Alma Chapter 39
The commandments of Alma to his son Corianton. Comprising chapters 39 to 42 inclusive.
Alma 39 Alma counsels his son Corianton on sexual sin.
Alma's approach to his errant son is instructive. He certainly shows him love and concern, but he also teaches him the doctrines of the kingdom. Is it realistic to expect a "preaching" approach to be helpful here (Alma 31:5)? Evidently so. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught: "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior" (CR, October 1986, 20).
1 And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother; for behold, have ye not observed the steadiness of thy brother, his faithfulness, and his diligence in keeping the commandments of God? Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?
verse 1 "the steadiness of thy brother" Alma is referring here to Shiblon.
2 For thou didst not give so much heed unto my words as did thy brother, among the people of the Zoramites. Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
verse 2 "thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom" We have all previously observed the sequence of events culminating in serious sin. Inevitably the Spirit of the Lord teaches to those responsive to his ministrations humility and meekness. A loss of this responsiveness to the promptings of the Spirit starts the tragic descent of the individual destined to commit serious sin. This unresponsiveness to or "loss" of the Spirit leads invariably to an inclination to rely less on the arm of the Lord and more on the arm of flesh. Then occur feelings of self-sufficiency, haughtiness, and even boasting in one's supposed strengths. From here it is only a short distance-all downhill-to succumbing to all manner of worldly temptations.
3 And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron, among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
verse 3 "Isabel" Isabel appears to have been an outcast from polite Nephite society. She was probably a Nephite woman who lived among other "wicked harlots" (see verse 11) in a notorious district of the land. Brother Hugh Nibley pointed out that "Isabel was the name of the Patroness of Harlots in the religion of the Phoenicians" (Prophetic Book of Mormon, 542). For additional commentary on the derivation of her name, see the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
4 Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted.
5 Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
verse 5 In this verse Alma identifies the three most abominable sins in the sight of God. They are (in order of gravity) denying the Holy Ghost, shedding innocent blood-murder, and committing sexual sin.
The unpardonable sin. Denying the Holy Ghost is the ultimate blasphemy, even the unpardonable sin. It consists of willful rebellion by a man who has reached a lofty state of spiritual development. The man has had the heavens opened to him and has come to "know God" and possess "perfect light" (TPJS, 357-58). Yet, he comes out in open rebellion against the Lord and his kingdom. Such a person is incapable of repenting. He is a traitor to God and is sealed up to Satan as surely as the sons of God are sealed up to Christ. He has "denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto [himself] and put him to an open shame" (D&C 76:35). Unpardonable means that it cannot be paid for, either by the atoning blood of Jesus Christ or by the personal suffering of the sinner. The only sin that is unpardonable is the sin against the Holy Ghost. The individual guilty of this sin shall not be forgiven and will become forever a son of perdition. Indeed, it would have been "better for [him] never to have been born" (D&C 76:32).
Which people here in mortality are capable of committing such a sin, and what behavior can result in this awful penalty? Joseph Smith taught that before an individual could commit this sin, he must "have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against him. . . . He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it" (TPJS, 358). Such a person must have received knowledge and power beyond what the vast majority of us have received. Spencer W. Kimball taught: "The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin" (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 23). It seems likely that the individual who qualifies is he who has entered into the highest priesthood covenants which can be entered into here in mortality. Then he must be found guilty of more than mere passive dissent. He must come out in open rebellion against the Church and kingdom and even against the Savior himself. He rebels against the Savior to the point that he seeks after the blood of Christ and if possible he would shed his blood anew. This sequence must be executed in mortality. An individual cannot become a son of Perdition in the post-mortal spirit world. Joseph Smith taught, "A man cannot commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body" (TPJS, 357).
Only those who commit this sin will know the nature of this torment and its duration. "The end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof . . . wherefore, the end, the width, the height, the depth, and the misery thereof, they understand not, neither any man except those who are ordained unto this condemnation" (D&C 76:45-46; D&C 76:48). Once an individual is condemned to become a son of Perdition, the penalty is final. The Prophet Joseph taught that it is incorrect to teach that the sons of perdition will be redeemed at some future day (TPJS, 24).
The unforgivable sin. The sin of murder or the "shedding of innocent blood" will be discussed in the commentary for the next verse.
