17 April 2014

"By the Testimony of His Word," Alma 7:15-21

Alma 7:15-21

I find in verses 15 and 16 a recap of the gospel: faith, repentance, baptism unto the remission of sins, endurance until the end. His testimony of these principles is confirmed to him according to the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Our fears are what bind us to destruction. Our faith is what causes us to live lives of extraordinary capacity and interest.  There are sins which bind us down and commandments that liberate and free us. Commandments are not only those written in stone by Moses thousands of years ago, but also include the whisperings of the Spirit and "every word which proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:44)

It is also by the manifestation of the Spirit that Alma received a witness of the faith of those at Gideon (see vs. 17). This thought has been impressed upon me recently as to how this work is guided by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Obedience to that Spirit is requisite to be a true servant of the Lord. Alma places so much confidence in those impressions that he knows that his preaching to these people has not been in vain.

These verses also remind me of the instructions given in the Doctrine and Covenants concerning workings of the spirit:  See Doctrine and Covenants 50.

Throughout these verses, Alma speaks in sure terms of knowledge and understanding using definitive terms like "I know" or "I perceive," followed by the explanation that the Holy Spirit is the source of his surety. Then in verse 20, Alma turns the tables with the following statement:
I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths;
 Instead of stating that this is his testimony, Alma says that he perceives that this is the people's testimony. Testimony of what? A testimony of the Word of God that says that God cannot walk in crooked paths. So in other words, the people of Gideon had already obtained a testimony of the truth from their own application of the Word of God to their own lives and the conclusion that they had received -- the substance of their testimony -- is that when they do what God commands exactly as he has commanded them, then are they blessed. "Neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong;"

As a concluding thought, my perception of these verses has changed dramatically because of the time that I've taken to study them. What initially appeared to be as presumptuous statements, I now see as humble declarations of reality. It gives me pause to consider how many people falsely assume truth to be something other than that.

09 April 2014

"The Son of God Suffereth According to the Flesh," Alma 7:10-14

Alma 7:10-14

I have for many years taken for granted that when the scriptures talk about Mary as a virgin, that this was just a given. I simply assumed that was just who she was. When in reality this is who she chose to be. It was a deliberate choice to keep herself clean and pure, that then qualified her for the role that she was blessed to receive.

The same realization must be made of our Savior. When the scriptures talk of his "suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind," what we must see is that, indeed,  He chose to "take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." (vs. 11)

Another thought, that I find to be almost as paradoxical as it is true (and it is this way with most everything in the Gospel of Christ), is that we are to try to comprehend the infinite Atonement of Christ, when our minds are limited to the finite. The reality is that we will never be able to fully understand it in our present mortal state. We cannot comprehend it. And yet we are commanded to try to understand it. We are given a knowledge of it, and commanded to reverence this great and atoning sacrifice.

Yet it is real. Though it is greater than our capacity to comprehend it, it is real. It directly impacts us. In fact, we are governed by it according to the conditions and terms of its justice and mercy, and yet it is still something that we cannot ever quite fully wrap our minds around.

Because of Christ and His infinitely reaching Atonement, repentance becomes possible unto us.  (See verse 14)

03 April 2014

"Repent Ye, and Prepare the Way of the Lord," Alma 7:7-9

Alma 7:7-9

This particular injunction resonates with me, probably because of my personal circumstances at the moment. Yet it seems that the personal and individualized instruction tends to be the most universally compelling at the same time.

Alma states that the Spirit had said unto him to tell the people of Gideon:
Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth. (vs. 9)
In chapter 9, a different account is found where Alma is among the people of Ammonihah. This time it is the voice of an angel that had instructed Alma:
 And now for this cause, that ye may not be destroyed, the Lord has sent his angel to visit many of his people, declaring unto them that they must go forth and cry mightily unto this people, saying: Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand;
And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers. (Alma 9:25-26)
I am reminded that the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our day is the same message as what Alma taught his people: "the Kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand."

In our time, it is even more noteworthy.  For from the time that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, there has been the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth as fulfillment of one of the great signs of the last days (Dan. 2:44, see also D&C 65, 3 Ne 21). Its growth has been like the growth of a tree. Small and delicate at first, with ample nurturing and tender care. The longer that it lives, the greater the strength and protection. And yet its growth today is faster and more abundant than ever before. Its protection is more sure and steady. For those involved in the work, the spirit associated with it grows more compelling daily, and the work to gather those that will believe in it is hastening (Isa. 49:22-23). Truly, the kingdom of heaven is at hand in a way that it has never been before.

01 April 2014

"Ye Do Worship the True and Living God," Alma 7:6

In verse 6, the people of Gideon are found not in a state of unbelief. Rather they did believe in and follow the teachings of the true and living God. I want to say that they did worship, but I don't know if I understand or hold in reverence what it truly means to worship God.
Yea, I trust that you do not worship idols, but that ye do worship the true and the living God...
 What is the difference between worshiping idols and worshiping the true and living God? Idol worship requires no changes to the inner, carnal man. It allows man to continue as he was in his sins. To worship the true and living God requires a change of heart, and a perpetual, continue effort to turn more towards God.

