Alma Chapter 34
Alma 34 Amulek discourses on the infinite atonement of Christ.
Alma 34:8-10 It is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
Alma 34:11-12 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another.
Alma 34:14-17 Amulek's teachings on mercy "which overpowereth justice." Mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety.
Alma 34:18-27 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks . . . in your houses . . . over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies . . . against the devil . . . over the crops of your fields . . . over the flocks of your fields . . . pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
Alma 34:32-34 Amulek to the Zoramites: This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. I beseech of you that you do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end.
The major doctrinal theme of Amulek's discourse to the Zoramites in chapter 34 is the infinite atonement of Christ. We have previously discussed the dual nature of the fall. The two essential root causes of the fall include:
1. Adam and Eve's transgression (the fall of Adam and Eve). This resulted in two major consequences:
a. man's being subject to physical death. This physical death is only a temporary penalty since all mortals will be automatically resurrected as a consequence of the Savior's atonement.
b. man's being cast out of God's presence-spiritual death. This spiritual death is called the "first death" and is also temporary since all mortals will return to the presence of God (at least long enough to be judged) because of the Savior's atonement.
Hence we learn that the Lord's atonement automatically and without any effort or virtue on the part of man completely eliminated the consequences of Adam's transgression.
2. The sins of each individual (the fall of you). These sins result in the individual's being unworthy to re-enter God's presence. This spiritual death is called the "second death," as it is permanent unless something is done about the individual's sins-unless they are forgiven. In addition to automatically removing the consequences of Adam's transgression, the atonement also made it possible for each individual to be absolved of his own sins and therefore become worthy of the celestial kingdom based on his repentance and obedience.
What if there had been no atonement made? It is clear that mankind would have remained in a lost and fallen state (2 Nephi 9:6-9; Alma 12:22). Once we had suffered physical death, we would have remained spirits and would not have been resurrected. Also, we would all have become vulnerable eternally to Satan's influences. In that state-being a spirit without hope of resurrection and having no opportunity to grow spiritually-we would eventually fit into the label of "sons of perdition." Each of us is desperately dependent upon Christ's atonement.
One might wonder about the justice of our suffering, even temporarily here on earth, for Adam's transgression. We do have to live out of the presence of God during our mortal span of years, and then each of us suffers the pains of a mortal death. Is it fair that one man should suffer for another's indiscretion? We know that God is perfectly just, and one man is never held accountable for another's actions. Adam's fall was likely foreordained and it is possible that we who came to earth willingly covenanted to accept the fall's temporary negative consequences (physical and first spiritual death) as a condition of having the opportunity of having this vital mortal experience and earning the ultimate reward-that of eternal life.
1 And now it came to pass that after Alma had spoken these words unto them he sat down upon the ground, and Amulek arose and began to teach them, saying:
2 My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, I know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us.
verse 2 At the very root of the Zoramites' apostasy lay the loss of their testimony of Christ. According to their faulty doctrine, God had already elected them to be saved while others around them were elected to be cast down to hell (Alma 31:16-17). Thus, as they reasoned, no Redeemer was necessary. They viewed God as an absolutely omnipotent being operating by his arbitrary whim alone and unrestricted by any laws. We know that God does not operate as an absolute Monarch. He works in harmony with laws to which even he is beholden (D&C 88:36-38). Thus, he cannot lie (Ether 3:12). He cannot "look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16). He cannot forgive sins without repentance (Alma 11:37; Alma 42:24). If he were to do any of these things-that is, violate his own eternal law-he would cease to be God (Alma 42:13; Alma 42:22; Alma 42:25).
3 And as ye have desired of my beloved brother that he should make known unto you what ye should do, because of your afflictions; and he hath spoken somewhat unto you to prepare your minds; yea, and he hath exhorted you unto faith and to patience-
verse 3 "he hath exhorted you unto faith and to patience" Alma's exhortation to faith is found in Alma 32. In man's quest for faith, it is inevitably necessary for each to learn patience. We must each learn to wait upon the Lord and trust in him. He knows the end from the beginning, and he also knows each of us. If we are faithful and patient, he will ultimately do with us as he wills. What greater blessing could there be than this?
