In these three chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi relates more of the marvelous vision which he was shown. Chapter 12 records how he saw the rest of the Book of Mormon being played out in the lives of his descendants. We've addressed this in the previous lesson. The heading to Chapter 13 tells us that he also saw the history of the world following Book of Mormon times:
- The church of the devil set up among the Gentiles (v. 4-9)
- The discovery and colonizing of America (v. 10-20)
- The loss of many plain and precious parts of the Bible (v. 20-29)
- The resultant state of gentile apostacy (v.32-34)
- The restoration of the gospel (v. 34-37)
- The coming forth of latter-day scripture (v. 35-36, 39-41)
- The building up of Zion (v. 37
"And it came to pass that I beheld the great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it." (1 Ne. 13:6)
What exactly is "the great and abominable church?"
"And [the angel] said unto me: Behold there are two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil." (1 Ne. 14:10)
So does that mean that the LDS Church is the church of the Lamb of God, and all other churches are of the devil? Yikes! That would bode ill for the world!
Fortunately, that isn't the case. We are told in the Doctrine & Covenants,
"Contend against no church save it be the church of the devil." (D&C 18:20).
Obviously, all other churches cannot be the church of the devil, or this statement would make no sense. We have been advised by our prophets that other religions contain some truths of the gospel and do much good on the earth. Our church joins with other churches in many causes, and often supports other churches in their needs. We are taught respect for all religions.
In an article in our church-published Ensign on Muhammed, we find this quote by apostle B.H. Roberts:
"While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them.”
This was the second article published in the Ensign on Muhammed. "Ishmael, Our Brother," can be found in the June 1979 Ensign. Respectful articles were also published on Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism, and Lutheranism. In a separate article honoring Martin Luther, President Joseph F. Smith is quoted:
"Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, and all reformers, were inspired in thoughts, words, and actions to accomplish what they did for the liberty, and advancement of the human race. They paved the way for the more perfect gospel of truth to come.”
President Hinckley was known to invite those of other faiths to, "Bring all the good you have with you, and let us add to it."
At the closing of the April 2011 Conference, President Monson reminded us again, "We are a global church. Our membership is found throughout the world. May we be good citizens of the nations in which we live and good neighbors in our communities, reaching out to those of other faiths as well as to those of our own."
So what then can Nephi's vision refer to?
The Guide to the Scriptures, which is the LDS-written scripture dictionary included in non-English LDS scriptures, but also available in English on-line, defines it as "Every evil and worldy organization on earth that perverts the pure and perfect gospel and fights against the Lamb of God." In this sense, it may not be confined to a "church" as we know it at all, but may include philosophies, government organizations, drug cartells, cults, cultures, media, etc.--anything whose purpose is to pull people away from Christ.
What will be our escape from them? They will fall into the pit they have dug for the believers. (1 Ne. 14:3) When you work for the devil, the pay is not good, and never what you were promised.
The Discovery and Colonizing of America
The Lamanites had been safely separated from the rest of the world by the great oceans for centuries, but when they reached a fulness of iniquity, the Lord bridged that gap and allowed others into His promised land. He guided Columbus to find America. Others followed him, going out of captivity, to live in America. (1 Ne. 13:10-13) Europeans escaped debtor's prison or serfdom to claim their own land in America.
As prophecied by Nephi, "I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
"And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance..." (1 Ne. 13:14-15)
Okay, knowing how things worked out between the settlers and the native Americans, with the natives being slaughtered, driven off their land, and herded onto reservations, we wonder, could that really have been the Spirit of the Lord, telling the Gentiles to do these atrocities? Well, these are two different paragraphs--two different subjects. And as we look more carefully at the scripture, we see that it was not the Lord's plan that the Lamanites be driven and scattered by the Gentiles, but before the Gentiles. And, indeed, that happened on a terrific scale, in a little-known way:
"Throughout the Americas, diseases introduced with Europeans spread from tribe to tribe far in advance of the Europeans themselves, killing an estimated 95% of the pre-Columbian Native American population. The most populous and highly organized native societies of North American, the Mississippian chiefdoms, disappeared in that way between 1492 and the late 1600s, even before Europeans themselves made their first settlement on the Mississippi River." (Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, p. 78)
There is no indication that it was part of the Lord's plan for his children, the Lamanites, to be persecuted by the white settlers.
The Creation of a Free Nation
"I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations." (1 Ne. 13:16-19)
The story of the American Revolution is the story of miracles: a ragtag, unseasoned, disorganized group of citizen-soldiers won their independence from the world's greatest empire. The Book of Mormon tells us this was a part of God's plan, to create an environment where the "marvelous work and a wonder" of the Restoration of the Gospel could take place.
The retreat from the Battle of Long Island at the beginning of that conflict clearly shows the hand of the Lord in the establishment of a free land. With a fleet of British warships waiting in New York Harbor to attack Manhattan as soon as the tide and winds allowed them up the East River, British and Hessian troops numbering 20,000 surrounded a little American force of 3,000 soldiers trying to hold a four-mile ridge on Long Island. Behind those troops stood the Brooklyn forts, which held another 6,000 American soldiers. The Britons pushed them back to the forts, killing or capturing a little less than 1,000, but paused to rest for the night before annihilating the rest of the force. The British had lost 400.
