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TitleThe Inevitable Choice
Publication TypeMagazine Article
Year of Publication1977
AuthorsTanner, N. Eldon
Issue Number9
Date PublishedSeptember 1977
KeywordsBehavior; Damnation; Eternal Life; Natural Man; Two Ways

The Book of Mormon is a study of the nature of man. The extremes of both good and bad behavior are exhibited as well as those who fit into the gray area. The inevitable choice must be made—righteousness and great blessings or wickedness and destruction.


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The Inevitable Choice

By President N. Eldon Tanner

First Counselor in the First Presidency

The Book of Mormon, in my opinion, is one of the most profound studies of man and his nature

Portrayed therein are the two extremes of man’s nature, the spiritually great and essentially good on the one hand, and on the other those who are devilish, wicked, cruel, and given over to the lust for power. Of course, there are those who fit in the gray area between these two extremes; but for the most part the Nephite record relates to those who serve the Lord and receive the rich blessings and rewards of righteousness, and to those who follow the ways of evil, and as King Benjamin says, “drink damnation to their … souls.” (Mosiah 3:18.)

I accept fully the emphasis placed on the Book of Mormon as a further witness that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. There is, indeed, no greater witness for Christ and him crucified and resurrected than the Book of Mormon account of his appearance in this hemisphere among the descendants of Father Lehi. Also therein lies one of the truly great lessons we may learn from the Book of Mormon.

There could be no question in the minds of the multitude assembled in this Promised Land that he who appeared before them was the resurrected Lord. His appearance was heralded from the heavens by the voice of the Father, who said, “Behold my Beloved Son, … in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him.” (3 Ne. 11:7.)

Furthermore, the Savior followed up that declaration by his own words, saying as he stretched forth his hand, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world.” (3 Ne. 11:10.)

As additional proof of his Divine Lordship, he directed the now prostrate multitude before him to “Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.”

The account in Third Nephi continues as follows:

“And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; …

“And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:

“Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.” (3 Ne. 11:14–17.)

How glorious this occasion must have been! The scene described is one of the most sublime of all holy writ. Indeed, how fortunate were they who were in that multitude to witness the descent from the heavens and the manifestation of the resurrected Lord. This spiritual experience is unsurpassed in the annals of man’s relationship with Deity.

However, it is possible for us to be so enthralled and spiritually uplifted by reading these few verses that we may miss one of the most important lessons which marks this great religious drama.

The lesson begins to unfold when we focus attention on that fortunate multitude, and remember that they were but few in number compared to the vast population of both the land northward and the land southward. Where were the others? What had befallen them? Who were these permitted to witness this great event?

We learn who the blessed ones were as we read from Third Nephi. They were those of the Nephites “who were spared” and those Lamanites “who had been spared” who “did have great favors shown unto them, and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them—Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them.” (3 Ne. 10:18, 19.)

The key to the lesson is found in the repeated phrases, “who were spared.” Who were they, besides being a remnant of the Nephites and Lamanites? Here is the answer:

“And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared—

“And they were spared and were not sunk and buried up in the earth; and they were not drowned in the depths of the sea; and they were not burned by fire, neither were they fallen upon and crushed to death; and they were not carried away in the whirlwind; neither were they overpowered by the vapor of smoke and of darkness.” (3 Ne. 10:12–13.)

It is important to note the message of the next verse:

“And now, whoso readeth, let him understand; he that hath the scriptures, let him search them, and see and behold if all these deaths and destructions by fire, and by smoke, and by tempests, and by whirlwinds, and by the opening of the earth to receive them, and all these things are not unto the fulfilling of the prophecies of many of the holy prophets.” (3 Ne. 10:14.)

Indeed, these very events, great and terrible as they were, had been predicted time and time again by the prophets of the Book of Mormon. From the description given by the “word of God” of the many cities that were destroyed, one can conclude that the destruction came upon the wicked and only “the more righteous part of the people” were saved.

Such is the story of the Book of Mormon. If that great book of scripture is to be taken as history, and I believe it to be so, it is the story of the rise and fall of great civilizations of this western hemisphere. The people arose to their greatest heights of accomplishment and civilization when they were righteous and worshipped the Lord, and digressed even unto destruction by wars and the tempests when they turned away from righteousness.

Such is the lesson of the nature of man to be learned from the Book of Mormon. King Benjamin understood it and endeavored to pass it on to his people. He said in his last sermon:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

When likening the saintly man unto a submissive child, King Benjamin in no sense implied that he should be a weakling. Some of the great prophets, leaders, and military generals of the Book of Mormon were among the most faithful and devoted worshippers of the Lord. They constantly sought divine guidance and communed with the Lord. We learn that three generations of such righteous prophets were permitted to see the Savior in vision, or hear his voice, hundreds of years before his birth in the meridian of time—Father Lehi; his son Jacob; and Jacob’s son, Enos.

It was Enos who gives us one of the valuable lessons to be learned from the Book of Mormon, that when one who is righteous and worthy steadfastly seeks the Lord he will find him. He wrote:

“And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.

“Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.

“And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” (Enos 1:2–6.)

