Alma Chapter 5
Alma 5 The process of spiritual growth
Alma 5:14-15 Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances?
Alma 5:26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
The subject of this chapter is the spiritual growth or spiritual progress we are all expected by the Lord to make here in mortality. Spiritual growth may be defined simply as our growth toward godhood-our gradual and incremental acquisition of the characteristics or attributes of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. There exists a state of spiritual development, attainable by each person here in mortality, in which that individual stands fully qualified for exaltation. What characterizes this state? How do we refer to it? How can we achieve it?
Certainly, the amount of spiritual progress the Lord expects each of us to make here on earth, in absolute terms, varies considerably from person to person. We arrive in mortality at different stages of our spiritual development. Our spiritual growth does not begin here on earth. We spent considerable time in the premortal world, perhaps centuries, millennia, or even more, as we reckon time, living with our heavenly parents. In that sphere we were subject to law, and we had our agency. Some of us were more valiant and obedient than others. Obedience to law in that sphere resulted, as it does here in mortality, in spiritual growth-in the incremental acquisition of the attributes of God. By the time we arrive, then, here in mortality, some have made more progress in their spiritual growth, and some have made less. Those who have made more progress in that pre-earthly sphere may well be expected by the Lord to make more here in mortality (D&C 82:3; Luke 12:48). The veil through which we pass as we enter mortality is not fully occlusive. Those characteristics we brought with us may well manifest themselves here in this premortal experience.
As we are born here on earth we also encounter differing circumstances. We are presented with differing opportunities for spiritual growth. To some are given relatively few, and to others, abundant opportunities are extended. For example, some are born into primitive third-world cultures where their "religion" is also primal and makes no mention of Jesus Christ. Others are born into wholesome, God-fearing cultures. Some may be born into dysfunctional families where they are neglected or even abused. Others are reared in supportive and loving family environments. The Lord's expectations of those who are blessed with the greater opportunities for growth are doubtless higher. It is clear that while the amount of progress we are expected to make differs from person to person, there is an amount of growth, in absolute terms, which the Lord expects of each of us. There is a level attainable by each individual person according to his spiritual attainments and capacities which he brought into mortality and according also to those circumstances he encounters here on earth. It may be presumed that once an individual has reached this level, the Lord will judge that individual worthy to live forever in the celestial heaven. This exciting process of spiritual growth is the subject of Alma 5. Read on!
Some background is necessary before proceeding. The concept of spiritual growth is intimately related to other basic doctrinal concepts. These include the law of justice, the fall, the atonement, the concepts of faith, and man's natural self and spiritual self. Indeed, as one learns about the basic concepts of the gospel it becomes readily apparent they are all closely interrelated.
Ideally, the reader will take the time to read and study detailed discussions of each of these topics. These can be found in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine. In volume 1, see chapter 5, The "Natural Self" and "Spiritual Self," chapter 6, The Gospel and the Two Natures of Man, chapter 9, Revealed Faith, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith, chapter 12, The Law of Justice and chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement. In volume 2, see chapter 1, Understanding the Eden Experience-the Fall and chapter 2, Consequences of the Savior's Atonement.
If the reader prefers to proceed immediately with this discussion of Alma 5, I have provided a brief discussion of these concepts:
The Law of Justice
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. In all God's giving and taking there will be no biases, no favoritisms, no discriminations, no prejudices, no prepossessions, no inconsistencies, and no partialities.
The law of justice requires that whenever a divine commandment is broken, there must be a punishment imposed and compensation made to restore the balance in natural law that was upset by the violation (see Alma 42). A violation of God's law renders the sinner unworthy to enter the presence of God. He will remain unworthy until recompense is made. This law is very exact. If even one sin is committed, and that sin is not forgiven or removed, the individual guilty of the sin does not qualify for entry back into God's presence. Hence the scriptural statement to the effect that "no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God" (1 Nephi 10:21; 1 Nephi 15:34; Alma 11:37; Alma 40:26; 3 Nephi 27:19; Moses 6:57). The positive side of the law of justice assures us that God must grant blessings to those who obey the commandments (D&C 130:20-21).
Justification. A man is said to be "justified" or "reconciled to God" when all his sins are forgiven. He is then brought into perfect harmony with God to the point where he can be exalted. The following statement is absolute and must be understood to be absolute: No man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom without being justified.
Corollaries to the law of justice. There are a few vital corollaries:
1. Men are punished only for those things of which they themselves are guilty. It is unjust to punish one man for another's sin.
2. In order to violate the law, one must be capable of understanding the law-in other words the individual must be "accountable."
3. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse for violation of the law, but a man may be judged lightly until he has a chance to receive the law and understand it. All accountable people will eventually have the opportunity to adequately understand the law to the point where their subsequent behavior, relative to the law, will either cause spiritual growth or lead to their condemnation.
Payment of the debt to the law of justice. Since each of us has sinned and is therefore in debt to the law of justice, it is vital to learn how appropriate payment for sins can be made. In theory there are three ways to meet the demands of the law of justice and be exalted:
1. A man may keep the law perfectly and never break the law. This is referred to as being "justified by the law." Obviously no man except Jesus Christ has ever lived without sin, therefore we know that it is impossible for the rest of us to become justified by the law.
2. A man may pay the debt produced by his sins by suffering himself. It is apparently possible for a man to contribute partial compensation for his own sins through personal suffering. In the next sphere of our lives, the spirit world, many will be required to do just that. We are taught, however, that man is incapable of paying his own debt completely-to the point of complete justification or exaltation. Therefore, every man is in desperate need of help (Mosiah 13:28).
3. Thus there is only one practically valid way for a man to meet the demands of the law of justice. It is to get help. No man can save himself. Each man must allow another qualified individual to intercede for him and to plead his cause. This is made possible by a law which is closely related to the law of justice. This is the law of mercy.
