Two-hundred years ago, in the early hours of September 22, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared at the bedside of the prophet Joseph Smith to announce the coming forth of an ancient record whose contents contained “the fulness of the everlasting gospel… as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants [of the American continent]” (Joseph Smith—History 1:34). The book had been previously “sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord,” effectively making it his message to declare (“Title Page of the Book of Mormon”).
Moroni’s record was divided into a lesser portion—which has since been translated as The Book of Mormon—and a greater portion, which has remained untranslated. Per the record itself, the Savior declared, “And when they shall have received this [the lesser part of the record], which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation” (3 Nephi 26:9-10).
In other words, the Book of Mormon was intended to come forth as a test to the latter-day Gentiles. If they embraced its message and covenant, they would receive greater light and knowledge. If their unbelief and false traditions led them to harden their hearts against its words, they would come under condemnation.
Nine years following Moroni’s initial visit, September 22, 1832, the Lord declared that the Gentiles to whom these things had come had indeed fallen into condmention for “treating lightly the things which you have received—which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation… And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” (D&C 84:54-58).
The scriptures teach that there are degrees of condemnation and decreation. Whereas faithfulness leads to receiving more light, unbelief leads to losing it: “And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction” (Alma 12:11; cf. 2 Nephi 28:30). “So to them the word of Jehovah remained: Line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept; a trifle here, a trifle there, that, persisting, they might lapse into stumbling and break themselves, become ensnared and be taken captive” (Isaiah 28:13). Therefore, it should be understood that the Lord’s warning of “a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion” would mark the full measure of gentile condemnation (D&C 84:58; cf. D&C 45:28-32; 3 Nephi 20:28).
Inasmuch as the Lord’s covenant relationship to the Gentiles is mediated upon the terms set forth in the Book of Mormon—the new covenant of Christ’s gospel—the realization of such judgment would surely mark the Gentiles being “cut off from among [the Lord’s] people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:11): “Therefore Jehovah will cut off from Israel head and tail, palm top and reed, in a single day; the elders or notables are the head, the prophets who teach falsehoods, the tail” (Isaiah 9:14-15). This language comes in striking symbolic parallel to Laban’s own unfaithful stewardship over a scriptural record, whose head was consequently “cut off” by the very sword he once used to defend it (see also 1 Nephi 22:13, 19).
Should it come as a surprise that the Lord’s endtime judgments will begin on his own house, when this is the very thing He foretold? “Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation… And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house” (D&C 112:24-26).
The Lord, who foresaw our day, exhorted: “Come unto me, O ye Gentiles, and I will show unto you the greater things, the knowledge which is hid up because of unbelief” (Ether 4:13). Will it not be the revelation of such “greater things” that the Lord will use to divide His people, both wheat and tare? When greater light breaks forth among the Gentiles, will we be among those who “perceive not the light,” and turn their hearts from God because of the precepts of men (D&C 45:28-32)? And when that generation sees the foretold overflowing scourge, will we be among those who curse God, or who stand firm in holy places?