Angels do not present themselves to men unless there is need. It is not their task to gratify our curiosity. We have no scriptural accounts of angels undertaking any service for man that man could have done without the assistance of the angel. With the plentiful precedents presented for examination in the scriptures, I propose that this is a principle by which angels operate.
Joseph Fielding Smith once said: “It is contrary to the law of God for the heavens to be opened and messengers to come to do anything for man that man can do for himself” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:196).
Angels do what is vital, and they do not do what man could do without them. When Moroni came to Joseph Smith, he told him of the records which were in the Hill Cumorah and that he was going to give Joseph charge concerning them. Joseph was tutored by Moroni for four years; afterwhich he then received the records and was expected to translate. Why didn’t Moroni translate the Book of Mormon? He knew the language, and it would have been easy to do, while Joseph didn’t know the language. It was a trying assignment, but not impossible. Joseph could translate by the gift and power of God, which is in agreement with all of the examples of how angels operate. Angels do not do for us what we can do for ourselves. Joseph Smith followed the scriptural pattern.
A classic example of this from the Bible would be the instance of Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius was a sincere man who sought the Lord, when an angel appeared to him. The angel did not say, “Cornelius, the gospel has been restored, and since you are a well-behaved man and you believe, I will take you out and baptize you.” He informed Cornelius where he could go and be instructed and have the saving ordinance of baptism performed. Then the angel went to Peter and guided him so he would know what to do when Cornelius arrived. After sending Cornelius to Peter, the angel made sure that Peter would correctly attend to the baptism. The angel did only that which was essential (see Acts 10).
When the Savior appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and prevented him from persecuting the Saints, what did he do? He sent Saul to find the righteous Ananias, a mortal legal administrator who could tell Saul what he should do. Then he sent Ananias a vision and told Ananias he had a mission for Saul. He told Ananias to find Saul and do what was required for him to have salvation (see Acts 9:1-18; 22:6-16). This is the way the Lord works. It is the order of the heavens.
To have an accurate understanding of how angels work, it is important that we know what they will not do, even as it is necessary to know what they have done and will do.
The heavenly messengers do only what we cannot do for ourselves. “The only reason that Jesus Christ became the Redeemer of the world, and came here to atone for the transgressions of man, was that we could not redeem ourselves. It required an infinite atonement, as the Book of Mormon says. He came to do what no one else could do” (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:196; see also 2 Nephi 9:7).