This passage marks a transition point. Nephi is going change subjects-from the workings of the Lord in the future to the practicalities of living the gospel. Chapters 31-33 represent the conclusion of Nephi's great record. True to form, Nephi will speak in great plainness so that there can be no question as to what one must do to obtain eternal life. Let's look at the subject matter of the next three chapters as a handbook or recipe for obtaining eternal life. Nephi discusses repentance (v. 5, 11-13), baptism (v. 4-19), the gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 12-18), obedience (v. 10-12), enduring to the end (v. 15-16, 20), following Christ (v. 10, 16), faith, hope, and charity (v. 20. 2 Ne 33:8-11), feasting on the words of Christ (v. 20, 2 Ne 32:3), following the Spirit (2 Ne 32:5,8), and prayer (2 Ne 32:8-9). What a brilliant collection of principles! A more complete blueprint for salvation could hardly be written.
The Lord does not intend to teach us things we cannot understand. Rather, He gives us line upon line, depending on our spiritual preparation, until we understand the mysteries of the kingdom, for after this manner doth the Lord God work among the children of men. For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding.
"If the Book of Mormon said only what we wanted it to we wouldn't need it. But we do need it. It is written 'according to the plainness of the word of God' (Jacob 2:11), 'in plainness, even as plain as word can be' (2 Nephi 32:7). It needs no handbook (not even this one) to explain its meaning. 'I glory in plainness,' said Nephi (2 Nephi 33:6), 'for my soul delighteth in plainness; for after this manner doth the Lord God work, . . . for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding' (2 Nephi 31:3). So that leaves us pretty much without excuse." (Since Cumorah, p. 387)
Orson F. Whitney
"A speaker's first duty is to make himself understood, to speak with plainness, and he must also be in earnest, must mean what he says, and say what he means, or he can never impress the hearts of his hearers. If he be sincere, earnest, and plain in his instructions, eloquence will take care of itself. A man is never eloquent when he tries to be. Eloquence comes from being earnest, from having in our hearts a desire to bless the people and feed them with the bread of life. It is my desire, during the few moments I shall stand before you, to speak plainly, to make myself understood, and reach your hearts by the power of the Spirit of God." (Conference Report, Apr. 1910, p. 59)
Elder Charles W. Penrose
"The President alluded to some of these things this morning, and the counsel he gave to us is very pertinent and very necessary at the present time, and if our brethren, and some few of our sisters, perhaps, would quit this quibbling, when they search, when they seek, they will be sure to find. If they are seeking for contradictions, they will find them, but if they are seeking for the word of life, they will find it, and they will rejoice therein, and everything will be clear and plain before their minds. In that I delight, and I rejoice in the gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been revealed to us in these latter days because of its plainness. I am one with the prophet Nephi in this respect. He said, 'My soul delighteth in plainness,' and this has been a joy to me ever since I first heard the gospel." (Conference Report, Oct. 1916, p. 18)
Remember that John the Baptist did not want to baptize the Savior. He considered himself unworthy and understood that the ordinance was designed for the wicked. It was only at the insistence of the Savior that he acquiesced.
' Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.' (Matt 3:13-15)
"Though Jesus was God; though He reigned in the heavenly kingdom; though He was alive spiritually and fit in all respects to return to the presence of the Father - yet He was baptized. He was baptized in order to gain salvation in the celestial kingdom of God, thereby setting the perfect example for all men." (Church News, "Jesus, the Sinless One, Was Baptized by John to Fulfill All", Jan. 14, 1995, p. 21)
"Nephi, to dramatize the importance of baptism, tells us that the Savior had to be baptized to "fulfill all righteousness" (2 Nephi 31:5). The doctrine is both little understood and marvelously important. In the high spiritual sense there is no righteousness without willing submission to all the ordinances of salvation. No more perfect example could be found than Christ himself. Christ, who was sinless, had to be baptized in order to be considered righteous. To be righteous, as the word is used in its highest spiritual sense, means far more than being sinless, pure, or merely good. Righteousness is not simply the absence of evil or impropriety; it is the active seeking of the mind and will of the Father and compliance with that will once it has been obtained." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 361)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Nephi explains that Christ did fulfil all righteousness in being baptized in that: 1. He humbled himself before the Father; 2. He covenanted to be obedient and keep the Father's commandment; 3. He had to be baptized to gain admission to the celestial kingdom; and 4. He set an example for all men to follow. (2 Ne. 31:4-11.) Our Lord's baptism 'showeth unto the children of men the straightness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them.' (2 Ne. 31:9.) If even the King of the kingdom could not return to his high state of pre-existent exaltation without complying with his own eternal law for admission to that kingdom, how can any man expect a celestial inheritance without an authorized and approved baptism?" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 71)
"2 Nephi 31 is a most distinctive scriptural text. In verse 11 Nephi records the words of the Father to him. In verse 12 the voice of the Son comes to him. The pattern repeats itself in reverse order in verses 14 and 15: in verse 14 we have a record of that spoken by the voice of the Son, verse 15 the voice of the Father. Apparently Nephi finds himself in conversation with both members of the Godhead. If such is the case, this is a singular occasion, inasmuch as revelation since the Fall has normally come by and through Jehovah, who is Jesus Christ. The prophet Enoch seems to have had an experience similar to Nephi's (see Moses 7:50, 53, 59)." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 1, p. 364)
Bruce R. McConkie
"The baptism of the Spirit is called the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost...By the power of the Holy Ghost -- who is the Sanctifier (3 Ne. 27:19-21) -- dross iniquity, carnality, sensuality, and every evil thing is burned out of the repentant soul as if by fire; the cleansed person becomes literally a new creature of the Holy Ghost. (Mosiah 27:24-26.) He is born again.
