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At the time of which we speak, Lehi and his wife were the parents of four sons, of whom the elder two were of disobedient and unruly character, in which respect they stood in striking contrast to their dutiful brothers. Other children, both sons and daughters, are of later mention.
Those were troublous days for Israel. The people had largely forgotten the God of their fathers; and the calamities voiced by Moses and the prophets as the contingent result of sins against which the people had been specifically warned, were multiplying apace. Already the shadows of the Babylonian captivity were falling athwart the nation. Many prophets, Lehi among them, lifted their voices in admonition and warning, crying repentance to the recreant Israelites, and predicting that unless they turned from their wickedness the City of David, their national boast and pride, would be despoiled and Israel be made captive. Instead of heeding these men of God, the people went wild with resentment and tried to slay them.
In the year 600 B. C., when Zedekiah ascended the throne of Judah, the word of the Lord came to Lehi directing him to take his family and flee from Jerusalem into the wilderness of Arabia. The scattering of the Israelitish nation had been foretold, and the departure of Lehi and his household, together with another entire family which was of the tribe of Ephraim, and part of a third, was in line with the general dispersion. Had it not so been declared by Isaiah? "For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this." (2 Kings 19:31; also Isa. 37:32).
The migrating colony journeyed by slow stages for about eight years in the desert, during which time Lehi and his faithful younger son Nephi received many revelations of
the Divine word and will, through which the purpose of their own exodus was made known, as were also the portending vicissitudes of the nation from which they had become expatriated by the Lord's command. Eventually they reached the shores of the Arabian sea, where, divinely directed, they built a vessel, in which they were carried by wind and current across the ocean to the western coast of South America.
So long as unity prevailed the colony prospered in the Promised Land, and with high birth-rate and few deaths soon became a numerous people. With prosperity came pride and avarice, and the inevitable accompaniment, dissension. The more righteous part chose Nephi for their leader and called themselves Nephites, while the rebellious and evil faction came to be known as Lamanites or followers of Laman, who was the eldest and most wicked of Lehi's
As the decades linked themselves into centuries the breach between Nephites and Lamanites became wider, the enmity fiercer, and the disparity in customs and culture greater; though for brief and exceptional periods there was truce between them. The Nephites maintained a relatively high standard of civilized activity, while the Lamanites became a degenerate people, of nomadic and predatory life, devoted mostly to warfare and the chase; and as a mark of Divine displeasure they were cursed with a dark ruddy skin. Many and bloody were the wars they waged against their more peaceable contemporaries. Nevertheless the Nephites developed and throve in proportion to their varying degrees of allegiance to the laws of God as made known by the succession of prophets whom the Lord raised up among them; and their departures from the ways of righteousness were followed by the disciplinary suffering incident to Lamanite
victories, which were permitted to afflict them at intervals. They fled before their aggressive foes, moving northward and eastward; so that in the course of centuries they swept over a large part of the area now embraced by Mexico and the United States.
The Gospel of salvation was taught and the fundamental ordinances were administered among the Nephites; and the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ, ministered among them in Person, and declared them to be the sheep of that other fold to which He had referred while preaching to the Jews. See John 10:16.
About 420 A. D., the Nephites, having fallen into wickedness all the more convicting because of their intellectual superiority, were utterly destroyed as a nation by their hereditary enemies. The exterminating conflict was fought in the vicinity of Palmyra, in the present State of New York. The savage but victorious Lamanites have lived on as the degraded race of red men, whom Columbus found in the land on the occasion of his re-discovery of the Western Continent. Such is the origin of the American Indians. They are of Israelitish descent, belonging to the House of Joseph who was sold into Egypt.
From the time of Lehi's exodus from Jerusalem down to the end of Nephite history, a circumstantial record was kept by scribes set apart to the work. That record has been restored to human knowledge, and the translated part has been given to the world as the Book of Mormon.
The announcement of such a discovery as that of the plates of Mormon, and of such an achievement as the translation of the records into English, could not fail to attract the attention of both layman and scholar. But the announcement was treated with contempt and vigorous denunciation.
The reason for this hostile rejection is found in the fact that Joseph Smith, the translator, avowed that he had not accomplished the marvelous work by his own or other human power alone, but that the resting-place of the ancient plates had been revealed to him by an angel, who appeared in light and glory, and announced himself as that same Moroni who had sealed up and buried the inscribed plates over fourteen centuries earlier. A further cause for the popular opposition to the Book of Mormon lay in Joseph Smith's solemn testimony that he had been empowered to make the translation through the direct inspiration of God.
This avowal introduced the element of the supernatural. If Joseph Smith spoke truly, miracles had not ceased, and direct revelation from God to man was of modern certainty. Such a conception was wholly opposed by theological theory and churchly dogma. And yet, why in reason should direct revelation from the heavens be more of an improbability today than in the centuries of long ago? Except as to the extent of the writing, is the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon any more of a marvel than the inspired reading of the mystic words by Daniel in the midst of Belshazzar's riotous feast? (See Dan. 5:25-31). And surely the means by which the writing was done appears far more mysterious in the case of the Chaldean king than in the ordinary and human way of engraving the Book of Mormon plates.
The Book of Mormon is before the world. It has been distributed by millions of copies in English and other modern tongues. Let it be understood that in no sense does the Book of Mormon profess to be a substitute for the Holy Bible, or to be in any way related thereto except as a parallel volume of Scripture. The Bible is essentially a record of the dealings of God with His people of the East; the Book of Mormon is an embodiment of Divine revelations to
the people of the West. So far as the two books touch common themes they are in harmony; and in no particular are they contradictory of each other.
BY THE MOUTH OF WITNESSES
Shall the Truth be Established
OSES voiced the word of Jehovah unto Israel, saying testimony should questions of fact be established; and our Lord in the flesh reaffirmed the ancient rule for common observance (Matt. 18: 16), and, on a particular occasion, cited it in vindicating to the casuistical Jews His claim to Divine authority. (John 8:17, 18). It is a vital element of jurisprudence, and is at once reasonable and indispensable in practise.
The Book of Mormon predicts its own coming forth in latter times, and presents the specific prophecy that the plates on which the ancient record was engraved would be shown to three witnesses, and later to certain others. The sacred character of the plates forbade their display for the gratification of curiosity; and, moreover, it was the stated purpose of the Lord that the restored Scriptures be accepted or rejected by men according to the reader's measure of faith or lack thereof.
M of competent witnesses
Respecting the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon in the latter days, the Lord thus spake through Nephi the prophet: "Wherefore at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall