My Journey Coming Unto Christ

I used to think of coming unto Christ as a one time thing. I used to wonder if I was yet fully converted to Christ, or if I was just going through the motions. But the more I explored my own efforts to come to know the Savior, and the more I read the scriptures, the more I came to see that conversion is as less of a destination, and more of a journey. And there are so many levels to the journey. At least it’s been that way for me.

My journey began when I was a child. I knew I was starting to make effort to come to Christ when I was baptized. I think that was about the time I really started thinking seriously about spiritual things. I had a short attention span, but I wanted to do what was right. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy journey, and I knew that I didn’t know how to get where I was going, but I started.

Since then, my journey has continued uninterrupted. I have climbed steep hills, fallen and recovered from my injuries, learned the terrain, mastered the terrain (until it changed into new, unfamiliar terrain), and constantly sought the direction of my personal guide.

The scriptures and the words of the living prophets are more than just a map on my journey. They’re a survival handbook, a first aid manual, an atlas, a motivational allegory, a field guide to all the plants, animals, weather patterns, and elements I may encounter, and best of all, they contain thousands of messages from my guide.

I can’t say the journey has always been easy, but it’s been an incredible adventure so far, with plenty of fascinating discoveries, breathtaking landscapes, incredible sunsets, starry nights, and hope-filled mornings to keep me going.

But the journey really took on the most meaning when I realized that Christ wasn’t the destination at the end of my journey. I traveled a long time before discovering that He wasn’t at some distant end, but rather with me on the journey.

Sometimes He’s a few steps behind, or just out of sight, trusting me to do the navigating. Other times He’s blazing the trail before me, with me as close as possible behind, but more often than not, He’s beside me, encouraging me, teaching me. I get injured so easily, frustrated so often, and tired so quickly. But rather than patting me on the back sympathetically and telling me it’s okay that I’m so weak, He helps me stand, and then walks on, saying, “Let’s keep going.” And He never lets up, which is hard, but good, because if it had just been me, I’d have given up long ago.

And I’m still learning. Every time I understand one thing better, I learn how little I know about another. Sometimes He teaches me directly, other times He points me to the scriptures and prophets, and often He lets me learn things on my own. He’s made this journey infinite times over. He knows what I’m capable of, and He’s leading me there.

For me, it’s no longer about coming to Him, but rather about following Him, trusting Him, and never leaving Him.

And I never will leave Him.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:10

And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

Obviously, the twelve following Jesus was His twelve apostles. As far as the records go that we have, prophetic mention of the twelve apostles prior to their mortal lives is rare. There is only one example in the scriptures besides this one that I can find. It’s in Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life (and the future of America):

18 And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

19 And I looked and beheld a man, and he was dressed in a white robe.

20 And the angel said unto me: Behold one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

21 Behold, he shall see and write the remainder of these things; yea, and also many things which have been. (1 Nephi 14:18-21)

We know from other sources of modern revelation, such as the temple, that the twelve apostles have always had an important role in the Lord’s kingdom. Actually, when you read the old testament and the Book of Mormon, you find that the prophets of the Book of Mormon are remarkably well informed about the gospel of Jesus Christ. They knew about the Savior, by name, they knew what He would do. They knew that the law of Moses pointed their minds toward Christ, and that He would suffer and die for their sins.

It’s possible, even likely that many of the biblical prophets knew, through prophecy, every bit as much as Nephi and His people about Jesus and His gospel, but that the translation of the records over the centuries lost those precious truths. We know that there were many such truth’s lost in the transcription and translation of their books, so this lost information about the twelve apostles may have been among them.

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:9

And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster1)The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre” was above that of the sun at noon-day.

As mentioned in the previous verse, my understanding is that this One is Jesus Christ. This is also the understanding of modern prophets, and is therefore the first specific mention of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. That’s significant, because, as Marion G. Romney said,

The book [of Mormon] is from beginning to end a witness for Christ. Its first chapter contains an account of a vision in which Lehi beheld Jesus “descending out of the midst of heaven” in luster above the noonday sun. (1 Ne. 1:9) Its last chapter concludes with Moroni’s great exhortation to come unto Christ and be perfected in him, with this assurance: “. . . and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be . . . sanctified.” (Moro. 10:32-33) Numerous and great are the stirring testimonies that illuminate the five hundred pages between these two chapters. 2)Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30

There’s a reason the Church added to the title of the book, “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.” That addition was not just a way to help people recognize that we, as latter-day saints, are Christian. It was in accordance with the revelations of the Lord on the Subject of the Book of Mormon.3)Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)

It’s purpose, as stated in the title page, is to the convince of Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ. Clearly, the book didn’t wait long to dive into that testimony.

