In the second chapter of the book of Jacob we read, "Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God. And ye yourselves know that I have hitherto been diligent in the office of my calling; but I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been" (verses2,3).
So began the sermon which Jacob, the younger brother of Nephi and son of Lehi gave to his people in the year 545 B.C. More than 25 years earlier he had been ordained to be a teacher and a priest to his people and had been commanded to instruct them in the ways of godliness (2 Nephi 5:26). In this sermon Jacob condemned the sin of pride that was increasing among the Nephites. But, after doing so, he said, "And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you." The "grosser" crime he was referring to was that they were seeking ways to "excuse themselves in committing whoredoms." More specifically, he talked about the "wickedness and abominations of their husbands" saying, "Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them."
Jacob took no joy in telling his people these things. In fact, it grieved his soul and he shrank with shame that he had to testify concerning their wickedness. He would much rather have preached "the pleasing word of God" that "healed the wounded soul." Then why did he say what he did? He explained that he had to "because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes" (vs 9). In other words, God had commanded him to speak boldly about these things. It was a responsibility that God had placed upon him and regardless of the difficulty of the task, he was determined to "magnify mine office with soberness."
But there was another reason why he performed this unpleasant task. He did it for the welfare of their souls. That is to say, he did it because he cared about his people, both for their temporal safety and well-being as well as for their spiritual salvation. If they did not repent of their ways, he had been told by God that the Lamanites would be allowed to come and take possession of the land of their inheritance. And in order for that to happen there would be wars the Nephites would lose, thereby costing them their lives, their liberty, and their prosperity. He also explained that if they didn't repent they would "become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death" (Jacob 3:11). So, as unpleasant as it was, Jacob did as the Lord had asked of him because he truly cared about his people.
However, there was yet a third reason. He explained that he did so "that I might rid my garments of your sins." He explained what he meant by this when he said, "And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day" (Jacob 1:19).
What Jacob is referring to by this statement is a principle of priesthood leadership.
When God gives us a commandment, He is, in effect, giving us a responsibility. When that commandment is connected to priesthood service then it becomes a priesthood duty that we are expected to fulfill. Although we in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are very familiar with this principle, it often becomes so familiar that we have a tendency to take it for granted. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that the priesthood is not something we have to "earn" like we do a merit badge in Scouting. It isn't something we get after having put forth a great amount of effort. Instead, it is given almost as a free gift rather than being conferred upon us as a reward for our labors. Because of the ease of obtaining it, we tend to treat it lightly, as though it were something that isn't all that important. This attitude is further reinforced when we are allowed to keep the office of our priesthood even when we are not faithful in our callings.
The second reason we take it for granted is because we tend to think that God, in His infinite love and mercy for us, will be forgiving of our lack of effort and overlook our human weakness to be slothful. However, Jacob taught a very different view of the way God feels about those who neglect their duty.
The scriptures are replete with references to the "day of judgment" at "the last day" when all mankind will stand before God and give an account of their life on earth. At that time, each person will be rewarded according to their works. Jacob's brother, Nephi wrote, "Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever" (1 Ne.10:21).
When we read verses such as this we often interpret being "unclean" to mean that we engage in really wicked acts such as committing adultery or murder, stealing big things, using vulgar language and other "high crimes." However, we tend to think that if we make a half-hearted effort to live a good Christian life then, through Christ's atoning sacrifice, He makes up the difference for our petty, human weaknesses and in the end we will inherit the kingdom of God. And often we feel that includes being lazy in performing our priesthood duties.
However, the fact that scriptures tell us that we will be rewarded for our labors clearly indicates that those who do more will receive more. It is contrary to the teachings of the scriptures and to a God who is just to think that He will reward the lazy to the same degree as those who were diligent. Although all of us know this on an intellectual level, this knowledge many times does not change our behavior in the way we perform our duties.
