And it came to pass that there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem, who began to preach among them, declaring that there should be no such person as Christ, as Jacob, their priest and teacher had taught.
"Why do you listen to this man?" Sherem asked a small assembled crowd of people. "Does he make you feel good about yourselves? No! He says that God wants you to be happy and then proceeds to tell you how wicked you are and how you are going to burn in hell for doing those things that bring you happiness. Now, I ask you, does this make sense? How can we feel good and have joy when all Jacob talks about is how miserable we will be unless we repent? And what is repentance? Is it joy? I'll let you decide. How many of you think repenting is a joyous experience?"
Sherem looked around the crowd but saw no hand being raised. But what he did see was that all eyes were on him and that everyone was intently listening to what he was saying. With renewed confidence, he continued.
"Jacob says that God is displeased with us, but is that true? If so, where is the proof? Take a look at yourselves. You are prosperous and happy. Our enemies, the Lamanites, have repeatedly come against us with the sword, and have they ever been victorious over us? The answer is obvious. But how can that be if God is angry at us as Jacob alleges? Now, I'll admit that I'm not a man of great learning, but in my simple mind it seems that God has abundantly blessed us. So, I ask you, how is it that God has given us so great a blessing and yet, according to Jacob, God is angry at the way we live? Does this make sense to you?"
Quite a number of heads in the crowd began nodding in agreement with Sherem's logic.
"And what is it that Jacob says you should be doing? Does he tell you to be happy? Oh, yes, that he does, but not the way you want to be happy. No. His idea of happiness is sitting around all day praying to God. Are they any here among you who think such behavior is fun?"
Sherem looked over the crowd of people, which seemed to be growing larger and noticed that many of them were shaking their head in agreement with him with a smirk on their face.
"We all believe in God," Sherem continued with a sympathetic voice. "There isn't one of us here who doesn't strive to do what God wants us to do. We are a God fearing people. Why, even Jacob has said so. It is the Lamanites who are godless."
As he spoke, his voice began to rise. "Yet, Jacob speaks to us as though we are more unrighteous than our enemies. He tells us that it is we who are cursed of God, that we are going to spend eternity burning in hell, that unless we repent we will be cut off from the love, grace and mercy of God. Yet he says nothing about the Lamanites being unrighteous, does he?"
Many in the crowd nodded in agreement.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Sherem said apologetically. "I'm wrong. Our good teacher, Jacob has talked about the Lamanites. He's told us that the Lamanites are unrighteous. Yes, I remember hearing him say that." Sherem then raised his voice. "But I also remember him saying that we are more unrighteous than they are. In fact, he went so far as to say that on the last day, when we stand before the judgment bar of God that they, our enemies, will be whiter than we will be! Yes, he has talked about the Lamanites, but he heaps more condemnation upon us than he does upon those who seek to kill our children, defile our women, plunder our land, and steal our property. This is the kind of insane doctrine Jacob teaches. And it's all because of his belief in a fictitious Christ who only exits in the mind of an old, dement man. Is this the kind of person we want to listen to?"
"No!" someone in the crowd yelled out.
Sherem lowered his voice. "I am but a simple man. I have no authority, nor do I want any. I can't tell you what to believe or how to live your life, like other people we know try to do. Jacob has said we are free to choose for ourselves how we want to live our lives, and I agree with him. I can't tell you how to live your life, but as for me, I choose to follow God and not some hypocrite preacher who contradicts himself every time he opens his mouth!"
"I'm with you!" someone in the crowd shouted.
"Yea, yea!" came a chorus of other voices.
And thus Sherem preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ.
Later that night, after all had left, one of his ardent followers, a man by the name of Maleek, said, "You were brilliant today, master."
Sherem smiled. "Yes, I was, if I say so myself."
"Today, in the market place, you had such power over the people."
A wide grin covered Sherem's face. "You noticed. I'm glad. And that is only the beginning of our work. We will go from town to town, from village to village and do the same. Before long no one will be listening to Jacob and everyone will be demanding that I, Sherem, be their spiritual leader."
"And I, Maleek, will be your assistant."
"If you perform your duties properly," Sherem said menacingly. Then, with a wicked smile he said, "But I have full confidence that you will."
"But what about Jacob? He will certainly oppose us."
"Yes, he is a problem, but not a very big one," Sherem said confidently. "In fact, perhaps we need to eliminate him as soon as possible. That would make our task much easier."
"You mean, kill him?" Maleek asked in shock.
"No!" Sherem shot back. "That would be the worse thing we could do. That would turn him into a martyr."
"Then I don't understand."
"It's really quite simple. If I can discredit Jacob in front of the people, then no one will listen to his words any longer. And when that happens, he will cease to be a threat." Sherem was very pleased with himself and his wisdom.
