Alma Chapter 41
Alma 41 Alma counsels his son Corianton on the law of restoration.
Alma 41:10 The law of restoration: Wickedness never was happiness.
What must a man do in order to one day stand justified before God? The answer to this question defines our doctrine of justification.
Before continuing, let us review the law of justice which is essential background for our understanding the concept of justification (for a more complete discussion, see The Law of Justice in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 12). This law sets a standard for all of God's actions relative to the eternal fate of each of his creatures. It holds that in their quest for their eternal reward, none of his creatures-none of his intelligences-will ever be unfairly accorded an advantage over another. And, no one of his creations will ever be penalized without that penalty's being fully deserved and wholly appropriate. The law of justice is the law of perfect fairness. This law is best known for one of its tenets in particular. This tenet holds that for every violation of God's law a penalty must be paid. This law is very exact. If even one sin is committed, and complete payment is not made, the individual guilty of the sin cannot qualify for entry back into God's presence. A man is said to be "justified" or "reconciled to God" when all penalties are paid. He is then brought into perfect harmony with God to the point where he can be exalted. No man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom without being justified.
Since all have sinned, appropriate payment must be made for each of us. How is this payment made? There are only three theoretical ways to meet the demands of the law of justice and become justified and hence exalted. First, a man may try to keep the law perfectly and never get into debt to the law. This is referred to as trying to become "justified by the law." Obviously no man except Jesus Christ has ever lived without sin, therefore we know that it is impossible to become justified by the law.
Secondly, a man may pay the debts produced by his sins by suffering himself. While a man may be required to begin to pay for his own sins through his own suffering, man is incapable of paying his own debt to the point of complete justification or exaltation. In spite of man's best efforts, some debt will remain (Mosiah 13:28).
Thus there is only one practically valid way for a man to meet the demands of the law of justice. It is to allow another qualified individual to intercede on his behalf and to plead his case for him. This is made possible by a law which is closely related to the law of justice. This is the law of mercy. The essence of the law of mercy may be summarized as follows: Whenever a law of the gospel is transgressed, a debt is incurred and payment must be made (this is a restatement of the law of justice). The individual who transgressed the law does not need to make the payment himself if he will sincerely repent and if another person is willing and able intercede on his behalf. The intercessor must qualify himself to the satisfaction of those who enforce the demands of justice. He must be perfectly qualified to judge those for whom exceptions to the law of justice must be made. He must be the perfect judge, and his judgments must be fair and based upon intimate knowledge of each individual situation. Obviously that qualified individual is the Savior, and he qualified himself during the awful hours of his atonement. During that ordeal he came to have perfect empathy for all of mankind and therefore qualified himself to judge each individual child of God. The law of mercy does not take away from the law of justice, rather it is an essential addition to it (see Alma 42:24-25).
Just one further note about the law of justice. When an unrepentant sinner dies, he finds himself outside the atoning power of Jesus Christ. He must then reside in the spirit prison. There he will suffer the "hell" of beginning to pay the debt himself. Even though it is impossible for him to make complete payment or restitution himself, his efforts and motivation for doing so will then be judged. Most such people will eventually repent and acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior. Then Christ's atoning influence will produce a state of partial justification which will enable them to inherit a degree of glory-either the terrestrial or telestial kingdom. Those few who remain unrepentant and in a state of rebellion will go with Satan to become sons of Perdition forever (2 Nephi 9:8-9).
Alma's son Corianton is heavy with sin, and Alma perceives that he has considerable doubts about the doctrines that set out the requirements for exaltation. In the following verses, Alma teaches his son the doctrine of justification. He does this by teaching the principle or law which he calls the "law of restoration." The apostle Paul referred to this same principle or law as the "law of the harvest" ("whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap"-Galatians 6:7).
What is the law of restoration? When Latter-day Saints hear the term restoration, they typically think of the latter-day return of the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. Book of Mormon prophets, however, use this term in a different sense. They teach that each individual will receive both a temporal restoration and a spiritual restoration which they deserve and have earned. Simply stated, this law holds that in the resurrection all men will be raised to that level of glory commensurate with the lives they lived in mortality. Each man will be judged by his works and the intentions of his heart. If a man's works and the desires of his heart in this life are good, then in the judgment the man will be restored to that which is good. If his works and desires are evil, then in that last day, evil will be restored to him. That which a man sends out shall be returned to him in kind. The terms "good" and "evil" are not arbitrary ones. Thoughts and actions that are "good" conform to the laws of God-the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those that are "evil" fail to conform. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the universal standard by which all mankind will be judged. Is this fair?