6 For behold, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable; yea, and whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness; yea, I say unto you, my son, that it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness.
verse 6 "whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness" Murder is the deliberate, cold-blooded killing of another without justification. This is not an unpardonable sin as discussed in the commentary for verse 5, yet it is referred to as being an "unforgivable" sin. It is unforgivable in that the redemptive blood of Christ is not at first available to those who, aware of God's law, have maliciously shed the blood of innocents. We are taught that deliverance comes only after the murderer personally atones with much personal suffering-in some unknown way and for some unknown length of time. Then and only then will the Lord's mercy be extended to him, and he will be delivered from hell. He will receive a kingdom of glory. He will not, however be exalted. He will not obtain eternal life in the kingdom of God. Rather he will be saved in a lesser kingdom, usually the telestial kingdom. Thus, his spiritual death or his separation from God, is permanent. It is clear then why murder is referred to as a "sin unto death," referring to spiritual death. The Lord said: "He that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come" (D&C 42:18). The murderer will never find complete forgiveness. He will never live in the presence of God. He will never be exalted.
Murderers, although they cannot be forgiven, may be pardoned. When, like King David (see Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27-31), they have suffered for their sin and have paid the full demands of justice to "the uttermost farthing" (Matthew 5:26), they may then confess Christ, turn to him, and through his atonement be pardoned. That is, they will not become innocent, but their suffering will end. As David was promised that his soul would not be left forever in hell, so other murderers who turn to Christ after suffering for their sins will not be left forever to suffer in hell. They will eventually be redeemed from the power of Satan and receive some degree of glory-likely the telestial. We might say that they are "guilty but set free."
We have discussed the deliberate, cold-blooded, and unjustified killing of one human being by another. There are obviously various degrees of murder and hence various degrees of guilt. The Lord will judge. Spencer W. Kimball wrote: "Even among willful murderers there are grades and categories. . . . There are those who kill in drunkenness, in rage, in anger, in jealousy. There are those who kill for gain, for power, for fear. There are those who kill for lust. They certainly will suffer different degrees of punishment hereafter" (Miracle of Forgiveness, 129-30.)
Is it possible to shed innocent blood and end up being cast into outer darkness with Satan and his angels? Of course. If a murderer or an individual guilty of other less abominable sins remains unrepentant throughout his sojourn in the spirit world-remains "filthy still"-and steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the Savior and his atoning sacrifice, then he will become a son of perdition.
The apostle John taught: "There is a sin unto death . . . and there is a sin not unto death" (1 John 5:16-17). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: "There are sins for which there is no forgiveness [denying the Holy Ghost and murder], neither in this world nor in the world to come. There are sins which utterly and completely preclude the sinner from gaining eternal life. Hence there are sins for which repentance does not operate, sins for which the sinner must suffer and pay the full penalty personally" (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 231).
Denying the Holy Ghost is a sin that is both unpardonable and unforgivable. The shedding of innocent blood is unforgivable and pardonable. Both are sins unto death (spiritual death or permanent separation from God). There are still other sins that are pardonable and forgivable. The Savior spoke of these when he said, "I the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death" (D&C 64:7). Sexual sin, though most abominable in the sight of God, fits into this latter category.
"it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness . . . it is not easy for him to obtain a forgiveness" This phrase implies that while it may not be easy for the murderer to obtain forgiveness, it is possible. We have already learned in the discussion above that forgiveness to the point of inheriting a lesser degree of glory may eventually occur, but complete forgiveness to the point of exaltation cannot occur.
7 And now, my son, I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.
verse 7 "I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime" Sexual sin. It seems clear that we are not given a full understanding of just why it is that sexual sin is so serious. It may be forgivable and pardonable, but it is indeed the third most serious sin behind only the sin against the Holy Ghost and murder. The answer as to why it is so serious seems to lie in the fact that one who commits sexual sin is tampering with the procreative powers. Note, in the following scripture, the vast importance of the gift of eternal procreation. Speaking of those who enter into the "new and everlasting covenant," particularly those who have this covenant "sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise," the Lord said: "They shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them" (D&C 132:19-22).
If an individual fails to qualify for this marvelous exaltation, then that will be the "end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase" (D&C 131:4). The key phrases "continuation of the seeds," "they shall have no end," and "increase" all suggest the concept of continuing power of procreation. This procreative power is the power that separates God from the angels. He has allowed and offered the temporary use of this power to men and women here in mortality. The manner in which we make use of this privilege and the attitudes we develop and hold regarding this power determine whether we will have the opportunity to possess it during the eternities. The misuse of this power is consequently a most critical and dangerous offense.