"And when will you do this?" Maleek asked with eager anticipation.
"That is the question," Sherem said thoughtfully. "We must seek out an opportunity to draw Jacob into a debate, but one that is held in front of all the people. There is nothing to be gained from discrediting him in private."
From that time forward Sherem continued to labor diligently among the people of Nephi that he might lead away their hearts, and as he did, he sought much opportunity that he might come unto Jacob to confront him.
And it came to pass that as Sherem was speaking before a large gathering of people, behold, Jacob, the son of Lehi, came near to hear for himself the things that had been reported to him about Sherem. And Jacob did behold that Sherem was very skilled in the language of his people, wherefore, because of the power of his speech he did persuade many with his words. And Jacob could not help but think how much like the devil Sherem was, using much flattery to persuade and entice people to his way of thinking.
And when Sherem looked up and saw Jacob, he was filled with joy and exclaimed, "Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that you have gone amongst this people doing much preaching about which you call the doctrine of Christ."
"You know very well that is what this people have been taught by me," Jacob replied.
"Yes, I do know that is true, and I also know that you have led away many of our people to follow a false doctrine." Sherem deliberately insulted Jacob in an attempt to cause him to debate him.
"You know that I have always spoken the truth to this people," Jacob forcefully answered.
"Have you, now?" Sherem responded with suspicion. "Then why have you perverted the right way of God, and teach this people to keep not the law of Moses which is the right way?"
"You know full well that I have taught this people to keep the law of Moses."
"Oh, I grant that you speak about the law of Moses, but then you convert that law into the worship of some being which you say will come many hundreds of years from now."
"If you are referring to Christ, the Holy Messiah, then yes, that is what I teach and it is the truth. I lie not."
Sherem turned to the assembled crowd and said, "I declare unto you that this is blasphemy, for no man can know of such things." Then, pointing to Jacob he said, "Therefore, he cannot know of things that are to come."
Jacob came before the people and stood near to Sherem as he addressed the multitude.
"I have declared unto you many times, my brethren, how that I have had numerous revelations from God. I have seen, with mine own eyes, these things in a vision. I have seen angels and they have ministered unto me. But more than this, I have heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me and giving me the very words that I should deliver unto you."
"And where is the proof of this?" Sherem asked contemptuously.
"The proof is in my words. But if you will not believe me, then believe the words of the prophets."
"Oh, I do believe the words of the prophets, but they say no such thing about a being named Christ."
"Do you deny that Christ will come?" Jacob boldly asked Sherem.
"If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be."
"Do you believe the scriptures?"
"Yes, I believe every word in them, but there is nothing in them about any such being as Christ."
"Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied except they have spoken concerning this Christ."
"That is merely your own personal interpretation," Sherem said dismissively. "The scriptures say no such thing."
"It is not my own personal interpretation," Jacob strongly replied. "It has been shown unto me, and I have both seen and heard the things which the prophets of old have seen, and they have been shown unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, I know with absolute certainty that if there should be no atonement made, then all of mankind will be lost forever."
"So, you say you know things that are not in the scriptures because you have seen visions, is that what you want us to believe?"
"They have been shown to me by the power of God."
Sherem faced the crowd. "And I say that no man can know what will come to pass." Then, he turned to face Jacob and boldly said, "Therefore, I say that you only imagine that you have seen visions from God."
Jacob was unfazed by Sherem's taunts. "It was not my imagination, any more than you standing before me is my imagination."
"Are you somebody special, or are you a man like us?" Sherem asked sarcastically as he pointed to the crowd.
"I am a man, like yourself."
Sherem faced the multitude. "You have heard him say for yourself that there is nothing different about him than any of us. Is there anyone here who has seen visions?"
No one said anything.
"Is there any among you who knows what will happen in the future?"
People shook their heads to indicate no.
Pointing to Jacob, Sherem continued, "Then how can he know of things that will yet come to pass, seeing how he is no better than you?"
"I am no better than any man here, except the Lord has shown me these things," Jacob replied.
Sherem looked Jacob in the eye and asked, "And why has he shown things unto you and not to anyone else?"
"All men can see these things for themselves, but they must come unto God and obey his word, otherwise they are cut off from his presence and therefore cannot dwell before him."
"So, what you want us to believe is that you are more righteous than all the rest of us?"
"I am a man of weaknesses and I have my faults, but I strive with my whole heart to live as God commands me."
Sherem faced the multitude again. "You have heard him with his own mouth proclaim that he is a man of weakness and that he is no better than any of us, and yet at the same time he says that God has shown him visions because he keeps the commandments as though to say we don't. What he wants us to believe then is that he is better than any of us, despite admitting that he is a man filled with many faults. I don't know what else to call such a person except that he is mad."