When we say that each of us will stand before the throne of God to be judged for the things we have done, we are actually saying that God holds us accountable for the things we were responsible for doing. In other words, God gives us responsibility and then calls us to appear before Him to give an account for how well we have carried out that responsibility. Then, based on our performance, He rewards us accordingly.
If we put this in earthly terms, it's like our boss at work giving us an assignment and then calling us into his office to give a report on what we have done. In most businesses, this is done on a yearly basis and is known as an employee performance evaluation. In many instances, an employee's pay raise is a direct result of their performance as evaluated by the standards set by the company. Our Father in heaven operates on the same principle, as any good father does with his children. Imagine a father who assigns one of his children to perform chores around the house. It would be unwise for the father not to evaluate their child's performance because if the child knows that no one is noticing if they do a good job or not, they will feel no need to do as they've been asked. Or if the child receives the same, or nearly the same reward regardless of how well or how poorly they've done their chores, there is no incentive for them to improve their behavior. Since God wants us to become as perfect as He is, it would be counter productive for Him to reward the slothful servant nearly the same as those who diligently serve Him.
The priesthood is the power by which God governs His kingdom and saves His children. When the priesthood is conferred upon a person they have received the responsibility to assist God in managing His kingdom and saving His children. What that means is that if we fail to fulfill our responsibilities, we have failed in our efforts to save those whom the Lord had placed in our care. According to the teachings of the prophets, both ancient and modern, the Lord is not pleased with those who are lax in this responsibility.
Jacob explained that by "taking upon us the responsibility, [which the Lord has given us, we are also taking upon us the responsibility of ] answering [for] the sins of the people" meaning that their sins will be "upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence." Jacob understood the gravity of his calling as a priest. If the people sinned because Jacob neglected his duty from God to teach them proper conduct, then the sins they committed would be charged to Jacob's account. In other words, on judgment day Jacob would be held accountable for the sins his people committed and would be punished as though he had committed those sins himself if he had not done all in his power to keep them from sinning. That is why he wrote, "wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless (i.e., sinless) at the last day."
This is the same doctrine Nephi explained to his people when he said, "Ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood" (2 Ne. 9:44). King Benjamin likewise told his people, "I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood" (Mosiah 2:28).
This is the responsibility that goes with the priesthood and this is what we will be held accountable for when we stand before the throne of God on judgment day. In our day, President John Taylor has said to those who hold the priesthood, "If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty." Elder Hugh B. Brown has likewise said, "if I fail in my assignment as a bishop, a stake president, a mission president, or one of the General Authorities of the Church-if any of us fail to teach, lead, direct, and help to save those under our direction and within our jurisdiction, then the Lord will hold us responsible if they are lost as a result of our failure." (The Abundant Life, by Hugh B. Brown, p.37).
Jacob admitted that the Lamanites were a filthy people and that they had been cursed by God . He acknowledged that they were a lazy people who had a blood-thirsty hatred for the Nephites. Yet, even so, he said that the Lord would have mercy upon them because "their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers" (Jacob 3:7).
When we read how the Lamanite husbands loved their wives and their wives loved their husbands and the parents loved their children, we usually conjure up the image of a happy family where love and tranquility exists between everyone. But how can that be if these people were filled with hatred for the Nephites, rejected the commandments of God, and were a filthy, lazy people?
Obviously, Jacob doesn't mean the Lamanite family unit was picture perfect. No doubt the fathers screamed at their children, the wives bickered and nagged their husbands and their children were rebellious at times. It seems reasonable to assume that without the Spirit of the Lord in their life, Lamanite families were not always filled with loving compassion for each other. Yet, despite all of the contention and bickering that must have gone on, the father's did love their wives and their children in their own way. Jacob points out that this is evidenced by the fact that Lamanite husbands were faithful to their wives. If they didn't love them then they would be having affairs with other women. And this same principle applies to the way they treated their children. Despite all the hollering, bickering and fussing Lamanite parents probably did, they had a genuine love for their children and tried to raise them to the best of their ability.
