The title of today’s lesson is “Give Us Strength According to Our Faith in Christ.” It comes from chapters 13 through 16 of the book of Alma. Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, we’ll learn how to recognize the importance of honoring our foreordained roles, callings, and priesthood responsibilities. If we do that, and if we strive to always follow the counsel of prophets throughout our lives, we will be able to, as Alma puts it, “enter into the rest of the Lord.”
In preparing for this lesson, when I first read that phrase in Alma 13, verse 6, and then found it repeated in verses 12, 13, 16, and 29—I thought this must be really important for him to repeat it five times. Honestly, when I first read it I thought he was referring to the rest that happens once we pass away. But I’m not sure how much rest is actually involved on the other side of the veil—because the way I see it, we will be engaged in three specific activities on the other side and none of them involve rest—but we’ll save that discussion for another day.
So what was Alma meaning when he said he hoped we would enter into the rest of the Lord? Well, let’s find out, shall we? But let’s backtrack a little and set the stage.
In chapter 13, Alma, accompanied by his second witnessing missionary companion Amulek, is still preaching to the people of Ammonihah, and answering questions posed to them by the lawyer Zeezrom and the city’s judge, Antionah.
In the previous chapter, chapter 12, we heard some of the wonderful and enlightening things that were being taught, including answers to some of the mysteries of God—like laying out the entire plan of salvation including pre-mortality, mortality, and post-mortality, as well as the fall of Adam and Eve and why cherubim and a flaming sword were placed in the Garden of Eden to prevent our first parents from partaking of the fruit of the tree of life and living forever, and why death is a necessary part of life. There’s lots of cool things in that chapter—I’d go back and re-read chapter 12 if you’re curious.
But here we are in chapter 13, where Alma is going to tell us a little more about our pre-mortal life and a doctrine called “foreordination.” Let’s start with verse 1.
1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward (forward also means beginning) to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
Lest we forget, these priests were not the same as our Aaronic priesthood priests. These were more like modern elders and high priests. These priests had been ordained to priesthood that was called the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, which as explained in D&C 107:3, was intentionally renamed in our day to the Melchizedek Priesthood. There was no Aaronic Priesthood among the Nephites—that was reserved for the sons of Levi, not the sons of Joseph and Judah of whom the Book of Mormon peoples were descended.
2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
This is the pattern of God. After He gives us guidance and directions either personally or through his prophets, righteous individuals are called and ordained to teach the people these commandments which all bring us to a place where we can take advantage of the atonement of Jesus Christ and receive the ordinances that would enable us, through faith and faithfulness, to receive redemption from sin and death and be ultimately restored as members of the Family of God.
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
In this verse we learn a little about our pre-mortal existence and also the eternal principle of agency, where even if that existence, we had the ability to choose between good and evil. Even with a perfect knowledge of the goodness and majesty of God, we were free to make our own choices.
According to the prophet Joseph Smith:
Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. (TPJS, p365)
I would add to that, that it isn’t just men who are foreordained, but women as well. We each have a mission in life for which we were foreordained to perform. If you aren’t sure what your mission is, please check your patriarchal blessings for clues, although Heavenly Father will reveal your mission to you if you are worthy to have His Spirit as part of your life.
Of course, a fore-ordination does not necessarily lead to ordination in this existence. On earth, just as in the pre-existence, we have to exercise both faith and faithfulness in order to receive that mortal ordination and become endowed with power in the priesthood. Just as I strongly suspect we’ll have to use this same agency in the post-mortal existence to receive the priesthood ordinations and ordinances, associated with life after death.
The ramifications of choosing to soften our hearts and open our minds to influence of the Holy Spirit is discussed more in verse 4 and 5:
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared—
The 11th president of our Church, Harold B. Lee, once said:
I fear there are many among us who because of their faithfulness in the spirit world were “called” to do a great work here, but like reckless spendthrifts they are exercising their free agency in riotous living and are losing their birthright and the blessings that were theirs had they proved faithful to their calling. Hence as the Lord has said, “there are many called but few are chosen.” (Decisions For Successful Living, p169)
And so what should people who are ordained to the priesthood be doing with their time?
6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—
So Alma just told us what faithful saints should always be doing—it is our primary responsibility, our prime directive, our end goal, our guiding principle, our greatest ambition in life, our magnificat intentio. It is to “to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.”
Earlier I asked what that rest would be. Now that we’ve read these scriptures, what does “enter into the rest of the Lord” mean?
According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
The rest of the Lord, where mortals are concerned, is to gain a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the great latter-day work. [President Joseph F. Smith said,] ‘It means entering into the knowledge and love of God, having faith in his purpose and in his plan, to such an extent that we know we are right, and that we are not hunting for something else; we are not disturbed by every wind of doctrine, or by the cunning and craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive.’ It is ‘rest from the religious turmoil of the world; from the cry that is going forth, here and there—lo, here is Christ; lo, there is Christ.’ The rest of the Lord, in eternity, is to inherit eternal life, to gain the fulness of the Lord’s glory.” (Mormon Doctrine, p633)
So how can we become worth to enter into his rest? Well, the prophet Alma teaches us that too. Let’s look at verses 27 through 29.