"The average British regular was in his late twenties, or about five years older than the average American soldier...the average regular had served five or six years in the army, or five or six times longer than the average volunteer under Washington...[but] for most of the redcoats, soldiers and young officers, like nearly all of the Americans, the battle [of Long Island] was...their first." (David McCullough, 1776, p. 167-168)
The American troops were hemmed into an area three miles around and their only chance of survival was to retreat. Behind them lay the East River, behind that, the security of Manhattan Island. But as soon as the wind changed, the warships would cut off that escape.
1,200 men from two Pennsylvania regiments were dispatched across the river to bolster spirits and aid in defense. After they arrived, a terrible storm arose. The soldiers were soaked, cold, hungry, and beaten.
"Yet for all the miseries it wrought, the storm was greatly to Washington's advantage. Under the circumstances, any ill wind from the north-east was a stroke of good fortune. For as long as it held, Lord Howe's ships had no chance to 'get up' where they could wreak havoc." (ibid., p. 184)
The storm stopped, but the wind kept up, preventing the warships from coming, but also preventing Washington's troops from retreating.
About 11:00 p.m., "the wind shifted to the southwest and a small armada of boats...started over the river from New York...In a feat of extraordinary seamanship, at the helm and manning oars hour after hour, they negotiated the river's swift, contrary currents in boats so loaded with troops and supplies, horses and cannon, that the water was often but inches below the gunnels--and all in pitch dark, with no running lights. Few men ever had so much riding on their skill, or were under such pressue, or performed so superbly... (ibid., p. 188)
The troops withdrew silently, because the enemy was very near. They covered the wagon wheels with rags, did not speak above a whisper, and stifled their coughs.
"The orderly withdrawal of an army was considered one of the most difficult of all maneuvers, even for the best-trained soldiers, and the fact that Washington's ragtag amateur army was making a night withdrawal in perfect order and silence thus far, seemed more than could be hoped for...
"[The rearguard, those Pennsylvania men] kept busy creating enough of a stir and tending campfires to make it appear the army was still in place, knowing all the while that if the enemy were to become the wiser, they stood an excellent chance of being annihilated." (ibid.)
At least 11 crossings of the East River were made that night by the mariners.
"But the exodus was not moving fast enough...time was running out. Though nearly morning, a large part of the army still waited to embark, and without the curtain of night to conceal them, their escape was doomed.
"Incredibly, yet again, circumstances--fate, luck, Providence, the hand of God, as would be said so often--intervened.
"Just at daybreak a heavy fog settled in over the whole of Brooklyn, concealing everything no less than had the night. It was a fog so thick, remembered a soldier, that one 'could scarcely discern a man at six yards distance.' Even with the sun up, the fog remained as dense as ever, while over on the New York side of the river there was no fog at all...
"It was seven in the morning, perhaps a little later, when [the last men, the Pennsylvania militia] landed in New York. 'And in less than an hour after,' [reported one soldier] 'the fog having dispersed, the enemy was visible on the shore we had left [behind].'
"In a single night, 9,000 troops had escaped across the river. Not a life was lost. The only men captured were three who had hung back to plunder." (ibid., p. 190-191) The American army was preserved. The revolution that was supposed to have been suppressed by this one battle was still alive and eventually succeeded.
The Establishment of Zion
Once the environment of freedom was created in America, the gospel was restored just a few hundred miles from New York City.
For the first century of its life, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged its members to "gather to Zion," with Zion being first Jackson County, Missouri and then Salt Lake City, Utah. Those same Britons from whom Washington's troops won their independence, now became the lifeblood of Zion as they converted, emigrated, and replaced apostates. They colonized the west, along with other European converts. But once the society of saints was firmly established in the western United States, the next part of Nephi's prophecy began to be fulfilled. As the forces of the great and abominable church spread over the world to attack the Lamb of God, so did democracy spread throughout the earth.
Although democracy has its origins in ancient civilizations and the tiny island of Corsica implemented a short-lived democratic government system in 1755, the United States formed the first lasting democracy of our day. The establishment of democracies throughout the world, with freedom and equality as their tenets, spread to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Africa, and eventually Eastern Europe. "In 1950, there were 22 full democracies [in the world]. At the century's end, there were 120, and almost two-thirds of the people in the world could cast a meaningful ballot." (Daniel Gardner, The Science of Fear, Kindle edition, chapter 1)
"I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory." (1 Ne. 14:14)
How exactly was this great power and glory of the Lamb bestowed upon the people to arm them with righteousness? Does the phrase "temples to dot the earth" ring a bell? As Joseph Smith prayed at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple,
"And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them. And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they [the ends of the earth] may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days...
"Remember all thy church, O Lord, with all their families, and all their immediate connections, with all their sick and afflicted ones, with all the poor and meek of the earth; that the kingdom, which thou hast set up without hands, may become a great mountain and fill the whole earth...
"That our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings." (D&C 109:22)