The law of mercy. The law of mercy may be summarized as follows: Whenever a law of the gospel is transgressed, a debt is incurred and the transgressor is unworthy of eternal glory (a restatement of the law of justice). The individual who transgressed the law is not hopelessly lost, however. The law of mercy provides that under certain specific conditions, exceptions can be to the law of justice on behalf of the sinner. The law of mercy allows that an intercessor may request these exceptions. However, the intercessor must be perfectly qualified to intercede. If he becomes perfectly qualified, this person will then be allowed to appeal to the law of justice for these exceptions on behalf of the sinner. And his appeals will be granted. Obviously that qualified individual is the Savior. He completed his qualification during the agony of his atoning sacrifice. The law of mercy does not subtract from the law of justice, rather it is an essential addition to it (Alma 42:24-25).
When an unrepentant sinner dies, he finds himself outside the atoning power of Jesus Christ. He must then reside in that part of the spirit world referred to as the spirit prison. There, we presume, 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 degree of justification which will enable them to inherit a kingdom of glory-either the terrestrial or telestial kingdom. Those few who remain unrepentant, or "filthy still," will go with Satan to become sons of perdition forever (2 Nephi 9:8-9).
The Fall of Man
To properly understand the atonement of Jesus Christ, one must first grasp the concept of the fall of man. To understand the fall, one must first understand its dual nature-its two major aspects. The first is "the fall of Adam." The second is the fall of each individual.
The fall of Adam. Because of the transgression of Adam and Eve, each of us will be cut off from the presence of God while here in mortality. This spiritual death is called the "first death" as opposed to the "second death" (see below). Each man will also suffer physical death, the separation of his spirit from his body. Both these penalties are temporary because, as we will learn, their effects have, automatically and without any effort on our part, been reversed. No man will be permanently cut off from the presence of God or live permanently without a physical body because of Adam and Eve. No one will be eternally punished for Adam's transgression (Article of Faith 2).
The fall of you. The second major aspect of the fall is "the fall of each individual"-the fall of you and me! No one, save for the Savior himself, will ever live without sin. Thus, no man is qualified based on his own merits to remain in the presence of God. Because of his own sins each man "falls" or cuts himself off from the presence of God. In contrast to the effects of Adam's transgression, this self-induced spiritual death experienced by each man is "permanent." That is, it will remain in force for eternity unless its causes are reversed.
The next vital concept is the atonement. It is probably not given to man, at this point of our progression, to understand all the reasons why or how the Savior is qualified to be our Mediator or Redeemer. We only know that he is qualified. We may, however, make the observations that:
1. His central motivation for volunteering to be the Savior was his unequivocal love for us. He had no thought of self aggrandizement. Was the Father capable of discerning Jesus's deepest motives? Of course. And would the Father have picked Jesus for this ultimate calling had not his motives been pure? His love for us-particularly that aspect of his love that inclines him to be merciful to us, undeserving as we are, is referred to in scriptures as the "grace of God."
2. He was "justified by the law." That is, he kept the laws of God perfectly, and he thus avoided the debt altogether.
3. By some unfathomable process called the atonement, which he endured from the time he entered Gethsemane until his death, he somehow satisfied the requirements to become our Savior, to be able to intercede and plead for us. He experienced a unique and exquisite suffering that only he was capable of enduring. This suffering satisfied the law of justice.
What are the effects of Christ's atonement? There are "unconditional" and "conditional" effects of the atonement. Man is automatically the beneficiary of the unconditional benefits without any effort on his part. By these unconditional effects, the consequences of the fall of Adam are completely overcome. Keep in mind that the law of justice includes the concept that it is unjust to punish one man for another's sins. Thus, all men will be resurrected, and also no man will be excluded from the presence of God because of Adam's sin. At some point in time every man will be returned to the presence of God, at least long enough to be judged. No matter how wicked or unrepentant, each person will, after the resurrection, be brought back into the presence of God for judgment. This returning to God's presence of every man is proof that no one suffers a permanent spiritual death because of Adam's transgression. The effects of Adam's transgression (temporary spiritual death and physical death) are unconditionally and completely overcome by the Savior's atonement. But what about the "permanent spiritual death" due to a man's own sins?
The conditional effects of the Savior's atonement will overcome the consequences of the fall of each individual person but only on condition of that person's repentance and obedience to the laws of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once in God's presence each person is judged. All will either be admitted to the celestial kingdom of God and remain in his presence, or they will suffer the "second death" (as opposed to the "first death" spoken of above) wherein they will be sent out from the presence of God a second time, this time forever. These will be consigned to one of the lower two kingdoms or they will suffer the complete second death and go to live with Satan forever as sons of perdition.
Nothing that man can do for himself will result in his admission to a kingdom of glory. The presence of an intercessor or advocate is essential. Ultimately, therefore, admission to a kingdom of glory is a gift and is not earned. We qualify to receive this gift by accepting Christ, obeying him, and repenting of our sins.
The Natural Self
In this discussion so far, we have provided some needed background. Now let us turn to "the problem" each of us faces as we are born into mortality. As we enter mortality, we are all inclined toward being "natural" men and women. A "natural man" is one who has not been touched by the influence of the Holy Ghost. He tends to be attracted by and seek for things of the world. These worldly or earthly things which provide the primary motivation for the natural man are not necessarily evil in and of themselves. Yet, the natural man is motivated only by them. He does not respond to any eternal or spiritual invitations. Also, these earthly motivators-these influences of the world-are usually indulged in to excess. The natural man is an "enemy to God" (Mosiah 3:19) because his nature is alien to things of a spiritual or eternal nature. His perspective is limited to the carnal and worldly, and he is incapable of understanding spiritual things. "[Spiritual truths] are foolishness unto him" (1 Corinthians 2:14). The essential truth is that only the Spirit of God can teach spiritual or eternal truths, and an individual can learn these truths only if he is responsive to the Spirit on account of his own desires and behaviors. The natural man is blind and deaf to matters of the Spirit. He is independent and proud rather than submissive and humble, though, ironically, he usually ends up conforming to the worldly trends of the day. He is competitive and driven by rewards of the world. His behavior is likely to be influenced by his animal passions. It is important to reiterate that all of us in mortality are inclined toward being natural men or women. Each of us has the capacity and the inclination to be attracted to influences in the world which appeal to the "natural" within us.
