went from a people who could not be governed by a central government to every man dealing justly one with another, and having all things in common among them. Because of their unselfish natures and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost that was among them, they were blessed with the elimination of poverty and all forms of bondage.
10 And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast,and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.
12 And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.
13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
They lived a higher law than the Law of Moses. They met together oft and fasted and prayed. They enjoyed “mighty miracles” and “were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.” They were exceedingly fair and delightsome.
It gets even better. Because of their personal righteousness Mormon says “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” They were blessed and prospered in all their doings. Can you even imagine having that kind of description written about today’s society? I think we have need of some improvements.
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.
23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.
For two hundred years after the visit of Christ to the people they were happy, prosperous, and blessed. Yet despite all these blessings they let material things turn them away from the Lord. What happened?
24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
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;
What happens to turn people away from such happiness? Why would anyone reject peace and prosperity for the canker of contention and greed?
The nature of sin
This brings us back to the point made at the beginning of this article. Darkness cannot comprehend light. It takes revelation from the Holy Ghost to comprehend spiritual things. It is the nature of sin, of any variety, to focus on the creature comforts and physical pleasures, while at the same time numbing our ability to comprehend spiritual things.
You’ve heard that you can’t serve two masters? This is why. The more we indulge in the temptations of Satan, no matter how small and petty to begin with, the more we forget how to feel the Spirit. Our sensitivity to the things of the light begins to dim, while our sensitivity to things of darkness sharpens. We can’t have it both ways. Either we are moving to one end of the spectrum or the other. We cannot long dwell in the shadows, for that is where guilt hits us the hardest.
The people did not wake up one day and reject Christ and kill each other off. If you look at the timeline, it took a couple hundred years to complete the process. But make no mistake about it, they knew what was right, yet they chose to indulge themselves in their own fantasies, and in the end it required open rebellion against God, for they could not sin ignorantly. They had been taught the truth. But as they rebelled and accepted Satan’s lies, and replaced the truth with his lies, they lost their ability to comprehend spiritual things. This is consistent with teachings throughout the scriptures.
Happiness, the kind of happiness described by Mormon when he talks about these people at their height, can only be comprehended by those who have experienced it. Only the truly righteous can appreciate how happy they must have been. Those who have turned aside from the path of truth cannot regain that happiness without repentance and a full change of lifestyle.
Our lives are somewhere between the people at their height and the people at about 210 years after Christ’s visit. There are many churches. People are rejecting the teachings of Christ in society, and we are splitting into more stratified social classes. We have the solution that will fix all our problems. We need to repent and turn to the Lord. We need to fast and pray, meet together oft, and exercise our faith in the Lord. This is the one and only source of happiness in the universe.