Have all men had the opportunity to learn this standard, to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ? Isn't it true that some mortals have lived and died and never even heard of Christ and his gospel? The essence of Christ and his gospel is available and ever has been available to all men who live on the earth or who have ever lived on the earth through the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost teaches all men who are receptive to his whisperings the eternal standard by which they shall be judged, indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, we may ask the question: What are the essential characteristics of a man that will determine the outcome in his judgment? Certainly they are his behaviors or "works" and the true desires or intentions of his heart. Now we must add yet a third characteristic, his receptivity to the promptings of the Spirit of God. The man who is receptive to the teachings of the Spirit is changed in his heart. The true desires of his heart center on conforming to the gospel of Christ. These desires will be manifest in his actions or works. The net result will be a gradual and steady spiritual progression. He will become more like God. The amount of spiritual progress a man makes, in absolute terms, here on earth may well form the basis of the judgment of all-knowing God. For any individual, however, the amount of progress he makes will be affected by the progress he made in the pre-existence and by the circumstances he encountered here on earth. God in his omniscience will judge and judge fairly.
Another aspect of the principle of restoration is 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 on earth. When we came into this earth life, we brought with us inclinations, abilities, weaknesses, and attitudes we developed in the premortal world. Similarly, we pass into the spirit world with the same basic qualities which 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.
verses 1-4 These verses contain Alma's explanation of the law of restoration which he refers to also as the "plan of restoration." In these verses Alma explains that the resurrection is considered a part of the "law of restoration." It is the temporal part of the law of restoration. There is also a spiritual aspect of the law of restoration. We will receive good for good and evil for evil. Our condition and rewards hereafter shall be directly related to the manner in which we lived during this mortal life.
1 And now, my son, I have somewhat to say concerning the restoration of which has been spoken; for behold, some have wrested the scriptures, and have gone far astray because of this thing. And I perceive that thy mind has been worried also concerning this thing. But behold, I will explain it unto thee.
verse 1 Apparently Corianton had expressed to his father Alma his disgruntlement at the idea that a loving God would punish his sinful children.
"some have wrested the scriptures" To "wrest" the scriptures is to distort or change their meaning-to derive meaning from them that was not intended by the Lord.
There are a number of instances in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon where Dr. Royal Skousen feels that Oliver made a mistake in transcribing Joseph Smith's dictation. If a word or a phrase was unknown to him, he substituted a more common word or phrase. In each of these cases, the substitution is found in the original manuscript and was later copied into the printer's manuscript. It was then either corrected by the typesetter or appeared in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. This phrase offers such an example. In the original and printer's manuscripts, this phrase read "some have arrested the scriptures." The word arrest was allowed to stand by the typesetter, and it therefore appeared in the 1830 edition. By the 1837 edition, it was changed to wrest, as is found in our present edition. Dr. Skousen feels that the reading in the present edition is the correct one.
2 I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.
verse 2 As previously mentioned, the resurrection is a part of the law of restoration, indeed it is the temporal restoration. Each individual will be resurrected with that body he deserves-i.e. a celestial body, a terrestrial body, a telestial body, or a body suited only for perdition or outer darkness.
3 And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.
verse 3 There is also a spiritual restoration. Those blessings and rewards people merit "according to their works" and the "desires of their hearts" will be restored to them in the life to come.
"the desires of their hearts" Hugh Nibley commented on this verse: "The test for this life is not for knowledge; it is not for intelligence, or for courage, or for anything like that. That would be a huge joke. None of us knows very much, none of us is very brave, none of us is very strong, none of us is very smart. We would flunk those tests terribly. As Alma said, we are only to be tested on one thing-the desires of our heart (Alma 41:3); that is what we are really after. And in that way we betray ourselves completely. Anyone who knows the signs, who knows what to look for-not just our Heavenly Father, but even a good psychiatrist . . . can spot it just like that. You yourself can see your own life; you can test yourself." Brother Nibley continued on to describe the only two things we need to be good at. These are also the only two things we will be tested on. They are whether or not "we can forgive" and whether or not "we can repent. These are the two things the angels envy us for" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 9, 300). The concept of "the desires of [our] hearts" does not refer to our prejudices, our preferences, our whims, or our inclinations. Rather it refers to what we really are at our core. We will not be judged by what we wants. Rather, we will be judged by just exactly who and what we are-by the desires of our hearts (see D&C 137:9).