...but that ye do worship the true and the living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come.
When I worship, I am not just giving reverence and blind patronage to some Being who hold his all powerful staff over me to hold me in subjection to his will. No, rather I worship a divine Being by choosing to subject my will to the evolving, changing, purifying process of repentance. In other words, I worship by the act of actually becoming more like the Holy Father.

I feel that it was the same for the people of Gideon. Their worship had prepared them for the message that Alma would bring them.

20 March 2014

"Ye Do Worship the True and the Living God," Alma 7:3-6

Alma 7:3-6

I am appreciating today the difference in wholesomeness, cleanliness, or worthiness that is presented in these verses as a contrast to the more sinful state of those at Zarahemla. It causes me to consider the question of whether it is better to have experienced the hardship and difficulties of sin and then gone through the process of repentance, or whether it is better to have the experience of endurance in righteousness.

That this comparison would even be considered brings to light two general false assumptions:
  1. That the Atonement of Christ can only be seriously experienced and realistically accessed through the process of turning from serious, grievous sin. 
  2. Similarly, the sufferings and hardship of the righteous who endure in righteousness are not the same, nor comparable, nor as significant as the pain and anguish that is suffered by the godless as the result of sin. 
Now this second point is a hard one to measure or assess. There seems to be an inherent need to compare the worthy suffering of the righteous verses the sinful suffering of the wicked, as if one were greater than the other. This is a diabolical farce to force comparison on this point. (I am growing to realize that much of the world's tendency to compare is diabolical.) Rather, what we do know is that when the righteous suffer, it is to their ultimate blessing and purification. When the wicked suffer, it is not the same. It may however prove to their salvation if it is the catalyst for repentance.

I discussed this point further with my wife when I last considered this section of scripture. Pain and hardship is not synonymous with sin and subsequent suffering. Yet many times we assume that if we are experiencing difficulties it is because of sin, entirely forgetting the ultimate purpose of our existence is to experience the refinement and purification that will forge the means of our salvation.

So for Alma to find the people of Gideon in a state of humility, blameless before God (see vs. 3) is quite noteworthy. The groundwork had already been laid for a much greater blessings to be obtained.

See also: The Atonement Covers All Pain

14 March 2014

"The Lord in Much Mercy Hath Granted," Alma 7:1-2

Alma 7:1-2

Verses 1 and 2 seem like something of a formality only if we choose to see them that way. However, recent prayers and events in my own life have caused me to consider the significance of a few key points.

Alma starts his remarks by stating that he had been permitted to come to them by rearranging the affairs of the government and freeing up his time and responsibilities so that he could attended to such. He points out that this is the first time that he had been permitted to travel to meet this particular group of saints in person. Thus Alma concludes that "the Lord in much mercy hath granted that I should come unto you." (verse 2) This seems noteworthy that Alma did not take for granted the restructuring of the government of the land as something that he accomplished in and of himself.

There are two different reminders that I take away from this introduction:
  •  First, on a personal level, I do well to remember the great blessings that have been extended to me in recent years that have permitted me to have more time to do the Lord's work. 
  • Secondly, on a more general level, I should not take for granted how easily accessible communications from prophets have become. I wonder if this is not one of the greatest miracles of our day: that in the comfort of our own homes and local church houses we can enjoy transmissions where we get to hear prophet's words in the very moment in which they are spoken. And then when we are blessed to have a visiting leader or general authority among us, because of advances in transportation and travel, is this too not a blessing of modern mercy?

13 February 2014

"To Establish the Order of the Church," Alma 6

Alma 6

After Alma's pivotal discourse at Zarahemla, the record states that "he ordained priests and elders, by laying on his hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church."(vs.1) Those who would repent became a part of the Church of God; those who would not repent and already belonged to the Church of God, had their names "blotted out, that their names were not numbered among those of the righteous." (vs.3)

Thus is the work of the kingdom, to organize according to covenants, the righteous from the wicked, that the righteous might have a support structure in which to strengthen their faith and to perform greater works than they would otherwise be able to do for themselves.

In the fifth verse of this chapter, after explaining this sorting of church members between the wicked and the righteous on conditions of their repentance, the author explains that everyone was permitted to come to church, regardless of their willingness to repent or not.
Now I would that ye should understand that the word of God was liberal unto all, that none were deprived of the privilege of assembling themselves together to hear the word of God.
This naturally makes sense in terms of progress and charity, and in the very next verse we learn that those that had joined to the Church fasted and prayed on behalf of those that had not. Or in other words, the membership of the Church were "joined in fasting and mighty prayer in behalf of the welfare of the souls of those who knew not God." (vs. 6)

Having set the affairs of the church in order and having preached the word of God to the people at Zarahemla, Alma moved on to the land of Gideon.

Gideon, the man, has always stood as one of my heros in the Book of Mormon. He never held the office of a prophet, he was never the king, but rather through his righteousness, he was able to bless many as a servant to a king, and as a teacher of righteousness. I think what stands out to me here is that there is now a land where the righteous had gathered to live, and they chose to name the land after Gideon, the teacher, and, by this time, a martyr for the cause of righteousness. 

Finally in verse 8, the author explains that Alma began preaching among the people "according to the revelation of the truth of the word which had been spoken by his fathers, and according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ." This is one of several references in scripture that talks about the spirit of prophecy being synonymous to the testimony of Christ. Revelation 19:10 is another place wherein that similarity is observed.

It strikes me that without prophecy, without revelation from God, man cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.