Summary: When Nephi began his record, it was a small thing to him, but today it has become a very great thing to hundreds of millions of people over the last two centuries. But what happened to Nephi’s efforts isn’t unique. In fact, it is a very common thing that happens to nearly all of us, and like him, we too are often unaware of the effects that even our small actions can have. This article examines how what we do can have a large impact on others.
When speaking to his son Helaman, Alma, the younger, told him about the records that had been entrusted to him including the plates of Nephi and the brass plates. It was in relation to these records that Alma told Helaman, “Behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).
At the time when Nephi, the son of Lehi, began making a record of his life and that of his people, he didn’t know why the Lord had commanded him to do this, but he assumed the Lord had a wise purpose. Hundreds of years later, Alma told Helaman that these records which Nephi had started “should go forth unto every nation, kindred, tongue and people” (Alma 37:4).
Imagine keeping a diary, thinking that you were the only person who would ever read it, only to have it one day being read by millions of people all over the world. That’s what it must feel like for Nephi to know that his journal he wrote on plates of gold, are now being read in every nation by people speaking in many different languages.
When Nephi began his record, it was a small thing to him, but today it has become a very great thing to hundreds of millions of people over the last two centuries. But what happened to Nephi’s efforts isn’t unique to him. In fact, it is a very common thing that happens to nearly all of us, but too often we are as unaware of the effects of even our small actions as Nephi was when he began his record.
When Mormon was making his abridgment of the Nephite records, he knew who would someday read his writings. In fact, he feared that when the Gentiles read his book, they would mock him for the weakness of his writing (Ether 12:25), but unlike Mormon, we very rarely know the outcome of our actions beforehand. To illustrate this, let’s look at the prophet Abinadi.
When Abinadi first went to the people of King Noah and called them to repent of their sins, they mocked him, and no one would give heed to anything he said. The end result of his preaching was “that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life” (Mosiah 11:26), and so he fled. Two years later, he came back and again called the people to repent but “they were angry with him; and they took him and carried him bound before the king” (Mosiah 12:9).
Abinadi was then thrown into prison until he was brought before the priests of Noah who interrogated him in an attempt to find some crime they could accuse him of. Undeterred by their questions, Abinadi boldly preached of Christ and rebuked them for their wickedness. Yet, notwithstanding his courage, the king ordered him put to death by fire. As he became engulfed in flames, Abinadi must have felt that all of his efforts had been a complete and total failure because, as far as he knew, not one person had heeded anything he had said.
But, unbeknownst to him, there was one of King Noah’s priests named Alma who “fled… and hid himself… and he being concealed for many days, did write all the words which Abinadi had spoken” (Mosiah 17:4). Then, after he “repented of his sins and iniquities, [he] went about privately among the people, and began to teach the words of Abinadi… And many did believe his words” (Mosiah 18:1,3). In fact, he converted “about four hundred and fifty souls” (Mosiah 18:35).
Eventually, Alma and his people made their way to the city of Zarahemla where King Mosiah allowed him to preach throughout the land and because of his words, he converted so many people that he established “seven churches in the land of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 25:23), teaching them the things he had heard Abinadi say.
Later, Alma had a son whose name was also Alma who went on to become a great prophet. He in turn had a son named Helaman who likewise became a great prophet and they all taught thousands of people the message that Abinadi had preached.
Hundreds of years later another prophet named Mormon was commanded by God to go through all the Nephite records and make an abridged version of their history, and among those records, he found the words that Alma, the elder, had written concerning what he remembered hearing Abinadi say, and Mormon decided to include those words in his book.
Today, nearly two thousand years after Abinadi’s death, millions of people all over the world have read what he said to King Noah and his wicked priests and have heeded his message. However, when Abinadi was in the process of dying by fire, he had no way of knowing how important his words would someday become over centuries of time. As far as he knew, all of his preaching had been for nothing.
But imagine, after fleeing the people of Noah the first time, if Abinadi had decided not to go back two years later because he felt it was useless to do so? If there had been no Abinadi preaching to King Noah, there would have been no Alma, and if there was no Alma, there would have been no church of God among the Nephites. If there had been no Abinadi, then the life of Alma’s son, Alma the younger, and his son Helaman would have been very different.
If there had been no Abinadi, there would have been nothing for Alma to record, in which case, there would have been that much less for Mormon to include in his book because there would have been nothing to write about concerning Abinadi, Alma the Elder, his son Alma, the younger, his son Helaman, and many others.
What we see is how the actions of just one man, in just a small moment of time, had a great impact on the history of a nation and how it has affected the lives of untold millions of people over the centuries. Truly, by a small and simple thing, great things were brought to pass.
But this is not something that is unique to Abinadi. In fact, this sort of thing happens to each and every one of us nearly on a daily basis, even if the results are not as dramatic as they were for Abinadi. As we go about our normal, everyday activities, we interact with many people, and the way we treat them has more of an effect on their lives than we realize.
Take for example, a young man in 1965 who had the courage to ask his roommate what he knew about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From that first simple conversation, this young man then introduced his roommate to the missionaries, who ended up baptizing him. This roommate went on to get married in the temple and raised six children in the church, one of whom went on a mission and brought the gospel to many other people. That roommate’s son later married in the temple and raised seven children of his own in the church. And this is not counting all the other people both in and out of the church who have had their lives affected by this roommate, let alone all the lives that his children and grandchildren have affected.