4 Yea, even that ye would have so much faith as even to plant the word in your hearts, that ye may try the experiment of its goodness.
verse 4 "plant the word in your hearts, that ye may try the experiment of its goodness" These Zoramites desperately needed to answer for themselves the critical question asked in verse 5: Does the truth abide with the Son of God or not? The only way possible to answer this question is to "experiment" upon the words of Christ. This includes the following specific steps:
1. Develop a sincere desire to know the truth (plant the seed in your heart).
2. Study the word of God including the scriptures and the writings of the prophets (nourish the seed).
3. Accept his word or his gospel exercising a modicum of belief or faith, and then live it (another way of nourishing the seed).
4. Watch for an enlargement of faith ("revealed faith"-receiving, by personal revelation, attributes of Christ) through the Spirit.
5 And we have beheld that the great question which is in your minds is whether the word be in the Son of God, or whether there shall be no Christ.
verse 5 How might you re-word Amulek's "great question" for clarity of understanding? How about: Will this Jesus Christ of whom we have spoken actually come to earth? And when he does, will he actually be the anointed one, the Savior of all mankind?
6 And ye also beheld that my brother has proved unto you, in many instances, that the word is in Christ unto salvation.
verse 6 Amulek's "brother," of course, is Alma. It would not have been possible for Alma to have "proved," in any scientific sense, that Christ is indeed the author of salvation. The words "proved" and "prove" here and in the following verse might be interpreted as testified or testify.
7 My brother has called upon the words of Zenos, that redemption cometh through the Son of God, and also upon the words of Zenock; and also he has appealed unto Moses, to prove that these things are true.
verse 7 For a review of the prophets Zenos and Zenock, see Alma 33:3 including its commentary.
8 And now, behold, I will testify unto you of myself that these things are true. Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
verse 8 Amulek knew because he had received personal revelation through the medium of the Spirit of God.
9 For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.
verse 9 "it is expedient that an atonement should be made" We usually associate with the word "expedient" such meanings as useful, appropriate, advantageous, convenient, a means to an end. The atonement is all of these things and more. We know, of course, that it was absolutely necessary to prevent all men from being lost among the sons of perdition.
"all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost" The Book of Mormon does not teach the doctrine of human depravity, but it does teach that man has a "fallen" (natural self) nature and is prone to disobedience and ingratitude. Man by nature is "carnal, sensual, and devilish" (Mosiah 16:3; Alma 42:10). This natural self is rendered even more poignant and dangerous by our having, here on earth, a mortal body. Hence, we may refer to this "natural" tendency here on earth as the "natural man." Because of this fallen nature, every man will sin, and thus he absolutely cannot return to God's presence unless an atonement is made. See the commentary for Mosiah 15:19.
The doctrine that man is the literal offspring of divine parents is not found in the Book of Mormon but was revealed to the prophet Joseph Smith after the book's publication. While each individual has some tendencies of the "natural man," we know that if each man will fully repent he will be endowed with the very nature of God-both the spirit and the flesh. This is eternal life.
10 For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.
verse 10 "great and last sacrifice" Certainly the Savior's sacrifice is the greatest of all sacrifices. But is it to be the final sacrifice, chronologically speaking? It is not, as it turns out. The scriptures speak of at least one, and perhaps two, offerings or sacrifices to made at a time apparently yet in the future. For example, D&C 13 refers to the fact that the Aaronic priesthood "shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness." Also D&C 84:31 refers to "an acceptable offering and sacrifice" to be offered by the sons of Moses and Aaron "in the house of the Lord," referring to the temple to be built in Jackson County. The nature of these sacrifices is not entirely clear. It seems clear that the "sons of Levi" and the "sons of Moses and Aaron" are the latter-day bearers of the priesthood. After the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity, the priestly Levites became lax in their religious obligations and because of their bad example, the rest of the nation became remiss in their duties. Malachi pointed out that the sacrifices they offered to the Lord were the worst of the flocks or even stolen animals rather than the best. Thus, because the priests were unrighteous, their sacrifices were unacceptable, and the Lord promised that when he comes again, he will purge the Levites that they may yet offer an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:1-3). The nature of this "offering and sacrifice" is also not entirely clear. It may not be an actual animal sacrifice. Perhaps it will simply be works of righteousness.
The sacrifice of the Savior certainly may be said to be the "great and last" sacrifice in terms of its ultimate and eternal significance.
"not a sacrifice of man" Jesus Christ was more than a man, more than merely human.
"infinite and eternal sacrifice" What is an "infinite and eternal sacrifice"? What is an "infinite atonement"? Actually the Savior's atonement is infinite in a number of ways. For a comprehensive review of the ways in which his atonement is infinite, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:7. For a more complete discussion, see "The Infinite Nature of Christ's Atonement" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 2, Consequences of the Savior's Atonement.
11 Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another. Now, if a man murdereth, behold will our law, which is just, take the life of his brother? I say unto you, Nay.
verse 11 The blood of one man can never atone for the sins of another. It is not "just," that is, it does not satisfy the law of justice for one man to pay for any crime or sin of another. Indeed, in a strict sense the Savior did not really pay the debt to the law of justice incurred by our sins. This false notion arises from the practically universal use of the "financial" or "money" metaphor of the atonement. It would be impossible for Jesus to satisfy anyone's sense of justice by "paying" for someone's sins himself. That he actually paid for our sins is a common misunderstanding that exists both in and out of the Church. The idea that he did pay for them is referred to as the "balancing the books" or the doctrine of "quid pro quo"-this much suffering for that much sin. This is a sectarian notion which falls short of explaining exactly the Savior's ability to extend his mercy to us.
Instead of paying for our sins, he paid an unfathomable price in Gethsemane and on the cross. In this way, he perfected his empathy for each of us. He thereby qualified himself to be able to intervene on our behalf in spite of our unworthiness if we are able to abide by his law and repent of our sins. He became the perfect judge who is able to weigh, with perfect equity and fairness, the worthiness of each of us. He can do this because he knows us intimately. He knows the trials, vicissitudes, and mitigating circumstances of each of us because he experienced what each of us has experienced (Hebrews 2:18; 2 Nephi 9:21; Alma 7:11-12).
12 But the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered; therefore there can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world.
verse 12 "the law requireth the life of him who hath murdered" It is clear that capital punishment was practiced among the Book of Mormon peoples (see also Alma 46:35; Alma 62:9). Although it appears that capital punishment was practiced among the Nephites largely with punitive intent, a statement by Alma indicates that there was a prophylactic or preventive purpose as well: "Now, if there was no law given-if a man murdered he should die-would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?" (Alma 42:19). There were also specific legal guidelines for carrying out capital punishment. Mormon explained, "Now behold, this was contrary to the laws of the land, that any man should be put to death except they had power from the governor of the land" (3 Nephi 6:24). Jaredite and Nephite records contain examples of people who practiced capital punishment unrighteously (e.g., Ether 10:6; 3 Nephi 1:9; 3 Nephi 6:23; Moroni 1:2).
Is the practice of capital punishment doctrinal? Certainly it was in Old Testament times when the law of Moses was the gospel standard (Exodus 31:14-17; Leviticus 24:17). But what about today? Did capital punishment end with the coming of Christ and the fulfillment of the law of Moses? Charles W. Penrose wrote: "This divine law for shedding the blood of a murderer has never been repealed. It is a law given by the Almighty and not abrogated in the Christian faith. It stands on record for all time-that a murderer shall have his blood shed. He that commits murder must be slain. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" ("Blood Atonement: As Taught by Leading Elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." [Salt Lake City: Deseret News], 1916, 23). The Lord instructed the prophet Joseph Smith that capital punishment is an appropriate judgment for those guilty of murder: "And again, I say, thou shall not kill; but he that killeth shall die" (D&C 42:19). But he made the application of capital punishment subject to the laws of civil government: "And it shall come to pass, that if any persons among you shall kill they shall be delivered up and dealt with according to the laws of the land" (D&C 42:79).
"infinite atonement" Again, for a summary of why the Savior's atonement was an "infinite atonement," see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:7. See also "The Infinite Nature of Christ's Atonement" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 2, Consequences of the Savior's Atonement.
verses 13-16 Please do not take these verses for granted. They are vital and contain some of the clearest teachings on the doctrine of the atonement found in all of the scripture. There is no clear explanation of this vital doctrine found in the Old Testament, and a study of the New Testament has led to much confusion (see also 2 Nephi 2:6-13; 2 Nephi 9:6-16; Alma 42:13-26; and Mormon 9:13-14).
