A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon/Nephi, the disciple
NEPHI, THE DISCIPLE. Nephi, like his illustrious father, was the leading spirit of the age. Previous to the visit of the crucified Redeemer to the Nephites, he was their high priest and prophet. When the Messiah came to them, and chose twelve Disciples to be special ministers of His name and glory, Nephi was the first that He called, and to him, on various occasions, the Savior immediately directed His conversation and instructions.
Shortly before the birth of our Savior, Nephi received the sacred plates with their appendages from his father, with strict instructions as to their care. From that time the elder Nephi was no more seen by mortals, and his son took his place as the representative of Jehovah to the inhabitants of the western world. When 600 years had passed since Lehi left Jerusalem, the wicked and perverse raised a great outcry that the prophecies had failed and the believers were deluded, that the delusion was a danger to the state, and those who adhered to it should be slain. They even appointed a day on which to carry out their sanguinary threats should the promised signs not be first given. These were days of anxiety and dread to Nephi. For consolation he sought the Lord in long and fervent prayers. And his prayers received a full and joyous answer. The word of the Lord came to him that that night the looked-for sign should be given, and on the morrow Jesus would come into the world. And so it came to pass. The new star appeared in the heavens, there were two days and a night of undiminished light, and all the people, both the righteous and the evildoers, recognized the sign and accepted its signification; the Lord of Life and Glory was clothed with humanity.
For about thirty years we have no direct statement of the work done by Nephi as a minister of God's word. Those thirty years were a period marked with many vicissitudes in the national and spiritual history of the Nephites. For seventeen years from the time of the birth of our Savior they gradually increased in wickedness; war and desolations afflicted them until, in their extremity, they were brought to repentance. But their repentance did not bring immediate deliverance from earthly troubles — the Gadianton robbers held the upper hand, and it was not until A. C. 21 that, by a signal victory, they freed themselves from their oppressors and invaders. Then followed a short period of peace and prosperity, with its usual train of consequences — riches, pride, inequality, oppression and varied iniquities, and year by year they grew worse, until A. C. 29. But even then they had not descended to their lowest; the next year we read of them unjustly and unlawfully condemning to death the prophets who were sent to them. They overrode the laws, filled the country with sedition, and sought to establish a monarchy in the place of the republic. The royalists, however, did not effect their purpose, but they succeeded in breaking up the government. The people then split up and divided into numerous factions, each governed by its peculiar laws and regulations, and having its own chief (A. C. 31).
At this time Nephi is again brought to our notice. He comes forth as a servant of the Most High God, administering the words of eternal life with such power and great authority that none could disbelieve his testimony, for angels ministered to him daily. His cry was faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins. Many were the mighty works he performed; he cast out devils and unclean spirits; he healed the sick and even raised the dead. But the wicked were actually angered at these manifestations of God's goodness, and but few were converted. Still, Nephi continued his labors, and at the end of three years he rejoiced In the re-establishment of the Church among the righteous, the organization of the priesthood and the development of the purposes of God. For all this, the greater portion of the people continued to delight in sin; the day of their destruction had come.
Thtis passed away thirty and three years. The time had now come for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Samuel, the Lamanite, when there should be darkness over the face of the land for the space of three days. On the fourth day of the first month of the thirty-fourth year, a great and terrible tempest arose, the horrors of which exceeded all others since the deluge. Huge tidal waves swept the coasts, swift cyclones and irresistible hurricanes mowed down forest, wilderness, city and tower, leaving blank desolation in their train; the earth trembled to its foundations, belched forth fire, uprose in giant peaks or sank in deep abysses. The whole face of the land was changed by these indescribable commotions. Some cities were burned, some sank in the depths of the sea; some were entombed in the earth, while mountains covered the place where others had before stood. It is not our intention here to detail the horrors of the three days of mental and physical darkness that followed the hurricane and the earthquake, nor to dilate upon the great and terrible mourning of the people for their kindred slain, their cities destroyed and their treasures lost. The mental horror of those black days was intensified by the fear that they had sinned away their day of grace, as they realized the tens of thousands of the dead had done. Then was heard a voice from heaven, crying, “Wo, wo, wo unto this people, except they shall repent.” That voice was the voice of the Redeemer, and He recounted to them the destructions, the tribulations, the sorrow that had come upon them because of their abominations, but added the pleasing news that they who survived had been spared because they were more righteous than those who had fallen victims to the fury of the storm. He bore record of Himself, of His sufferings and death — that He had given His life as a ransom for the sins of the world — and many words of counsel and instruction He added to His testimony for their future guidance. When the voice ceased, there was silence throughout the land for the space of many hours. Afterwards the voice of the Savior was again heard, repeating to the humbled Nephites how often He would have gathered and spared His people Israel, but they would not. Thus did the three days of terror pass away. At its close the darkness dispersed and the wailing of the people stopped, for their mourning was turned into praise and thankfulness unto the Lord Jesus, their Redeemer.
The horrors of the desolation past was succeeded by the most glorious age in Nephite history. The extreme of misery was followed by a fulness of joy. The crucified Redeemer himself appeared and ministered among the people; with His own voice he explained the beauties and harmonies of salvation's wondrous plan. The simple, heart-reaching truths of the everlasting Gospel He repeated in the same plain and gentle terms in which He had taught His disciples at Jerusalem, and even greater truths did He announce and greater works perform, because of the more abundant faith of the Nephites. He also organized His Church in their midst, and called twelve Disciples, who became His special representatives and the presiding authorities of His Church. These are to sit in the great day of judgment as the judges of the seed of Nephi, and be themselves judged by the Twelve Apostles whom He had called from among the Jews.
First of these Nephite Twelve stood Nephi, who, by virtue of his seniority, his previous position, or his goodness, or, perhaps, all combined, was recognized by the Savior on various occasions as the foremost of his race. Nephi, at this time, was most probably advanced beyond the middle age of man, as he had held the records more than thirty-three years after his father's departure from this earth, and as that event occurred when the elder Nephi was quite aged, and Nephi was his eldest son, it is presumable that, if he were one of those who died when he was seventy-two years old, his day on the earth was not a long one after the departure of his Divine Master.
Though Nephi had himself been baptized, and had in times past baptized many, yet a new dispensation being now opened, Jesus commanded the Twelve whom he had chosen to baptize all the people; He afterwards gave them power and authority to confer the Holy Ghost Nephi was the first who was baptized among all the people; he then baptized the remaining eleven of his Quorum, which, having been done, they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire; indeed they were encircled around with fire which came down from heaven, while holy angels ministered to them the unspeakable things of the kingdom.
After the final departure of the Savior, we are told but little of Nephi's personal life. His son, Nephi, appears to have taken charge of the records almost immediately after these events, while another son, Jonas, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.