“Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been,” Ensign, Apr. 2000, 18
As we celebrate Easter in this historic year, 2,000 years since the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is significant that as a Church we are studying the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. No other book of scripture better explains the Savior’s atoning sacrifice and its meaning to us. The Book of Mormon is our witness to the world that the Savior not only atoned for the sins of all mankind, rose from the tomb, and has eternal life, but that He also loves us and ministers among us today. It reveals His nature, unveils His character, and proclaims His caring kindness in a way that testifies of the living reality of the Son of God.
The Savior’s work of atoning for our sins and making possible the Resurrection has been done. The door leading to eternal life has been forever unlocked. Now His merciful ministry is to help us return to the Father’s presence, as the Book of Mormon testifies:
“Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
“Yea, … the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
“Yea, … whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man [and woman] of Christ in a strait and narrow course. …
“And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out” (Hel. 3:27–30). What a powerful statement of the Messiah’s mission!
The Savior began His mortal ministry by making reference to this prophecy of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, … to comfort all that mourn, … to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:1–3; compare Luke 4:18–19).
All of us realize that in His Atonement and Resurrection, He did something for us we could not do for ourselves. But the spirit of Isaiah’s prophecy is that Christ would do something more. Besides providing a way for us to escape the demands of justice, and beyond enabling the Resurrection of all mankind, our Savior would extend mercy to help us in time of need. His mercy is the ultimate expression of His love for us. As Isaiah explained, He will teach us, comfort us, give us beauty, anoint us with the oil of joy, and clothe us with the garment of praise. The Atonement provides eternal life, but it is also a real power that helps us throughout life. It is our immediate help as well as our eternal hope.
The indescribable suffering which caused the Savior to descend below all things was something He willingly submitted to “because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Ne. 19:9). Being thus filled with mercy, He now extends that loving-kindness and long-suffering to us.
In fact, the Book of Mormon teaches that His suffering affected His love for us:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“… And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12; emphasis added).
The Book of Mormon also teaches that the merciful help of the Atonement is meant for this life as well as the next. “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 36:3; emphasis added).
In the opening chapter of the Book of Mormon, Nephi declared why he was writing this record: “Behold, I … will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20; emphasis added).
In the closing chapter, written more than 1,000 years later, Moroni pleads with us: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things [the Book of Mormon] … 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” (Moro. 10:3; emphasis added; see also Alma 33:16).
We often attribute our blessings to good fortune, luck, or our own genius. But the Book of Mormon reminds us, page after page, of how involved the Savior and our Heavenly Father are in our lives. Its stories and teachings describe a loving, caring, nurturing, forgiving Savior. It uses numerous words to describe the Savior’s “tender mercies.” Often these words refer to the Savior’s Atonement. But in many instances the words describing His mercy refer to His caring compassion to bless us, His brothers and sisters. We may not see Him, we might not even recognize His influence, but there are times when we do feel His nearness. His ministry now, as described in the Book of Mormon, is to help us through this vale of tears and sorrow. His mercy is extended to us throughout our lives and will also continue even beyond the grave, as these scriptures attest:
“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel … that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (Alma 40:11–12).
And after the Resurrection, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
President Brigham Young wisely observed that one day, in the celestial kingdom, we will look back on the difficulties of our lives and say, “But what of all that? Those things were but for a moment, and we are now here” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 178). The trials of life will yield to the joys of eternal life, God’s greatest gift (see D&C 14:7). Like Joseph of Egypt we will proclaim: “God … hath made me forget all my toil. … For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Gen. 41:51–52).
The experiences recorded in the Book of Mormon teach us of the Savior’s tender mercy by describing our Savior’s personal attributes and showing how He helps us in this life. It testifies of His power to support us in our trials, warn us of danger, enlighten us, strengthen us where we are weak, deliver us from bondage, change our natures, shield us, give us peace, and encircle us in the arms of His mercy. The Book of Mormon is a most remarkable book in telling us of the Savior’s boundless love not only for all mankind but also for each of us as individuals, one by one (see 3 Ne. 11:15–16).
He will sustain and support us. We are afflicted with a wide variety of trials. Part of the purpose for our mortal sojourn is to learn by experience the lessons and principles that are for “our good”—for the development of our character (see D&C 122:7). Although the tests and trials we face are different, all are tried one way or another. We are not always free to choose the tests that come, but we are free to choose our responses.
Some may be tested by a broken heart. To the “pure in heart” whose hearts were broken with sorrow because of the abusive actions of loved ones, the prophet Jacob said:
“Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction.
“O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever” (Jacob 3:1–2).
