Summary: In the scriptures we find many stories relating things that have happened to people and difficult situations they’ve found themselves in. The purpose of telling these stories is because we often find ourselves in similar conditions. It’s been said that we can either learn from trial and error, or we can learn from the experiences of others. This article looks at one story and examines the lessons we can learn from it.
After Alma had started a church at the waters of Mormon, he was eventually able to lead his people to the land of Zarahemla where King Mosiah allowed him to preach to his people. His message was so well received that many of them came forth desiring to be baptized, and in doing so they became members of the church of God.
Because of the great number of people who were converted by Alma’s preaching, King Mosiah allowed him to establish churches all over the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:11) and to help him teach thesm, Alma ordained priests and teachers within each church.
“Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; Therefore, they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma” (verses 20,21)
There are two things we learn from this. The first is that Alma had such tremendous success in converting people to Christ that they couldn’t all come together as one body, so they had to be divided into separate groups known as churches. The problem this presented to Alma was that he couldn’t teach all of them himself, so he ordained priests and teachers in each church to do the preaching for him.
Which brings us to the second thing we learn which is that the priests were the ones who taught the gospel to those who belonged to the church of God, but what about the teachers? What was their duty? It seems that they assisted the priests. Therefore, we see the church beginning to develop into an organized structure with a hierarchy of authority.
However, “notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God” (verse 22). In other words, despite there being many different congregations, spread out over the land of Zarahemla, they were all taught and believed the same doctrines. And what was it they were taught by their priests? “For there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God” (verse 7).
Alma’s message was simple. First, since all of us are prone to doing things contrary to God’s way, Alma and his priests continually reminded the members of the church to repent whenever they did something they shouldn’t. And what should they do? We have to remember that what Alma taught is what he learned from listening to what Abinadi had said to King Noah and his priests, of which Alma was one of them. What Abinadi said was that men should keep the law of Moses, and he specifically recited the Ten Commandments (Mosiah 12:33-37). Therefore, we can be sure that Alma taught his people to keep the commandments of God and to repent when they failed to do so because this was Abinadi’s message.
The second thing Alma taught his people was to have faith in God, and in particular, to have faith in the coming of Christ who would atone for the sins of those who believed on him. When Abinadi was brought before the council of King Noah’s priests, they asked him to explain the scripture that reads, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation” (Mosiah 12:21; Isaiah 52:7).
Abinadi went into a lengthy explanation of how all the prophets have prophesied about the coming of a savior and how this savior is Christ. It is the feet of those who publish or declare this message of good tidings who are beautiful upon the mountains, and so this is what Alma would have also taught his people.
Even today, the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints still teaches the same message Alma taught, which is to keep the commandments of God, repent, and to have faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ.
“And now there were seven churches in the land of Zarahemla. And it came to pass that whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God; And they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land” (Mosiah 25:23,24).
Interestingly, King Mosiah’s father, Benjamin, had also taught his people about the coming of Christ and had them enter into a covenant to take upon them the name of Christ, but this was long before Alma and his people had come to the land of Zarahemla. Since Alma’s message was nearly identical to that of King Benjamin, this is no doubt why his son Mosiah was quick to allow Alma to go throughout the land preaching to his people and establishing churches.
However, as the younger generation came along, who were either too young to remember what King Benjamin had said, or weren’t born when this even happened, and didn’t know how their parents had gladly entered into a covenant to take upon themselves the name of Christ, “they did not believe the tradition of their fathers,”. nor “did they believe concerning the coming of Christ. (Mosiah 26:1,2). As a result of their disbelief, their hearts became hardened to where they wouldn’t accept the teachings of Alma, “and they would not be baptized, neither would they join the church” (verse 4).
This resulted in there being two groups of people living in the land of Zarahemla. There were the believers in Christ, and there were the non-believers. Those who belonged to the church strove to keep the commandments of God and repented of any wrongs they had done, while those who didn’t believe in Christ lived according to “their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God” (verse 4).
The good news was that at this point in time, the unbelievers “were not half so numerous as the people of God.” In other words, the believers in God outnumbered the non-believers more than two to one, and this was a good thing, except as time went on, the believers in Christ became too comfortable in their religious beliefs and when that happened, they became too lax in keeping God’s commandments.