His luster was above that of the sun

There is only one other use of the word luster in the scriptures, and it is when Abinidi begins to glow while calling King Noah to repentance. With that being the only other use in the scriptures, it’s difficult to identify a concrete scripture definition. So instead, lets see how the word was defined at the time the Book of Mormon was translated into English. The 1820 Webster’s Dictionary defines luster as:

LUS’TER, n. [L. lustrum, lustro to purify.]

1. Brightness; splendor; gloss; as the luster of the sun or stars; the luster of silk.
The sun’s mild luster warms the vital air.
2. The splendor of birth, of deeds or of fame; renown; distinction.
His ancestors continued about four hundred years, rather without obscurity than with any great share of luster.
3. A sconce with lights; a branched candlestick of glass.
4. The space of five years. [L. lustrum.]

That wouldn’t be a significant bit of information, except that in today’s definition, there is a slight difference that may feed into how we picture the events taking place in the verse. From today’s Merriam-Webster dictionary:

LUSTER

1
: a glow of reflected light : sheen; specifically : the appearance of the surface of a mineral dependent upon its reflecting qualities
2
a : a glow of light from within : luminosity
b : an inner beauty : radiance
3
: a superficial attractiveness or appearance of excellence
4
a : a glass pendant used especially to ornament a candlestick or chandelier
b : a decorative object (as a chandelier) hung with glass pendants
5
chiefly British : a fabric with cotton warp and a filling of wool, mohair, or alpaca

See the difference? Comparing just the definitions relating to light, today’s definition suggests a glimmer of light, so subtle that it may just be reflected, not even be coming from its own source. But the 1820 dictionary speaks of brightness and splendor. If we use today’s definition to picture Christ’s luster in this verse, we may think of Him as glowing gently against the ambient light of the sun, but just a little brighter than that.  But recognizing the older use of the word, we now picture him bright enough to overpower, even eclipse the sun itself.

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References

1. The 1830 Book of Mormon spells this word, “lustre”
2. Marion G. Romney, Conference Report, October 1970, pp. 27-30
3. Dallin H. Oaks (shortly after the subtitle was added to the book): In the opening session of the October 1986 general conference, President Benson read the verses from the Doctrine and Covenants about the whole Church being under condemnation and remaining so “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon” (D&C 84:57, as quoted by President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 4). In speaking of this, he likened the word covenant to testament, as in the “New Testament.” He reminded us that the Book of Mormon “is indeed another testament or witness of Jesus,” adding that this was “one of the reasons why we have recently added the words ‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’ to the title of the Book of Mormon” (ibid). Later in that same message, President Benson repeated these words he had given in an earlier talk. Note the point of emphasis: “Do eternal consequences rest upon our response to this book? Yes, either to our blessing or our condemnation. Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not” (ibid., p. 7). That is the key: to use the Book of Mormon to become “built on the rock of Christ”! This book is a testament of Jesus Christ. It explains the significance of his atonement and the content of our covenant relationship with him. (Ensign, May 1986, p. 78; almost all of President Benson’s words quoted herein are also found in his book Witness and Warning: Modern-day Prophet Testifies of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988)

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:8

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.

He saw God…

With the help of the next verses, I gather that Lehi saw a vision of God the Father, with angels all around, and that Jesus Christ was among the angels, and He (Jesus) came down, with his twelve apostles following behind. Finally, Jesus comes to Lehi and gives him a book.

I only jump ahead like that to illustrate here that it appears that it really was God the Father (not Jehovah) that Lehi saw sitting on the throne.

If I’m correct about that understanding, then this was a rare opportunity for Lehi. Even among prophets, seeing the Father during mortality isn’t common. What do we know about the opportunity to see the Father, either in vision or by visitation?

Can a Person See God?

Some outside our faith argue that a person can’t see God and site the scripture, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18). But Joseph Smith clarified this verse when he presented the correct translation of the verse: “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.” 1)JST John 1:19

John 4:12 says, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” but again Joseph Smith gives us a better translation, “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe…”

There is a verse in Exodus that says, “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) but the Joseph Smith Translation clarifies, “And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.”

Yes, a person can see God, but like I said, seeing the Father is a very rare blessing.

Who Can See God the Father?

These inspired scripture revisions may give us some of the biggest clues to who may have the opportunity see God. According to the three verses cited above, three qualifiers of those who can see God include:

  • They bare witness of the Son of God.
  • They believe.
  • They have no sin.

Obviously, prophets aren’t perfect, but through repentance, they can be cleansed of sin, like the rest of us. Perhaps that last one is the reasons many heavenly visitations begin with the words like, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” They are forgiven, and then they see God. 2)In one account of the first vision, these were the first words Jesus said to Joseph after the Father introduced Him to Joseph. “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it [is] written of me, in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father.” See Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Testimony, General Conference April 1996

What other qualifiers have people had to meet before they could see God?