Even when we experience unreciprocated love from those closest to us, the Savior’s love can fill our hearts, and His mercy can infuse our lives with hope.
He will warn us of impending danger. Through His prophets, the Savior warned the people in Jerusalem that the Babylonian armies were coming (see 1 Ne. 1:4). He warned the Nephite armies where their enemies were camped and revealed where they should meet them in battle (see Alma 43:23–24). He warned the people about the consequences of sin and extended the “arms of mercy … towards them” if they would repent (see Mosiah 16:12).
The Savior sees the future. He knows what is coming, and often He will warn us, by His Spirit and through His prophets, so that we too can be enclosed in His arms of safety. “Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you” (Alma 5:33; see also Alma 34:16).
Of course, we are free to choose whether to heed the warnings or not. As Lehi explained, “Men are … free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death” (2 Ne. 2:27).
As C. S. Lewis wisely observed, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened” (The Great Divorce , 72).
He will enlighten us. Samuel the Lamanite promised that despite the mistakes and errors his people had made in the past, they would be enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord and blessed because of their firm and steadfast faith in Christ (see Hel. 15:4–10). He taught that three things were necessary to obtain this blessing: the people must come to a knowledge of the truth, must not be deceived by false traditions, and must believe in the holy scriptures, which contain the prophecies of the prophets. These, in turn, would lead them to faith on the Lord and to repentance and would bring a change of heart, and that would make them firm, steadfast in the faith, and free (see Hel. 15:7–8).
Because the Savior knows all things (see 1 Ne. 9:6; Abr. 3:19), He can give us greater light and understanding than is possible to attain on our own (see Moro. 7:15–18; D&C 88:6–13; John 1:9). The Savior’s words can enlarge our souls, expand our minds, and enlighten our understanding (see Alma 32:28, 34). What could be more enlightening than to be firm, steadfast, and free?
As wonderful as our modern attainments may be, there is an even greater age of enlightenment coming. The Savior’s future return to the earth will usher in the great millennial day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2 Ne. 21:9). To those who remain faithful to Him, the Savior will “arise with healing in his wings” (3 Ne. 25:2). He said they would be “led up as calves of the stall” (1 Ne. 22:24; see also 3 Ne. 25:2). When calves who have spent their early lives in the barn are led out into the pasture for the first time, they run with excitement at their newfound freedom. So it will be with us. Christ and His gospel give us more enlightenment about the purpose and meaning of life than any other individual or source. And when He appears at the Second Coming, we will receive even more:
“For since the beginning of the world have not men heard nor perceived by the ear, neither hath any eye seen, O God, besides thee, how great things thou hast prepared for him that waiteth for thee” (D&C 133:45).
He will strengthen and deliver us. At a certain point in Book of Mormon history, two groups of Nephites, Limhi’s people and Alma’s people, were taken captive by their enemies. Although both groups were living near each other and both faced similar circumstances, one group suffered more because they failed to seek the Lord’s help. By comparing both groups, we can see how the Lord will deliver those who desire His help.
Limhi’s people who relied on their own strength rather than turning to the Lord were attacked without warning and were placed in bondage. They were smitten “on their cheeks” by their enemies who “exercise[d] authority over them; and began to put heavy burdens upon their backs, and drive them as they would a dumb ass” (Mosiah 21:3). Despite the fact that they were surrounded on every side, they made three desperate attempts to escape by confronting the enemy. Each attempt resulted in great loss of life, which brought untold grief and mourning (see Mosiah 21:7–12). They were humbled “to the dust” and submitted themselves “to be smitten, and to be driven to and fro, and burdened, according to the desires of their enemies” (Mosiah 21:13).
In desperation they cried “mightily to God” that He would deliver them. But “the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries.” He softened the hearts of their enemies, and “they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.” He did, however, allow them to “prosper by degrees” (Mosiah 21:14–16; emphasis added).
King Limhi’s people found a “land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed” (Mosiah 21:26), which they mistakenly assumed was Zarahemla. They determined to escape. They paid extra tributes of wine to their captors, who became drunken; then they stole out “by night into the wilderness,” eventually finding safety with Mosiah’s people in the true land of Zarahemla (see Mosiah 21:6–13).
On the other hand, Alma’s people (though facing the same dire circumstances) had a different experience because they were trying to live righteously and they turned to the Lord for help and were blessed. They were “warned of the Lord” ahead of time that their enemies were coming (Mosiah 23:1). “The Lord did strengthen them” and led them to “a land, yea, even a very beautiful and pleasant land, a land of pure water” (Mosiah 23:2–4).
When they were about to be captured, “Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.