13 Therefore, it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.
verse 13 "then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood" The Savior's atonement meant the end of animal sacrifice. He has asked instead that we offer to him "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:19-20). See a discussion of this important gift of the Spirit in "The Infinite Nature of Christ's Atonement" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 2, Consequences of the Savior's Atonement.
14 And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
verse 14 "this is the whole meaning of the law" The very purpose of the law of Moses was to point to Christ (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 11:4). Without Christ the law of Moses was a shadow without substance. "The law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood" (Mosiah 3:15).
"every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice" A whit is the smallest part or particle imaginable. Each and every part of the law of Moses pointed to the Savior and his atonement.
Also, the Savior's atonement is so vital, so central, so pivotal, that all things, even the smallest particle in the universe looks to the atonement for salvation.
"and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal" From the time of Adam's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, prophets taught that the Lamb of God, God's Only Begotten Son, will one day be sacrificed to answer the demands of a higher law (Moses 5:5-9; 2 Nephi 2:5-7). That sacrifice will make God's plan of redemption operative in bringing about the salvation of all people. The sacrificial offerings characteristic of the law of Moses foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and will end when it is accomplished. Thus, the Savior's atoning sacrifice will fulfill the law of Moses and will be the "great and last sacrifice."
15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
verse 15 "this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice" For the definition of the law of mercy, see the commentary for verse 16. The word bowels here utilizes an archaic meaning of the word implying that the Savior's mercy is one of his most central and characteristic qualities. Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines bowels as, "The seat of pity or kindness; hence, tenderness, compassion."
"bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance" To exercise faith unto repentance is to deliberately change one's pattern of behavior from that of disobedience to obedience to the laws of God. The atonement has made repentance possible-that is, the atonement has made it possible that our repentance and obedience will result in forgiveness of our sins. The atonement has enabled the Savior to extend his mercy to those of us who change their pattern of behavior from disobedience to obedience-exercise "faith unto repentance"-thus making possible our exaltation in the kingdom of God.
16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
verse 16 "mercy can satisfy the demands of justice" This phrase refers to the law of mercy which may be summarized as follows: Whenever a law of the gospel is transgressed, the transgressor is rendered ineligible to enter the celestial presence of God or, indeed, any kingdom of glory after this life. However, if the individual who transgressed the law will sincerely repent and strive to live the gospel of Christ, then the Savior will intervene on his behalf. The end result will be exaltation for the repentant sinner.
This mercy does indeed "encircle them in the arms of safety." "Them" refers to "all those who shall believe on his name" (verse 15).
"the arms of safety" This is the only place in all scripture where this metaphor is used for salvation in Christ. The outstretched arms are, of course, those of Jesus himself (Mormon 5:11; Mormon 6:17), who stands always ready to cleanse and embrace the repentant. The arms of Christ are also referred to metaphorically as "the arms of mercy" (Mosiah 16:12; Alma 5:33) and "the arms of [Christ's] love" (2 Nephi 1:15; D&C 6:20).
"he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice" What becomes of those who, here in mortality, have no faith in the Savior and who do not repent? What does it mean to be "exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice"? These will not benefit from the Savior's atoning sacrifice. They must face directly and without any divine help the consequences of the law of justice. They must endure the requisite suffering themselves. They must pay, or at least begin to pay, for their own sins. Regarding these tragic souls, Bruce C. Hafen has written:
I once wondered if those who refuse to repent but who then satisfy the law of justice by paying for their own sins are then worthy to enter the celestial kingdom. The answer is no. The entrance requirements for celestial life are simply higher than merely satisfying the law of justice. For that reason, paying for our own sins will not bear the same fruit as repenting of our sins. Justice is a law of balance and order and it must be satisfied, either through our payment or his. But if we decline the Savior's invitation to let him carry our sins, and then satisfy justice by ourselves, we will not yet have experienced the complete rehabilitation that can occur through a combination of divine assistance and genuine repentance. Working together, those forces have the power permanently to change our hearts and our lives, preparing us for celestial life (The Broken Heart, 7-8).
