Why Covenants?

When Joseph Smith went into the grove of trees near his home to pray, the  question on his mind was “Which is the true church?” He was told to join none of them, that their creeds were an abomination, and that “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (JS-H 1:19).

Keep in mind that the churches of Joseph Smith’s place and time consisted of Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist sects. Certainly many of the people who belonged to those churches did their best to love and serve the Lord, but the problem was their creeds. Specifically, although each of these Christian religions offered baptism and communion of some form, they denied that they were necessary for salvation or that they had an efficacy, insisting that salvation came through faith alone.

And so the Lord said that they practiced a “form of godliness” but denied the power of godliness, because the power of godliness–the power to become like God–is explicitly linked to the ordinances, including baptism, partaking of the sacrament, and the ordinances of the temple (See D&C 84: 20-22: “In the ordinances [of the priesthood], the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”).

These ordinances are the ordained way that we are cleansed from our sins and gain power to refine and perfect our natures. As we become more Christlike in our thoughts, desires, and actions, we become more fit to endure His glory and abide in His presence.

Without these ordinances, it is impossible for us to become like God. And it is impossible for us to return to His presence.

That is the power of the temple; that is why it is so necessary to our lives. The temple teaches us and molds our hearts toward godliness. The temple makes it possible for us to go back to our Father in Heaven and live with Him forever.

Mormon’s Book

Through the years as I have read and reread the Book of Mormon, I have come to appreciate the fact that it is Mormon’s Book.

As the redactor of the Nephite records, Mormon is reticent about himself: although he gives detailed accounts of the strategies and battles of Moroni, he is fairly silent on his own extensive battles, as he did “not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes” (Mormon 5:8).

We know that he had a son–Moroni, of course–but know nothing of his wife or any of his other children. Still we can get to know Mormon by reading between the lines and by reading his commentary that is so often precluded by “Thus we see.”

We know that Mormon was forbidden to preach to his people at one point, then was completely unsuccessful when he was granted permission. This must have been a terrific burden, spending his life trying to effect the Nephite’s temporal salvation, helpless to effect a spiritual salvation. And so we hear him praise the waters of Mormon:

“yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever” (Mosiah 18:30).

But for Mormon, there would be no such waters for him to lead his people to.

Mormon must have known the prophecy Alma instructed Helaman to write:

“Behold, I perceive that this very people, the Nephites, … in four hundred years from the time that Jesus Christ shall manifest himself unto them, shall dwindle in unbelief. Yea, and then shall they see wars and pestilences, yea, famines and bloodshed, even until the people of Nephi shall become extinct…all, save it be a few who shall be called the disciples of the Lord; and them shall the Lamanites pursue even until they shall become extinct.”

Mormon must have known that he would not save them, temporally or spiritually, that all would be lost (Alma 45:10,11,14).

And so he turned his hopes and efforts to the future:

“I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the Spirit which had testified of things to come. Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel, when the work shall commence, that ye shall be about to prepare to return to the land of your inheritance;Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people…. And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all” (Mormon 3:16-19).

It is the Book of Mormon. The solemn witness of a man who, having done all that he could for his people in his day, turned his hopes and his faith toward our generations, to lead us to the waters of Mormon.