2 Nephi 28: 14

“They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.”
This is so sobering and relevant a verse that it is the first thing quoted in the dedication of the first book I wrote, The Second Comforter: Conversing With the Lord Through the Veil. This is our moment. Inside this foolish age there are nevertheless a “few, who are the humble followers of Christ.” These are the salt which preserve the world. These are the leaven who keep us still from destruction.

“Stiff necks” do not bow in prayer and praise before a Lord to whom they regard themselves as unworthy. They are undaunted by their unworthiness. They think themselves justified, and therefore without any need to bow in reverence.

“High heads” do not tilt down to behold the less fortunate to whom they might have provided relief. They ignore the destitute and needy, preferring only to see those who are on their standing or above. Who can help elevate them? Who can give them an advantage? Who is a good contact to keep? The “high heads” will be careful about what social advantages come from associations, and will always pick carefully those whom they deign to notice.
But these stiff necks and high heads belong to those carrying a burden of sin.  They are prideful, wicked, given to abominations and whoredoms. These are the ones who sit upon the labors of others, and fare sumptuously here. So long as your neck remains stiff and your head held high, you will never notice Lazarus lying at your gate.
But what of the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ?” What of them?
It is clear in this verse that they do NOT lead, but are instead being led. They are “led that in many instances they do err.” That is, those who qualify to be called the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ” are not themselves leaders. They are being led by others.

The others who lead them “cause them to err.” And why do they cause this?  “Because they are taught by the precepts of men.” Therefore, the humble true followers are misled into accepting false, foolish and vain (or powerless) beliefs because the ones who preside over them are only able to offer the “precepts of men.” These “precepts of men” are unable to bring the “humble followers of Christ” to the knowledge of Him.

Keep in mind that the “precepts of men” are repeated by Nephi in this written sermon more than any other phrase. The learning used to lead is distracting, even damning, whenever it fails to lead to the Lord. Men’s precepts cannot rescue us.

Why are not the “humble followers of Christ” doing the leading? Because they do not have the “stiff necks and high heads” to become noticed, to be added to the group of insiders. Their clothes are not costly, their home “sanctuaries” are insufficiently ornate. They are not the stuff of renown and recognition. They are, in a word, the least.
It is a troubling image which begins to emerge from Nephi’s words. They are shocking for us to consider. If the alternatives are what Nephi seems to leave us, then how much better is it to be among the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ” than among those with the authority to lead them?

I do not believe any of us are in a position to fully understand our times. We live inside a cultural fog that makes our judgments inside the bubble distorted in ways Nephi did not experience from his vantage point.  The Lord can give us a clearer perspective through revelation, as He did for Nephi. But we are not equipped to fully recognize our peril standing inside this age and culture.

The one thing that is abundantly clear is that Joseph Smith was right about the need to reconnect with God. His first and primary message remains the testimony of James 1: 5:  If we lack wisdom, we should ask of God. God will give liberally to those who ask with a sincere heart, having real intent. Whether you believe Joseph’s account or not, Joseph was pointing us to James and testifying James made a promise which God will fulfill. So test James. Ask with real intent. Perhaps you will begin to see how Nephi’s words of warning are exactly what is needed to save us from our peril. At a minimum, the petition will make you closer to being one of the “few, who are the humble followers of Christ” because of your desire to know from Him the truth of your plight.

He always intends to save those who wait upon Him. Those who serve Him and do as He asks will never be forsaken. All that is required to qualify is to repent and come to Christ with sincere intent. No matter what else is going on, the Lord can take your life’s circumstances and make them work to fulfill His work. And His work is your salvation and exaltation.
The first step is to recognize the peril you face. The second is to then do something about it. To take the first step without the second is worse than meaningless. It inspires fear and pessimism. That is wrong. Happiness is the goal of our existence. That comes from Christ. So do not just notice your plight, but make the necessary flight back to Him.

11 thoughts on “2 Nephi 28: 14

  1. How could we be so blind to think that this would apply to a people who never read the Book of Mormon, instead of to the LDS?

  2. Joseph Smith saw the same of our day about the “few”. From the Journal of Mosiah Hancock we read about when Joseph Smith came to see his father and said…

    You will live to see men arise in power in the Church who will seek to put down your friends and the friends of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many will be hoisted because of their money and the worldly learning which they seem to be in possession of; and many who are the true followers of our Lord and Savior will be cast down because of their poverty.

    And a record in church history of Joseph Smiths last discourse repeats the same message about the “few”.

    Brethren we will give up our arms as the governor requires we will give to them that asketh of us and trust in the Lord for future welfare I wish to tender you as soldiers and citizens under my command as your general, you have done your duty faithfully in guarding this city and in guarding and preserving the lives of the people as well as mine in a special manner for I have seen you on duty without shoes and comfortable clothing and if I had the means to buy or could obtain those necessary things for you I would gladly do it, but I cannot mortgage any of my property to get one dollar.

    But I will say, this you will be called the first elders of the church and your mission will be to the nations of the earth, you will gather many people into the fastness of the Rocky Mountains as a center for the gathering of the people and you will be faithful because you have been true and many of those who come in under your ministry, on account of their much learning will seek for high places and they will set up and raise themselves to eminence above you, but you will walk in low places unnoticed and you will know all that transpires in their minds and those that are your friends are my friends.

    This I will promise you that when I come again to lead you forth…

  3. In response to David Christenson’s comment on the previous post of
    2Nephi 28:13, If that one didn’t “hit like ton of bricks”, then surely this one will!

