Throughout the Book of Mormon we find many great sermons delivered by inspired men of God that teach the principles of the gospel in plain yet powerful words. One such sermon that almost every Latter-day Saint is familiar with is the one given by King Benjamin to his people, and another famous sermon was delivered by Abinadi before King Noah and his priests.
Although all of these sermons are useful "for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, [and] for instruction in righteousness," there is one that should be ranked among the greatest but is often overlooked. This is the sermon that Alma, the younger, gave to the people of Zarahemla as recorded in the fifth chapter of the Book of Alma.
For eight years Alma had been both the chief judge over the Nephite nation as well as being the chief priest over the Church of God. However, in the eighth year of his reign he was troubled by what he saw happening in the church. Because the people had become prosperous and lived in peace with their enemies they "began to wax proud because of their exceeding riches" which led them to engage in behavior that was becoming increasingly contrary to the ways of God.
Alma was so concerned about this situation that he gave up his position as the chief judge so that he might have more time to devote to preaching the gospel in an effort to spiritually rejuvenate the church and strengthen it. The place where he started this ministry was in his home town of Zarahemla. What follows is a close paraphrase of what he told them.
I was consecrated by my father to be a high priest over the church of God because he had the power and authority from God to do this. And after he had received this power and authority from God he began to establish a church in the land called the land of Mormon and it was there that he baptized his brethren.
And it was there that, through the power and mercy of God, they were delivered from king Noah who sought to take their life. Now, it is true that after they were able to escape from Noah, that they fell into the hands of the Lamanites and were taken captive, but the Lord again delivered them from even this bondage by the power of his word and led them here where my father again established the Church of God throughout all the land.
It is that very church which you, my brethren, now belong to, but have you sufficiently remembered the captivity that your fathers had to endure? Have you sufficiently remembered how merciful and longsuffering God was to them and how he delivered their souls from the hell they were living in?
He changed their hearts. He had awaken their souls as though they had been in a deep sleep, and when they woke up they awoke to God. Prior to this time they had been living in the midst of darkness but God illuminated their souls with the light of his everlasting word. The way they had been living, Satan had wrapped his chains of hell around them and they were heading toward a death where everlasting destruction was waiting for them. But were they destroyed? No, they weren't because the bands of death which held them captive had been broken, and the chains of hell which Satan had encircled them with were loosed. As a result, their souls were filled with joy and they sang of God's redeeming love because they had been saved.
But how did they become saved? What caused them to be saved? What was the reason for the hope they had of salvation? What caused them to be loosed from the bands of death and hell?
Do you not remember that my father, Alma, believed in the words which were delivered by Abinadi who was a holy prophet? Abinidai truly did speak the words of God, and my father believed them and because of his great faith, a mighty change took place in his heart. Now you know that this is all true.
And my father preached the words he had heard Abinadi say to your fathers and there was a mighty change that took place in their hearts, and they humbled themselves and put their trust in the true and living God. As a result, they were faithful unto God from that time forward until the end of their lives. This is what it means to be saved.
And so I ask you, my brethren of the church, have you been spiritually born of God? Have you received his image in your countenances? Have you experienced this mighty change in your hearts that my father and your fathers experienced?
Do ye exercise faith in the redemption that the God who created you has offered? Do you look forward, in faith, of seeing your mortal body raised from the grave to receive immortality? Do you not see that in that day you will stand before God to be judged for the things you have done while in your mortal body?
When that day comes, can you imagine yourselves hearing the voice of the Lord saying to you, "Come unto me, you who are blessed, because your works, while living on the face of the earth, have been righteous." Or do you imagine that you can lie to the Lord on that day, and say, "Lord, our works have been righteous while we lived on the earth," and that he will save you?
Or is it more likely that when you are brought before the judgment bar of God you will see yourselves filled with guilt and remorse as you remember all of your guilt, and not just an imperfect recollection of the things you have down wrong, but having a perfect memory of all your wicked deeds and how you deliberately defied the commandments of God? Will you be able to look at God on that day with a pure heart and clean hands? And when he looks at you, will he see the image of God in the expression on your face?
Do you really think that God will save you when you have yielded yourselves as a servant to the devil? You know that you cannot be saved in that condition for no one can be saved except his garments has been washed white, purified and cleansed from all the stains of sin. And how are your garments going to be washed so clean? It is only through the blood of him whom our fathers spoke of who will come to redeem his people from their sins.
How will you feel when you stand before the bar of God, if your garments are stained from all manner of filthiness? Will not these stains testify that you are guilty of all manner of wickedness? Do you suppose that such a person can sit down in the kingdom of God along side of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the holy prophets, whose garments are clean and spotless as pure white? If you think you can do that then you make our Creator a liar who has said from the beginning that people who do such things will be cast out because they are the children of the devil and belong to him in his kingdom.