Centuries earlier, their forefather Nephi had warned his people to be aware of how the devil “will pacify and lull them away into carnal security, [to where] they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well–and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28:21). And this was what began to happen in the church that Alma presided over.
And the same thing still happens today. There are members of Christ’s restored church who hear and obey the message to keep the commandments and repent, but after years of doing this, they get to a point where they think that message doesn’t apply to them anymore because they feel they’re already living the gospel as they should and therefore feel they have nothing to repent of. But when that happens, they lull themselves into a state of self-complacency where they tell themselves, “All is well with me. Yea, I am prospering and am doing so well in the gospel that there’s no need for me to repent anymore.”
Of course, the problem with this kind of thinking is that they become so accustomed to not repenting that they no longer recognize when they do sin, and as this blind condition continues, they don’t see that they’re gradually drifting further and further from living the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is what began to happen to some of the members of the church in Alma’s day.
As a result of this drifting away from the gospel, there began to be dissensions among the people of God. Since the priests peached nothing but repentance, and yet the arguing and bickering in the church continued, it’s clear that at least some of the people no longer felt that there was anything wrong with what they were doing and consequently felt no need to repent.
When that happens, the devil smiles as he continues to lead such people “carefully” down the path to hell. And when we say hell, it means that in their complacency people become more susceptible to the influence of the devil and are more easily persuaded to do that which is evil. And that’s exactly what happened to the members of the church in Alma’s day.
The non-believing Nephites were already living a “carnal and sinful” life and as they came in contact with the members of the church of God, they would “deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins” (verse 6).
The duty of the priests was to preach the word of God, and the duty of the teachers was to assist the priests in watching over the church. For his reason, whenever a teacher saw a member of the church doing something that was contrary to the ways of God, they would admonish that person in an effort to bring them to repentance.
Being contentious is bad enough, but now the teachers began to see some of their members engaging in other sinful behavior, “therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church” (verse 6), but what started to happen was that when the sinner was admonished by the teacher, they refused to repent.
Feeling as though they had failed in their responsibilities, and not knowing what else to do, the unrepentant sinner was “delivered up unto the priests by the teachers” in hopes that the priests would be successful in convincing the sinner to repent. But when even they failed in this attempt, “the priests brought them (the sinners) before Alma, who was the high priest” (verse 7).
As we saw earlier, the church had so many people that its members were divided into seven smaller groups called churches, and the priests and teachers who had been ordained within each congregation, personally knew each member of their church, but that was not the case with Alma. He “did not [personally] know concerning them” and so he had to rely on the testimony of others. Therefore, “there were many witnesses [brought] against them (those accused of sinning); yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance” (verse 9) and in that way the sinner’s guilt was established.
We have to remember that Alma preached nothing but repentance and faith in God, so when these sinners, who were members of the church, refused to repent, Alma didn’t know how to handle this kind of situation because “there had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled in his spirit.” Not knowing what else to do “he caused that they (the sinners) should be brought before the king” (verse 10).
“And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes. But king Mosiah said unto Alma: Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged” (verse 11,12).
These sinners had not broken any laws of the land. Instead, they had only violated the laws of the church. Therefore, King Mosiah knew he had no jurisdiction to try these men for what they had done. Since they had broken the laws of the church, Mosiah wisely gave Alma the authority to do with these men as he felt was best.
Now that the responsibility for these people rested squarely on his shoulders and having never faced this kind of a problem before, Alma didn’t know what he should do about this situation. “And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God. And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God the voice of the Lord came to him saying… Because thou has inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed. Thou art my servant” (verses 13,14,19,20).
There’s an important lesson for us in this story. In our world today there is much dissention and contention both in society and as well as within the church, and like the members of the church in the days of Alma, everyone has their own strongly held opinions of what they think is or isn’t the right thing to do which they tenaciously cling to no matter what anyone says.
As the high priest of the church, Alma could have decided for himself how to handle this situation in the way he thought was best. After all, no matter what he decided, not even the king would have questioned or disputed his word. Yet, instead of relying on his own feelings or wisdom, he was afraid to make a decision that was wrong in the sight of the Lord.
