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Moroni, the son of Mormon, spent the last years of his life in flight from the murderous enemies of the Christ. In a sense, he was making his way toward his Savior, and it was undoubtedly a lonely and difficult journey.
Moroni had closed his father’s account with two epic stories of destruction that of the Jaredites and that of his own people. He knew intimately what becomes of a people who have chosen the way of wickedness utter collapse. He had seen at close quarters the bloodshed, nihilism, rapine, and even cannibalistic practices of the wicked; and he had seen them wiped from the face of the land.
I have always been haunted by the fact that the Book of Mormon is intended for our time, and that it ends with not one but two shattering accounts of annihilation. We should pause and ask ourselves why this is so.
Clearly, the Lord is warning us that the fate of the Jaredites and the Nephites could be our own.
With little space left on the plates for writing, probably in constant flight from his enemies, Moroni nevertheless felt the need to record a few more things even though he had thought the account was finished. He has told us that he finds it awkward to write on the plates so clearly he must have felt these last few chapters to be important for us.
And so they are, for the book of Moroni contains the antidote to the destruction of the soul, the chilling story he has just told. His purpose in these chapters is to show us how to keep ourselves in “the right way” and avoid the fate of his people.
A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
The apostle Thomas once asked Jesus, “Lord . . . how can we know the way?” Jesus responded, “I am the way . . . no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” In chapter 6, Moroni carefully describes us for what Jesus meant by this.
“And now I speak concerning baptism,” Moroni says plainly. This is the key step all must take on the way to Christ. “Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.”
By contrast, as Mormon has described in agonizing detail, the path to destruction begins with the opposite state of mind and spirit. He attributes the Nephites’ downfall to the simple fact that “they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits.” When he tried preaching the gospel to them, “they did harden their hearts against it” repeatedly. Their refusal did not result from ignorance; “they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ.”
The moment we feel ourselves beyond contrition, when we see nothing in particular in ourselves to repent of, when we become “wilfull,” when we become indifferent to the suffering of the Savior in our behalfthat is the moment we start on the way to destruction.
The repentant heart is thus the key to staying in the right way. “You shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” Jesus commands. ” And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.”
Wrought Upon and Cleansed by the Power of the Holy Ghost
After baptism, Moroni re-emphasizes the importance of the gift of the Holy Ghost. “Ye shall have power that to him upon whom ye shall lay your hands, ye shall give the Holy Ghost.” To be “wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost” is the next step on the way to Christ. The interesting expression “wrought upon” seems to refer to the power of the Holy Ghost to work through our minds and hearts to lead us in the right way. Third Nephi uses this expression to describe the power of the Holy Ghost to change the hearts of repentant souls: “There was a change wrought upon them, insomuch that Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy.”
By contrast, those who had lost the light of the Holy Ghost wandered into darkness, seeking guidance from “sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics”the counterfeit “inspiration” that comes from Satan.
After repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, Moroni teaches, we must continue in the right way. But we don’t do this alone. The followers of Christ are to support each other in the way:
They were numbered among the people of the church of Christ ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
Here we find the purpose of the Churchto help us to stay on the path to Christ. We are called on to remember one another and to “nourish” one another “by the good word of God.” President Gordon B. Hinckley several times emphasized this responsibility to “feed the spirit, nourish the soul.”
The Sacrament as Compass
“And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.” We are baptized once, but we continue to take the sacrament all of our lives as a means of renewing our baptismal covenant. And in the precious chapters 4 and 5 of Moroni we are given the sacrament prayers.
The sacrament is the ordinance essential to keeping ourselves in the right path. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has compared the sacrament to a compass:
We live in the perilous times prophesied by the Apostle Paul (see 2 Timothy 3:1 ). Those who try to walk the straight and narrow path see inviting detours on every hand. We can be distracted, degraded, downhearted, or depressed. How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices and keep us on the path? In modern revelation the Lord gave the answer in this commandment:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.”
This is a commandment with a promise. By participating weekly and appropriately in the ordinance of the sacrament we qualify for the promise that we will “always have his Spirit to be with [us]” [Moro. 4:3] That Spirit is the foundation of our testimony. It testifies of the Father and the Son, brings all things to our remembrance, and leads us into truth. It is the compass to guide us on our path.
The sacrament is like a compass because it always leads our minds and hearts toward the Savior, like a compass needle pointing north. A smart traveler takes compass readings frequently to ensure that he is going in the right direction; any deflection from that path can result in disaster.
Likewise, in taking the sacrament at regular intervals we covenant to “always remember Him” in every thought and action. We cannot fail to keep on the right path if this compass is in our hearts.
By contrast, Moroni ‘s wicked contemporaries utterly forgot their Savior. They did not abandon the practice of sacrifice; but they twisted it into horror and bloodshed, “sacrificing women and children to their idol gods.” The perversion of that which is holy led to the total ruin of Moroni ‘s people.
Clearly, we cannot afford to do less than to “take upon [ourselves] the name of [the] Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments.” Weekly, partaking of the tokens of the body and blood of Christ should put us in memory of his solemn Atonement for our sins.
The Path He Took
At Christmas we turn our thoughts to that sobering doctrine. If we have trouble with what Elder Oaks calls “distractions, downheartedness, and depression,” we might do well to remember the price that was paid for us. We ought never to stray from the path He took before us. And if pride or indifference prevents us from offering the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, we might recite to ourselves these words from a lovely old Norwegian Christmas carol:
I am the thorns that crowned You.
I am the whip that scourged.
I am the chains that bound You
Who all my sins have purged.
I am the cross You shoulder,
The cross that crucified,
Against your tongue a boulder.
When will my heart arise?
I heed beside your manger,
O blessed winter Child.
Great God, do not send me stranger
Into the winter wild.
I kneel here for forgiveness
And all my sins despise.
Forgive me, gentle Baby;
Then will my heart arise.