Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10: 3-5)
We are all familiar with this promise. The missionaries use it all of the time. Heck, I was a missionary and I used it, too. But I interpreted it according to the traditional interpretation that was taught to me, just as we all do. Here is the correction to this tradition, the real meaning of these verses, as I now understand it:
- The meaning of “these things” from the phrase “I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things” (v. 3) refers to the Book of Mormon. Everybody gets this right.
- The phrase “that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things” (v. 3) requires that the investigator be familiar with the Bible. Ideally, they would have read the entire Bible, but at the very least, familiarity with the stories of the Bible is needed. Also, a belief in the Bible is called for, as “remembering how merciful the Lord hath been” is impossible if we believe the Bible to be a work of fiction.
- The meaning of “it’ in the phrase “ponder it in your hearts” is the mercy of the Lord. In other words, we are to ponder the mercy that the Lord has shown to the children of men from the time of Adam to now.
- Asking “if these things are not true” (v. 4) is not the same as asking “if these things are true.” The word “not” changes the presupposition of the phrase from one of incredulity to one of belief. In other words, by asking “if these things are not true” the presupposition is that they are true things, and we are asking if our belief is incorrect. On the other hand, by asking “if these things are true” the presupposition is that they are false things, and we are asking if our incredulity is incorrect. So, we don’t approach God in prayer, believing that the Book of Mormon is false, and wanting to know if it is true. Using such an approach, we will get no answer. Instead we approach God in prayer, believing that the Book of Mormon is true and wanting to know if it is false. Then the Lord confirms to us that it is true.
- The following phrases “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” emphasize that belief, repentence, humility and willingness to obey the gospel must be present. We must not only already believe the Book of Mormon is true when asking God, but must also already believe in Christ and that God will (not just can) answer our prayer. There must be no doubt present concerning all these things. Also, in another revelation, the Lord explained that people who ask for gifts of the Spirit, which are manifestations of the Spirit, should “ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.” (See D&C 46: 9.) Nephi also explained the manner in which manifestations of the Spirit ought to be sought, saying, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism…behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” (See 2 Nephi 31: 13.)
And so comes the manifestation of the Holy Ghost, confirming the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon to us. The promise in Moroni 10: 3-5, then, is a test of our belief. Only the believers receive the answer. The incredulous will receive no answer from the Holy Ghost.
This is the reason why some people say, “I asked if the Book of Mormon was true or not, but didn’t receive an answer.” (Laman and Lemuel didn’t receive answers either. See 1 Nephi 15: 8-11.) The approach they are taking is one of incredulity, which closes the heavens. If we explain this scriptural concept to our investigators from the get-go, the burden of receiving an answer is placed firmly on their own shoulders, according to their belief (or faith.)
Nephi said, “And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith.” (2 Nephi 26: 13)
The Lord said, “For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.“(2 Nephi 27: 23)
I have found that missionaries, when faced with investigators who have asked God to know if the Book of Mormon is true will place the stress on believing that it is possible to receive an answer, or believing that one will receive an answer, etc. They entirely miss the first belief that is necessary: that the Book of Mormon is true. I wonder how many investigators we lose because of this misunderstanding?
Anyone who possesses the four beliefs necessary: 1) that the Book of Mormon is true, 2) that the Lord has been merciful unto the children of men from the time of Adam to now, 3) a belief in Christ and 4) that God will answer their prayer; and possessing these beliefs, if they go to God in prayer, asking God in the name of Christ, if the Book of Mormon is false, will receive a guaranteed manifestation of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, confirming their faith.
Go ahead and explain this to your friends who are investigating, and watch as all of those who follow this exact process suddenly desire to join the church.
Surely some will say that if they already believe the Book of Mormon is true, what is the need to ask God to confirm it? They might as well join the church anyway. Well, that’s true. There is no need, but the promise is there for those who wish to turn their belief into bona fide knowledge via a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. This is in agreement with Alma 32: 17, 27-28. First comes belief, then come the signs of the Holy Ghost. No belief, no signs. It is as simple as that.
Next Preaching the Gospel article: The Law of the Harvest: a reality check