"I call him a liar!" Maleek yelled out from within the crowd, as he elbowed the man next to him, urging him to do the same.
"Yeah, he's a liar!" someone else said, following Maleek's example.
Jacob stepped forward to address the people. "My beloved brethren, how long have I been among you and how long have I labored to do nothing else but preach the pleasing word of God to you? I seek not gold or silver from you, nor do I seek authority over you. Instead, my only concern is for the eternal welfare of your souls. Yea, this has been my only desire from the beginning. And why should I lie to save your souls? But if you don't want to believe me, then believe the prophets. Even Sherem says he believes in the scriptures. And how have they been written except God has shown unto the prophets things which are come to pass. Have you not read the words of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Holy One of Israel? Do you not remember he prophesied how Jerusalem would be destroyed because of the wickedness of the people? And how else would he know these things except God had revealed it unto him?
"And do you not remember the prophecy of Zenos which he spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive-tree, that must surely come to pass? The Lord your God desires that all men should come unto him so that he might bless them and fill them with joy. But they cannot be filled with joy in their wickedness, therefore he calls all men to repent and come unto him. But how shall a man know the path which he must travel to receive this joy unless the way is shown unto him? And it is for this reason that God gives men visions so that they may know the path that leads to salvation and he also gives visions so that they may know the path that leads to destruction, for the Lord seeks to warn the inhabitants of the earth to save them from the punishments that a just God must inflict upon the wicked. If I have lied unto you because I say that I have seen visions, although I am a man of weakness, then all the prophets of God must have likewise lied for they too were men of weakness."
Sherem noticed that Jacob's words were having a calming effect upon the people as they all listened attentively to what he said. Therefore, he stepped forward to confront Jacob. "You say that you are only interested in the welfare of our souls?"
"That is my only desire."
"But how do we know this is true, for you prophesy of things that are hundreds of years in the future. And what proof do we have that these things will come to pass?"
"If you will follow the ways of God and ask with a sincere heart, God will manifest the truth of these things unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost."
Sherem faced the crowd. "Our brother Jacob says he is only interested in our welfare, but how can this be, seeing that none of us will be alive when this being he calls Christ will come? How does that save us?"
Jacob stepped forward to answer, but before he could speak, Sherem asked him a question.
"If you are as interested in our welfare as you want us to believe, and you say that God shows you visions so that he might save us, then tell us when the Lamanites will attack us again, and tell us where they will attack so that we may prepare ourselves and thereby save our lives and the lives of our wives and children."
"We do not save ourselves, either spiritually or temporally. It is through the grace and mercy of God that we are saved. If it should be that the Lamanites come against us, if God is not with us then all of our might and strategy will not save us. The Lord has revealed unto me that if this people do not repent but remain in their sins, then the Lamanites will come and take possession of our land.
"But whether we live or die is not what matters. It is if we live or die in the Lord, for we must all die and appear before the judgment bar of God and only those who believe in Christ will be saved at that great and last day. And it is for this reason that Christ will come so that he might answer the ends of the law and redeem us from the punishment that is affixed to the law."
"As you can plainly see," Sherem said to the assembled people, "Jacob claims that God gives him visions so that he knows what will happen in the future, but it is something so far in the future that none of us will be alive to see if his prophecy is correct. Yet, when he is asked to show us something that will happen in the very near future, so that we can see for ourselves if what he says is true, he cannot tell us."
Jacob stepped forward and addressed the crowd. "God warned the people of Jerusalem many years before he destroyed their city. Had they waited to see the proof of the prophecy come true, it would have done them no good."
"And how do we know that Jerusalem is destroyed?" Sherem asked. "I know," Sherem answered mockingly, "you had a vision."
A ripple of laughter went through the crowd.
Jacob countered, "If you do not repent of your sins, you will live to see the day when this people and all their property and wealth and riches will likewise be destroyed by your enemies, but then it will be too late for you to say, Jacob spoke the truth. What good will it do you then to know that my words were the words of God and not of man?"
"Then show me a sign by this power of the Holy Ghost, which you say you know so much about so that we may believe before it is too late."
"Who am I that I should tempt God," Jacob forcefully replied, "and command him to show you a sign just so he can prove something that you already know to be true? And even if I were to do that, yet you would still deny it, because you art of the devil."
Sherem turned to the people and said, "You see how his God will not show me a sign even though I ask for one? Is this not proof that our brother Jacob does no possess the power of God that he says he has? I ask you, what more evidence do you need that he does not speak the truth?"
"It is not for me to command God," Jacob retorted. "Nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come. And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine."
Sherem snickered and then said to the people, "Do you see how cleverly he avoids my answer? If nothing happens, then he claims it's not because there is no Christ, but that Christ choose not to answer. How very convenient. But he counts on you being an ignorant people in order to fool you so that he might….."
