Alma Chapter 32
Alma 32 Alma's Lecture to the Zoramites on Faith
Alma 32:21 Alma's lecture on faith: Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.
Alma 32:27-29 Awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words.
This chapter contains a discourse delivered to the Zoramites by the prophet Alma on the principle of faith. The scriptures that contain this oft-discussed principle can sometimes be confusing. This is perhaps because more than one concept in scripture is referred to as faith. Two of these concepts are fundamental and vital. There is even a third concept. Though this third concept is important, it is less commonly referenced than the other two. For a review of these separate concepts of faith, the reader is urged to read and study the following three chapters in volume 1 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine before commencing your study of Alma 32: (1) chapter 9, Revealed Faith, (2) chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, and (3) chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith. The background afforded by these three chapters is essential if one is to fully understand and learn from Alma 32.
There exist a few "givens" necessary to our acquisition of faith. These include: (1) Understand that God wants you to believe on his word and act on his word (verse 22). (2) The candidate must be humble (verse 6), that is, he must suspend judgment and be teachable. (3) God will provide each of us access to spiritual truth regardless of our station in life (verse 23). (4) One cannot know with certainty at first (verse 26).
1 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and began to preach the word of God unto the people, entering into their synagogues, and into their houses; yea, and even they did preach the word in their streets.
verse 1 "began to preach the word of God unto the people" Basic to the process of acquiring and exercising faith is hearing the word of God (the commandments), being impacted by it to some degree, and acting on it (obeying).
2 And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel-
verse 2 "they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel" The poor among the Zoramites were not welcomed in churches of the more afluent Zoramites. Dr. Hugh Nibley, with an evident twinkle in his eye, wrote of the Zoramites:
Now these Zoramites had their virtues as well as their vices, as every society does if it is to survive for a month or more. They were strong-minded, independent people who went off to found their own nation and in so doing showed themselves exceedingly enterprising and industrious. A disciplined people, they turned out the ablest military officers that Moroni ever had to contend with (Alma 43:6; Alma 43:44; Alma 48:5). Enjoying great prosperity, they were strict in their religious observances, giving fulsome [excessive or insincere] thanks to God for his goodness in fervid [enthusiastic or glowing] personal testimonies every week, and preserving an atmosphere of high respectability with unswerving adherence to proper dress standards (Alma 32:2) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 8, 344-45, italics mine).
3 Therefore they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross; therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.
verse 3 "They" refers to the poor Zoramites. "Dross" (Dr-aw-s) is waste matter; refuse; any worthless matter separated from the better part.
4 Now, as Alma was teaching and speaking unto the people upon the hill Onidah, there came a great multitude unto him, who were those of whom we have been speaking, of whom were poor in heart, because of their poverty as to the things of the world.
verses 3-4 "poor in heart" The phrase "poor in spirit" found in Matthew 5:3 appears to mean humble and spiritually full. Nevertheless, the phrase "poor in heart," in this context, means depressed and spiritually impoverished.
5 And they came unto Alma; and the one who was the foremost among them said unto him: Behold, what shall these my brethren do, for they are despised of all men because of their poverty, yea, and more especially by our priests; for they have cast us out of our synagogues which we have labored abundantly to build with our own hands; and they have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?
6 And now when Alma heard this, he turned him about, his face immediately towards him, and he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them and that they were in a preparation to hear the word.
verse 6 "he turned him about" It is difficult to know clearly the referents of these two pronouns. We do know that Alma was speaking with the "one who was the foremost [poor Zoramite] among" the others. It seems likely that as Alma was addressing "the people upon the hill Onidah, the multitude of poor Zoramites approached from a direction different than Alma was facing. Thus, as this spokeman spoke to Alma, they apparently were initially not standing face to face. The "he" seems most likely to refer to Alma. Alma turned himself about to face the spokesman. Alma was able to discern that this spokesman, whose demeanor was representative of that of the poor multitude that had just approached, was truly humble because of the afflictions he had undergone.
