Sunday, October 08, 2006

Famous Last Words

By Eric N. of "Small and Simple"

I have always liked 2nd Nephi Chapter 2. Mainly this is because it is jammed packed with all kinds of important doctrine. I have long thought it was the greatest chapter in all scripture. I have thought that if I could only have access to one chapter, this would be it. Why do I like it so much? Why does it seem so complete in and of itself? I think it is because of the circumstances under which the spirit was working.

This chapter contains the words of an old and dying father and prophet Lehi, to his faithful and young (but mature) son Jacob. As I consider these circumstances, I can see why something so special came out. What would you tell your faithful child if you knew you were dying, and that this conversation might be the last one you have. This powerful backdrop forms the setting for just such a conversation, which became one of the best chapters in all of scripture. I would like to try to put myself 'in character' of such a father as I provide some comments on this chapter. I invite the reader to do the same thing. Please feel free to share some of your thoughts as you go through the same exercise.

1 And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first-born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.

2 Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.

3 Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi; and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men.

4 And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory; wherefore, thou art blessed even as they unto whom he shall minister in the flesh; for the Spirit is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And the way is prepared from the fall of man, and salvation is free.

These first verses are the most personal of the chapter. Lehi acknowledges that Jacob has had a difficult life, partly because of the difficulties of the circumstances of his birth, and partly because of the rudeness of some of his brothers. But immediately Lehi acknowledges that because of the spiritual maturity and knowledge that Jacob has, his very affliction will be a benefit. Lehi praises his young son. He gives what has the feel of a patriachal blessing regarding the redemption of Jacob. How proud Lehi must feel for having such a son, who has beheld the glory of the Lord in his youth! Particularly given the rudeness of some of his other children.

5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

6 Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.

7 Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.

8 Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

9 Wherefore, he is the first fruits unto God, inasmuch as he shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.

10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement . . .

These next verses are much more general. Lehi transitions from his prophesies regarding Jacob and his redemption, to teaching him some of the details of the atonement. How important for a father to teach these principles to his children! We gain an understanding about salvation and exaltation from these verses. Lehi goes from saying that salvation is free, to saying that all men will stand in the presence of God to be judged. He goes on to say that the results of this atonement is the inflicting of punishment or happiness, thus answering the ends of the atonement. Lehi appears to want Jacob to know that no flesh can dwell in the presence of God, without the grace of the Holy Messiah. But also that we will be judged on our own merits as well. Lehi goes on -

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.

Lehi now provides Jacob with the understanding that there must be opposition in all things. He goes so far as to say that if there were not opposition, that there would be no God. In fact no anything. Good and evil simply exist. Even in spite of God. This is a necessary condition. I believe there is something quite powerful here, beyond what I understand. Beyond what I can express. In a way I feel that if you believe in good and evil, then you must also believe there is a God. And if you do not believe in God, then you must ultimately say there is nothing that is good, nor evil. I believe Lehi and Jacob understood this better than I. And the spirit that inspired this knows better than we all.

14 And now, my sons, I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon.

15 And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. Lehi now appears to turn his attention to other sons in addition to Jacob. He now introduces the agency of man in the midst of good and evil. Man is free to act, and to be enticed by either good or evil.

17 And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God.

18 And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.

Lehi here explains Satan as one who chose evil and in so doing became miserable. He then sought to entice others to choose evil, that they may be miserable like himself.

19 And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.

20 And they have brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the earth.

21 And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents.

22 And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

24 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

25 Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

The doctrine of the fall is now expressed to the sons of Lehi. Because of the fall, Adam and Eve, and their posterity, were cut off from the presence of God and were lost due to this transgression. This is why all must rely on the merits, mercy and grace of Christ. But this transgression was necessary for the purposes of God to be accomplished. Mankind must be enticed by good and evil in order to have the opportunity of having joy and doing good. This is why we are.

26 And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given.

27 Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.

28 And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;

29 And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

30 I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part, according to the words of the prophet. And I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls. Amen.

Lehi wraps up by expressing that because we are redeemed from the fall we are now free to choose liberty and eternal life or captivity and death.

Lehi has packed an awful lot into a short space. In thirty short verses he has given a solid argument for the existence of God, an explanation of good and evil, the doctrine of salvation and eternal life, the atonement, Satan, the fall, and agency. This might be the most thorough yet efficient sermons in the history of the world. He explained it all to Jacob, and apparently other sons, as some of his last words prior to his death. I am thankful for these words, and the help they give to me in explaining these important things to my sons. I hope they understand them before I die. These are the most important things a father can teach.


Jacob said...

What do you think the word "ends" means in the phrases "the ends of the law" and "the ends of the atonement"? What does it mean to "answer" ends.

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that the final judgement is the 'crowning event' of the atonement. That is when all things will be made just. Punishments or rewards according to the judgements of God.

I posted on the idea that the atonement brings perfect judgement based on Mosiah 3 here:

(I couldn't get the link to word).

But in general I think a perfect judgement answers the end of the atonement.

Jacob said...

So, are you taking "ends" to mean the end as in the last in time?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you are getting at. I do feel that the final judgement is where the atonement will ultimately be applied or finalized (not that it does not have application all along). I guess this would also be the 'end' chronologically as well.

Jacob said...

Sorry Eric, I didn't mean to be cryptic. I have always thought that these verses in 2 Ne 2 are very hard to figure out, partly because the word "ends" could mean different things and it has never been entirely clear to me what it means to answer ends. So I was just trying pick your brain about how you read this passage since you posted on it. "Ends" could mean the last thing in time, it could mean the purpose, it could mean the results, or probably something else as well. Depending on which definition of "ends" you use, the idea of "answering" those ends takes on different meanings as well. I see some reasons a person might argue for any one of these definitions, so I was wondering if you had an opinion on it. I used to think "ends" referred to the results, but latetly I have been thinking it means purpose. But I am still working it out in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Well, I don't pretend to know all the answers. It is my feeling that when Christ administers the final judgement that it will serve to 'complete' the atonement. That is my take on what this means.

Mary A said...

Good post, Eric. I enjoyed reading your thoughts about Lehi's final speech.

Jacob, I've always leaned towards "ends" as meaning "purposes", but that really sort of takes in "results" and also the Final Judgment, so that probably isn't much help to you! Interesting question, though.

Jacob said...

Eric and Mary,

Thanks for your thoughts. Hope I didn't take away from the post. Nice discussion of 2 Ne 2.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all.

Thanks for the invite Jettboy.