17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
verses 18-27 In these verses, Amulek seems to be referring to the prophet Zenos's "thanksgiving psalm." Alma had previously referred to the same psalm in Alma 33:4-11. Zenos taught that the real issue is not where or when one prays but how and to whom. It is not the form of ones prayer that matters most but the real substance. It is not one's outward decorum but rather what lies deep within one's heart. The human or "natural man" element within each of us would have us be self-sufficient and independent beings who need no one else. Ultimately, however, each of us is completely dependent upon our Savior. It is right and proper that we call upon the Father in his name regarding every aspect and in every circumstance of our lives, both temporal and spiritual. Perhaps it may seem ironic to some, but this dependence is not weakness. It is true spiritual strength. In our daily walk we should find ourselves yearning continually for the things of God.
18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
verse 21 Just How often ought we to pray? One must first differentiate between formal prayers and informal prayers. Formal prayers consist of specific styles and conventions. Such prayers include giving thanks for one's meals, family, and individual prayers, the invocation and benediction at church meetings, and the baptism and sacrament prayers. Informal prayers are characterized by a spiritual attitude and a constant sense of the presence of divinity. These are not offered at set times, and, indeed, may and should be offered constantly. Jesus counseled the twelve disciples and the multitude to "pray always" (3 Nephi 18:15; 3 Nephi 18:18). The multitude was told that "they should not cease to pray in their hearts" (3 Nephi 20:1).
The question may be asked, then, how often is an individual obligated to offer formal prayers to Heavenly Father? The prophet Joseph Smith provided counsel in this area, and he happens to agree with Amulek. He taught that we should pray three times a day: "You must make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord" (TPJS, 161). Evidently, Joseph Smith was making reference to Daniel 6:10: "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God." There is evidence that Joseph Smith and his family practiced this teaching. Eliza R. Snow recorded that "three times a day he had family worship; and these precious seasons of sacred household service truly seemed a foretaste of celestial happiness" (Jayann Morgan Payne, "Eliza R. Snow, First Lady of the Pioneers." Ensign [September 1973] 3:62-67). According to Eliza Ann Carter, "When I was living at Hyrum Smith's, I thought that he was the best man I ever saw. He was so kind to his family, and he prayed in his family three times a day" (Lucinda Snow. "A Biographical Sketch." Women's Exponent [15 April 1897] 25:134-135).
22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
verse 26 The word "wilderness" here likely implies privacy or seclusion.
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
verse 27 Here is a verse that defines the difference between formal prayer and informal prayer. In the latter type of prayer, we must cry unto him "continually"-in other words, we must pray constantly.
28 And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need-I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
verse 28 Here is a sobering reminder. An individual can make great strides in living the commandments of the gospel to the point where the Spirit grants him an abiding testimony of Jesus (faith). He can also be granted by the Spirit that calm assurance that he will indeed be exalted (hope). Yet, until he comes to possess that yearning that others share in these same blessings that he enjoys (charity), he may not realize the fulfillment of his potential blessings. It is not enough to simply yearn or pray for the welfare of others. We must also take action and bless them ourselves.
"ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith" For a discussion of the concept of hypocrisy, see the commentary for 3 Nephi 13:5.
29 Therefore, if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men.
verse 29 "Dross" as it is used here is the scum which forms on the surface of molten metal. It is discarded as waste.
30 And now, my brethren, I would that, after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that the holy scriptures testify of these things, ye come forth and bring fruit unto repentance.
verse 30 To "bring fruit unto repentance" is to evidence by your behavior that you have repented.
31 Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
verse 31 "now is the time and the day of your salvation" Amulek likely refers here to the period of mortality.
"if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you" With each instance of true repentance, the Savior's mercy is extended. To those spiritually responsive souls, this may also be accompanied by a spiritual confirmation or witness of that mercy-that Christ lives and that his mercy truly comes from him.
