When the Precepts of Men Get Placed Above the Commandments of God
Nephi prophesied that in the last day groups would contend with one another and that they would be built up “not unto the Lord” (2 Nephi 28:3)
These groups have authorities that will “contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning.” (vs.4) They will say, “Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept;” (vs.5) and “Behold, hearken ye unto my precept;” (vs.6)
They will teach that God “will justify in committing a little sin…and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (vs.8)
“Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines” (vs.9) They will be corrupted “Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their [groups] have become corrupted, and their [groups] are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up.” (vs.12)
From this point on, Nephi is speaking the words of the Lord who explains, “they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (vs.14) He warns, “O the wise, and the learned, …and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!” (vs.15)
There will be movements that will turn people away from that which is good: “Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth!” (vs.16)
“For behold, at that day shall [the devil] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” (vs.20)
“And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, …and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (vs.21)
The truth will be reviled and hated: “wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.” (vs.28)
The truth isn’t just set aside by the deceived, they go to war against it! We run into problems when we put more trust in the precepts of men rather than the precepts of God.
A precept is:
“…any commandment or order intended as an authoritative rule of action; but applied particularly to commands respecting moral conduct.” (Webster’s 1828)
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.” (vs.31)
A case study of putting the precepts of men above the commandments of God
Nephi’s words of warning can apply to many things we witness in our day, but I found it interesting to see these prophecies play out only a few chapters (and a few years) later in the first book of Jacob.
God explicitly defined the moral conduct of the Nephites concerning marriage and relationships. God revealed to father Lehi that his people were to practice monogamy.
Jacob reminded his people of this commandments, “hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; (Jacob 2:27) and reminds them of “the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife” (Jacob 3:5)
God told them one thing, but they thought their ideas were better. The Nephites set aside the word of the Lord and chose to invent some new rules concerning marriage that allowed one man to have many wives and even concubines.
Desire preceeded action.
“And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.” (Jacob 1:15)
What kind of arguments were made to convince the people that this was right? Apparently many bought into these ideas, and desires that should have been put in check were allowed room for indulgence.
Human desires do not override God’s commandments; instead, we shape our desires to mesh with God’s commandments.
The flames of sacrifice are fueled by the weaknesses God has blessed us with. Why burn up a perfectly good lamb when you can have a nice meal and fashion some trendy clothes with the wool?
Speaking for the Lord, Jacob states, “This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.” (Jacob 2:23)
The Nephite men were looking for any excuse they could to justify their desires and even tried to back up their argument with the scriptures. Their flaw here was not using the scriptures, it was that their argument contradicted a commandment that God had already given.
The results were disastrous and almost destroyed the Nephites. The Lord said, “for except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction.” (Jacob 3:3)
It is critical that God’s people recognize the commandments that he has given them; otherwise, their land will be cursed and destruction will follow. How can God raise up a people when they ignore his commandments and teach their own ideas instead?
“Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me (“a righteous branch”), I will command my people;” (Jacob 2:29-30)
It appears that the Lord is reminding the people of the words that he gave to Jacob’s brother Nephi only a few years earlier:
“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:31)
Either God will be the one to command his people or his people will choose instead to hearken unto the precepts (the moral conduct) taught by the false teachers that Nephi prophesied would appear in the last days.
Implications for our day
As we live in those last days that Nephi saw, we should strongly consider God’s commandments concerning moral conduct. Otherwise, we can adopt erroneous convictions peddled by those who “pervert the right way of the Lord” (2 Nephi 28:15) with contemporary, alternative interpretations of moral conduct built upon a foundation of sand.
This is not an easy thing to do because there are so many ideas out there that can be extremely convincing; this is precisely why we have to be warned and check these ideas against a known doctrinal foundation. Remember, the great and spacious building “was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female;” (1 Nephi 8:27)
Remember Lehi’s warning: “For as many as heeded them, had fallen away.” (1 Nephi 8:34) The precepts of men will indeed be very, very convincing. Those in the building were more concerned with what was popular than that defined, narrow path.
A false confidence came from the authority of numbers, warm bodies and loud voices that had greater appeal than venturing into dark places where the only trusted company was cold and quiet iron.
In our day, the Lord has said:
“And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified. ” (D&C 88:38-39)