Two years ago, I wrote a post on this blog discussing devotional uses of the Book of Mormon by the early Saints. This week, I came across another inspiring example of the usage of the Book of Mormon by early church leaders.
1836 saw the Latter-day Saints in Kirkland enjoy unparalleled prosperity and spiritual outpourings. The newly dedicated temple resulted in incredible manifestations and visions. And a land boom resulted in spiking land prices and financial stability. In those conditions, many members began to grow disaffected by efforts by Joseph Smith and other Church leaders to direct temporal and political affairs. As the murmuring and opposition intensified in the start of 1837, David Whitmer, one of the Book of Mormon witnesses, delivered what appears to have been a powerful sermon. Wilford Woodruf describes the sermon as follows in his journal on January 13, 1837.
“Met at candlelight with the quorums of the Seventies and was
favored with a lecture from President David Whitmer. He warned us to humble ourselves before God lest his hand rest upon us in anger for our pride and many sins, that we were running into in our days of prosperity as the ancient
Nephites did. It does now appear evident that a scourge awaits this stake of Zion, even Kirtland, if there is not great repentance immediate and almost every countenance indicates the above expectation, especially the heads of the Church. (See Dec. 11th, 1836.) May the Lord in mercy enable us to meet every
event with resignation.”
I find this to be a remarkable example of how the Book of Mormon had taken moral and spiritual significance in the life of the Saints. The reference to the Nephite pride cycle is dependent on the listener having read and internalized the narrative arc of the Book of Mormon. And Whitmer expressly invokes that story to call his people to repent and to cast off pride and dissension. And it is clear from Woodruf’s account that he (Woodruf) fully understood the point of Whitmer’s message. In this critical period, Whitmer called upon the power of the Book of Mormon to invite repentance and draw us closer to Christ.
What also struck me was how consistent this usage of the Book of Mormon is with one of the more prominent contemporary uses of the Book of Mormon. For instance just last month Elder Wilford Andersen delivered a penetrating sermon on the Pride Cycle.
Elder Andersen described with great clarity the traps of the Pride Cycle, and perhaps more significantly he described how we can escape from that Cycle:
“Brothers and sisters, let’s be honest. Most of us, like the Nephites of old, have ourselves taken a few laps around the pride cycle. I used to wonder how the Nephite nation could run the entire cycle in a period of as short as five years. I have since come to believe that we can run the cycle in five years and we can run it in five minutes. It is a pernicious pattern of thinking and behavior that permeates our society. It is so common that it sometimes becomes hard to recognize.
Are we consigned to continue forever in this endless do-loop of despair? Is there no way to get off the pride cycle? There is. In fact, there are two points on the pride cycle where we can exit—one to our eternal destruction and the other to our everlasting happiness.
At four o’clock, when we are facing failure or affliction and feel like all is lost, if instead of becoming humble we become angry; if we lose hope or give in to self-pity; or if we begin to blame others—including God—for our misfortune, then we will exit the pride cycle. But we will exit downward to destruction, as did the Nephites of old.
But at ten o’clock, when it seems like we can do no wrong, when all is going well, if instead of becoming proud we become thankful, then we will exit the pride cycle. But this time we will exit upward toward God. To exit the pride cycle at ten o’clock, we must recognize that every blessing we receive comes from Heavenly Father. He is the source of all that is good in our lives—the fount of every blessing.“
Just like Wilford Woodruff, David Whitmer, and the early saints, we can learn much from the Nephite Pride Cycle of the Book of Mormon. May we like Wilford Woodruff he humbled and allow our prosperity to bring us to gratitude rather than pride.