“O How Great the Plan of Our God!” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 14
God’s foreknowledge of our world’s story, from its beginning to its end, is well illustrated in the Book of Mormon. Through it we learn that he prepared a comprehensive plan for our life in mortality as well as for our eternal salvation, if we will follow his commandments. Nephi taught early in his record that “the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words” (1 Ne. 9:6).
The Book of Mormon contains many choice references teaching that the plan of life for the inhabitants of this earth was instituted by God the Eternal Father through his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. No other scripture depicts so clearly, so profoundly, so frequently, or so powerfully “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8). It testifies also, strongly and repeatedly, of our Savior and his role in that plan.
Amulek, missionary companion to the prophet Alma, summarized the core of God’s plan several decades before the birth of Christ. He said:
“Behold, … I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
“For … according to the great plan of the eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish. …
“For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; … an infinite and eternal sacrifice. …
“And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law [of Moses], every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal” (Alma 34:8–10, 14).
Jacob, Jarom, and Alma tell us something of the breadth and depth of the plan of God when they speak of it as the “merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Ne. 9:6), the “great plan of redemption” (Jacob 6:8), the “plan of salvation” (Jarom 1:2), the “plan of restoration” (Alma 41:2), and the “great plan of mercy” (Alma 42:31). We learn from Alma that “the plan of redemption … was laid from the foundation of the world” (Alma 12:25).
During our premortal existence, Satan attempted to alter the plan which Heavenly Father presented in the great council in heaven. His attempt to do so was rejected by the Father and the majority of the hosts of heaven (see Moses 4:1–2; Abr. 3:27–28). Now, having been cast out of Heavenly Father’s presence, Satan and his followers carry out his “cunning plans which he hath devised to ensnare the hearts of men” (Alma 28:13), “that he might bring [them] into subjection unto him” (Alma 12:6).
God’s plan included our premortal existence, the creation of this world, a time in the Garden of Eden for Adam and Eve, and the fall of man into mortality. Our Eternal Father, knowing the needs of his children from the beginning, sent angels to Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the garden “and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works.
“Wherefore, he gave commandments unto men, they having … plac[ed] themselves in a state to act, or [having been] placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good—
“Therefore God gave unto them commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:30–32).
Thus Adam and all the holy prophets from the beginning taught their descendants the purpose of life and the preparations necessary for salvation.
Book of Mormon references to biblical events and teachings, as recorded upon the brass plates, make it clear that Lehi’s descendants had access to the teachings and the histories of earlier prophets (see, for example, Alma 37:3; 1 Ne. 5:11–13).
But the Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is by no means a complete history. In fact, the writers of the book refer to history as being a minor focus. Nephi points the reader to the more significant purpose of the record:
“And now, as I have spoken concerning these plates [the small plates of Nephi], behold they are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people. …
“… Wherefore these plates are for the more part of the ministry” (1 Ne. 9:2, 4).
He says further: “Upon these [the small plates] I write the things of my soul, and many of the scriptures which are engraven upon the plates of brass. For my soul delighteth in the scriptures. …
“Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord” (2 Ne. 4:15–16).
Jacob clearly portrays this emphasis when he writes: “Nephi gave me, Jacob, a commandment concerning the small plates, …
“… that I should write upon [them] a few of the things which I considered to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi. …
“And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people” (Jacob 1:1–2, 4).
Thus the Book of Mormon is a sacred, spiritual record. The title page indicates that it is a record, or a testament, “to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself unto all nations.”
In so testifying of Jesus Christ, the book gives witness also of our Father’s eternal plan.
With his foreknowledge of the conditions and occurrences that would shape our world, Heavenly Father also provided in the Book of Mormon an essential second witness of important events, truths, and covenants. Among these are the flood in Noah’s day (see Alma 10:22; Ether 13:2); the prominence of Jerusalem, a focal point of gathering for God’s chosen people anciently and in the latter days (see 3 Ne. 20:29, 33; Jacob 6:2); and God’s covenant with Abraham to gather from all the earth a people chosen of the Lord (see 1 Ne. 19:15–16; 2 Ne. 29:14; 3 Ne. 21; Morm. 5:20).
Why are these things recorded in the Book of Mormon? To point all people, nations, kindreds, and tongues to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world. His first coming is the central event in the Book of Mormon, subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” His second coming also is clearly anticipated in this powerful record (see 3 Ne. 24:1–4; 3 Ne. 27:16).
Nephi saw in vision that the biblical record (the record of the Jews, containing the gospel of Jesus Christ and the testimonies of his Apostles) would undergo serious changes through the efforts of those who would “pervert the right ways of the Lord.” (1 Ne. 13:27). Important doctrines and prophecies were lost from the record. Nephi wrote that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away” (1 Ne. 13:26). But the Lord promised Nephi that “I will bring forth … , in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious” (1 Ne. 13:34).