I’ve put the qualifier phrases in italics:

  • For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God. 3)Doctrine and Covenants 67:11
  • Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. 4)John 6:46
  • Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.5)Doctrine and Covenants 97:16
  • Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. 6)Doctrine and Covenants 88:68
  • Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 7)Matthew 5:8
  • But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory. 8)D&C 76:114-118

Which Prophets Have Seen the Father?

Though a great many of the prophets have seen Jesus Christ (who is Jehovah, God of the old testament), a few have seen The Father.

Adam and Eve–in person, in the garden of Eden 9)Moses 4

Lehi–in a vision of God on His throne 10)1 Nephi 1:8-11

Alma the younger–in vision, after the angel comes, right after he calls out for Jesus 11)Alma 36:22

Stephen–in a vision of God on His throne, with Jesus at His right hand.12)Acts 7:55-56

Joseph Smith–in person, in the first vision, (better named, the first visitation) 13)JSH 1:16-17

Others in the early history of the church:

Zebedee Coultrin was interviewed regarding the following incident that took place in the school of the prophets in the Kirtland Temple:

Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling…a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him….

He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: “Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages. 14)3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883

Everyone Who Inherits the Celestial Kingdom Will See God

We are genuinely children of God, and deep down, we know Him well. He’s our Father, and we are well acquanted with Him. Brigham Young explained,

“I want to tell you, each and every one of you, that you are well acquainted with God our Heavenly Father, or the great Elohim. You are all well acquainted with him, for there is not a soul of you but what has lived in his house and dwelt with him year after year; and yet you are seeking to become acquainted with him, when the fact is, you have merely forgotten what you did know.
“There is not a person here to-day but what is a son or a daughter of that Being.” 15)Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 50.

We need not be troubled that we don’t see the Father now. In the end, all of the faithful will see God.16)Alma 40:21

…there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. That will be a glorious experience. Ezra Taft Benson said,

“Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father [in Heaven] and how familiar his face is to us.”  17)Jesus Christ-Gifts and Expectations,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974, Provo: Brigham YoungUniversity Press, 1975, p. 313.

If we’re living right, it really doesn’t matter if it’s  in this life or the next. There is no point in laying eyes on Him just to prove He exists. Now is the time to exercise faith in Him.

Lehi’s Prayer was a Selfless One

Lehi saw a vision of the Father and the Son, not because He asked for that blessing, but because his prayer was an unselfish one, on behalf of His people. There is power in praying for others. David A. Bednar:

We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord “with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance.18)David A. Bednar, Pray Always, LDS General Conference, October 2008, Saturday Afternoon

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References

1. JST John 1:19
2. In one account of the first vision, these were the first words Jesus said to Joseph after the Father introduced Him to Joseph. “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to their ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as it [is] written of me, in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father.” See Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Testimony, General Conference April 1996
3. Doctrine and Covenants 67:11
4. John 6:46
5. Doctrine and Covenants 97:16
6. Doctrine and Covenants 88:68
7. Matthew 5:8
8. D&C 76:114-118
9. Moses 4
10. 1 Nephi 1:8-11
11. Alma 36:22
12. Acts 7:55-56
13. JSH 1:16-17
14. 3 October 1883, Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book 1883
15. Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 50.
16. Alma 40:21

…there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works.

17. Jesus Christ-Gifts and Expectations,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974, Provo: Brigham YoungUniversity Press, 1975, p. 313.
18. David A. Bednar, Pray Always, LDS General Conference, October 2008, Saturday Afternoon

Verse by Verse Commentary: 1 Nephi 1:7

And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

After Lehi’s first visitation or vision, Lehi was overcome with the Spirit. That may mean he was totally wrapped up in his experience, but it could also mean he was physically drained from the experience. We know from other sources that intense spiritual experiences (especially those involving the presence of God) can be completely overwhelming to the physical body.

Moses:

9 And the presence of God withdrew from Moses, that his glory was not upon Moses; and Moses was left unto himself. And as he was left unto himself, he fell unto the earth.
10 And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. 1)Moses 1:9-10, italics added

Daniel:

8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.

9 Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.

10 ¶And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. 2)Daniel 10:8-10

Joseph Smith:

20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” 3)Joseph Smith History 1:20

Sidney Rigdon (toward the end of the shared vision of the three degrees of glory with Joseph Smith):

“This manner of conversation was reported at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.

“Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, ‘Sidney is not used to it as I am.’” 4)Recorded by Philo Dibble, Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303–4.

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References

1. Moses 1:9-10, italics added
2. Daniel 10:8-10
3. Joseph Smith History 1:20
4. Recorded by Philo Dibble, Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303–4.