We do not know of what sins Enos sought to be forgiven, but probably the most serious could have been only doubting. And one wonders what might have been Enos’ reaction if he had cut short his prayers before the Lord manifested himself:

Enos was within the third generation of prophets among the family of Father Lehi who followed the counsel of the Lord and brought his family out of Jerusalem and led them by divine guidance to this Promised Land. Even Lehi’s own immediate family had divided into those who righteously sought to serve the Lord and those who succumbed unto the enticings of Lucifer and turned from God. The divisions had been so sharply drawn that shortly after the death of Lehi, the family and followers of righteous Nephi had to flee in fear of their lives and went to settle new areas. Those who remained behind, led by the unrighteous Laman and Lemuel, became the enemies of God. This division persisted for the most part during the 1,000-year period of the Book of Mormon from the time of Nephi to the placing of the records in the Hill Cumorah by the Prophet Moroni.

We learn yet another typical lesson about the nature of man from the writings of Enos. One must not suppose that Satan will ever give up in his struggle to win converts to his evil ways, and we should not think that the followers of Nephi would always find it easy to be faithful. Enos, Nephi’s nephew, has this to say about the people:

“And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, … and wild goats, and also many horses.”

Note the implications of the beginnings of prosperity among the Nephites; and then comes this indictment from Enos:

“And there were exceeding many prophets among us. And the people were a stiffnecked people, hard to understand.

“And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceeding great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.

“And I saw wars between the Nephites and Lamanites in the course of my days.” (Enos 1:21–24.)

Already the pattern of the Book of Mormon story was being set. We learn that even among those inclined toward righteousness there was stiffneckedness and failure to understand the ways of the Lord. This most often occurred when the righteous prospered and became proud and self-sufficient and forgot whence their blessings came.

One typical example of this occurred within the decade that preceded the coming of the resurrected Lord to the people of this hemisphere to which I previously referred. In the early chapters of Third Nephi we read of successful wars of the Nephites against those of the “secret society of Gadianton,” known more familiarly as the Gadianton Robbers. The Lord had inspired the more righteous leaders of the Nephites in the winning of their battles, and the result was a noticeable repentance among the Nephites.

With their enemies defeated, the Nephites rejoiced and called upon God to protect them and “they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them,” and “their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God.” (See 3 Ne. 4:31, 33.)

Their repentance seemingly was sincere. Every one of them acknowledged that the prophets spoke the truth. “And they knew that it must be expedient that Christ had come, because of the many signs which had been given, according to the words of the prophets; …

“Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.” (3 Ne. 5:2, 3.)

Their repentance was such that they went into the prisons and preached the gospel to the many robbers they had captured, and released those who would repent and enter into a covenant to do murder no more.

The Nephites returned to their cities from which they had been driven by their enemy, rebuilt some, and repaired others. They built also many highways which led from city to city and they began to “prosper and to wax great.” This was about twenty-five years following Christ’s birth. The scripture says, “And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression.” (3 Ne. 6:4, 5.)

As had happened so many times before, they couldn’t stand the prosperity. The scriptures record the following as occurring just five years before the appearance among them of the resurrected Lord:

“But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceeding great riches. …

“And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning, yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.” (3 Ne. 6:10, 12.)

In but a short while some were lifted in pride, and some remained humble, and there came a great inequality in the land. This broke up the Church “save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith.” (3 Ne. 6:14.)

Then we are told in no uncertain terms the cause of this iniquity among the people. It was this—“Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.

“And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.” (3 Ne. 6:15–16.)

Perhaps I have cited enough examples to help us become aware of some of the great lessons to be learned from the Book of Mormon. We know from this remarkable book that great blessings follow those who are righteous and serve the Lord and seek to build up his kingdom. We learn that great cities and civilizations are built upon the principle of righteousness, and that they are destroyed when the people are ripened in iniquity. We learn that the Lord blesses individuals who seek to serve him even though they are persecuted. We learn that it is man’s inherent nature to become an enemy of God unless he seeks for and obtains the power of the Holy Spirit.

We also learn that among the causes of iniquity are pride, wealth, unrighteous dominion, class distinctions, selfishness, lusts for power, and the like. It is demonstrated to us that the righteous remain so by faith, by constant communication with God, by devotion to their leaders, by being humble and submissive to the mind and will of the Lord.

Among the most important lessons we may learn from the Book of Mormon as well as from other holy scriptures is that as prophets of God prophesy and foretell events, these things surely come to pass. These holy men speak on behalf of the Holy One of Israel, and we witness the abundant blessings poured out upon the righteous according to prophecy, and the dire destruction that falls upon the wicked.

Thus we know that the Lord means what he says whether he makes promises of great blessings or threatens with destruction.

Fortified with such knowledge from our reading and studying the Book of Mormon, we can better prepare to live in our day. The circumstances surrounding us are not so noticeably different from those faced by the Nephite people. We are fortunate to have the Book of Mormon, and doubly blessed when we read and study it as we are now doing throughout the Church. These blessings come when we learn and apply the great lessons to be learned from its inspired writings. They are many. I have touched upon only a few, but important ones.

I express my love of and gratitude for the Book of Mormon and its influence in my life, and pray that it will be a means of helping us all to win the further blessings and approbation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.