For some, the Book of Mormon contains a wealth of information on the topic of being ‘born again.’ I am one of them. The narratives regarding Nephi, King Benjamin, Enos, Alma, and the 300 Lamanites give soul-satisfying detail into the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Contained within the exposition on the doctrine of Christ found in second Nephi, chapter 31, a clear picture can be developed of the necessity of this second birth and the incumbent sanctification it offers through the remission of sins.
In speaking to the Lamanites of this day, Mormon tells them of the necessity of baptism (Mormon 7:10):
“…if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior…”
The baptism required of the Lord has two components, water and spirit. When Nicodemus came to Christ, he was told that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” I find it interesting that the original Greek meaning of the word ‘see’ connotes ‘to consider’ or ‘have knowledge of.’ The first baptism of water, as suggested here, is necessary to consider the kingdom of God. As Christ told Nicodemus, the second or baptism of the Spirit is required to enter his kingdom (John 3:5):
“…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God…”
This suggests that we become aware of the kingdom of God through the baptism of water and gain entrance to the kingdom of God through the baptism of the Spirit. This idea is consistent with the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 3:17-18 and Moroni 6:1-4).
Joseph Smith amplified on this idea in the following (TPJS, p. 314)
“”You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost”
Given the critical nature of this sanctifying ordinance, it would seem that we should understand how this second baptism is applied to the seeker. Through church literature and the scriptures, two perspectives can be drawn on the ‘baptism of fire’ and its application in our lives.
For some time, beginning perhaps with President Ezra Taft Benson, this baptism has been viewed as an imperceptible change over a long period of time. In the October,1989 Ensign, President Benson stated:
“For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundreds and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life. They live quiet lives of goodness, service, and commitment. They are like the Lamanites, who the Lord said “were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” (3 Ne. 9:20)”
This idea has been amplified in recent conference talks by Elders Packer, Bednar and Christofferson giving us a view that we can achieve this second baptism through long life of following Christ as characterized in this segment from “True to the Faith” on conversion:
“Because conversion is a quiet, constant process, you may be converted now and not realize it. You could be like the Lamanites who, “because of their faith in [Christ] at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20). Your continuing efforts to exercise faith and follow the Savior will lead to greater conversion.”
Before we pack up and go home, let’s look a little more closely at the scripture used as the cornerstone of the idea that the second baptism is a gradual process.
Even before Christ had descended to stand among the Nephites at the time of His appearance on the American continent, His voice was heard detailing the destruction exacted on the land and cities. He then offered this promise to those who survived (3 Nephi 9:20):
“…whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.”
Without any collaborating scripture, this seems to say that the Lamanites were baptized by fire and were unaware of this process. When reading this scripture, I was somewhat troubled by the reference to their conversion. Usually, when I hear the phrase ‘at the time of‘ an event, I don’t think that it if referring to a long time covering months or years. This begs the question:
What Lamanites are being discussed here and what happened to them?
In the current version of the scriptures published in 1981, there is no footnote associated with the conversion phrase in verse 20. However, this has not always been the case. In the previous version of the footnotes before the correlated footnotes and going back at least as far as the 1920 edition of the Book of Mormon, there was a footnote ascribed to the conversion found in this verse. Here is a scan of the referenced verse:
While it may not cleanly appear in the scan, the ‘z’ footnote occurs in association with ‘their conversion.’ And what does the “z” footnote contain?
There are two references associated with the phrase “their conversion” in this verse, the first is to Helaman 5:45. The event described associated with this scripture reference is the freeing of Lehi and Nephi from the Lamanite prison. At that time, Lehi and Nephi were miraculously freed from prison and, while under the influence of the Holy Ghost, were surrounded, as it were, by fire. Aminadab took the opportunity to educate that 300 Lamanites as to what was happening and encouraged them to pray. They, also, were surrounded by fire and were blessed, as we learn from Ether 12:14, to be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. It is also interesting to note that, while the backward reference from 3 Nephi was removed in the footnotes of the current edition, there is still a reference in Helaman 5:45 pointing forward to the comment in 3 Nephi.
‘And they knew it not?’ Given the scripture reading, this statement could either be construed to mean that they didn’t know that it was happening to them, or they didn’t understand what was happening. I strongly suggest that it was the latter. The Lamanites definitely knew something incredible was taking place but didn’t understand what was transpiring, once they were educated and began to exercise faith and pray to God, they were enveloped in the ‘fire’ and were baptized by the Holy Ghost. It, of course, did not happen over many years. It was a point event that carried significance with them through out their subsequent ministry among their people.
The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is a marvelous and life-changing experience. It is, as Nephi states, the gate to the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” It leaves one without any fear. It cleanses the soul and purges sin. In my opinion, it is, by far, the most sacred experience one can enjoy.
My fear is that most people will not understand that it is available and will, therefore, not seek after it. Enos prayed well into the night to receive his remission of sins. What are we willing to do to receive this gating item for entry into the kingdom of God?
What think ye?