Now, if you have experienced such a change of heart in the past and you once felt like singing the song of God's redeeming love, do you still feel that way today? Have you kept yourselves blameless before God? If you were called upon to die right now, at this time, could you say within yourselves that ye are sufficiently humble to stand before God? Can you honestly say that your garments have indeed been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Are you stripped of pride? If not then you are not prepared to meet God.
Don't think that the day of God's judgment is far off and that you have plenty of time to change because the kingdom of heaven is close at hand, and if you are not ready when that time comes then you will not receive eternal life. If you are not stripped of envy then you are not prepared for that day and I would exhort you to prepare yourself quickly, because no one knows when that time will come.
Do you mock your brother and heap persecutions upon him? Beware, because such a person is not prepared to meet God and unless you change your heart and your attitude, you cannot be saved. Anyone who engages in works of iniquity has need to repent, not because I say so, but because the Lord God has spoken it. God has sent an invitation to everyone because his mercy is extended to all men. He calls them to repent and all who do repent he receives them as his own. He calls, "Come to me and eat from the fruit of the tree of life, and eat the bread that gives life, and drink from the waters of eternal life. Come unto me, bringing with you works of righteousness and you will not be destroyed. But whosoever does not bring forth works of righteousness has reason to mourn and cry."
Those who delight in doing iniquity are puffed up in pride because of the vain things of the world. They may profess that they are righteous and say with their lips that they know God yet they have gone astray, just like sheep who have no shepherd to guide them. Yet the shepherd does call but they will not listen to his voice.
The redeemer, who is to come, is that shepherd and he is calling you by his name which is Christ. If you will not listen to his voice when he calls then you are not one of his sheep and if you are not one of his sheep then you are not his. And if ye are not one of his sheep, then who do you belong to? The answer is, you belong to the devil who is your shepherd. Now, how can you deny this?
You cannot because whatsoever is good comes from God, and whatsoever is evil comes from the devil. Therefore, if a man brings forth good works then it is plain that he listens to the voice of the good shepherd, but whenever someone says that he listens to the voice of God but doesn't follow his words and does that which is against God's word, then it is plain that such a person is the child of the devil because that person obeys the words of the devil and does the things that the devil would have him do. A servant receives his pay from whoever is his master, therefore, those who serve the devil will receive their pay from the devil, which payment is death, both of the body and of things pertaining to God.
Listen to what I am trying to tell you because I am speaking to you with all the energy of my soul. I have spoken to you as plainly as I know how so that you will not misunderstand my words and stray from the ways of God. I have not given you my own words but God has called me to tell you these things. I have been commanded to stand and testify to you that the things which have been spoken of by our fathers about what will come are true.
But it isn't just because our fathers have said it that I know these things are true. I know these things of myself. And how do I know they are true? Because they have been made known to me by the Holy Spirit of God after I had fasted and prayed for many days so that I might know for myself. And now I do know, independent of anyone else, that these things are true; for God himself has revealed them to me by his Holy Spirit.
This knowledge was revealed to our fathers but I say to you, that I know these things of myself. I know that Jesus Christ, who is the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is full of grace, and mercy, and truth, shall come, and he is coming so that he may take away the sins of the world of every person who steadfastly believes on his name.
I was called, by God, to preach to you, my beloved brethren, and everyone who lives in this land. I am called to preach to all, both old and young, bond and free, to the elderly, to the middle aged, and the rising generation. I am called to cry repentance to everyone I can until they have all become born again.
So my message, which I bring from God himself, is to repent because the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. The Son of God is coming in his glory and in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. And except a person repents there is no way that they can inherit the kingdom of heaven.
After hearing these things, can you set aside my words and trample the words of the Holy One under your feet? Can you continue to be puffed up in the pride of your hearts? Will you continue to set your hearts on the vain things of the world, and seek for riches instead of seeking for God? Will you continue to imagine that you are better than others? Will you persist in persecuting others? Will you humble yourselves and walk after the ways of God? Will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them? Will you persist in your wickedness? If you do, then you will be cast out and in no way receive salvation unless you quickly repent.
You were brought into this church by the word of God and you have been sanctified by God's Holy Spirit, therefore bring forth works of righteousness. Follow the voice of the good shepherd, come out from among the wicked and separate yourselves from them because their names will not be numbered among the names of the righteous. The names of the righteous are written in the book of life and it is they who will be granted the right to sit at the right hand of God.
And now, my brethren, if you do not believe my words and say it is not from God, it doesn't matter to me because the word of God will still be fulfilled. The good shepherd is calling after you and if you will hear his voice and follow after him he will bring you into his fold where no ravenous wolf will enter in among you. There you will be safe and not be destroyed.
Now I command you in the language of him who has commanded me, do the things which I have spoken unto you. I invite you to come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life.
There are several significant points that Alma brings up that are just as important for us in our day as they were in Alma's day.
Alma starts his remarks by recounting what God has done for their fathers and then he exhorts his people to remember what happened in the past. The command to "remember" the past occurs more than a hundred times throughout the Book of Mormon and the entire book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament is composed of Moses recounting to the Israelites all the marvelous things God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt so they would always remember and never forget the past. This same command appears nearly three dozen times in the New Testament.