Humility is a vital pre-requisite to acquiring faith and, indeed, a pre-requisite to making any spiritual progress. What exactly is humility? As with other eternal principles, humility has a temporal definition as well as an eternal one. In a worldly sense, humility means teachable, coachable, willing to consider alternate ideas, and willing to change. The eternal attribute of humility is all of this and more. It may be acquired only by personal revelation. It is a gift of the Spirit. It is the ability to perceive oneself in an eternal perspective-as a child of God who desires above all else to return to his rightful eternal home. It includes a realization of the critical dangers and pitfalls along the way-a realization that you are utterly lost without a Redeemer and a profound gratitude for the Savior's unspeakable suffering and love. The individual with this richer form of humility is willing to alter his behavior, indeed to repent, in any way necessary to accomplish his goal.
At this early stage, perhaps these poor Zoramites had mostly achieved the worldly variant of humility. How does one progress from humility as the world defines it to its eternal counterpart? By putting the word of God to the test or "experimenting upon the word." No gift of the Spirit comes without diligent striving-without deliberate and diligent obedience. This includes assiduously seeking to learn of Christ and his atoning death though study and through prayer and then a deliberate and unswerving obedience to his commandments.
The opposite of humility is pride. We may define pride as the absence of responsiveness to the Spirit of God and a virtually total captivity by influences of the world. The proud are "natural men" unaffected by the Spirit. They are inevitably caught up in the world's definition of themselves. The worldly influences upon them are all-consuming. Indeed, there appear to be no other pertinent or effective influences, other than worldly ones, active in their lives. They see themselves purely as the world defines them. They also see themselves in competition with all others in pursuit of the world's "limited" prizes. The scarcity mentality dominates their thinking. They desire the things of the world, and they do not want to wait. They want them now. They are willing to compete with their fellow human beings for them. Eternal considerations are not only unimportant but silly, na´ve, and a waste of time. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
7 Therefore he did say no more to the other multitude; but he stretched forth his hand, and cried unto those whom he beheld, who were truly penitent, and said unto them:
verse 7 Alma then turned away from the crowd of more wealthy Zoramites. He perceived them as being beyond spiritual repair. He turned his attentions to the poor and penitent Zoramites.
8 I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye.
9 Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?-for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God.
verse 9 "thy brother" This phrase refers to the spokesman of the multitude of poor Zoramites mentioned in verse 5. He was humble enough to plead for spiritual counsel on behalf of the group.
10 Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only?
verse 10 Alma implies that true worship and seeking after truth is an inward quest and has less to do with outward ritual. Even in the Church today there is some danger of coming to measure our success largely by the accomplishment of goals; by the completion of our assignments and obligations; or by those behaviors that manifest our obedience. The true measure of a man's success in spiritual matters is the feelings, insights, and longings of his heart.
11 Moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?
verse 11 "ye must not worship God only once in a week" Alma is saying, "Do you believe you should only worship God once a week?"
verses 12-16 There is a tendency for success in worldly matters to lead to a damning self-satisfaction. The man with abundant worldly possessions is often content with his worldly success and disinclined to seek for life's higher meaning. He is happy to rest comfortably in his own self-sufficiently. We may say he has become proud (see the definitions of humility and pride in the commentary for verse 6). The apostle Paul wrote: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
Is the poor man who has few material possessions and acquisitions more inclined to seek for eternal meaning in life? Perhaps some are more inclined, almost as if by default-they have failed to find satisfaction in other areas of their lives. Certainly there are many among the poor, however, who come to hunger even more for worldly satisfactions because of their deprivation and poverty. Their humility may be squelched by their resentment of those with more abundant means.
There is an unmistakable implication in these verses that the man who is inclined to seek for eternal meaning regardless of his worldly circumstances is particularly blessed. These choice individuals may be found among the world's poor or among the wealthy or anywhere in between (see verse 25).
12 I say unto you, it is well that ye are cast out of your synagogues, that ye may be humble, and that ye may learn wisdom; for it is necessary that ye should learn wisdom; for it is because that ye are cast out, that ye are despised of your brethren because of your exceeding poverty, that ye are brought to a lowliness of heart; for ye are necessarily brought to be humble.
verse 12 Just what is the "wisdom" these poor Zoramites had learned through being cast out of their synagogues? Wisdom may be defined as a true eternal perspective and priorities that accord with that perspective. To repeat, it is the ability to prioritize, from a true eternal perspective. It is the ability to clearly separate what is important from those things of lesser importance. Obviously this form of wisdom is not the same as the secular form of wisdom. This spiritual wisdom must be earned as incremental gifts of the Spirit by obedience to gospel laws.