Because one young man asked one person one simple question, it affected the lives of an untold number of others. There are countless stories told of people who have brought others to a knowledge of Christ’s restored church without ever saying a word about the gospel, but because of the way they lived their life they helped prepare others to accept the true gospel when it was presented to them.
The way we treat others, even in small and simple ways, can have a great impact on many other people we may never know, both for good as well as for bad. Take for example, a man named Amalickiah. He wanted to become king over the people of Nephi, but to do that would require him to replace their democratic form of government they lived under.
To do this, he stirred up much contention among his people as he endeavored to sway them to agree with his proposal, but when a vote was taken and he lost, he gathered his supporters together and tried to take over the government by force of arms. This resulted in a civil war and although he lost that battle, many people on both sides died. But the tragedy didn’t end there because there were many women who were left as widows, and many children who had lost their fathers, all of whom had their lives adversely altered forever because of the actions of one man named Amalickiah.
We tend to think that what we do has very little impact on others, but the truth is that our lives are tightly interwoven into the lives of many people we will never know, some of whom may not have even been born yet. We never know how a small, but simple act of kindness, given to one person at just the right moment, will have a lasting positive effect upon them, or how it might be a seed needed to bring about a change by the actions of someone else. And the same is just as true for one word spoken in anger, or one act of selfishness or meanness towards someone else.
But just like we often have very little knowledge of how our actions affect others, we also fail to realize how our actions affect us. Alma explained to his son Corianton, “I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2).
We talk a lot about the mercy of God, but we should always remember that God is also a god of justice. As Alma also explained, “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:25). Mercy doesn’t do away with justice but rather it is applied according to the laws of justice. To do otherwise would make God unjust.
As Alma explained, the law of justice requires “that all things should be restored to their proper order.” For example, if I borrow one dollar from someone, justice requires that I return or restore one dollar – no more and no less – to the person I borrowed it from. Stated differently, the scales of justice must always be brought back into balance. That’s why, when we sin, the law of justice requires that that sin must be paid for, and when it is, then the scales of justice are in balance and things are then “restored to their proper order.”
However, justice requires more than a payment be made for sins committed. Alma explained, “the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish–good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful” (Alma 41:13).
If I give someone a dollar, justice requires that I receive a dollar in return, or at least something whose value is worth a dollar. In the same way, if I do a kind deed, then justice requires that I receive an equally kind deed in return. In other words, whatever I do, justice requires that it be restored back to me. The scriptures describe this law as “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Galatians 6:7,8).
Whenever we do evil, the law of justice demands that evil be restored to us. If we sow devilish deeds then the law of justice requires that devilish deeds be restored to us. But if we do that which is good, then good must be returned to us, and the same is true for when we show mercy, kindness, or any other form of righteousness.
The apostle Paul wrote, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). All of us are a mixture of good and evil, the difference is in how much good we do versus how much evil we do. The more good we do, the more bountifully we will reap good, while the more evil we do, the more abundantly we will reap evil.
However, we see people who have committed great evil who seem to have nothing bad happen to them, or their crimes go unpunished. We even see evil people prosper and become successful in their wickedness, and at the same time we also see people who do a lot of good yet who have a lot of evil done to them. Because of this, it’s easy to think that the law of justice doesn’t always work, but what we have to remember is that our life doesn’t end when we lay our mortal body in the grave.
We are immortal beings, which means our spirit continues to live on long after our bodies have perished, which means that if the law of justice has not been satisfied in this life, then it will take place in our next life. In fact, that’s when justice will more fully be restored.
To illustrate this, when we plant a seed, it isn’t until it has completely decayed, and the plant has risen well above the ground before we begin to see the fruit of that seed. In this life, “we are sowing, daily sowing countless seeds of good and ill. [But those] seeds lie unchanged unquickened [and only] live and grow and flourish when the sower’s hand is cold” (“We are Sowing,” hymn #238). It is after our bodies have grown cold in the grave that justice can more fully be restored, and it is then when we will more fully reap the fruits of our labors.
However, when we plant one seed, we don’t just reap one fruit. Instead, that one seed produces an abundance of fruit, and the same is true of the deeds we sow. As mentioned earlier, what we do to one person very often doesn’t stop there because it tends to spread and affects many others.
When we look at the one message Abinadi gave before King Noah, we see that over the centuries his words have had a great effect for good upon millions of people. Therefore, justice requires that he have restored to him the good that he has done for everyone who has benefited because of what he did. All the people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the words of Alma the elder are also considered the fruits of his labors, and the same can be said for what Alma the younger did, and what his son Helaman did.
And the same can be said for the bitter fruit that Amalickiah labored to produce. Since his actions had a direct and indirect influence in causing misery upon so many people, then justice requires that he have restored to him all that evil he did to others.
And the same is true for each of us. Like Abinadi, we may never know the effect we have on others and what influence that will have on others. Therefore, we should heed the counsel that Paul gave to the saints in his day when he said, “let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap” (Galatians 6:9), and when that happens, we will reap abundantly.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Man