Fourth Nephi describes a people in flux. It encompasses the three hundred years following the visit of Christ to the Americas. Christ established his Church, and the people lived in complete righteousness for 200 years, or about two generations. One wonders what it must have been like to live in that society.
I wanted to focus on the last 100 years of Fourth Nephi where things begin to slowly break down. It takes 100 years to go from a society free from sin to one that was in complete wickedness. It didn’t happen overnight, but in stages. If you were living in this society, perhaps the changes were almost imperceptible.
I think Fourth Nephi is particularly important for us in the last days. We had a perhaps comparable event: the restoration of the gospel. It came forth in a burst of brilliant light, but time wears over generations. We need to read Fourth Nephi carefully to find out how a celestial society is maintained and also the warning signs of deterioration.
One thing I would note. When reading of wicked societies of the past, it is easy to identify with the righteous few and condemn those around you as exemplifying the wicked. I think this is not the spirit of the scriptures. The scriptures shouldn’t give you reason to justify yourself and condemn others. Instead, we should seek inward, see what we must do to guard against iniquity and heed the given warnings.
200 AD: The consequences of wealth
- They had become exceedingly rich. A blessing became a curse.
- There began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world. Wealth can perhaps be a tool, but when it begins to influence how you think, how you view yourself and others, then it is a problem.
- They did not have their goods and their substance no more common among them. We can only look to the scriptures to what a society with all goods common among the people. We do know that a celestial society will not be based on capitalism.
- They began to divide into classes.
- They began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and to deny the true church of Christ. These early signs of apostasy must have been harsh. They went from a unity of faith to broken chunks quite quickly. I think this could include not just churches but various ideologies.
210 AD: Persecution and wickedness
- There were many churches in the land.
- They did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness. Wickedness became acceptable, mainstream, and even popular. It didn’t stop members from participating in the sacrament and temple ordinances. The house of God was in essence desecrated.
- This church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity. Wickedness spread exponentially. Popular opinion began to rule.
- Another church that denied the Christ persecuted the true church of Christ. People looked down on righteous disciples not just for standing up for gospel principles, but just by living them or associating with the Church.
- They did despise them because of the many miracles wrought among them. Miracles held no more power, and were either explained away or ignored.
- They did exercise authority over the disciples of Jesus [the Three Nephites]. Freedom of religion was not respected. Outside forces tried to determine the actions of the true Church.
- The people hardened their hearts. Common kindnesses were lost. People were more aggressive and defensive.
- They were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches and to do all manner of iniquity. Many raised themselves to be a light to others. Demagogues abounded with some new doctrine or idea.
- They did smite the people of Jesus. They even resorted to violence against the saints.
230 AD: A great division
- There was a great division among the people. The main distinction of this period. The people split into two distinct groups, the Nephites who believed in Christ and the Lamanites who did not.
- They did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning. The Lamanites defined their belief in the negative, as disbelief. They rejected the teachings of their fathers, in a constant state of rebellion. They passed these attitudes on to their children.
- They were taught to hate the children of God. This was no neutral belief. They were actively taught to hate and despise those who believed in God.
244 AD: The righteous few become proud
- The wicked became more numerous. Probably due in large part to dissenters.
- The wicked built up the secret oaths of Gadianton.
- The Nephites became proud. The church still wasn’t immune to pride. This probably exhibited itself as comparison with disbelievers (I am more righteous than they) and also due to class distinctions within the church (I’m better than them). This resulted in a faith without true power.
300 AD: None that were righteous
- None that were righteous
- They laid up gold in abundance. Obsession with wealth and possessions. It came the national preoccupation, and seemingly completely replaces faith in Christ.
- They did traffic in all manner of traffic.