These poor Zoramites had likely learned that they are vulnerable and not completely self-sufficient. They, and indeed we all, are utterly dependent, in some ways, upon someone else. After being taught the gospel, they will learn that it is Jesus Christ upon whom they are ultimately dependent for their eventual salvation. Certainly there exists an apostate form of wisdom. What is it? It is most certainly intellectualism. Intellectualism is the vigorous seeking after secular knowledge while disavowing the existence of spiritual knowledge.
13 And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance; and now surely, whosoever repenteth shall find mercy; and he that findeth mercy and endureth to the end the same shall be saved.
verse 13 "sometimes" Alma will teach in this and the following verse that only some of those who are compelled to be humble will seek repentance. Most blessed is he who recognizes-independent of his circumstances-the necessity of repentance after being taught the gospel.
"whosoever repenteth shall find mercy" Here is a reminder that the mercy of God is not extended unconditionally to the unrepentant.
14 And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?
15 Yea, he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed-yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble because of their exceeding poverty.
verses 14-15 To reiterate: there is potential virtue in poverty, as it sometimes leads to spiritual responsiveness. A higher form of responsiveness or humility is independent of one's socioeconomic status. It is to hear the word of God and be so moved by the word itself that one is humbled to the point of obedience.
16 Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
verse 16 "blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble" Can a person really be forced or compelled to be humble or to submit to God's will? God would never, nor could he ever, force a person against his will. This phrase, by implication, cautions the individual who will only submit to God's will after repeated reminders of his need for help in obtaining relief of afflictions, adversities, and deprivations. It is more desirable to act rather than be acted upon-to be proactive-in one's obedience to gospel law than to be compelled by circumstances.
How would you define "stubbornness of heart"? It is an inability or an unwillingness to respond to the promptings of the Spirit. Some level of responsiveness to the Spirit's promptings is universally available-potentially at least-to all in the form of the spirit or light of Christ (Moroni 7:16, D&C 93:2). For a more thorough discussion of this concept, see "The Spirit or Light of Christ" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 5, The Holy Ghost.
There are certainly gradations or degrees of "stubbornness." Consider, in this context, the resurrected Savior's counsel to the Nephites gathered at the temple in Bountiful: "Blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am" (3 Nephi 12:1-2). It would seem that some individuals have the gift to believe, while others need evidence, clues, and inducements to believe because they are by nature stubborn in their skepticism. Evidence, logic, and some spiritual intuition all have a role in the testimonies of each and every one of us.
17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.
verse 17 Rodney Turner wrote: "The sign-seekers, the God-tempters presume to put the Almighty on trial by challenging him to prove his own existence. . . . In their pride, the Korihors of this world set up the preconditions under which they may condescend to believe. But it is all a sham; their insistence on signs is not meant to foster faith but to justify doubt" (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 21).
Sign seekers are the prototypical "natural men." A good example of sign seekers is found in the New Testament Jews and Greeks. Paul wrote: "For the Jews require a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Adam Clarke explained:
There never was a people in the universe more difficult to be persuaded of the truth than the Jews: and had not their religion been incontestably proved by the most striking and indubitable miracles, they never would have received it. This slowness of heart to believe, added to their fear of being deceived, induced them to require miracles to attest to every thing that professed to come from God. They were a wicked and adulterous generation, continually seeking signs, and never saying, "It is enough." They looked for a Messiah who came in the person of a conquering military hero, and they did not respond to the lowly Jesus of Nazareth. The Greeks also, "could not believe that proclaiming supreme happiness through a man that was crucified at Judea as a malefactor could ever comport with reason and common sense; for both the matter and manner of the preaching were opposite to every notion they had formed of what was dignified and philosophic. . . . Thus Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness (Clarke's New Testament Commentary, 2:195).
18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.
verse 18 "he hath no cause to believe" The type of belief here is that type of belief that is not available to physical confirmation.
Alma teaches that experiencing a phenomenon with one's physical senses causes the individual to "know" or have a secular or physical knowledge of that phenomenon. This type of knowledge eliminates the need for unsubstantiated belief. If one acts according to a phenomenon that has been confirmed by physical senses, then there is no faith involved. If a man sees a rake in his driveway, he will step over it to avoid tripping and falling. His stepping over the rake involves to faith-he does not exercise his faith.