27 And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
28 But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
29 Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
As immortal celestial spirits clothed with a temporary telestial body, one of the goal in our lives is to teach our bodies how to obey celestial laws so that both our spirit and our body can be resurrected to the degree of glory we truly desire. So in mortality, with the fatigue, and pain, and mental anguish, and troubled hearts that we all feel, most of us tend to procrastinate the day of our repentance. What is one thing that both Lehi and Nephi dreamed about in a dream that would help us get rid of this tendency to procrastinate?
Answer: Cling on to the iron rod—the word of God, as found in the scriptures, as found in prayer, as found in the whisperings of the Spirit, as found in our conferences, in our temples, in our chapels, and in this very room. I testify that holding on to it and clinging on to with both hands—that one thing will greatly motivate us to change our ways and move us forward down the path where we will see ourselves doing more and more good works along the way.
Now, let’s find out how the people of Ammonihah responded to the powerful teachings of Alma and Amulek and the call to repentance.
1 And it came to pass after he had made an end of speaking unto the people many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures.
2 But the more part of them were desirous that they might destroy Alma and Amulek; for they were angry with Alma, because of the plainness of his words unto Zeezrom; and they also said that Amulek had lied unto them, and had reviled against their law and also against their lawyers and judges.
3 And they were also angry with Alma and Amulek; and because they had testified so plainly against their wickedness, they sought to put them away privily.
I don’t know about you, but when someone calls me to repentance—like my wife—my first inclination is not to respond with humility. The natural man voice within my head tends to have an immediate retort that usually sounds something like this:
“Well Nathan. You’re a relatively smart guy. You seldom make decisions without thoroughly examining the consequences first so you couldn’t possibly have made an error in judgment. You value being competent and usually only let people see your competent side. You keep your incompetent side carefully hidden away until it is finally ready for prime-time. Who is she to call your judgement into question. You don’t need to repent—you’re doing good enough—considering what you have to work with.”
So that’s the first impulse out of my natural mind brain. It’s rather embarrassing to talk about it in front of you, my friends, but as a psych guy I think it is important to own your feelings and thoughts. So there it is. Now can you spot the flaw in my thought process? Can you spot the underlying sin? What is it?
It is pride. When my pride takes over and justifies my behavior, I tend to get angry. And because I’m introverted, that anger sometimes is expressed in quiet but piercing and damaging ways. If I don’t check it—or better yet chuck it—I can do some serious damage to my interpersonal relationships. And since I’m not exactly Prince Charming but more like a toad that likes being kissed by a princess, my desire for a healthy long-term relationship usually outweighs my innate knee-jerk or just jerk-like reactions.
So that’s how I overcome my feelings of pride and anger. I focus on how lucky I am to be married to someone who makes we want to be a better person. I focus on how I need to try as hard as I can to model good behaviors for my sons to see—so that they can be better husbands and fathers than I have been. I focus on how I would be completely lost without my family and how that drives me to want to be the kind of person they want to be around with forever. And if I want to with them forever, I better do exactly what I’ve covenanted with the Lord to do because there is no way I can go there without his invention on my behalf. Without Jesus, I’d never make it past the angels that stand as sentinels to make sure heaven stays heavenly. So I focus on what he did when someone insulted him or accused him or threatened him. I try to respond the way he would respond. I often fail, but I think I’m becoming better at it with time. It just takes me lots of trial and error.
So if I want to overcome feelings of pride and anger, which are vices, I need to replace them with their corresponding virtues, which are humility, gratitude, self-control, good humor, and love.
So what can we do to help others feel the desire to repent? Well, we start out by helping them have spiritual experiences. And we the timeless principles found in D&C 121:41-44 as our guide:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
But sometimes, as Alma and Amulek were about to find out, people choose to avoid having spiritual experiences. In fact, they regularly choose to sin rather than repent. They don’t value the things of God at this point in their lives. Someday they might, but right now they don’t. Their personal pride and anger are far too dominant that they can’t see clearly.
When Zeezrom, the lawyer, confessed that he believed the words of Alma and Amulek, and felt that he needed to repent, and then switched sides to plead on behalf of Alma and Amulek, the people were upset. They reviled him, they spit at him, they cast him out with the rest of the believers and sent men to cast stones at them. The majority of the people of Ammonihah didn’t make it easy for the minority of their fellow citizens to repent.
I’m afraid that’s what’s starting to go on today. Do you believe the majority of our nation is righteous? Do you sense that there is a growing movement of anger, hostility, intolerance, bigotry, and hate-filled speech? Do you sense that more groups of people are acting out against other groups of people in a quest to get what they think they deserve? Do you see more people abandoning the principles of good and civil government and failing to choose good, let alone righteous leaders? Are you feeling sad or depressed for the current state of our country? Are you feeling like the good times are never coming back?