"The baptism of fire is not something in addition to the receipt of the Holy Ghost; rather, it is the actual enjoyment of the gift which is offered by the laying on of hands at the time of baptism. 'Remission of sins,' the Lord says, comes 'by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.' (D. & C. 19:31; 2 Ne. 31:17.)" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 73)
"You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half-that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 366 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 166)
It seems like quite a jump to go from a newly baptized member to an individual who can speak with the tongue of angels. Did Nephi really mean to say this? Well, he did, and he explains what it is that angels say. They shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel and they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ (2 Ne 32:3). Therefore to speak with the tongue of angels is not to speak in tongues (with rare Pentecostal exceptions, see Acts 2:1-6). It is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. Any new member should be able to testify that Jesus is the Christ. This is what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians:
'Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.' (1 Cor 12:3)
Judgment comes on the children of men based on that degree of light and knowledge that they were privileged to receive during mortality. He who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation (DC 82:3). Missionaries think of themselves as the messengers of salvation. However, when one becomes a member of the church and then rejects the Lord, the convert has only brought condemnation down upon their own heads. If the new converts can't be retained, they are actually worse off than if they never heard the message of the gospel. This means that retention of new converts is a great responsibility. It also encourages missionaries to baptize only those who are ready for baptism as explained in DC 20:37. The individual must:
1) Humble themselves before God
2) Desire to be baptized (not just agree to be baptized under coercion)
3) Come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits
4) Witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins
5) Be willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ
6) Have a determination to serve him to the end, and
7) Truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins.
Peter spoke of this same group of people as follows:
'For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
Interestingly, the scriptures speak of three different warnings which all use similar language. First, 2 Ne 31:14 and 2 Pet 2:21, speak of those who at first accept the gospel and then turn away, it would have been better for them if they had never known the gospel. Second, DC 54:5, DC 121:22, and Matt 18:6 (Mark 9:42, Lu 17:2) describe the fate of those guilty of certain sins as follows, it would be better for them to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Third, DC 76:32-35 and 3 Ne 28:34-5 speak of those who reject the testimony of the Holy Ghost and deny Christ at the last day. Of them it says that it would be better for them if they had not been born.
In contrast to the convert who rejects the Lord after baptism and confirmation, the Lord has promised in remarkably simple words that he that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved. Nephi qualifies this statement by explaining what it is we are to endure, a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God. "Endure to the end" does not mean to endure to the end of a sacrament meeting, to endure to the end of a calling, to endure to the end of a trial, or to endure to the end of a boring lesson. The phrase is used all to often as a synonym for patience. What it really means is to endure to the end of your life never diverting from the path of discipleship in following the example of the Son of the living God.
Neal A. Maxwell
"Our emphasis, therefore, should be on 'doing' and 'becoming," not just on surviving; on serving others, not just serving time.
"Thus this quality of graceful endurance includes, but is more than, hanging on 'for one moment more.' Passing beyond breaking points without breaking takes the form of endurance." (Not My Will, But Thine, p. 115)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Hence we are not merely to exist to the end but are to persist in coping with what is occurring in the holy present. If we will follow the example of 'the Son of the living God," great things await us (see 2 Nephi 31:16). 'Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come' (D&C 63:20). 'And all they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory' (D&C 101:35).
"Even yesterday's spiritual experience, however, does not guarantee us against tomorrow's relapse. Persistence thus matters greatly. More than a few, for instance, have had supernal, spiritual experiences only to fall away later; or, more often, merely to pull off to the side of the road, though intending only a brief rest stop.