19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?
verse 19 Now Alma shifts gears and speaks of knowing and believing spiritual truths. He distinguishes between "knowing" and "believing" spiritual truths. Belief, as mentioned here, fits into the category of so called "whispered testimonies." These are those subtle inclinations to believe resulting from the spirit of Christ. They are testimonies-spoken or written-by the Lord's servants, or the non-verbal testimonies resulting from observing God's handiwork. These are universally available prompters for all to obey.
Alma implies here that it is possible to "know"-not just believe-spiritual truths such as the will of God. And indeed it is. If one acts on this type of belief-that is, if one repeatedly obeys a principle of which he is no physical proof but only a spiritual whispering, then that principle will begin to be revealed to him, and he will then-incrementally over time-begin to "know" the spiritual truth. The initial obedient action based on this type of belief is, by definition, manifesting one's faith. We may call this type of faith "deliberate faith." The spiritual "knowledge" that results is yet another type of faith we may refer to as "revealed faith."
Here, Alma is making the point that he who knows God's will (he has had the principle revealed to him by virtue of his having exercise his deliberate faith) is under greater condemnation if he fails to obey than he who only in the stage of unsubstantiated "belief" See "Belief or Hope" in volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine). To reiterate, the individual who "knows" a spiritual truth has had that truth revealed to his soul as a consequence of his deliberate obedience to the word of God.
20 Now of this thing ye must judge. Behold, I say unto you, that it is on the one hand even as it is on the other; and it shall be unto every man according to his work.
verse 20 "it is on the one hand even as it is on the other" We might interpret this phrase as follows: With the Lord, all things are done in perfect fairness. Each man is judged based on what level of spiritual knowledge he possesses. The man's behaviors or "works" will inevitably be determined by what he truly knows in his heart. He will be judged according to who he truly is-by the "desires of his heart" (Alma 29:4).
21 And now as I said concerning faith-faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
verse 21 We must keep in mind that faith is an action word. It is the deliberate doing-the deliberate obeying-when all we have is a spiritual inkling, an unsubstantiated belief and hope that we're doing the right thing. This verse outlines the basic conditions in which a person may manifest faith. They have an imperfect knowledge (an unsubstantiated belief) in that they believe in and hope for things that they have not seen. But that imperfect knowledge and hope is not by itself faith. It is the precursor to faith. It creates the setting in which deliberate faith will begin to produce revealed faith.
The reader will note that this verse is incomplete, in that it does not mention the actual manifestation of faith, the deliberate obeying of the pertinent spiritual truth or principle. This is the basic form of faith, the "deliberate faith." Again, see the three chapters referenced above that discuss the concept of faith. This type of faith is deliberately obeying when the individual is motivated only by an imperfect and subtle knowledge and subtle hope he is doing the right thing. This deliberate obedience is the very power that enables the process of spiritual growth to occur. The individual who is able to manifest this faith, that is, deliberately obey the commandments, may or may not possess much of a belief, expectation, or hope that his actions will lead to a spiritual conviction. He may have only a faint desire to believe, a faint hope that the word of God he has heard is true. The essence of this fundamental form of faith is his deliberate obedience. It is his action. Hence, this type of faith is, indeed, an action word.
The individual's subtle inclination and expectations are referred to here as his "belief" or his "hope." This should not be confused with the spiritual gift of hope. This latter "hope" is a gift received by those who have already exercised their deliberate faith and have begun to receive revealed faith in the form of the spiritual gift of reassurance that they are on the path toward their celestial salvation.
The expectation-the "belief" or "hope"-spoken of in this verse might even contain an element of honest doubt since it is not a sure knowledge. This doubt does not negate the beneficial and motivating force of this hope. Truman Madsen once reported a statement by Hugh B. Brown: "No one has ever had an authentic assurance unless he has served an apprenticeship in doubt" (Interview with Jerry Johnston, Deseret News, November 1989).
Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote: "Faith, to be faith, must go beyond that for which there is confirming evidence. Faith, to be faith, must go into the unknown. Faith, to be faith, must walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness" (Faith, 40-44). The actual faith is the deliberate walking into the darkness.
