BILATERAL AGREEMENT IN MORONI
The definitions of bilateral and unilateral contracts are as follows:
A bilateral contract is a promise made by one party in exchange for the promise and performance of some act by the other party. In a bilateral contract both parties are bound by their exchange of promises.
A unilateral contract is formed by the promise of one party as consideration for anyone who accepts the terms. The party to a unilateral contract whose performance is sought is not obligated to act, but if he or she does, the party that made the promise is bound to comply with the terms of the agreement.
In short, in a bilateral agreement both parties agree to and are bound by promises to each other. In a unilateral agreement only one party agrees to and is bound to do something for anybody who complies with the terms of the proposition.
The remarkable promise in the Book of Mormon found in Moroni 10:4-5 states that the reader can come to know that it is truly the word of God by manifestation from God:
“4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Many missionaries and members believe that God promises and agrees in Moroni 10:4-5 that anyone who both reads the Book of Mormon and also prays about it will receive an answer to their prayer in the form of at least a spiritual feeling or confirmation that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Missionaries often make this promise as they invite people to find out for themselves.
Such a promise mistakenly presents Moroni 10:4-5 is a unilateral agreement as described above. That is, God agrees to and is bound to answer a prayer for anyone who prays and asks if it is true. Although, people are not obligated to read and pray, those who do are entitled to God’s unilateral agreement that He will give an answer. We have all met people who have read and prayed about the Book of Mormon but claim they have not received an answer to their prayers to confirm its truthfulness. We frequently then explain that they probably have received an answer through the still small voice and that they are possibly looking for too much.
The truth of the matter is, Moroni 10:4-5 is a bilateral agreement. God promises to manifest the truth to the reader. The reader promises to ask with a sincere heart and real intent. Thus both parties agree to and are bound by promises to each other. The question then is what are the promises the reader makes? To ask with a sincere heart and real intent includes that the person has to be willing to commitment to change his life if he receives his answer and finds it is true. He must be willing to act upon the answer he receives. He must say, “I agree and am committed that if you answer my prayer and this is true, then I will change my life to bring it in alignment with your will and what I read in the book. This is what is meant by a sincere heart and real intent.
Elder James B. Martino of the Seventy said it best when he told his experience of conversion through the Book of Mormon as follows:
“… I began reading the Book of Mormon with a sincere heart. And I told myself, ‘If I find out its true, then yes, I’ll join the Church. I’ve got to; I’ve got to follow what I know is true.’ As I continued to study the Book of Mormon, I knew that my mind was being enlightened … I even began to have that swelling of the breast that Alma talks about. I knew it was true; and so, as promised, I was baptized.
Moroni tells us that ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things’ (Moroni 10:5). But he does not promise that you’ll know something is true just because you’re curious. You have to have a sincere heart and real intent. You have to be willing to make a commitment to change once you receive your answer. Revelation is a gift from God, and it’s not to be taken lightly. When we receive revelation, we also receive a responsibility to do something with that revelation.
I believe that Heavenly Father, in a merciful way, does not give us revelation when we’re just curious and not willing to act upon it, because then we’d be held accountable if we failed to make the change. In His own way, as a loving Father, He’s given us the opportunity to find out for ourselves if these things are true, but we have to be willing to say, like Lamoni’s father, the king of the Lamanites, ‘I will give up all that I possess” to know that these things are true.’” (Alma 22:15).
Also, technically Moroni 10:4-5 actually states a person is to ask if “these things are not true.” This brings the possibility that people can, from the start, merely accept that the Book of Mormon is true and remain faithful to that belief until they receive an answer to their prayers revealing that it is not true. In the meantime their testimony grows as the Lord continues manifesting the truth of the Book.
I do not think the Lord is so structured that a testimony of the Book of Mormon can be attained by only one strict narrow procedure. I have witnessed and have heard many testimonies that the reading and answer to pray has come in many ways. I frankly consider it a success whenever anyone reads and prays about it. But, nonetheless, this is interesting doctrine to know and may be valuable as you fulfill you purpose, “…by helping them receive the restored gospel.”