What a righteous and humble attitude, but how different from those who feel that what they think and do is always right and therefore feel no need to repent. That kind of attitude also prohibits people from feeling the need to pray to make sure that their attitude and actions are acceptable to God.
The scriptures tell us that Alma not only prayed about this matter but “he had poured out his whole soul unto God.” He didn’t just offer a simple, perfunctory prayer. He didn’t pray, “God, I know I’m right but just to be sure, please confirm to me that you agree with my position.” Alma came before the Lord sincerely seeking to know what God wanted him to do. He poured out his whole heart and soul, which clearly indicates that he was willing to accept whatever God told him.
And what was God’s response? He said, “Because thou hast inquired of me… thou are blessed.” If that is so, then what does that say about how God feels towards those who don’t inquire to know what he wants them to do?
We often hear about our God-given right of agency, where we are free to decide for ourselves, but what we don’t hear a lot about is being a servant. The choice that is placed before us is whether we’re willing to choose to be a servant of God or whether we want to serve our own wants and needs.
God said told Alma, “Thou art my servant.” A servant isn’t someone who decides for themselves what they think they should do. Rather, a servant is someone who does what their master wants them to do. It’s natural for people to think that whatever they believe is right, yet when someone considers themselves to be a servant of God, they go to him in prayer and seek to know his will.
This is what Alma did, and the answer he received is also instructive. God started by explaining, “For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whom ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive” (verse 22).
We learn two things from this statement. The first is that when a person is baptized it’s a sign that they believe in Christ. Since he commands us to repent whenever we commit a sin, if someone sins but doesn’t want to repent, then such an attitude indicates that they don’t really want to believe in Christ because they’re not willing to do what he asks.
The second thing we learn is that if we believe in Christ and repent of our sins then God is willing to freely forgive us. However, the converse is just as true, which is that if someone is not willing to repent., then Christ, is not willing to forgive their sins.
But why is Jesus willing to forgive or not forgive sin? He went on to explain, “For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand” (verse 23).
It was Jesus who paid the penalty for our sins and in so doing we are now indebted to him. For that reason, he now has the right to decide whose sins he’ll forgive and whose sins he won’t. If you will, he’s like the gatekeeper to heaven who has the right to decide who gets in and who doesn’t. And what he will base his decision on is who believes on his name. Those who do will demonstrate their belief in him by keeping his commandment to repent, while those who don’t believe on him won’t repent, and only those who have repented and have had their sin forgiven will be allowed to enter into heaven and a place as his right hand.
This is what King Benjamin meant when he told his people, ““And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient [to him] unto the end of your lives” (Mosiah 5:8).
But the question Alma had was, what should he do with the people of God who didn’t want to repent of their sins? The Lord answered saying, “I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day” (verse 28).
The way someone is “received into my church” is through the ordinance of baptism, but before someone can be baptized, they must first repent of all their sins. What God told Alma was that he was not to baptize anyone who won’t repent of their sins. But what if someone has been baptized and then afterwards refuses to repent? The Lord added, “and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people” (verse 32).
Being baptized allows someone to become a member of God’s church, but if such a person later refuses to repent of their sins, this is a clear indication that they really don’t want to be a follower of God. In that case, there’s no point to them belonging to the church of God.
And so, Alma went forth “And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out” (verse 36). When Alma did this, the people of God “began again to have peace and to prosper exceedingly in the affairs of the church” (verse 37).
What we see is that from the time Alma fled King Noah’s court to this point in his life, he slowly learned how to improve his ability to bring people unto Christ, and that not only included teaching them the doctrines of faith, repentance, and baptism, but how to effectively organize them and to better “regulate the affairs of the church.” But this process came as a result of necessity as the church grew, and through prayerful inspiration.
And this same process applies to us because this is how the Lord teaches and guides each of us as we seek to become more like him. It’s been said that there are two ways of learning – the hard way and the easy way. The hard way to learn is on our own through trial and error, but the easier way is to learn from the experiences of others. In the scriptures, we read about people who have faced similar problems, trials, and questions that we face in our life, and as we study and ponder the life of others we can learn from their failures and successes. As such, we can think of them as teachers or guides who are showing us how to avoid some of the pitfalls of life and how to better handle the challenges we face.
This is the value of the scriptures.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants and Teachings of the Book of Mormon