This verse is also a reminder that exercising deliberate faith is only an exercise of true faith if it based on "belief" or "hope" in things "which are true." Acting according to a belief in false concepts is hardly true faith.
Now we are ready to truly understand this verse.
"faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things" The setting in which deliberate faith (deliberate obedience) may be productively manifest is when you have an inkling or subtle belief in a true principle but not a perfect knowledge of that principle. This subtle and imperfect knowledge of things is not, by itself faith. Rather, it is the setting in which deliberate obedience-deliberate faith-may be productively manifest.
"if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true" If you are manifesting deliberate faith (deliberate obedience), then you have a subtle belief or hope in true principles you do not know for certain. Again, the deliberate faith is not the subtle hope for things which are not seen. The deliberate faith is the action of deliberate obedience.
22 And now, behold, I say unto you, and I would that ye should remember, that God is merciful unto all who believe on his name; therefore he desireth, in the first place, that ye should believe, yea, even on his word.
verse 22 "God is merciful unto all who believe on his name" The Lord wants you home. The only way you can return home is to act on your whispered testimonies-your subtle beliefs and hopes-and exercise deliberate faith by deliberately obeying the Lord's commands. Then he will deal mercifully with you and reveal to you gifts of the Spirit over and above those you actually deserve. These gifts of the Spirit become your revealed faith and produce fundamental changes in your heart, your priorities, and your inclination to obey in the future.
23 And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times which confound the wise and the learned.
verse 23 The word of God-the "rules and regulations" for spiritual growth and returning to your celestial home-are available to all of God's children young and old, male and female.
24 And now, my beloved brethren, as ye have desired to know of me what ye shall do because ye are afflicted and cast out-now I do not desire that ye should suppose that I mean to judge you only according to that which is true-
verse 24 "I do not desire that ye should suppose that I mean to judge you only according to that which is true" Alma seems to say, "Please understand that I am not passing judgment on you because of your obvious situations of poverty (their living in poverty is "that which is true"). I am not impugning the value of your inclinations toward repentance because you are poor."
25 For I do not mean that ye all of you have been compelled to humble yourselves; for I verily believe that there are some among you who would humble themselves, let them be in whatsoever circumstances they might.
verse 25 Alma says, "I know some of you would be humble and teachable regardless of your economic circumstances-even if you were people of means."
26 Now, as I said concerning faith-that it was not a perfect knowledge-even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
verse 26 "[faith] was not a perfect knowledge" The Lord reminds us that our initial inclinations to obey are subtle-not perfect knowledge. This statement may refer to more that just our initial inclinations or beliefs that result in our obedience. It may also refer to the very earliest stages of developing revealed faith. At that stage, our revealed faith is not "perfect knowledge." And while we are here on earth, our revealed faith may well result in a strong testimony or powerfully-felt knowledge, but the nature of mortality is that it won't become "perfect knowledge." That will not come until we kneel at the feet of Christ and see him in his full majesty.
"even so it is with my words" Initially our impressions of the words of God-written or spoken-are subtle and do not immediately create a compelling need to obey.
"Ye cannot know of their surety at first" The Lord urges us to have patience. Initially, we act on subtle impressions. It is often painful and difficult to muster the discipline to do so-to obey. Incrementally and eventually, the gifts of the Spirit consequent to our deliberate obedience begin to have a cumulative and positive effect. The sum total of these accumulated gifts of the spirit comprise our "revealed faith." Our revealed faith produces in us a greater facility and inclination to obey. We become more strongly inclined to obey. It becomes less difficult. We become "new creatures." There is no shortcut to acquiring this revealed faith. We must be patient and settle for gradual, "line upon line," incremental growth.
We will learn in the next verse that the process deliberately obeying when you are motivated by a subtle and imperfect spiritual knowledge is referred to as "experimenting upon the words of Christ."
verses 27-34 Alma will now introduce the metaphor of planting and nourishing a seed. In this metaphor, the seed is initially is the word of God-the subtle inkling or belief that it is true. In particular the seed is the testimony of Christ recorded by every prophet of God since the world began. An individual must first decide whether or not he desires to believe in the word of God. If he decides in the affirmative, then according to Alma's metaphor, he has planted the word in his heart and the scene is set for the manifestation of deliberate faith. As he experiments upon the word or puts the word to the test-exercises his deliberate faith by deliberately obeying the Savior's commands-he is said to be nourishing the seed. The seed then blossoms or flourishes and becomes revealed faith-a sequential and incremental accumulation of gifts of the Spirit.