The Spiritual Self
In addition, however, each of us is a spiritual being with characteristics befitting that noble title. We all possess a combination of "natural" and "spiritual" characteristics. None of us is either wholly natural or wholly spiritual. Each of us is constantly embroiled in a conflict. Our natural or worldly side pulls this way, while our spiritual self attempts to pull us in another direction. Which part of us will come out victorious-the natural or the spiritual?
As pointed out previously, in order to earn our exaltation, each of us must achieve significant spiritual growth. Each must rise from this "natural" condition to a spiritual plateau where we are worthy to return to our celestial home. This is not only possible in mortality, but it is expected of each one of us. Unfortunately, however, it appears that a majority will not achieve this goal. What is this mysterious plateau? By what name is it referred to in the scriptures? How do we go about achieving it? How does one know if one has achieved it? This state is referred to variously in the scriptures by several different names. Individuals who have achieved this lofty level are said, for example, to be "totally converted," "justified," "reconciled to God," "born again," "born of the Spirit," "born of God," and "quickened in the inner man." They might also be said to have "experienced a mighty change" or to have "received his image in [their] countenances" or to have "entered into the rest of God." They might be referred to as "new creatures." They may even be called "perfect" or "perfect in Christ." Can a mortal really ever be perfect? While perfection in absolute terms must follow progress over eons of time, an individual who is born of the Spirit or totally converted is indeed referred to in the scriptures as being "perfect" (JST Genesis 17:1; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 19:21; Colossians 4:12; 1 Peter 5:10). He may not be just like Christ and is certainly not immune from committing sin. Yet his spiritual progress has earned him the right to be considered "justified before God" and "perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32-33).
First Principles of the Gospel
What is the formula for achieving this state? You will likely not be surprised to learn that the secret lies in adhering to the first principles of the gospel. These are:
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Once an individual has manifest his desire to believe in Christ and develop an eternal relationship with him, that individual must then manifest his faith through deliberate obedience and diligence in "experimenting upon the words [commandments] of Christ." Then that individual will be rewarded by the Spirit of God with gifts of the Spirit, or incremental attributes of God and Christ. These attributes, received through the process of personal revelation may be referred to as the gift of faith.
As we grow spiritually and acquire the attributes of God, we become inclined toward gratitude to God, humility, submissiveness, and a desire for seeking out righteousness. Spiritual growth provides further impetus or motivation to strive to become more like our Father in Heaven and our Savior.
Repentance. The essence of this principle is obedience and a willingness to change and improve. It consists of a man's repeatedly and thoughtfully analyzing his behavior against the standard which the Savior has set-against the commandments of the gospel of Jesus Christ-and then altering his behavior, as is appropriate.
Baptism. More discussion on this vital gospel principle follows. In order to become eligible for celestial resurrection, it is necessary for one to experience the complete or total ordinance of baptism. The reader is encouraged to read carefully the important discussion of the ordinance of baptism in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 18, Baptism, the Ordinance that Brings Spiritual Growth.
The gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the second part of the ordinance of baptism, the baptism of the Spirit.
Enduring to the end. We might include the "fifth principle of the gospel"-enduring to the end and living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God (2 Nephi 31:20-21; 3 Nephi 27:19-22; Matthew 7:21).
The words which Alma, the High Priest according to the holy order of God, delivered to the people in their cities and villages throughout the land. Comprising chapter 5.
As has been mentioned previously, the headnotes or superscriptions preceding some of the chapters in the Book of Mormon are not the product of modern editors but rather are part of the original ancient record and were written by the prophet Mormon. They are a type of colophon or editorial explanatory paragraph (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1-3). The phrase "comprising chapters . . ." added to some of the headnotes is, of course, the product of modern-day editors. This phrase appeared for first time in the 1981 edition of the Book of Mormon.
1 Now it came to pass that Alma began to deliver the word of God unto the people, first in the land of Zarahemla, and from thence throughout all the land.
verse 1 It is clear that Alma regarded the "word of God" to be a powerful antidote for a sinful society (see Alma 31:5). Governmental legislation of the laws of God, however, is not effective. The word of God has to be received into the hearts of the people before it has any effect in reclaiming the sinners.
2 And these are the words which he spake to the people in the church which was established in the city of Zarahemla, according to his own record, saying:
verse 2 The prophet Mormon is about to quote from Alma's own record which is recorded on the large plates of Nephi.
3 I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God, he having power and authority from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; yea, the land which was called the land of Mormon; yea, and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon.
verse 3 "I, Alma, having been consecrated by my father, Alma, to be a high priest over the church of God" This father-to-son pattern of succession to the priesthood was first instituted at the time of Adam and applied during the times of the ancient patriarchs. "The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made. This order was instituted in the days of Adam" (D&C 107:40-41).
"in the land which was in the borders of Nephi" This phrase could mean that the land of Mormon was near (just outside) the smaller land of Nephi-that land surrounding the city of Nephi (see the commentary for Mosiah 7:5). It might also mean that the land of Mormon was in the mountains-the "borders"-of the larger land of Nephi (see the commentary for 1 Nephi 2:5 for a discussion of the relationship of the word borders and the word mountains).
4 And behold, I say unto you, they were delivered out of the hands of the people of king Noah, by the mercy and power of God.
5 And behold, after that, they were brought into bondage by the hands of the Lamanites in the wilderness; yea, I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also.
verse 5 The events mentioned in this verse are contained in Mosiah 23 and 24. Note here that the younger Alma seems to include himself in the group of colonists that fled Helam to travel to Zarahemla ("we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God" (italics added). This suggests that he may have born in Helam or even earlier.