“Therefore they hushed their fears, and began to cry unto the Lord that he would soften the hearts of the Lamanites, that they would spare them, and their wives, and their children.
“And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites. And Alma and his brethren went forth and delivered themselves up into their hands” (Mosiah 23:27–29). Not a single life was lost.
They were mistreated, just as Limhi’s people had been, but Alma’s people “did pour out their hearts” to God. The voice of the Lord “came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort,” and they were told the Lord would “deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:12–13). God’s mercy was also extended to their immediate needs:
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do … that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
“… Yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
“And … so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
“And he said unto Alma: Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage” (Mosiah 24:14–17; emphasis added).
The next morning, the Lord “caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their task-masters were in a profound sleep” (Mosiah 24:19). Alma’s people escaped into the wilderness where they “poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God” (Mosiah 24:21).
When their enemies tried to pursue them, the Lord said to Alma: “Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, … and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people” (Mosiah 24:23).
With no loss of life, with great blessings to ease their burden, with help to escape bondage, and protection after they were free, the Lord “did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings” (Mosiah 23:24).
The Savior knows all things. While He may not always remove the trials from our lives, His grace can bear us up against all the pressures surrounding us, regardless of the kinds of bondage we may find ourselves in (see Mosiah 7:33). He knows how to help us and how to lead and protect us, if we will but exercise faith in Him.
He will shield us. Satan seeks the destruction of all mankind but particularly of those who strive to follow the Son and keep His commandments (see Rev. 12:12, 17). But the words of Christ are like an iron rod—sure, strong, and solid. Nephi taught that those who “hearken unto the word of God, and … hold fast unto it … would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Ne. 15:24).
Alma taught his son Helaman these great truths in this way:
“And now, my son, remember the words which I have spoken unto you; … teach [the people] an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.
“Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; … teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls. …
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:32–34, 37; emphasis added).
He will change our nature. The tendency of the natural man is to give up hope, to quit trying, to say: “I’ll never be able to succeed. That’s just the way I am.”
The Book of Mormon points out that the natural man often has a defeatist attitude because he depends upon his own strength and his own wisdom (see Hel. 16:15). The natural man is “quick to be lifted up in pride” and to boast (Hel. 12:5), “quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one” (Alma 46:8), quick to turn from righteousness to wickedness (see 3 Ne. 7:15), but slow to remember the Lord and “give ear unto his counsels,” and slow to choose Him to be his guide (Hel. 12:5–6).
Even so, the message of the Book of Mormon is that the Savior has power to change the natural man in us. Through His gospel He can change us and help us reverse the natural tendencies of the fallen natural man and help us become Saints: “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” (Mosiah 3:19).
He will give us peace and joy. Because of what Christ did for us, we can repent of our sins, be baptized, be born again and experience a change of nature, and inherit the kingdom of heaven. Our Savior is “mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7:14).
He has promised that if we will “fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset [us]” and be willing to “repent … and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments,” we will be cleansed and inherit eternal life (Alma 7:15–16).
“Wherefore,” Nephi testified, “ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20).
All through the Book of Mormon, whenever people followed the Savior’s teachings, the prophets noted:
“We lived after the manner of happiness” (2 Ne. 5:27).
“There never was a happier time among the people” (Alma 50:23).
“And surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Ne. 1:16).
“All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (3 Ne. 22:13).
Perhaps the greatest example in the Book of Mormon of the peace and joy coming from the Savior’s personal concern for us was when He knelt with and prayed for the people of 3 Nephi:
“And behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written. …
“And after this manner do they [who heard him] bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
“And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father” (3 Ne. 17:15–17; emphasis added).
Truly there is no greater peace than that which comes from Christ (see Phil. 4:7; John 14:27).
He will encircle us in the arms of his mercy. Jacob testified that at the end of our journey along the path leading toward eternal life, the Savior stands to greet us: “The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate” (2 Ne. 9:41). The prophet Mormon said in his lamentation for his fallen people, “Jesus … stood with open arms to receive you” (Morm. 6:17). He still waits to encircle us in the arms of His mercy. “And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety” (Alma 34:16).
The major purpose of the Book of Mormon is to reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to us; not just the events of His life and sacrifice, but the living reality of His nature and character. The Savior’s concern for us is real. He is personally involved in helping us. Thus, Easter celebrations are meant to help us remember His Atonement, His Resurrection, and especially His eternal loving-kindness and tender mercy for each of us. May this historic Easter and this year’s study of the Book of Mormon help us remember the Savior’s mercy and help us exercise greater faith in Him and His gospel.