27 But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
verse 27 "experiment upon my words" Here is the grand key for the acquisition of revealed faith-indeed, for all spiritual progress. It is a fail-safe technique. It is to deliberately obey-to exercise deliberate faith-in the Lord's words.
If one should "try-out" or "test" a principle that is not true, there will be no spiritual confirmation. The Spirit will provide no witness or conviction. No revealed faith will be granted as a gift of the Spirit. Progress will occur and spiritual gifts will be given only when we "experiment upon"-act upon or obey-principles of truth.
The Savior declared, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). This means that when you deliberately obey, one of the gifts of the Spirit that results from your obedience is a testimony that the principle you're obeying is true and is of God.
"no more than a desire to believe" This is the very beginning of faith, the very first step. As one studies the words of Christ, a perfectly neutral attitude or a negative one will not likely lead to the exercise of faith. One must have a positive desire to believe based on a subtle inkling or subtle belief that it is true. While an element of doubt may always exist since one cannot see with one's senses, it is vital to make a conscious effort to suspend disbelief.
28 Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves-It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
verse 28 As an individual experiments upon the word by deliberately obeying (manifesting his deliberate faith) and finds spiritual satisfaction and fulfillment in his experimentation, according to the metaphor of the seed, the seed begins "to swell" within that individuals breast; it "enlarges" that individual's soul. He is fulfilled by the revelation to his soul of gifts of the Spirit. His obedience therefore "enlightens" his spiritual understanding. It is thus "delicious" to him. His faith or confidence in the word is thus enhanced.
Joseph Smith certainly found principles of eternal truth to be sweet and delicious. He once said: "This is good doctrine. It tastes good. I can taste the principles of eternal life, and so can you. They are given to me by the revelations of Jesus Christ; and I know that when I tell you these words of eternal life as they are given to me, you taste them, and I know that you believe them. You say honey is sweet, and so do I. I can also taste the spirit of eternal life. I know it is good; and when I tell you of these things which were given me by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you are bound to receive them as sweet, and rejoice more and more" (TPJS, 355).
29 Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
verse 29 Keep in mind that obey the words of the Lord will result in gifts of the Spirit-spiritual growth. The sum total of this spiritual growth is a man's revealed faith. In this verse, the Lord speaks of this revealed faith. Here he teaches that it is unlikely the spiritual understandings of any mortal will "grow up" to perfect knowledge here on earth. The Lord reminds us of the necessity of continuing to strive without a perfect knowledge until we complete this "second estate."
30 But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow.
verse 30 "will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow" One note of some interest is these words were omitted from this verse in all of the early editions of the Book of Mormon, beginning with the 1830 edition, and were not restored until the 1981 edition. They are, however, found in the original manuscript and in the printer's manuscript. At some point in the copying process, most likely the type setter set the words "And now behold," and when he looked down, his eye went to the next occurrence of "And now, behold" in the following verse. Thus these words were omitted. See also the interesting discussion of the misplacement of Alma 13:16 which probably occurred while Alma 13 was being abridged by the prophet Mormon.
As we deliberately strive to obey, the fruits of this deliberate faith-the profound blessings and changes it produces in us-will become evident. The faith that will be strengthened here is revealed faith.
31 And now, behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.
verse 31 "every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness" The true word of God is a "good seed." Obedience to that word results in a man's becoming more like the God who uttered the word.
32 Therefore, if a seed groweth it is good, but if it groweth not, behold it is not good, therefore it is cast away.
verse 32 If one "experiments upon" principles that are not true, then no spiritual confirmation will come. No gift of faith-revealed faith-will result. No spiritual growth will occur.