6 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?
verse 6 As mentioned previously, the majority of Alma's audience consisted of baptized members of the church while there were also some among them who were not members (verse 62).
"he has delivered their souls from hell" See the commentary on the "bands of death" and the "chains of hell" in the following verse.
7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.
verse 7 "the light of the everlasting word" This is the gospel or eternal truth. Can you name three sources from which we receive eternal truths? They are (1) scripture, (2) the teachings of living prophets, and (3) the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
What are the "bands of death" and the "chains of hell"? Alma will teach in Alma 12:9-11 that those who harden their hearts to the word of God are given ever diminishing portions of the word until eventually they know nothing of the doctrine or word of God. Then they are inevitably taken captive by Satan and led down to destruction. This is what is meant by the "bands of death" and the "chains of hell." The mechanism of this captivity is simple. The individual who repeatedly gives in to the pulls of the natural man within him, and commits sin, experiences a diminution of the light of Christ. Consequently, the Spirit of the Lord becomes a bit more distant-his influence a bit more difficult to feel. Hence, matters of the eternities become less compelling and less important. Such an individual becomes more inclined, the next time he is tempted by things of the world, to respond to that temptation. This is the vicious cycle of sin, wherein committing a sin leads to an increased inclination to sin again. Eventually sin becomes a habit, an addiction, and thus the individual becomes trapped-bound by "the chains of hell." An individual so captivated by his sins is devoid of the influence of the Spirit of God. Not only is he not interested in matters of the Spirit, they seem silly, naive, ridiculous, and foolish to him (1 Corinthians 2:14).
In D&C 123 Joseph wrote from liberty jail that a world of people without a knowledge of eternal truths is ripe for a takeover by the devil. He then goes on to describe this spiritual bondage as "an iron yoke, a strong band, handcuffs, chains and shackles, and fetters of hell" (D&C 123:7-8). The antidote, then, for captivity by the devil is the word of God. God's word is a weapon which can cut through the "bands of death" and the "chains of hell." But the word of God is effective only if the individual is willing to actually respond to the word of God and deliberately obey. The word of God is no antidote for the individual who fails to manifest his deliberate faith and obey the tenets of the word.
We must also keep in mind that while the devil is persuasive and beguiling, he has no influence over the righteous man. Additionally, he is not the source or cause of man's inclination to sin. For that, we may blame each man's own natural self. We hand over influence to Satan only when we commit sin. Much of his influence comes to the sinner in the form of comfort and self justification. The devil delights in the disobedience of man, and he is skillful in pointing out to the sinner all of the reasons why he was justified in committing sin.
It is clear that this discourse of Alma's was delivered to a congregation who mostly were already members of the church through baptism. There were some listeners, however, who were not baptized (see verse 62). It is clear from Alma's remarks that simply being baptized does not produce immediate spiritual rebirth. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary for Alma to work so hard to "stir [his people] up in remembrance of their duty" (Alma 4:19). Alma's approach is to remind them of their fathers some of whom were baptized but only afterward being "awakened . . . out of a deep sleep . . . unto God."
8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.
9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.
verse 9 "sing redeeming love" Here is an expression that is unique in all the scriptures to the Book of Mormon, indeed unique to the prophet Alma. He describes the thoroughly converted individual as one who is apt to "sing the song of redeeming love" or more simply "sing redeeming love" (see also Alma 5:26; Alma 5:26:13). It would seem that when a person "sings redeeming love," he deeply feels profound gratitude for the Savior's atonement, and his heart bursts forth with a hymn of gratitude to him.
"they are saved" They are saved from spiritual death, hell, and the devil. In other words, they are admitted to the celestial heaven. See the commentary for 2 Nephi 28:23.
10 And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?
verse 10 Alma asks the question: "Exactly how were your fathers converted? What were the conditions which had to be fulfilled in order for them to become converted and hence "saved"? In the next three verses of this chapter, verses 11 through 13, Alma will answer his own question. He will mention four conditions essential for complete conversion and salvation.
11 Behold, I can tell you-did not my father Alma believe in the words which were delivered by the mouth of Abinadi? And was he not a holy prophet? Did he not speak the words of God, and my father Alma believe them?
verse 11 Here is the first of Alma's four conditions: (1) Follow the living prophet and believe on his words. Their fathers had believed the words of Abinadi and subsequently had followed another prophet, the senior Alma. We might extend this "condition" somewhat by including the necessity of receiving the "light of the everlasting word" from whatever source it may come (see the commentary for verse 7). Again, to truly receive the word of God or believe in the words of a living a prophet, the individual must act on those words. He must deliberately obey even when it is difficult to do so.
12 And according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart. Behold I say unto you that this is all true.
verse 12 Here is Alma's second condition: (2) Experience a mighty change of heart. How does one judge whether or not a mighty change of heart has occurred? Consider the people of king Benjamin who were converted following his great sermon. They were changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness. They had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5:2) and they were "willing to enter into a covenant with [their] God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things" (Mosiah 5:5). These changes can only come through the influence of the Spirit of God. And the Spirit of God extends this marvelous blessing only to those inclined to obey the Lord's commands. Individuals who experience this "mighty change" are afforded the redeeming powers of the atonement. Hence, they become new creatures and are called "the sons and daughters of Christ" (Mosiah 5:7).
"According to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart" Conversion or spiritual rebirth cannot occur without faith. A heart and a mind inclined to act on a belief, regardless of the strength of the belief, is the fundamental pre-requisite to the process of conversion. Faith is more than an inclination to belief held in the mind of man. Deliberate faith is manifest only when that belief is acted upon. Faith is fundamental to the process of conversion or the process of spiritual growth. Faith is the very power which makes spiritual growth happen. Becoming spiritually reborn, or converted, without having faith is a bit like trying to run a three-hour marathon without being able to walk. The "faith" necessary to produce spiritual rebirth must be based upon an inclination to submit to the will of the Savior. But faith is actual obedience to his commands. This faith is not a non-specific thing. Rather, it is specifically faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see verse 15).