Suddenly, in the middle of his words, Sherem clutched his chest as though in deep pain and stood frozen for a brief second before collapsing to the ground.
The crowd gasped in astonishment, wondering what had happened, but after a few moments when Sherem didn't show any sign of movement the people began to ask one another what this could mean. Finally, someone asked, "Is he dead?"
Cautiously, someone else came forward to inspect Sherem's lifeless body, then exclaimed, "He is still alive."
Jacob then said, "Who will attend to Sherem's needs so that he might regain his natural strength?"
For a few moments no one said anything, then a man named Chemorah stepped forward.
"I am a man of some knowledge of the healing arts. I will take him to my house and do what I can."
"And who will help take Sherem to this man's house?" Jacob asked.
Three men quickly came forward and picked up the body of Sherem and carried it to where Chemorah led them.
For the space of many days, Sherem was nourished by Chemorah but his health did not improve. Then one day Sherem said to Chemorah, "You have been kind to me and I do not wish to burden you more than I already have but I want you to do one more thing for me."
"If it is within my power, I will."
"Let it be known among our people that on the morrow I wish to address them. This is very important. Will you do this for me?"
And it came to pass that Chemorah did as he promised and on the morrow, not withstanding the frail health and great suffering that racked Sherem's body, he was brought outside of the house so he could speak to the people who had assembled to hear him. Maleek stood at the head of the crowd, anxious to hear what his master would say. He was hoping that Sherem would appoint him to carry on his work until he could recover from his afflictions.
With great difficulty, Sherem rose from his bed and said, "I have told you that there is no Christ and I have denied that the power of the Holy Ghost can show men visions. I want to say to you that I was wrong. I know because I too have beheld a vision but not like Jacob has. I have seen the torments of hell and have come to know through my own experience the eternal punishment that awaits the wicked. Yea, these many days, my soul has been in torment, even so much that I cried out that I might die and cease to exist so that I might escape this punishment, for so great was it that I could not endure it. But it is not possible for a man to cease from existing, even if he should die in the flesh. Therefore, my torment will last forever. And so, in my great suffering I wished that there was a way that I might escape my torment. Then I remembered the word of Jacob that the Messiah would come to take away the punishment of the law and except Christ come, all men must suffer forever as I now am suffering."
The crowd listened quietly and intently, straining to hear the words of Sherem because he spoke them softly, being in great pain.
"I confessed that I believed the scriptures but I denied that they spoke of Christ, but in this I have lied to you for I was deceived by the devil. He told me that there was no Christ and that I could become great among you if I caused that you should believe this same doctrine. And in my pride and desire to get gain, I knowingly denied that Christ would come as the scriptures so plainly testify of him. And because I have thus lied before you and before God, I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, in which case, how awful shall be my state when I come before God."
And when he had said these words, he could say no more, even though he tried, so he laid down and gave up the ghost.
When the multitude saw the death of Sherem after hearing his words, they were greatly astonished, but none was more astonished than Maleek, whose soul was seized with fear. And the power of God came down upon all of them, and they were overcome by it so much so that they fell to the earth.
Now, Jacob was not there but was at his house when news of this was given to him. Immediately, upon hearing of this, he went inside his house and knelt down in prayer.
"Oh, God, the eternal Father, how wonderful are thy ways and how merciful thou art, especially to one such as I, for I have cried unto thee for the spiritual safety of my people, especially since I have heard what Sherem had been teaching them. But who am I that I should counsel you, for I am nothing except a man, and one who is full of iniquity. In thy mercy and grace, thou hast shown me thy salvation and hast commanded that I teach others the path that leads to it, but by my own power I could not prevent Sherem from leading my people astray, which knowledge had caused me great pain.
"In faith I cried unto thee for help and placed my reliance upon thy power. At no time did I ever doubt, but thou hast answered my prayer more fully than I had ever expected. Thou has not only caused that his teaching should cease from among my people but thou has shown my people thy power in a way that has touched their very souls and opened their eyes. My joy in this and my gratitude to thee is beyond my ability to express for thou has truly answered my prayers beyond measure despite that I am a man so easily beset with sin. I am humbled to know that thou are so willing to care for my people and be merciful unto them and my heart is full to overflowing with gratitude for thy bounteous goodness."
And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people of Nephi and they hearkened no more to the teachings of Sherem for they searched the scriptures and increased in the knowledge of God.
Today there are many people like Sherem who still preach a similar kind of message. They teach there is no sin and they appeal to our pride and vanity to convince us to accept their ideas. And, like Sherem, they can be very persuasive with their words and their logic. Yet, as in the days of Jacob, true happiness and peace comes from following the words of God's appointed spokesmen instead of men who have appointed themselves to speak for God. That is the lesson we learn from the story of Sherem.