33 And now, behold, because ye have tried the experiment, and planted the seed, and it swelleth and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, ye must needs know that the seed is good.
verse 33 "it swelleth and sprouteth" Alma's point here, which is made more fully in the next verse, is that once the seed sprouts, one can see it with "one's eyes." Speaking more literally, when spiritual growth occurs you will sense it powerfully with, as it were, your physical senses. Though we may speak of this as "perfect knowledge," it is not a "black or white" process. It is an ongoing and continuing process to approach the point of "perfect faith." As we approach perfect faith, however, it is clear that the word of God will be regarded, more and more, as a settled truth. There will be less and less trouble accommodating it in our behavior. It is exciting to contemplate that our progress along the road to perfect faith is marked by incremental acquisitions of nearly perfect knowledge.
34 And now, behold, is your knowledge perfect? Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because ye know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls, and ye also know that it hath sprouted up, that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.
verse 34 Our faith in the Savior can eventually grow until it is "perfect" knowledge at which time it ceases to be faith. Might this occur even while we are yet in mortality? Might our need for deliberate obedience-for deliberate faith become dormant? It is unlikely that our faith in spiritual things will ever become "perfect" and thus "dormant" while we are yet in mortality.
35 O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good; and now behold, after ye have tasted this light is your knowledge perfect?
verse 35 "is not this real" As we progress in our faith, our spiritual progress-the light we radiate to the universe-will become very "real" and discernible to each of us. For a discussion of this spiritual light, see The Concept of Light in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 15.
36 Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.
verse 36 "neither must ye lay aside your faith" Here Alma seems to say, "Please know that you should never stop exercising your deliberate faith. You must maintain a continued commitment to 'experimenting upon the words' of Christ."
37 And behold, as the tree beginneth to grow, ye will say: Let us nourish it with great care, that it may get root, that it may grow up, and bring forth fruit unto us. And now behold, if ye nourish it with much care it will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit.
verse 37 The seed that was planted eventually sprouts to become a tree. Some eternal principles will eventually become so real to us that our knowledge may be said to be perfect in those principles. Then we will no longer have to exercise "deliberate faith" in those principles. Indeed, it is not possible for us to exercise faith in them since our knowledge is perfect. However, the acquisition of "revealed faith" is an ongoing and continual process. We must never stop striving to gain more of this type of faith. Revealed faith is simply the sum total of the gifts of the spirit, the attributes of Christ, that we have earned through our obedience. We must continually nourish the tree with much care, that is, continue to diligently obey the commandments. Then the tree "will get root, and grow up, and bring forth fruit." That fruit is a powerful faith-revealed faith-in the Lord Jesus Christ, even faith unto salvation.
38 But if ye neglect the tree, and take no thought for its nourishment, behold it will not get any root; and when the heat of the sun cometh and scorcheth it, because it hath no root it withers away, and ye pluck it up and cast it out.
verse 38 A modicum of "revealed faith," even when obtained based upon the exercise of sound principles, may be lost if it is not continually nourished. Please remember there are no plateaus in spiritual growth. If you are not progressing, then you are digressing.
39 Now, this is not because the seed was not good, neither is it because the fruit thereof would not be desirable; but it is because your ground is barren, and ye will not nourish the tree, therefore ye cannot have the fruit thereof.
verse 39 "your ground is barren" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines barren as, "Not producing plants; unfruitful; sterile; not fertile; or producing little; unproductive." Here, the phrase "your ground is barren" means that you have stopped striving to obey, you have failed to continue "experimenting upon the words of Christ." You have stopped nurturing your revealed faith. What you have left of revealed faith-accumulated gifts of the Spirit-will surely melt quickly away.
40 And thus, if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.
verse 40 "An eye of faith" is a proper attitude, it is the eye of the heart. Surely one day we will all be blessed to see with our eyes what we now only see with our hearts.
"ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life" This statement means you will never inherit celestial glory.
41 But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.
42 And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.
verse 42 "because of your diligence and your faith and your patience" The process of obtaining faith unto exaltation will not be an easy one. We will all be tested in our decision to obey the Lord's commands. Moroni has warned us that we will "receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:6, italics mine).
The fruit that is "sweet above all that is sweet" and "white above all that is white" and pure above all that is pure" is the promise of exaltation in the presence of our Savior.
"by and by" Today we would interpret this phrase as meaning "before long" or "eventually." It is interesting that Webster's 1828 Dictionary of the English Language defines the phrase as "in a short time," "presently," or "soon."
43 Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.