The Savior also promised that he would manifest himself to the seed of Nephi, and they would “write many things which I [Jesus Christ] shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed [the Nephites] shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren [the Lamanites], behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb” (1 Ne. 13:35). We know that this account, the record of Nephi and the ancient prophets who succeeded him for more than nine hundred years, did come forth by the gift and power of God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was published to the world in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, a vital part of the great latter-day restoration of the gospel, the priesthood, the covenants, the ordinances, and the doctrine of Christ. God our Father had known, long before the writing of it was begun, that this record would be needed.
The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are among the latter-day records prophesied to come forth (see 1 Ne. 13:39–40) as witnesses of the divinity of the Son of God (see 3 Ne. 26:8–11). In learning from these revealed records, we can rejoice in a restoration of knowledge that would otherwise have been lost from the gospel, including the many descriptions of the plan of God, a true picture of the Godhead, and information about key ordinances and doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon is the keystone of the restoration process begun in the early 1800s. It focuses the faith and works of members of the true church on the central theme and purpose of life from the beginning.
As the prophet Jacob proclaimed: “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
“And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice. …
“And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
“And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it” (2 Ne. 9:20–21, 23–24).
Speaking to the prophet Moroni, our Savior taught that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon would be both a sign and a call to those of our day who believe in him.
“Therefore, when ye shall receive this record ye may know that the work of the Father has commenced upon all the face of the land. …
“And blessed is he that is found faithful unto my name at the last day, for he shall be lifted up to dwell in the kingdom prepared for him from the foundation of the world” (Ether 4:17, 19).
We were prepared well in advance for this opportunity to prove ourselves faithful. Our first lessons about the plan of happiness were taught long ago, before this mortal life. President Joseph F. Smith received a vision in which he learned much regarding our life as spirit children of God before we came to this earth. Speaking of the faithful ones, he wrote: “Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:56).
Yet not all of those who learned of the Father’s plan in the premortal life, or who know of it in this life, are willing to partake of its joys. Perhaps this can be illustrated by the story of a group of United States Forest Service smoke chasers in training.
Six men, having been prepared for five days in the techniques of compass reading, woodsmanship, and fire control, were taken by truck to an isolated area. In the distance, some two miles off the road, they could see a plume of smoke, which they were directed to walk to as quickly and efficiently as possible by using the training methods taught during fire school. One after another, at fifteen-minute intervals, the men left the truck and set out on foot for the target smoke.
The sixth man, drawing upon the training received from men of experience, quickly negotiated the course by keeping to higher and more open ground, avoiding steep canyons, thick brush, and rock slides. Always he kept his goal in focus. Along the route, he saw all five men who had left the truck before him facing difficulty with different obstacles. One, for example, was in the bottom of a deep canyon, while another was thrashing through heavy brush with his backpack catching on limbs and obstacles at every step, and yet another was slipping and struggling across a dangerous rock slide with little forward progress.
The sixth man arrived at the smoke first. The fire-control officer was astonished to learn that the last man to leave for the objective was the first man to achieve the goal. After inquiring as to the whereabouts of the other five men, he was quick to award the sixth man the prized job of trail-crew boss.
As this experience suggests, many will lose sight of the goal of eternal life with God and Jesus Christ. Others will fall into deep canyons of doubt or be caught in the brush and thickets of sin and temptations of life. Some will fail to follow the compass directions of the Holy Ghost, prophets, scriptures, and priesthood leaders. But spiritual safety lies in relying absolutely on the foreknowledge of God and the plan of life and salvation that he has provided for us.
Our Father, through his foreknowledge of this world’s story, teaches us also of the eventual outcome of his work in the latter days. All the sacred events of earthly record point to a culminating purpose yet ahead of us—the second coming of Jesus Christ and his authority and governance upon this earth. Faithful members of the Church may long for that coming day and will strive to maintain the hope and faith necessary to “be partakers of the heavenly gift” (Ether 12:8), salvation in the kingdom of God.
In a “choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord” (Ether 13:2) will be “the place of the New Jerusalem, … come down out of heaven, and the holy sanctuary of the Lord” (Ether 13:3). (That site for the New Jerusalem, with its holy temple, has already been designated in D&C 84:2–4.) Moroni wrote:
“And then cometh the New Jerusalem; and blessed are they who dwell therein, for it is they whose garments are white through the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who are numbered among the remnant of the seed of Joseph, who were of the house of Israel.
“And then also cometh the Jerusalem of old; and the inhabitants thereof, blessed are they, for they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb; and they are they who were scattered and gathered in from the four quarters of the earth, and from the north countries, and are partakers of the fulfilling of the covenant which God made with their father, Abraham.
“And when these things come, bringeth to pass the scripture which saith, there are they who were first, who shall be last; and there are they who were last, who shall be first” (Ether 13:10–12).
It will be a time for all of the people of the world who are willing to find joy through the Father’s eternal plan to accept his Son as their Redeemer. Moroni counsels: “I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever” (Ether 12:41).
That he came to earth, the Only Begotten Son of God, is a matter of record in holy writ. Truly, the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, points all the family of Adam to their Savior and Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, Jesus Christ. And in doing so, this great revealed record also testifies of our Father’s perfect, divine foresight and his eternal, unsurpassable love for us.