  4. I’ve thought for some time that the administrative overhead now required to run a standard ward almost guarantees we get the successful, businessman type. They have the organizational skills needed to handle the appointments, time, etc. Such a person is usually well versed in the dogma of Babylon. Even if a humble follower of Christ, teaching by the precepts of men comes almost naturally.

    Imagine what the Lord can do with a person who has enough skills to do the work, but who understands the things we’ve been learning here.

  5. I am currently growing a full bushy beard out to see what kind of effect it will have on people in a position of power in our ward (it is irritating my wife and kids at the same time….).
    People really do judge on the outward and not on the inward. If it were not for people in somewhat dire financial circumstances in our area, I am not sure what the total effect would be.
    If we were not relatively well off, the social impact would be far worse. There is extreme pressure in the church to be a leg up financially – very similar to the JWs (in whose parking lot you will rarely find a car older than 3 years). After all, you are blessed of the Lord if you have money and must be doing something wrong if you do not. And you WILL be successful in business to be a leader. My wife’s uncle who was a mission pres down in Brazil had tons of money (little leadership skill), but is pretty spiritually shallow (if I can say so). It is a sad state of when things get like the Hancock quote.

  6. This is certainly a scripture for deep ponder. The Lord set it the church apostles prophets and teachers (1 Cor: 28) which Paul taught in connection all of us having different gifts in being part of the body of Christ. So it seems that having teachers and leaders are part of the Lord’s plan and I believe that many that lead humbly in wards, stakes and church come from the crop of those who are humble followers of Christ. Yet Nephi states that the few humble followers do error because they are taught by the precepts of men. However, Nephi does not state that they are led astray, he says they error. Nor is he using a broad stroke to condemn all leaders. He seems to be warning us that we will error because we and our leaders make mistakes (part of being human). Nephi’s warning is a reminder to “watch yourselves, …thoughts and deeds (Mosiah 4:30) and continue in faith on our humble path to Christ. It seems unavoidable that we will error from being taught the precepts of men, since our leaders are men. But that doesn’t mean we will loose the ball game nor does it mean that we shouldn’t have leaders. Some of the greatest influences for righteousness in my life have been humble bishops who have been leaders in my ward. This verse however reminds me to seek the spirit to be my guiding force in my life which I am more intent to do. This blog has been a great reminder that I need to seek my own personal revelation from the Lord to follow more fully in his path.

  7. IRAQ: You said (in the spirit of sarcasm), “After all, you are blessed of the Lord if you have money and must be doing something wrong if you do not.”

    NO KIDDING!!! My family had a run of “bad luck” lasting several years. We had previously made significant efforts to hearken to the voice of the Lord, and on a January morning seven years ago I was laid off. I couldn’t find a job for nearly three years and was way underemployed for a couple more. We were homeless with our seven kids in 2007 for about seven months.

    We knew we were trying to do what was right. And yet we felt judged by many of those around us. It became so clear to us that people seem to believe that if you are wealthy, that’s because you are righteous – and you are, therefore, entitled to it.

    Conversely, if you aren’t wealthy, it is obvious that you did something wrong and made it so that you deserved your sufferings. (Isn’t this all a Calvinist notion – or something like that?)

    Of course that’s all a vicious lie, but many many people believe it. And they will consequently shun and politely disparage those who truly stand in need.

    And as far as we were concerned… we were robbed of our voice. What we had to say was somehow invalidated in the minds of others. Obviously we were untrustworthy because we were so clearly suffering.

    Over the years we have been given almost no opportunity to share our wonderful and faith affirming story. We can testify of many powerful miracles that saved us. But nobody seems to care enough to listen. People don’t realize that from our perspective it isn’t a story about pain and suffering.
    It’s actually a story of our coming closer to understanding our complete dependance on the Savior, and witnessing a portion of His merciful love to us.

    And yet, to this day, it seems like there are those who would prefer our struggles to be just swept under the rug and forgotten. How tragic!

    We have recently gotten a new job and house. Things are truly looking up. And what do you think has been most often communicated back to us in loving (but not understanding) tones?

    “You deserve it.”

    AAAAAARRRRRGH!!! Actually… what we do or don’t deserve has absolutely NOTHING to do with it. They don’t realize that telling us that we deserve it is the same as saying, “Oh! You must have gotten back on the right track, and now the Lord is blessing you.”

    Drives me crazy when I think about it too much…

  8. Iraq –
    It’s not our responsibility to “test” someone else? Grow out a beard if you feel good about it, but not to “test” someone?

  9. The whole full bushy beard thing is in response to ridiculous notion that you cannot truly be of use in the Kingdom if you have facial hair. I used to have a goatee (in the profile pic) and would get cutting remarks from members of the bishopric (one who used to sport a mustache) – as if I were some kind of sinner for letting things go to the way God designed them…. I have been told in response to the facial hair from my current Bishop that I need to “play the part” – as if we are ants under the spy glass. I am just myself – I don’t operate under a facade or with pretense. I am who I am – let the chips fall where they may.
    I mean I went to BYU – and the honor code was to shave so I gladly complied (I signed up for that on the dotted line), but nowhere have I read that beards are verboten in God’s kingdom outside of BYU. There is some unwritten code of conformitarianism that I am unaware of. I do my best to be obedient to all of God’s commands (especially those that are written and have clear purpose) – but the unwritten ones baffle me. All I can guess is that the polygamists wear facial hair – so we, to be different, must not?? That is a little neurotic, I think?? Shouldn’t we just be focused on living Christ-centered lives and let the chips fall where they may?

  10. Russell: maybe this fits?

    2 Nephi 26

    31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.

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