Speaking of those who enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "The man and the woman who engage in this ordinance of matrimony are engaging in something that is of such far-reaching character, and is of such vast importance, that thereby hangs life and death, and eternal increase. Thereupon depends eternal happiness, or eternal misery. For this reason, God has guarded this sacred institution by the most severe penalties, and has declared that whosoever is untrue to the marriage relation, whosoever is guilty of adultery, shall be put to death. This is scriptural law, though it is not practiced today, because modern civilization does not recognize the laws of God in relation to moral status of mankind. The Lord commanded, 'Whosoever sheddeth innocent blood, by man shall his blood be shed.' Thereby God has given the law. Life is an important thing. No one has any right to take life, unless God commanded it. The law of God as to violation of the marriage covenant is just as strict, and is on a parallel with law against murder notwithstanding the former is not carried out" (Gospel Doctrine, 273).
We understand "adultery" to mean a sexual sin committed by a couple when at least one of the two has entered a covenant of marriage either in or out of the temple. When neither of the two is married, we often refer to their sin as "fornication." Is fornication just as grave a sin as adultery? The First Presidency in 1942 stated: "The Lord has drawn no essential distinctions between fornication, adultery, and harlotry or prostitution. Each has fallen under his solemn and awful condemnation" (Grant, Heber J., J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay. "The Message of the First Presidency." Improvement Era [Nov 1942] 45:758). President Harold B. Lee taught that "the Master used interchangeably the words adultery and fornication in defining sexual impurity, and it has been severely condemned in every dispensation by authorized church leaders" (Stand Ye In Holy Places, 332).
Joseph Smith wrote: "If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom" (HC, 6:81). Although this statement was later modified by President Spencer W. Kimball who added the words "and remains unrepentant" (Miracle of Forgiveness, 350), there can be no mistaking the gravity of sexual sin.
While repentance is possible for sexual sins, the process is most rigorous and demanding. It is vital that one who is attempting to repent experience true "godly sorrow" (see the discussion of godly sorrow in the commentary for Mosiah 26:29; see also the following paragraph). Repentance requires confessing the sin to one's bishop and a permanent forsaking of the sin. Even then the process is not complete. President Kimball wrote concerning this process: "There must be a washing, a purging, a changing of attitudes, a correcting of appraisals, a strengthening toward self-mastery. And these cleansing processes cannot be accomplished as easily as taking a bath or shampooing the hair, or sending a suit of clothes to the cleaner. There must be many prayers, and volumes of tears" (Miracle of Forgiveness, 155). The fully repentant sinner will "have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2). Making restitution for sexual sins is most difficult because it is not possible to restore virtue in a physical sense. However, virtue can be restored spiritually through complete repentance and through the power of Christ's atonement. Restitution may also be made through diligent service to others in the kingdom of God.
The sexual relationship has been compared to a horse. They both are beautiful, magnificent, and meant to serve man, but you must maintain control. Give either their head and they will run with you. It is profoundly true that giving in to sexual urges outside of marriage almost always destroys love, whereas, bridling passion increases love.
One sound bit of counsel is: "Don't go to Caiaphas's palace." We often think we are wise enough and strong enough to control our urges, and we find ourselves in places and situations where we are overwhelmed. The apostle Peter refused to believe that he would ever betray the Lord (Luke 22:31-34). But then he went to Caiaphas's palace, and rest is history.
"I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good" To "harrow up" is to vex or cause mental distress. The soul must be harrowed up in order to truly repent of serious sin. Only the truly distressed soul can experience the type of sorrow that is essential for true repentance. This sorrow may be referred to as "godly sorrow." It is a heart-felt realization that one has tampered with and placed in serious jeopardy one's eternal welfare. It is the genuine conviction that one's behavior has tragically betrayed one's eternal potential and has been a devastating disappointment to one's Father in heaven. It is the agonizing realization that one's eternal life hangs precariously in the balance. In order to achieve this state, it is necessary to sink into the depths of humility and recognize deep within one's soul that without God and Christ one is lost. One must also recognize that without Christ it is impossible to repent. One must "turn to the Lord with all [one's] mind, might, and strength" (see verse 13). "Godly sorrow" is ultimately a gift of the Spirit, granted to the worthy sufferer through the process of personal revelation by the Holy Ghost. It is the very same feeling that beset Alma during the process of his miraculous conversion. He summarized the experience: "I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed. . . . I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. . . . I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments" (Alma 36:11-13).
