Perhaps the most striking part of the Book of Mormon covered in lesson 18 is the martyrdom of Abinadi. Like many martyrs who have suffered since his time, Abinadi testified of what he knew to be true only to find his testimony rejected and his life taken for it. He sealed his testimony with his life.
In many ways the idea of sealing a testimony in blood is intriguing. It is not, of course, a purely Mormon concept, for it was a frequently discussed concept in the 1800s, usually when discussing the death of Stephen and the other apostles (it is not often used to refer to the Savior). For some reason, the concept seems to have declined in popularity since 1900. Even in Mormonism, the concept of sealing a testimony has declined in general conference talks.
While the lesson focuses on other subject, the idea of martyrdom is one that Mormonism is very familiar with. While I haven’t found any poems that talk about Abinadi’s martyrdom, there are many that speak of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. I’ve included one of these below:
O give me back my Prophet dear
by John Taylor
- O give me back my Prophet dear,
- And Patriarch, O give them back;
- The Saints of latter days to cheer,
- And lead them in the gospel track.
- But ah! they’re gone from my embrace,
- From earthly scenes their spirits fled;
- Those two, the best of Adam’s race,
- Now lie entombed among the dead.
- Ye men of wisdom tell me why,
- When guilt nor crime in them were found,
- Why now their blood doth loudly cry,
- From prison walls, and Carthage ground
- Your tongues are mute, but pray attend,
- The secret I will now relate,
- Why those whom God to earth did lend,
- Have met the suffering martyr’s fate.
- It is because they strove to gain,
- Beyond the grave a heaven of bliss;
- Because they made the gospel plain,
- And led the Saints in righteousness.
- It is because God called them forth,
- And led them by his own right hand
- Christ’s coming to proclaim on earth,
- And gather Israel to their land.
- It is because the priests of Baal
- Were desperate their craft to save;
- And when they saw it doomed to fail,
- They sent the Prophets to the grave.
- Like scenes the ancient Prophets saw,
- Like these, the ancient Prophets fell;
- And till the resurrection dawn,
- Prophet and Patriarch—Fare thee well.
Times and Seasons, 1 August 1845
There are some similarities between what Taylor describes here and Abinadi’s situation—the ‘priests of Baal’ aren’t very different from King Noah’s priests and Joseph Smith’s motivation is similar to Abinadi’s—but the connection isn’t very strong. Still the concept of martyrdom is here.
Taylor meant for this poem to be sung as a hymn, specifying in the Times and Seasons that it be sung to the tune “Indian Student’s Lament,” a popular song of the time with the same meter and number of lines per verse. But there are a number of phrases in the poem that are quite un-hymn-like, starting with the very conversational line “But ah! they’re gone from my embrace” and the introduction of a question in one stanza that is only answered in the next (I guess you can’t really stop singing after the second verse, which ends “The secret I will now relate, / Why those whom God to earth did lend, / Have met the suffering martyr’s fate”).
Despite these problems, O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear was put in the LDS hymnal and remained there until it was dropped with the current hymnal in 1985.
 I searched the General Conference Corpus for all forms of the word “seal’ within 4 words of the word “testimony.” 150 of the 228 hits occurred in the 1st half of the period covered by the corpus (1850-2010). The last 40 years of conference talks mention these terms just 23 times.
Some of you might enjoy the arrangement by Rob Gardner (I was in the tenor section):
MC, are the lyrics the same?
Yes, but he only uses the first two verses. It’s the first song in the program, so “the secret I will now relate” really refers to the rest of the program. Also, he seems to use “O” rather than “Ah”.
So the rest of the program then talked about the martyrdom?
It spans the entire life of Joseph Smith.
MC, what a beautiful arrangement Rob Gardner wrote. I clicked on the link to order the CD/DVD/music, but it seems to no longer be available. Too bad. I’d like to have heard the rest of it. I heard his “Lamb of God” in American Fork on Easter weekend and enjoyed that as well.