13 And behold, he preached the word unto your fathers, and a mighty change was also wrought in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. And behold, they were faithful until the end; therefore they were saved.
verse 13 Alma's final two conditions which must be satisfied for an individual to experience complete conversion and salvation are found in this verse. They are: (3) Trust in the true and living God. and (4) Endure to the end.
A trust in God is the very evidence of faith. An individual who has trust in God is inclined to defer satisfaction of his worldly wants and needs and appetites and adhere instead to the directives of the unseen God.
We must not only obtain a mighty change in our hearts and a forgiveness of our sins, but we must retain them as well.
verses 14-30 These verses contain what may be called a "spiritual checklist" that allows us to measure our behavior and attitudes against those of the Savior. Alma's people, of course, had to assess themselves based upon the characteristics of the prophesied Christ.
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
verse 14 Here is a "classic" Book of Mormon verse well worth committing to memory. Alma has just summarized the process by which his people's forebears earned excellent prospects for exaltation. Since unapplied history is of little value, Alma now attempts to put those lessons learned from the past into perspective. He asks three questions and thus attempts to give those lessons present application.
"have ye spiritually been born of God" We have already discussed the fact that Alma's audience is largely made up of baptized members of the church. Haven't all members of the church who have been baptized by water been spiritually reborn? From our discussions of this chapter, it is obvious that they have not. Alma's question is appropriately asked.
"Have ye received his image in your countenances" The key words in this phrase are rich in meaning. "Image" is more than just an outward visual impression. Rather it is a total likeness and clear representation. "Countenance" implies more than merely a facial expression or appearance. The word has French origins and originally denoted "behavior," "demeanor," or "conduct." The essence of this question seems to be: "Are you just like Christ in your attitudes and behavior? Have you learned to think as he thinks, believe as he believes, feel as he feels, and do as he does." In scripture this process has been referred to by Paul as obtaining "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16), and by Peter as partaking of "the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
On another level, it is true that the radiance of one's appearance reflects one's spiritual state. The light that emanates from a Christlike individual is discernable in that individual's countenance.
"Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?" Alma implies that this change must be "experienced." It is a difficult concept to communicate with words. It was never intended to be understood passively or merely intellectually. We learned that those who do experience this "mighty change" experience a sense of joy and satisfaction to the point where they "have felt to sing the song of redeeming love" (Alma 5:26).
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
verse 15 "Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you?" To exercise faith in the Savior and in his atoning sacrifice, one must simply obey his commandments.
"him who created you" Is Jesus Christ really our Creator? The essence of man was never created and is co-eternal with God (D&C 93:29). The Father may be said to be our Creator in the sense that he sired our spirit bodies. Under the supervision of the Father, Jesus is the supreme Creator of heaven and earth. He is our Creator in the sense that he created all of the earthly materials of which our mortal bodies are formed. He is also our Creator and our Father by the principle of divine investiture of authority. We know that perhaps Jesus did participate in the organization of the spirit bodies wherein the intelligences were clothed with bodies of spirit matter (D&C 93:10), even though these bodies were begotten of the Father and an Eternal Mother by a divine procreative process. See also the commentary for Mosiah 26:23.
"an eye of faith" To have an "eye of faith" is to see the hand of God in all things and thus patiently anticipate the fulfillment of all that God has declared and promised. Elder Boyd K. Packer taught that to see with the eye of faith is "to see with the eyes [you] possessed before [you] had a mortal body . . . to hear with ears [you] possessed before [you] were born . . . to push back the curtains of mortality and see into the eternities" ("The Great Plan of Happiness" in Doctrine and Covenants / Church History Symposium Speeches, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993, 6).
"this corruption raised in incorruption" For a discussion of the terms corruption and incorruption, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 2:11.
verses 16-18 Here Alma divides all people into three categories. These are (1) The "blessed" (verse 16)-these have repented and been faithful. Their "works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth." (2) The liars (verse 17)-these are unrepentant but would have others believe that they are righteous. Indeed, they have often even fooled themselves, believing themselves to be among the righteous. How ludicrous to think they can lie to an omniscient Savior! (3) The guilty (verse 18)-these are also unrepentant, but they admit it; they are well aware of their guilt.
16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?
verse 16 "in that day" This is the day of judgment and will be referred to several times in the next few verses.
"can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying . . . Come unto me ye blessed" Do you have confidence in your own eventual judgment and resurrection? As you persist in righteous acts, you will be blessed to receive increments of the attributes of Jesus Christ in the form of gifts of the Spirit. Along with this spiritual growth, there will also come a growing reassurance and confidence that your efforts are adequate before the Lord and that he will, indeed, welcome you to your celestial home. This is the gift of hope. See further discussion of this important perquisite gift in "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith and in "The Fruits of Faith" in chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith. Still further discussion of this topic is found in "The Rest of the Lord-the Gift of Hope" in volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification.
Certainly one of the crowning achievements of an individual's total conversion is the coming to grips with one's own eventual death, particularly when a significant illness has occurred and makes that death an imminent possibility. A successful adjustment to this reality can only occur when an individual has earned the right to feel that he is regarded as righteous or justified by the Father (D&C 42:46-47). He may then even come to relish the eventuality of his death as a release from physical trials and a just reward for his efforts in mortality.
17 Or do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say-Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth-and that he will save you?
18 Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God?
19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?
verse 19 After outlining his categories of mortal men, Alma now asks, in effect: "In which category are you?" His question and wording are reminiscent of Psalm 24:3-4 wherein David asks: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully."
"pure heart and clean hands" The "pure heart" includes one's thoughts, feelings, attitudes, resolves, motivations. "Clean hands" reminds us of the necessity of subjecting our flesh to our will. Consider the untenable and indefensible position of those who maintain that it is natural and good to acquiesce to all "God-given" appetites of the flesh so long as that acquiescence occurs between "consenting adults." If one maintains a pure heart, then one's hands will remain clean, as unrighteous acts are generally not performed without being previously rehearsed in the mind's fantasy.