4 And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order, every thing to its natural frame-mortality raised to immortality-corruption to incorruption-raised to endless happiness to inherit the kingdom of God, or to endless misery to inherit the kingdom of the devil, the one on one hand, the other on the other-
verse 4 "corruption to incorruption" "Mortal bodies are corruptible bodies; that is, they are subject to physical change and decay, corruption means mortality; incorruption means immortality. Speaking of the resurrection, Abinadi said, 'This mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption' (Mosiah 16:10)" (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 163).
"all things shall be restored to their proper order" Things are restored to their proper order when a man receives eternal rewards perfectly commensurate with what he really is in his heart of hearts. The practical importance of the law of restoration, or the restoring all things to "their proper order" will be emphasized by the prophet Moroni in Mormon 9:3-4: "Do ye suppose that ye shall dwell with [God] under a consciousness of your guilt? Do ye suppose that ye could be happy to dwell with that holy being, when your souls are racked with a consciousness of guilt that ye have ever abused his laws? Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell." Also we read in D&C 88:21-24: "And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory. And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory."
When the "dust" of the judgment has settled and each man is assigned to his eternal place, will all be happy? Will there be any in the terrestrial and telestial kingdoms who might have succeeded in the celestial degree of glory? Will there be any whose assignment to a lesser glory is a self-perceived eternal tragedy? We know that God will reward each individual according to the "desires of his heart" (Alma 29:4; D&C 137:9) which means that each will receive according to what he really is at his very center. But will there be some who might have changed their hearts, by repenting of their sins, but failed to do so? Perhaps so. ". . . of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest [the most painful] are these: 'It might have been'" (John Greenleaf Whittier).
It does, however, seem likely that all will be resurrected and assigned to that kingdom wherein will ultimately be content and fulfilled. No one will live eternally where he doesn't belong. There he would be most unhappy and uncomfortable among people of like minds.
5 The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh.
verse 5 "when the night cometh" The "night" referred to here is the same as the "night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed" referred to in Alma 34:33. It is not death, but rather it is eternity following the resurrection.
6 And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.
7 These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, that are delivered from that endless night of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.
verse 7 "they are their own judges" We read in the scriptures about those who will pass formal judgment upon us. These include the Savior (2 Nephi 9:41) and Christ's original apostles (D&C 29:12; Matthew 19:28). We also read of being brought to stand before the judgment bar of God following our resurrection (2 Nephi 33:15). These are formal judgments, almost ritual judgments intended to declare and make eternal record of our eternal destinies. In the ultimate sense, however, man is his own judge. The sum total of his deeply-held beliefs, his heart's desires, and his works become written into his soul so that he actually dictates his own eternal destiny. We will stand before our Savior and the Twelve and before the judgment bar of the Father already judged by what we have become.
8 Now, the decrees of God are unalterable; therefore, the way is prepared that whosoever will may walk therein and be saved.
9 And now behold, my son, do not risk one more offense against your God upon those points of doctrine, which ye have hitherto risked to commit sin.
10 Do not suppose, because it has been spoken concerning restoration, that ye shall be restored from sin to happiness. Behold, I say unto you, wickedness never was happiness.
verse 10 "wickedness never was happiness" This is a profound truth that is true in absolute terms. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: "We have the responsibility of living this gospel. It is impossible for one who has received a testimony of this work and holds membership in the Church to be truly happy and not live the gospel. I have seen people who have drifted away from the Church, who have become inactive, and I have seen them brought back into activity, and the testimony of all of them is to the effect that during periods of inactivity there is something lacking-they are not happy inside, they are not satisfied. Men are that they might have joy (see 2 Nephi 25), but [true] joy and happiness come only through living the principles of the gospel. There is no happiness in wickedness, no happiness in sin, no happiness in inactivity. And there is no safety in inactivity. If we want to be happy, if we want to be secure in our testimonies and in our faith and in our membership in the Church, we must live the gospel, we must try to build up the kingdom, we must shoulder our part of the responsibility in helping to carry this message to the nations of the earth" (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 339-340). Elder Neal A. Maxwell wrote: "Without realizing the inherent inconsistency, some want happiness along with worldliness-which cannot be. We "are free to choose," and choose we will, either subtly or dramatically. But the alternatives and consequences will not change" (Men and Women of Christ, 100).