32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
verse 32 Some have been critical of this verse suggesting it is too restrictive. These maintain the following: If "this life" refers to only the mortal life, then this verse teaches a doctrine that is too restrictive and too severe. It seems to eliminate the opportunity for post mortal repentance. After all, is it not true that those who fall short of paradisiacal glory by their misdeeds on earth will be assigned, at death, to the spirit prison where they will have an opportunity to repent and earn their way into one of the degrees of glory-even perhaps the celestial degree? Thus, these critics maintain, the probationary period ("this life") should be extended to include not only our mortal sojourn but also the time spent in the spirit world. Is this verse too restrictive when interpreted literally? Are these critics of this verse correct in their criticism? Probably they are not.
Let us review the essential elements of the transition between this mortal life and the world of spirits as we understand them today. At death, each person is subjected to a "partial judgment" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 448). If he has accepted Christ and his gospel and has diligently tried to live and persist in keeping the commandments-or if in Christ's infallible judgment the man is, in his heart, truly a celestial being (D&C 137:5-9)-he will be assigned to paradise. If he has placed things of an eternal nature second to things of the world, and, in Christ's judgment, he would not be comfortable in the celestial heaven, then he will be assigned to spirit prison. Those who did not hear and have an opportunity to accept the gospel-who would have accepted it had they heard it-will either be assigned to paradise or to a favored position in the spirit prison where they will not suffer "hell" and will quickly hear and accept the gospel and then be assigned to paradise (D&C 137:5-9). Those who have never heard the gospel who would not have accepted it had they heard it will be so judged and assigned to the spirit prison (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26).
For those who are privileged to be placed in a state of paradise, their probationary state is over-they have completed their mortal trial. They will not fall to a lower state but will inherit a celestial body at the resurrection. Those who are assigned to spirit prison will suffer personal torment as they begin to pay for their sins themselves and are refined to the point where they repent and accept Jesus and his gospel. Ultimately these will repent and confess Christ and be rescued by his mercy. They will then be resurrected with either a terrestrial or a telestial body and abide forever in those respective glories. It is unlikely that these individuals will be able to progress while in the spirit prison to the point of being able to eventually inherit celestial glory. A few others will never repent. They will remain "filthy still" and be cast into outer darkness to live forever with the devil as sons of perdition.
There are other pertinent considerations as we attempt to interpret this verse. We have previously noted that the Book of Mormon teaches a simplified version of the post mortal experience. As we consider Amulek's teachings, we must also keep in mind that the nature of the spirit world in his day, before the resurrection of Jesus, was different than it is today. At the time of Alma and Amulek there existed "a great gulf" (Luke 16:26) between those in "paradise" and those in "prison" (sometimes referred to as "outer darkness"-see Alma 40:13). Following the Savior's resurrection, he bridged this gulf and made it possible for some of the spirits in paradise to preach the gospel to those in prison (D&C 138).
Also we must keep in mind that a man's death does not alter his basic nature. A man carries into the spirit world the same basic attitudes, personality, and character he has developed both in the premortal life and on earth. When we came into this earth life, we brought with us inclinations and disinclinations, abilities, weaknesses, and attitudes which we developed in the premortal world. Similarly, we pass into the spirit world with the same basic qualities we acquired while on earth. If we lived upon this earth with a hunger for righteousness and a desire for things of the spirit, we will have those same proclivities restored to us in the world of spirits. Contrariwise, if the objects of our primary affections on this earth were materialism and things of the flesh, we cannot expect to be differently oriented when we arrive in the spirit world. Thus, Amulek, in verse 32 stresses the need for repentance in this life.
Now, let us analyze Alma 34:32. If we interpret "this life" as referring only to this mortal existence, then is this verse of scripture literally true? For those who are assigned to paradise, the verse is literally true. At the end of this mortal life, their probation is over. They have succeeded in preparing themselves to meet God, and they will inevitably receive this privilege. For virtually all of those assigned to the spirit prison, this verse is also literally true. At the end of this mortal life for most of them, the dye is cast. They will live in prison and while there earn a degree of glory, but it will not be the one in which God resides. Alma 34:32 might need qualification only for those hypothetical few who are assigned to spirit prison but who are able to persist through the agonizing "hell" of the refining process and succeed to the point of receiving a celestial body though it is unlikely that such individuals even exist. Consistently, the Book of Mormon prophets taught that physical death seals the fate of the wicked. Whether or not they knew the details of the transition between this earth life and the world of spirits (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:25-26) is not made clear in the text.
