President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “the record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming” (Conference Report, April 1987, 3; or Ensign, May 1987,4).
Though President Benson's message was primarily centered in 3 Nephi, I considered those words as I began reading through the Book of Helaman last week.
About three decades prior to the coming of Christ there were wars and rumors of wars among the Nephites and Lamanites. Because of "their wickedness and their abomination"among those "who professed to belong to the church of God," they experienced a "great loss" and "great slaughter" (Hel. 4:11). The great loss they experienced was that of "cities," "lands," and "possessions" (Hel. 4:5-10).
Like ancient Israel, they professed to know God, and with their lips did honor him, but their hearts were far from him. They had become rich and proud. They were absorbed in Babylon. In all of their abundance, they regarded not the poor that were among them. Having both the poor and the rich among them, they "saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there," and yet thought themselves just (D&C 38:26).
They mocked that which was sacred by professing God but denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation; speaking in his name, but not having obtained his voice. They thereby took the Lord's name in vain.
They murdered and plundered. They were dishonest thieves, stealing that which belonged to other men and women, including their spouses. They were full of great contentions, and not unified in the faith. Since they were not one, they could not belong to the Lord (D&C 38:27).
And after all this kind of conduct they "boasted in their own strength." Therefore, God left them to themselves, and their prosperity could not last. They were "afflicted and smitten, and driven" before their enemies until they had lost all they thought no man could take. They stored up for themselves treasures on earth, which things must come to an end.
Moronihah, and Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, came among the people preaching repentance (Hel. 4:14). The message that needed to be preached to this people was indeed repentance. Would we expect something else? They were warned what would "come unto them" if they chose not to repent of their sins (ibid.).
"And it came to pass that they did repent, and inasmuch as they did repent they did begin to prosper" (Hel. 4:15).
In the year that followed, during their time of softening and repentance, they began to awake to their awful situation. They recognized that they were in jeopardy of being "overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed" by their enemies, which were more numerous than they (Hel. 4:20).
During this time they "began to remember the prophecies"of the holy prophets. They knew they had been stiffnecked, and that they had "set at naught the commandments of God" (ibid.). They then realized they had "altered and trampled under their feet" the laws they had received, which God had commanded a prophet to give unto them (Hel. 4:22). They recognized the corruption that surrounded them, "and that they had become a wicked people," so much that they were like unto those they considered their enemies (ibid.). They saw that they had become weak like their enemies, God having withdrawn the protection of his Spirit. They recognized the Spirit did not dwell with them, because "the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples" (Hel. 4:24). They had "fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness," which thing they could not before see (Hel. 4:25).
Sadly, their repentance was not permanent, and the voices of those "who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction" (Hel. 5:1-3). Because of "transgression" they had "fallen" (Hel. 4:26).
All these things happened in the space of not many years" (ibid.).
In that same address President Benson went on to say, "The Nephite civilization had reached great heights. They were prosperous and industrious. They had built many cities with great highways connecting them. They engaged in shipping and trade. They built temples and palaces. ...But, as so often happens, the people rejected the Lord. Pride became commonplace. Dishonesty and immorality were widespread" (April Conference, 1978).
I take President Benson's message as a prophetic warning. He warned us frequently. He preached Christ and the Book of Mormon often. He invited the Church to repent and take the Book of Mormon more seriously, and reminded us we are still under condemnation.
How quick we are to forget. It's too easy to ignore these things.