Notice, also, that Jacob excuses their unbelief by saying that "their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers." In other words, the Lord doesn't hold them as responsible for their hatred as He other wise might because they were behaving according to the way they were raised to believe. Therefore it was not entirely their fault that they thought and behaved as they did.
Then Jacob told his people, "Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day" (Jacob 3:10).
Jacob said that unless the Nephite fathers repented of their wickedness "[you will] bring your children unto destruction." How were they going to do that? Jacob explained that they would do this "because of the example that you have set before them." In other words, when the children saw how their father was behaving, they would emulate his example and do the things they saw him doing. And because the children would then do the same wicked deeds as their father, they would receive the reward of the wicked, which reward is destruction. However, Jacob warns the fathers that if that were to happen then "[your children's] sins [will be] heaped upon your heads at the last day." In other words, the father's will have to pay for the sins committed by their children unless they had properly taught them not to sin, both by precept as well as by example.
The reason why Jacob worked so diligently to teach his people to do right was because if he didn't and the people sinned, it would be because Jacob hadn't fulfilled the responsibility he had been given to teach them proper behavior. As a result of his slothfulness in carrying out that responsibility, the people wouldn't have been sufficiently instructed in righteousness and would be sinning in ignorance. Therefore, the sins they would commit would be a direct result of Jacob's dereliction of duty. That's why the Lord would hold him accountable for their sins and count them as part of Jacob's sins.
This same principle also applies to all priesthood holders today. The purpose of being given the priesthood is to help our Father in heaven save his children. Baptism is only the first step on the road to salvation. To become fully saved we must not only perform certain ordinances, but we must also endure in righteousness all the way through life. The duty of the priesthood is to assist our brothers and sisters in their struggle to endure to the end. For some that means teaching them the principles of the gospel. To others that may mean giving them support in their time of need. At other times it may mean no more than giving someone a listening ear or simply fellowshipping them.
But whatever it takes, the responsibility of the priesthood is to "see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking… and also see that all the members do their duty" (D&C 20:54,55). This also includes visiting "the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties" (D&C 20:51). This is no different than what Jacob's duty was to his people.
Whether we've been called to be a Deacon's Quorum instructor, a home teacher, and Elder's Quorum President, a Bishop or any other priesthood calling, the responsibility that we accept is to do all in our power to help save those over whom God has placed in our care. When we take that responsibility lightly and allow people to fall into sin because of our neglect, their sins will become our sins.
However, this is not to say that God expects us to be perfect. With so much that is expected of us, sometimes we find it extremely difficult to properly do all that needs to be done. God understands that. He knows that we are only too human and He doesn't expect us to be superhuman. More than that, not everyone has the same capacity. Some people are able to do many things well while others struggle to accomplish just a few simple things. And this also applies to our spiritually. Some people have a greater understanding of the gospel than others and therefore have a greater desire to serve. God takes all of this into account when He judges us.
We see this in how God viewed the Lamanite fathers. For all their wickedness, He was merciful and patient with their shortcomings because of the limited understanding they had. In the same way, God deals with each of us on an individual basis, holding us to account for what we know and the abilities we have. He doesn't expect perfection from us, nor does He discount our weaknesses and shortcomings. Instead, it is when we fail to do that which we are capable of doing that He then holds us guiltless.
For those who are priesthood leaders, this same principle applies when extending callings to others. To become an effective leader requires proper delegation, which includes having those under our direction return and report back on their labors. (For a closer look at this subject read "The Pattern Used in Heaven" )
Whenever we accept a calling in the church, especially when connected to the priesthood, there is a tremendous responsibility that goes with it. It's important for us to remember that in the Lord's way of doing things, along with responsibility comes accountability. Whenever fulfilling any calling, it would be helpful if we could always keep in mind that we will pay the penalty for the sins committed by those who would not have sinned had we done our duty.