Lest we get to thinking that our eternal fate is already cast in stone, let us be reminded that man is able to change his basic nature. Through obedience to God's law, a man may change at his very core. As he obeys the commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his "natural self" is gradually purged out of him, and he indeed becomes a new creature-born again. He becomes more like God. Hence, by the law of restoration, he upgrades his eternal reward.
We have claimed here that "wickedness never was happiness." Yet, we have claimed that each and every individual will eventually be assigned to an eternal reward where he will fit and be happy for all eternity. As Alma addresses his son here, he is speaking of this mortal existence and the effects of sin on those negotiating this mortal state. In an eternal heaven of glory (celestial, terrestrial, or telestial), it is apparent that each individual will come to equilibrium and come to conclude that he is in the right place and will be for all eternity.
11 And now, my son, all men that are in a state of nature, or I would say, in a carnal state, are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; they are without God in the world, and they have gone contrary to the nature of God; therefore, they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness.
verse 11 "in the gall of bitterness" For a discussion of this colorful phrase, see the commentary for Mosiah 27:29.
"in a state of nature . . . in a carnal state . . . in the gall of bitterness . . . in the bonds of iniquity" These phrases all denote the same thing. They all refer to a natural man who fails to respond to the influence of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. It would seem that one cannot suffer a greater loss in mortality than to lose the Spirit of the Lord. To be without the Spirit is to be in a wholly carnal state. As this verse suggests, it is to be "without God in the world" and, therefore "in a state contrary to the nature of happiness."
"they are in a state contrary to the nature of happiness" Elder Neal A. Maxwell commented on this phrase: "In a world in which more and more people ignore the first commandment and live 'without God in the world,' we see in those lives a fatal separation from reality. First of all, to live 'without God in the world' is, said Alma, a condition 'contrary to the nature of happiness' (Alma 41:11). Having gone wrong as to the first commandment, everything else is then askew, including relationships with others. As for such souls, their mortal lives are 'no more than a night in a second-class hotel' (Saint Teresa of Avila)" (Notwithstanding My Weakness, 27-28). Elder Maxwell's reference to the "first commandment" here refers to the Lord's commandment that we love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength.
12 And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?
verses 13-14 It has been observed that these following two verses are strongly chiastic in their style. For a review of this and other types of Hebrew poetry see the supplemental article The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon. See also the introductory comments for Alma 36.
In these two verses, the chiastic twist is creatively elegant: After listing four pairs of terms, Alma then pairs two lists of four terms and reverses their order at the same time (Welch, John W. "Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon." BYU Studies 10:1 , 69-84).
a good for that which is good;
b righteous for that which is righteous;
c Just for that which is just;
d merciful for that which is merciful.
Therefore, my son, see that you are
d' merciful unto your brethren;
c' deal justly,
b' judge righteously,
a' and do good continually;
and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea,
d'2 ye shall have mercy restored to you again;
c'2 ye shall have justice restored unto you again;
b'2 ye shall have a righteous judgment restored . . . and
a'2 ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
13 O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish-good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful.
14 Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.
verse 14 "ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again" According to the law of restoration, the merciful shall receive mercy, and those who deal justly shall receive justice. The "agains" in this phrase refer to second application of these virtues. The first application is when an individual manifests the virtue. The second application is when that virtue is returned to him as a blessing from the Lord.
We usually refer to God's justice as something that comes to the wicked. Justice is also meted out to the righteous wherein they receive positive blessings.
"ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again" For further discussion of the concept of "righteous judgment" see "Just What Did Happen in Gethsemane and at Calvary?" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement.
15 For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all.
verse 15 This verse contains a succinct statement of the "law of the harvest" or the "law of restoration."