It is an attribute of Christ-centered living to follow the promptings of the Spirit with full faith in the Lord’s divine will and wisdom, just as Mormon does in compiling his record. When Mormon, the principal compiler and abridger of the sacred records, discovers the smaller plates of Nephi among the engraved annals of his people, he feels inspired to include these remarkable spiritual testimonies with his abridgment “for a wise purpose” (Words of Mormon 1:7). He is pleased with the character of the added records—which cover the same time period as the larger plates of Nephi—“because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ” (verse 4) contained therein. Mormon’s successor, his son Moroni, carries this same theme into his summary overview of the purposes of the completed work: “And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations” (from the Title Page to the Book of Mormon).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland argues convincingly that the “wise purpose” behind the inspired action of preserving and including the smaller plates of Nephi in the final compilation of the Book of Mormon—beyond resolving the problem of the lost 116 pages of the initial translation—was to memorialize and emphasize the testimony of three key witnesses to the truth of the gospel: Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah.
In keeping with this same covenantal principle, it is interesting to note that there were three earlier witnesses—special witnesses—not only of the divine origins of the Book of Mormon but also of Divinity himself. These early witnesses were Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah, and it is not by coincidence that their testimonies appear so conspicuously at the beginning of this ancient record.
Their opening testimonies come in the Book of Mormon from what we know as the small plates of Nephi. At least six times in the Book of Mormon, the phrase for a wise purpose is used in reference to the making, writing, and preserving of the small plates. One such wise purpose—the most obvious one—was to compensate for the future loss of 116 pages of manuscript translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith from the first part of Mormon’s abridgment of the large plates of Nephi.
But there is another “wise purpose” for the inclusion of these smaller plates in the highly edited material that would constitute the Book of Mormon. In Doctrine and Covenants 10:45 the Lord declared to Joseph Smith, “Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel.”
All the details and information contained in those first 116 pages of manuscript are not yet known. What is known is that most of the “greater views” of the gospel found in the teachings of the small plates of Nephi come from the personal declarations of these three great prophetic witnesses of the premortal Jesus Christ—Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah. These three doctrinal and visionary voices make clear at the very outset of the Book of Mormon why it is “another testament of Jesus Christ.”
In declaring the special preparation these three had for receiving and teaching such “greater views” of the gospel, Nephi revealed the most persuasive qualification of all: They had seen the premortal Jesus Christ … [2 Nephi 11:2–4.].
One could argue convincingly that the primary purpose for recording, preserving, and then translating the small plates of Nephi was to bring forth to the dispensation of the fulness of times the testimony of these three witnesses. Their writings constitute a full 135 of the 145 pages from the small plates. By the time one has read Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah in these first pages, a strong foundation has been laid for what Nephi called “the doctrine of Christ.” [2 Nephi 31:21.] It is a foundation conforming perfectly to the title page of the Book of Mormon. After reading these three witnesses from the small plates of Nephi, the reader knows two things in bold relief: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that God will keep his covenants and promises with the remnants of the house of Israel. Those two themes constitute the two principal purposes of the Book of Mormon, and they are precisely the introductory themes addressed by Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah.
Obviously it would be exciting if someone were one day to find the lost 116 pages of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon. But whatever those pages contain, it could not be more important or more fundamental to the purpose of the Book of Mormon than the teachings of these three prophets recorded on the small plates. Standing like sentinels at the gate of the book, Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah admit us into the scriptural presence of the Lord. (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997], 34–36)
The Lord knows all things. Mormon follows the Lord’s promptings obediently (see Words of Mormon 1:7). When we trust in the Lord in faith and obey His counsel, we—and everyone we serve—will be blessed.