20 I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?
21 I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins.
verse 21 "there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white" Here is direct reference to the sacred and vital phenomenon of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost." When any man is judged sufficiently valiant in mortality relative to the eternal law of God and in his testimony of Jesus Christ. Then the Spirit will extend to that individual the grace of God-the cleansing power of the atonement. He will then be cleansed and justified. He will be "perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32-33). Other symbolic scriptural references to this process include such expressions as "robes of righteousness" (2 Nephi 9:14; Revelation 19:8), "garments of salvation" (Isaiah 61:10), or "clothed with salvation" (D&C 109:80). The same symbolism is found in our temples wherein we are taught, utilizing a largely symbolic presentation, how we may return to God's presence.
Brother Hugh Nibley added insight to this verse:
Alma is obsessed with the image of the white garment: "There can no man be saved except his garments are washed white" [see also Alma 13:11; Alma 13:12; Alma 13:7:25] . . . Such expressions forcibly call to mind the work of Professor [Erwin] Goodenough, in which he shows that the white garment had a special significance for the early Jews. God himself may be represented in the earliest Jewish art as one of three men clothed in white. . . . This image [from the Dura Europos synagogue] wasn't even known to exist until 1958, but every time Goodenough goes back into the earliest Jewish pictorial representations he can find, there are the three men in white, or a single figure, the prophet in white. The symbol of the chosen prophet, an emissary from God, is always the white robe, which is reserved for heavenly beings. Nephi says that the righteous shall be "clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" (2 Nephi 9:14) (Temple and Cosmos, 238-39).
22 And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you?
verse 22 The symbolism "stained with blood," of course, means tainted by sin. All who have sinned are filthy, and only those who have been washed through the blood of the Savior will be found clean.
23 Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?
verse 23 It seems likely that Alma's reference to "murderers" here is intended to refer to sins less specific than the actual taking of human life. Alma will later refer to his behavior prior to his conversion by saying, "I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction" (Alma 36:14).
24 Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?
verse 24 This verse serves as a reminder that there is no social caste system in heaven. Even the most lowly and meek will sit down with the likes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and will receive the same reward those holy prophets receive.
25 I say unto you, Nay; except ye make our Creator a liar from the beginning, or suppose that he is a liar from the beginning, ye cannot suppose that such can have place in the kingdom of heaven; but they shall be cast out for they are the children of the kingdom of the devil.
verse 25 In the resurrection mercy will not rob justice. Abundant scriptural evidence so testifies (Alma 42:22).
26 And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?
verse 26 Alma now asks: "If you have been totally converted, are you still totally converted?" His question is an obvious reminder of the necessity of enduring to the end. Conversion is a dynamic and ongoing process. In mortality man has a constant tendency to drift spiritually downward. His spiritual health requires continuous nourishment. He cannot rest for long on spiritual plateaus-there are no plateaus in spiritual growth!
27 Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?
28 Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life.
verses 27-28 A humble man sees himself in his eternal perspective. His view of himself extends beyond this mortal sojourn. His thoughts and actions are true to this perspective. A proud man, in contrast, has lost the eternal perspective. He is consumed by the need to attain things of the world and compete for these things against others in the world.
"the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand" The duration of our mortal life is short and unpredictable. The "kingdom of heaven" is, of course, God's heaven kingdom-the celestial kingdom.
29 Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared; and I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand, and he knoweth not when the time shall come; for such an one is not found guiltless.
verse 29 The child of pride is envy. If a man's attentions are riveted solely upon things of the world, he cannot help but experience envy as he views the worldly holdings of others.
30 And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?
31 Wo unto such an one, for he is not prepared, and the time is at hand that he must repent or he cannot be saved!
verses 30-31 "is there one among you that make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions" "To mock is to humiliate, ridicule, insult, revile, make fun of, deride, sneer at, scorn, or hold in contempt. . . . Occasions for mockery usually occur in the context of real or imagined differences. Differences in beliefs, wealth, learning, social position, physical characteristics, group membership, and behavior may be used as pretexts for the justification of mockery" (Bunker, Gary L. "Mocking Our Brother." Ensign [April 1975] 5:36-41).
32 Yea, even wo unto all ye workers of iniquity; repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it!
33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
verse 33 "he sendeth an invitation unto all men" The opportunity to be cleansed and redeemed by the atonement of Christ is available to all.
34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely;
verse 34 Jesus is both the "tree of life" and the "bread and water of life." We come unto him as we follow him and commit ourselves to strive to be like him through submitting our will to his and obeying him.
35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire-
36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.
37 O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice!
verse 37 The "vain things of the world" are all worldly things. Those who seek after them to the exclusion of spiritual things are said to be proud or "puffed up."
Those who "have professed to have known the ways of righteousness [but who] nevertheless have gone astray" are guilty of hypocrisy.
38 Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd.
verse 38 When we are baptized into the Church we enter into a covenant with God. We announce our candidacy and our desire to be exalted in the celestial kingdom. At the time of our baptism, however, we are not guaranteed that exaltation. If, over our lifetime, we diligently persist in our efforts to become like the Savior, then we may eventually qualify for that highest of all eternal rewards. At that time we shall have the name of Christ sealed upon us forever. Recall that King Benjamin pleaded with his people: "I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life" (Mosiah 5:15).
39 And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd, of what fold are ye? Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd, and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil.
verse 39 Ultimately all men will either accept Christ and his atonement and be rewarded with a kingdom of glory or will refuse to accept him and serve Satan forever.
40 For I say unto you that whatsoever is good cometh from God, and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
verse 40 The writers of ancient scripture sometimes formed sharp contrasts between consecutive lines or stanzas. This is the form of Hebrew poetry known as antithetical parallelism. It was intended to make clear the meaning of the lines and emphasize their importance. This verse is an excellent example of antithetical parallelism (see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon):
Whatsoever is good cometh from God,
and whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil.