"Hence the emphasis on enduring well to the end is wise, simply because we are at risk till the end!...Included in the enduring process is meeting the test of being constantly improved. Remodeling is costly and painful. But how can we realistically expect the arduous process of putting off the old man and putting on the new man to be otherwise?" (If Thou Endure It Well, p. 122-3)
Marion G. Romney
"If I had the power, I would impress every member of the Church with the transcendent import to himself of strictly obeying the principles of the gospel. In these remarks I hope I can so present this matter that at least one of you will join with me in a resolution to make a greater effort to do so in the future than we have ever made in the past. With the great prize of eternal life set before us, and in light of the emphasis the Lord has put upon the fact that this eternal life is attainable only upon condition that we 'endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God,' it does seem to me, that no Latter-day Saint should be content to stand day after day in the same place on the way to eternal life.
"...Because there are so many people about us who have no vision of the goal to which we are inspired by the gospel, we are in danger of becoming surfeited with the things of the world and are apt to slacken in our daily striving to move onward in our quest for eternal life. It has therefore been one of the burdens of Church leadership in all dispensations to encourage the Saints to keep these things constantly in their remembrance." (Conference Report, Oct. 1956, p. 16)
In response to Nephi's own question, 'after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?', Nephi gives his answer. We must exhibit faith, hope, charity, feast on the words of Christ, and endure to the end. If we do these things, we shall have eternal life. Let's look again at the structure of this verse to see that Nephi is really talking about faith, hope, and charity:
1) ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ-FAITH
2) having a perfect brightness of hope-HOPE
3) and a love of God and of all men-CHARITY
We should be clear that Nephi is trying to give us a formula for success, a recipe for redemption, and a handbook for eternal increase. He is trying to teach us the only and true doctrine of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (v. 21) in as much plainness as is possible. Note how similar Nephi's recipe is to that of Alma the younger:
'And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.' (Alma 13:27-29)
Bruce R. McConkie
"Sometimes someone will say: 'Well, I have been baptized into the Church; I am a member of the Church; I am a member of the Church; I'll just go along and live an ordinary sort of life; I won't commit any great crimes; I'll live a reasonably good Christian life; and eventually I will gain the kingdom of God.'
"I don't understand it that way. I think that baptism is a gate. It is a gate which puts us on a path; and the name of the path is the straight and narrow path. The straight and narrow path leads upward from the gate of baptism to the celestial kingdom of heaven. After a person has entered the gate of baptism, he has to press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, as Nephi expresses it, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men; and if he endures to the end, then he gains the promised reward." (Conference Report, Oct. 1950, p. 16 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.34)
"The words press forward seem to indicate moving with complete dedication along the path of perfection despite adversity or distraction. This same phrase was used in Lehi's vision to describe those who caught hold of the iron rod. Those who continued faithful until they partook of the fruit of the tree were those who pressed forward through the mists of darkness. (See 1 Nephi 8:24) Steadfastness in Christ connotes a firm determination to follow him. To feast upon the word of Christ conveys the thought of receiving strength and nourishment from the teachings and spirit of Christ. The same idea is found in the symbolism of the sacrament. The Lord suggests a similar idea in the D&C when he says, 'treasure up in your minds continually the words of life.' (DC 84:85) To the Nephites he further stated that those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness would be filled with the Holy Ghost." (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, p. 121)
Neal A. Maxwell
"We need to feast upon the words of Christ in the scriptures and as these words come to us from living prophets. Just nibbling occasionally will not do. (See 2 Nephi 31:20 and 32:3.) Feasting means partaking with relish and delight and savoring-not gorging episodically in heedless hunger, but partaking gratefully, dining with delight, at a sumptuous spread carefully and lovingly prepared by prophet-chefs over the centuries. These words plus the gift of the Holy Ghost will tell us all things we should do. The scriptures, ancient and continuing, are the key of knowledge...Appreciation for and the acceptance of the scriptures and the words of the living prophets are much more important steps than many realize. The Lord has said, '. . . he that will not believe my words will not believe me-that I am.' (Ether 4:12.) To turn aside His teachings is to turn away from Him, and disdain for His doctrines is disdain for Him." (Wherefore, Ye Must Press Forward, p. 28)
Neal A. Maxwell
"Since feasting on the word of God has a 'more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than... anything else' (Alma 31:5), the more of the word of God we have and act upon, the more we will press forward. Much spiritual energy is necessary for the marathon of discipleship." (A Wonderful Flood of Light, p. 11)