33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
verse 33 I acknowledge without explanation the unusual construction of the phrase "if we do not improve our time while in this life" (italics added). The difficulty centers on the phrase "improve our time." Perhaps an alternative for "time" here might be spiritual condition, spiritual character, or spiritual self.
"then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" Just when is this "night of darkness wherein there can be no [more] labor performed"? The "night of darkness" begins either at the moment of resurrection to a lesser kingdom (Alma 41:5) or at the moment of being cast into outer darkness with Satan.
34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
verse 34 "That awful crisis" is the moment of the Lord's judgment.
This verse may be interpreted in two distinct ways. Some might interpret it as meaning that a man's death produces no fundamental change in his inclinations toward good or evil. This is indeed a true principle and is a statement of the "law of restoration" which Alma teaches in Alma 41:3-6. A careful analysis of this verse in conjunction with the verse that follows, however, suggests that this is not Alma's intended meaning here. Rather his main point seems to be that people must seek the Spirit of God in this life or else the spirit of the devil will have power over them, and they may be overwhelmed by him.
"That eternal world" refers to the world of spirits.
35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.
verse 35 It might be argued that "the spirit of the devil" is automatically present when a man possesses nothing of the Spirit of God. In actuality, this "spirit of the devil" is the unchecked "natural self" impulses of man. Repeated and prolonged periods of exposure to this absence of the Spirit of God inevitably lead to subjection to the "spirit of the devil." Joseph Smith taught: "The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power" (TPJS, 181). This void of the spirit may become habitual-a pattern difficult to alter. "They that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell" (Alma 12:11). The phrase "spirit of the devil" seems a bit misleading here and appears more metaphorical than literal. The "spirit of the devil" has little to do with the man Satan. Rather, as stated above, it is the unbridled and unopposed natural self of man that has taken control of the individual because of the individual's consistent refusal to repent and obey.
36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb.
verse 36 "the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell" Does God really dwell in the hearts of righteous people? In April 1843, the prophet Joseph Smith preached in Ramus, Illinois and addressed a miscellany of differing subjects. He seemed to be answering a variety of questions. We don't have access to the questions, but we do have the answers. Apparently in response to a question something like: Can the Father and the Son really get into our hearts and dwell there? His answer: "The idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false" (D&C 130:3). Obviously we are dealing here with figurative language. The influence of the Father and the Son, through the mediation of the Spirit of God, can indeed dwell in our hearts-that is, it can influence profoundly our very feelings.
"the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out" This phrase may well apply to those spirits in paradise-the so-called "just men made perfect" (D&C 76:69)-as well as to those who are admitted into the celestial kingdom. Those who qualify for celestial glory will indeed "sit down" or reside in his kingdom permanently-"to go no more out."
verses 37-38 Now Amulek will provided an excellent "sum and substance" type summary of his teachings.
37 And now, my beloved brethren, I desire that ye should remember these things, and that ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ;
38 That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.
verse 38 "contend no more against the Holy Ghost" The apostle Paul used colorful terminology in giving this same counsel. He said, "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
39 Yea, and I also exhort you, my brethren, that ye be watchful unto prayer continually, that ye may not be led away by the temptations of the devil, that he may not overpower you, that ye may not become his subjects at the last day; for behold, he rewardeth you no good thing.
verse 39 "he rewardeth you no good thing" Here Amulek utilizes a peculiar form of speech called antenantiosis which is discussed in the commentary for Jacob 4:8. He could have said, "he rewardeth you bad things." Instead he used the negated opposite, "no good thing." His intent is to emphasize the inevitability of horrible and evil consequences-torment, captivity, and damnation.
40 And now my beloved brethren, I would exhort you to have patience, and that ye bear with all manner of afflictions; that ye do not revile against those who do cast you out because of your exceeding poverty, lest ye become sinners like unto them;
41 But that ye have patience, and bear with those afflictions, with a firm hope that ye shall one day rest from all your afflictions.
verse 41 "rest from all your afflictions" There is more to this phrase than is initially apparent. For a discussion of the concept of the "rest of the Lord," see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10.