Note the italicized antonyms. The contrast in these lines is clearly established (Donald W. Parry, "Antithetical Parallelism" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, 167-69).
Moroni will teach: "Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God . . . is of the Devil" (Moroni 7:16-17). Some thoughtful people have urged caution with this concept, suggesting that it may be too pat and simplistic, and that it may lead to our becoming overly judgmental. It would seem logical that there are many features of our mortal world which we might use for good or for ill. These have been placed in mortality by God to help ensure that this mortal experience is a rich and ample test. These features might include, for example, a desire for material possessions, a need for recognition and affirmation, a yearning for sexual satisfaction, and others. If we seek after things of the world in an entirely appropriate fashion-only when they are necessary and timely-then we do not misuse them. In this instance, Satan has little power over us. It is when we begin to seek after things of the world to the exclusion of things of the spirit that we give over control to Satan.
The phrase "whatsoever is evil cometh from the devil," while an effective counterpoint to the phrase which precedes it-"Whatsoever is good cometh from God," is not, strictly speaking, true. While Satan is an active and effective cheerleader for evil in the world, and he rushes to comfort those who elect things of the world and exclude from their lives things of the eternities, the major source of evil is not Satan himself. Rather, it is the "natural" inclinations of each and every human being. Each of us is variably inclined to seek after things of the world instead things of the spirit. This is the quality of our being which we may refer to as the natural man or the natural self.
41 Therefore, if a man bringeth forth good works he hearkeneth unto the voice of the good shepherd, and he doth follow him; but whosoever bringeth forth evil works, the same becometh a child of the devil, for he hearkeneth unto his voice, and doth follow him.
42 And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works.
verse 42 "for his wages he receiveth death" It certainly is possible to become in this life spiritually dead or unresponsive to promptings of the Spirit. Such an individual will define his life in purely worldly terms. He is not likely to perform righteous acts lest they happen to benefit him in immediate and tangible ways. We also, of course, reap eternal rewards for our good or for our evil acts.
verses 43-44 We learn in these verses that Alma was commanded by God to deliver this testimony to his people. It was his priesthood calling-"according to the holy order of God."
43 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should hear me, for I speak in the energy of my soul; for behold, I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot err, or have spoken according to the commandments of God.
verse 43 It would seem that "and" would be a more suitable conjunction here than "or."
44 For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come.
verse 44 "I am called to speak . . . and testify unto this people" Alma teaches here the importance of bearing testimony to those gospel truths we teach. President Ezra Taft Benson taught: "Now, after we teach the great plan of the eternal God, we must personally bear our testimonies of its truthfulness" (Ensign [May 1987] 85).
"the things which have been spoken by our fathers" This phrase refers to the Nephites' scriptures.
45 And this is not all. Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety?
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
verse 46 "I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God" This testimony Alma is delivering to his people in Zarahemla was revealed to him through the Spirit. Indeed, a testimony can come to an individual in no other way. The apostle John said "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Revelation 19:10). Alma teaches here an important principle of testimony bearing. After we bear our testimony, we must testify also as to how we know. We must give credit to the Holy Spirit of God.
"I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself" There is obviously no "free lunch" in gaining a testimony. Even after having a dramatic experience with an angel of God (Mosiah 27:11-17), Alma had to fast and pray to gain his witness. This fact and the events surrounding the conversion of Alma certainly present us with a clear picture of the relationship between miraculous events and genuine conversion. Miraculous events simply do not, in and of themselves, produce conversion.
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God.
verse 47 "the words which have been spoken by our fathers" By the time of Alma, the Nephite tradition concerning Jesus Christ would have been available through the spoken traditions and through the Nephite scriptures wherein are recorded the inspired prophecies of the Book of Mormon prophets.
The "spirit of prophecy" is the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:10) as communicated to man through the Spirit of God. Though Alma had been stopped in his tracks through the intervention of an angel (Mosiah 27), his testimony was grounded not alone in this dramatic encounter but also in quiet, personal, spiritual experience over time and through significant effort.
48 I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.
verse 48 "the Only Begotten of the Father" Begotten is to have been sired (generated as offspring by a male parent) or to have been produced. This term is used most frequently, as here, to describe the unique, divine parentage of Jesus's physical body. The children of God are "spiritually begotten" of Christ when they covenant to do his will, keep his commandments, and are born of the Spirit (Mosiah 5:5-7).
49 And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again.
verse 49 "this is the order after which I am called" Alma says, in effect, "This is my priesthood calling."
50 Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.
verse 50 "for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand" What event is being referred to here? This verse is actually a bit problematic. The reader should be reminded to distinguish between the kingdom of God on the earth (his earthly church or kingdom) and the kingdom of God in heaven, the kingdom of heaven (his heavenly kingdom, the celestial kingdom). Here the kingdom of heaven is characterized by the "Son of God [coming] in his glory [splendor, radiance], in his might, majesty, power, and dominion." The event which fits this description best is the Savior's second coming, though you might well argue that it was hardly "soon at hand" in Alma's day. Thus we learn that in a limited sense the millennial (terrestrial) earthly kingdom of God may be considered to be the "kingdom of heaven." This phrase might also have reference, in even a more limited sense, to Jesus's earthly ministry which was indeed "soon at hand." Or, this phrase might be referring to the death of each person within earshot of Alma's message. Some time after death each person will enter the kingdom of heaven, at least briefly, to stand before the judgment bar of God.
51 And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people-Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.
52 And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.
verse 52 "the ax is laid at the root of the tree" This is a most interesting warning which the Lord apparently reserves for very particular circumstances. He is obviously warning a people that they are about to be destroyed because they are failing to bring forth good fruit-they are in danger of being cut down and cast into the figurative fires of hell. But it is interesting to study the circumstances in which the Lord has tendered this warning to a people in the scripture.