8 But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God; and except ye repent they will stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
9 Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.
verse 9 "cross yourself in all these things" One early meaning of the verb "to cross" is to contradict or be inconsistent with. Our natural appetites may cross our moral principles or standards. None of us in mortality is ever completely free of the "natural man" tendencies within each of us. It is man's "natural" tendency to be drawn toward worldly pleasures and travel down worldly paths. To do the unnatural things is to "cross" oneself. We "cross" ourselves when we turn away from, or contradict, our worldly lusts and seek instead for righteousness. In scripture to "cross" oneself is the same as to "take up one's cross." To his disciples in Jerusalem, Christ said: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). On another occasion he counseled: "It is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast in hell" (3 Nephi 12:30).
10 And I command you to take it upon you to counsel with your elder brothers in your undertakings; for behold, thou art in thy youth, and ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers. And give heed to their counsel.
11 Suffer not yourself to be led away by any vain or foolish thing; suffer not the devil to lead away your heart again after those wicked harlots. Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words.
verse 11 President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote: "The Lord says if we labor all our days and save but one soul, how great will be our joy with him; on the other hand how great will be our sorrow and our condemnation if through our acts we have led one soul away from this truth" (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:314).
12 And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;
verse 12 "Command thy children to do good" Some of us who have experienced times of rebellion in our children might be inclined to smile over this injunction. Those of us who bear battle scars in our struggles to rear righteous children might doubt the effectiveness of this "authoritarian" approach. However, we have learned that Alma was not guilty of using merely a "cook book" or general approach with his sons. We have seen how Alma, in counseling his sons, approached each one differently as he urged them to keep the commandments, as he taught them the doctrines of the kingdom, and as he bore testimony to them. He was sensitive to the individual needs of each of them.
13 That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done.
verse 13 "return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done" Here is an important part of the repentance process-to make restitution to any who might have been offended. Regarding this concept, President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "Does repentance consist of sorrow for wrong doing? Yes, but is that all? By no means. True repentance only is acceptable to God; nothing short of it will answer the purpose. Then what is true repentance? True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights-that which is due to them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance; then God will accept it" (Gospel Doctrine, 100-101).
14 Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world; for behold, you cannot carry them with you.
verse 14 What can we take with us? Divine attributes-characteristics we have "earned" by our obedience to God's law, relationships, and our memories seem to comprise a reasonably complete list. What can we not take with us? Material possessions, fame, social status.
15 And now, my son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people.
16 And now, my son, this was the ministry unto which ye were called, to declare these glad tidings unto this people to prepare their minds; or rather that salvation might come unto them, that they may prepare the minds of their children to hear the word at the time of his coming.
17 And now I will ease your mind somewhat on this subject. Behold, you marvel why these things should be known so long beforehand. Behold, I say unto you, is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?
verse 17 This verse implies that Corianton had expressed doubts about Messianic prophecies. He had probably given voice to his doubts in much the same words that doubters would use today: "How is it possible for you to know so much about this Jesus Christ when you say he won't even be born until many years from now?"
18 Is it not as necessary that the plan of redemption should be made known unto this people as well as unto their children?
19 Is it not as easy at this time for the Lord to send his angel to declare these glad tidings unto us as unto our children, or as after the time of his coming?
verses 17-19 A simple yet profoundly important perspective the Book of Mormon has afforded us is that Christian prophets have taught Christian doctrine and administered Christian ordinances since the days of Adam (Jacob 4:4). Biblical prophecies and text have been sufficiently altered that the world does not hold this concept (see, however, Luke 24:25-27). It is generally believed that Christianity with its concepts and ordinances began at the time of Jesus Christ and his apostles.
Here, Alma explains to his son Corianton that it should not be impossible to believe in Christ just because he has not yet appeared on earth in his mortal ministry. It is just as easy for the Lord to send prophets to the earth with the "good news" before Christ's mortal advent as it is for him to send prophets following his mortal ministry.