The command to remember the past is an important part of our salvation because when we forget the past we forget why we accepted Christ in the first place and why we agreed to keep His commandments. Complacency is the enemy of progress because when we become complacent we are happy with what we have and stop trying to improve ourselves. Worse yet, when we stop trying to improve, we naturally begin to regress because nothing in nature stands still. We are either moving forward or we are moving backwards.
That is why Satan wants us to forget the past. He wants us to forget all the good things God has done for us. He wants us to forget about the joy we felt as God cleansed us of our sins and he wants us to forget our need for keeping the commandments of God because if he can get us to forget these things then we will stop progressing spiritually and automatically begin to slide back towards our natural, cardinal state.
Most people who have been severely punished for a crime don't easily forget that experience and, because of the pain they suffered, they are constantly aware of it, which then affects the way they behave from that time forward. Alma the younger had fought against the church in his youth but then he had a terrifying experience where he vividly felt the pains of hell. But in that same encounter he also experienced the relief and joy of God's salvation. After that event Alma never forgot what he suffered and why and for the rest of his life he fully devoted himself to the service of God. Even in his old age, Alma still remembered that awful experience that happened decades earlier.
Alma then asked his listeners to imagine the future, when we will stand before the judgment bar of God. Just as Satan doesn't want us to remember the past, so he also doesn't want us to think about the future because if we forget that some day we will be held accountable by God for every good and wicked deed we have committed, then there will be no fear of doing what is wrong.
Alma talked about having a "mighty change of heart." To have a change of heart is the real meaning of repentance because it causes a person to have no more desire to do evil. When a person is heading in one direction, to repent means to stop, turn around, and head in the opposite direction. In a spiritual sense, when God asks us to repent what He is asking us to do is turn away from doing the works of Satan and start doing the works of God.
But in order for that to happen there has to be a change of heart or, in other words, a change in attitude toward sin. Instead of being apathetic to sinning or even enjoying it, a repentant person comes to detests sinning. When a person repents, instead of them finding it boring or inconvenient to keep the commandments of God, they take delight in serving God. Instead of feeling good about living the way the world does, a repentant person is proud to believe in Christ. A "mighty" change of heart is when the desire to sin goes away in one sudden instant and is replaced with an immediate and strong desire to emulate Christ's behavior. This is what happened to Alma the younger in his youth.
To be "Christ-like" means striving to emulate or behave like Christ. It means striving to be as patient as Christ was, to be as caring as Christ was, and to be as obedient to God's word as Christ was. And the stronger our desire is to do that the quicker we'll find ourselves becoming more like Christ, where our desires, our thoughts, and our actions are the same as His.
Jesus said, "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:20) and Alma taught his people that when we come before the bar of God we will bring with us the deeds we have done while on earth. If our works are similar to those of Christ, then we will have the image of Christ in our countenance. In other words, when our actions mirror those of Christ then when God looks at us He will see Christ in us and it is only those who have this image of Christ in their countenance who will receive eternal life and be saved.
Alma taught that on the day of judgment we will have a perfect recollection of all that we've done, both the good and the bad. On that day not one of our deeds will be hidden from either His view or ours, making it impossible for us to lie about what we did or didn't do. Therefore if we constantly remember that we will be judged for everything we do, it will be easier for us to follow God's commandments.
Yet all of us sin, which means that all of us will stand before God stained with sin. However, Alma taught his people that the Son of God himself will come down and atone for our sins, thereby washing them away with his blood. And because of that we will be able to stand before God sinless or, as Alma put it, having our garments washed clean and made spotlessly pure and white.
But how does that happen? How do we have our sins washed away? Alma taught it is by having faith in God, believing His words, repenting of our sins, and having a desire to do good continually.
Then Alma cautioned his listeners not to delay the day of their repentance because, he says, "God's judgment is not far off." The great and dreadful day of the Lord has not come yet, more than two thousand years after Alma spoke these words, but each of us will die and when we do then it won't matter whether the judgment day is today or a million years from now because the time for us to repent will have passed. And since no one knows when they will die, it can truthfully be said that the day of judgment is very close at hand. It could happen at any moment.
But how do we come to believe on Christ enough to repent of our sins and desire to follow His commandments? Although we have the words of the prophets as recorded in the scriptures that tell us these things are true, Alma told his listeners, they shouldn't rely just on what others have said. Even Alma wanted to know if these things were true for himself, therefore, in his desire to know the truth, he fasted and prayed with all the sincerity of his heart, for many days before receiving a witness from God's Holy Spirit. And that's the same way we too can come to know the truth of all things. And then, once Alma had this knowledge, he then testified of it and invited all to come unto Christ.
This was the message Alma gave to the people of Zarahela, as he strove to bring them back to the path of righteousness. The more we study what Alma told his people and are able to apply his message to ourselves the more we come to appreciate his words as being one of the great sermons of all times.
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