I have my own answers to these questions, but I believe we have seen nothing of the persecutions and trials that will come our way as more and more people begin to wax in iniquity and persecute those who try to follow the Good Shepherd. The devil and his minions never make it easy for us to repent and change our direction in life. These are the last days, after all. But our loving Heavenly Father wouldn’t have sent us here at this time if we didn’t have the character and ability to overcome our challenges.
So if we want to change, we really have to be committed to it. We have to ready and prepared to face obstacles—because they will come. They certainly came to the people of Ammonihah—in horrible and awful ways. In fact, it got about as bad as it could ever get, because those that believed in Alma and Amulek had to flee for their lives. And those who weren’t able to flee were burned to death.
8 And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.
9 And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.
10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
Why did the Lord allow the wicked people of Ammonihah to kill the righteous? Certainly the Lord could have saved these righteous souls. Of course the truth is, that is exactly what he did. I’m pretty sure he was the first one there on the other side of the veil, where he reached out and wrapped his arms around each and every one of them with tears streaming down his face. How much better off will they be over those that put them to death.
President Spencer W. Kimball said:
Now, we find many people critical when a righteous person is killed, a young father or mother is taken from a family, or when violent deaths occur. Some become bitter when oft-repeated prayers seem unanswered. Some lose faith and turn sour when solemn administrations by holy men seem to be ignored and no restoration seems to come from repeated prayer circles. But if all the sick were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended.
If pain and sorrow and total punishment immediately followed the doing of evil, no soul would repeat a misdeed. If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good and not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, no Satanic controls.
Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death; and if these were not, there would also be an absence of joy, success, resurrection, eternal life, and godhood. (Improvement Era, Mar 1966, p180 & 210)
After the repentant people of Ammonihah were burned, Alma and Amulek were challenged yet again. This time they refused to answer the accusations and were stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, bound, and starved for many days. Finally, they were brought forth before the chief judge for the final time:
24 And the chief judge stood before them, and smote them again, and said unto them: If ye have the power of God deliver yourselves from these bands, and then we will believe that the Lord will destroy this people according to your words.
25 And it came to pass that they all went forth and smote them, saying the same words, even until the last; and when the last had spoken unto them the power of God was upon Alma and Amulek, and they rose and stood upon their feet.
26 And Alma cried, saying: How long shall we suffer these great afflictions, O Lord? O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance. And they broke the cords with which they were bound; and when the people saw this, they began to flee, for the fear of destruction had come upon them.
27 And it came to pass that so great was their fear that they fell to the earth, and did not obtain the outer door of the prison; and the earth shook mightily, and the walls of the prison were rent in twain, so that they fell to the earth; and the chief judge, and the lawyers, and priests, and teachers, who smote upon Alma and Amulek, were slain by the fall thereof.
28 And Alma and Amulek came forth out of the prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ. And they straightway came forth out of the prison; and they were loosed from their bands; and the prison had fallen to the earth, and every soul within the walls thereof, save it were Alma and Amulek, was slain; and they straightway came forth into the city.
29 Now the people having heard a great noise came running together by multitudes to know the cause of it; and when they saw Alma and Amulek coming forth out of the prison, and the walls thereof had fallen to the earth, they were struck with great fear, and fled from the presence of Alma and Amulek even as a goat fleeth with her young from two lions; and thus they did flee from the presence of Alma and Amulek.
Meanwhile, in Sidom, a neighboring city where some of the people who wanted to be righteous had fled, we find the esquire Zeezrom.
As you can imagine, watching all of this death and destruction weighed heavily on Zeezrom’s heart, who was simultaneously wracked with guilt and remorse for his own sins and transgressions, for he had helped stir up the people against Alma and Amulek. He had also lost his livelihood, his wealth, his friends, and his family. This anguish was so intense that he was bed-ridden with a mighty fever and close to death.
When he found out that Alma and Amulek had escaped from the prison and had arrived in Sidom, he asked for them to come by and give him a blessing. After declaring his faith in Christ to Alma, this is what happened:
10 And then Alma cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord our God, have mercy on this man, and heal him according to his faith which is in Christ.
11 And when Alma had said these words, Zeezrom leaped upon his feet, and began to walk; and this was done to the great astonishment of all the people; and the knowledge of this went forth throughout all the land of Sidom.
12 And Alma baptized Zeezrom unto the Lord; and he began from that time forth to preach unto the people.
13 And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.
14 And it came to pass that they were many; for they did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized.
Now before we close today’s lesson, let’s read three verses from chapter 16 and find out what happened to the evil people in the city of Ammonihah:
9 And thus ended the eleventh year of the judges, the Lamanites having been driven out of the land, and the people of Ammonihah were destroyed; yea, every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness.
10 But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness.
11 Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering. And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate.
And thus we see yet another example from the Book of Mormon that the law of the harvest is a true law. You always reap what you sow. Sometimes it takes more time than others to reap the harvest—for better or for worse—but reap you shall, for it is an eternal law, joined together with the law of justice, and tempered by the mercy offered to us by the great Jehovah, to whom we will be forever indebted.