Here, this warning is given to Alma's people who have great need to repent of their sins and have before them the great Lamanite wars which threaten great risk of destruction. The same warning was addressed to the faltering saints in this final dispensation. In 1833 the saints in Independence , Missouri, had brought on themselves threatening circumstances through their own unrighteous and unwise actions. They were in imminent danger of being attacked and routed by the Missourians, in fact persecutions had already begun (see D&C 97:7 and its commentary). In New Testament times, the same warning was delivered to the apostate and wicked Pharisee and Saducee Jews who will soon be destroyed by their failed revolt against Rome (Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9). In all of these cases deliverance is still possible if the rebellious individuals will only repent.
We may conclude that the Lord reserves this particular warning for a people who have brought upon themselves, through their own unrighteousness, devastatingly dangerous circumstances. There is still time to escape, but the need to repent is urgent.
Trees can't move; they can't run away or hide from the woodsman's axe. Their only defense against being cut down for firewood lies in producing valuable fruit.
"every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire" An interesting question is raised by this phrase. Is it possible that our exaltation will depend upon more than merely resisting evil. Perhaps we also take a pro-active approach to life and look for ways to "bringeth . . . forth good fruit."
"a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire" This phrase seems to reflect the simplified and incomplete version of our post-mortal life taught in the Book of Mormon: If we die righteous, we will live with God in heaven. If we do not, then we will live forever with Satan and suffer everlastingly.
53 And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?
verse 53 "can ye withstand these sayings" Alma asks, in effect, "Are you going to continue as you are, or are you going to change your hearts as I have suggested?"
54 Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance-
verse 54 "sanctified by the Holy Spirit" At least some of the members of the Church of Jesus Christ in Alma's day (the "holy order of God") had put off the "natural man" and had truly become converted. For a discussion of why the "natural man" must become "sanctified by the Holy Spirit," see the commentary for Mosiah 3:19. Also for a discussion of the sanctifying function of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire, see the introductory commentary for this chapter.
"they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance" The meaning of the adjective "meet" in this context is an archaic one. It means consistent with or indicative of.
55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?
56 And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent.
57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;
verse 57 "come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things" The implication of Alma's counsel is that one should avoid even a curious and casual association with evil things lest that casual association lead to a more intimate one. One cannot partake of sin without first "touching" it. To avoid even the "touching" creates a reserve of safety.
"their names shall be blotted out" The reference here is to the "book of life" mentioned in the next verse. This book is a record kept in heaven containing the names of those who will inherit eternal life. The names of the faithful are entered while they are yet in mortality (D&C 76:68; D&C 88:2; D&C 88:128:6-7; 132:19; Psalm 69:28; Daniel 12:1-4; Luke 10:20; Hebrews 12:23; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; Revelation 21:27). These names may be blotted out of the book in the event of wickedness (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 22:19).
One might also regard this verse as referring to the process of excommunication of those members of the church whose misbehavior merits such action. Regarding the necessity of excommunication when it is appropriate, Elder Dean L. Larsen has written:
We have been assured that in this last dispensation of the fulness of times, there will be no universal apostasy. When the Lord appears again in his glory, he will find a people who will have remained faithful and who will be ready to receive him and join with him in the completion of his work.
But the fact that there will not be a complete apostasy in this last dispensation does not mean all who have received the gospel and become members of the Church will remain faithful. Prophetic references to our own day, in fact, seem to indicate that there will be many who have known the truth and have tasted of the Lord's goodness that will then allow themselves to be tempted away from the course the Lord has marked out for them. . . .
Historically, the drifting away from the course of life marked out by the Lord has occurred as individuals begin to make compromises with the Lord's standard. This is particularly true when the transgression is willful and no repentance occurs. . . . [This drifting away begins] as individual members of the Church knowingly [begin] to make compromises with the Lord's standard. They [seek] the association of those who are willing to drift with them along this path of self-delusion. . . .
As the number of drifting individuals increases, their influence becomes more powerful. . . . The drifting is the more dangerous when its adherents continue to overtly identify with and participate with the group that conforms to the Lord's way. Values and standards that were once clear become clouded and uncertain. The norm of behavior begins to reflect this beclouding of true principles. Conduct that would once have caused revulsion and alarm now becomes somewhat commonplace. . . .
Within the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior has provided a refuge from the evils of the world. Wherever a congregation or community of saints is found, there should be the sustaining influence of the gospel and the assurance that those who identify themselves as saints are applying themselves to gospel principles (The Book of Mormon: Alma, the Testimony of the Word, edited by Monte S. Nyman and Charles D Tate, Jr., 5, 8).
58 For the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life, and unto them will I grant an inheritance at my right hand. And now, my brethren, what have ye to say against this? I say unto you, if ye speak against it, it matters not, for the word of God must be fulfilled.
verse 58 "the names of the righteous shall be written in the book of life" See the commentary for the previous verse.
59 For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.
60 And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.
verses 59-60 Alma is not promising that belonging to the church or "fold" of the Savior will prevent us from having to contend with "wolves," but he does promise that we will not be "devoured" or "destroyed."
61 And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
verse 61 Again, we learn that Alma was "assigned" or called to deliver this sermon by the Lord himself.
62 I speak by way of command unto you that belong to the church; and unto those who do not belong to the church I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
verse 62 It is interesting to learn that Alma directed his writings in Alma 5 to members of the church as well as to those who were not members. Is his counsel pertinent to members of the Church today? Indeed it is.
"partakers of the fruit of the tree of life" These will live with Christ forever. Christ is the tree of life. President David O. McKay has described a sublime personal vision which he beheld in a dream. He saw a beautiful city, the Savior, and a great concourse of people dressed in white. He said:
The city, I understood, was his. It was the City Eternal; and the people following him were to abide there in peace and eternal happiness. But who were they? As the Savior read my thoughts, he answered by pointing to a semicircle that then appeared above them, and on which were written in gold the words: These are they who have overcome the world-who have truly been born again! When I awoke it was breaking day" (Cherished Experiences From the Life of President David O. McKay, 59-60).