CLICK HERE to read Alma 7.
This is Alma’s talk given at General Conference to the people of Gideon. He first explains that he could not come see them because of his political duties (verse 1), but that he delegated that political work because his spiritual duties are more important (verse 2). He is very glad to see them, saying:
“And behold, I have come having great hopes and much desire that I should find that ye had humbled yourselves before God, and that ye had continued in the supplicating of his grace, that I should find that ye were blameless before him, that ye were not in the awful dilemma that our brethren were in at Zarahemla” (verse 3).
He hopes the people have not been proud, and bitter, and unforgiving.
He hopes they have submitted to the laws of God, been full of gratitude, and at-one with each other.
The comparison to Zarahemla is not a “judging” in a negative way, but in a pointing out of the evidence of “good fruit” versus “bad fruit”. Our choices and patterns of behavior and patterns of interactions leave evidence of whether we are doing what God says – or not. As a prophet ordained and called to speak to these people, Alma has the authority to point out the difference.
He also is not condemning the people by “judging” them, but pointing out what it looks like when the evidence shows people are NOT following God’s plan, and pointing out the evidence of their repentance, and the evidence of when they are again making and keeping sacred covenants. He describes “great joy of knowing that they are established again in the way of his righteousness” (verse 4).
He hopes that “according to the Spirit of God which is in me, that I shall also have joy” over the people of Gideon (verse 5). However, he clarifies that he hopes this joy is based on obedience, rather than repentance after disobedience. Obedience brings blessings; disobedience brings “wading through much affliction and sorrow”, which does require deliverance from bondage before the joy comes.
So, Alma says, “I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren… but that ye do worship the true and the living God…” (verse 6). Because, he says, it is very soon that the Redeemer, the Savior, even Jesus the Christ, will be born – literally – and come to live among the people (verse 7). He clarifies with the people that no prophesy or revelation has stated that Jesus would be born among them or live among them or “come among us” while he is in his mortal body (during his physical lifetime on earth), but that he has promised to come (verse 8). The point is that the Savior is about to arrive to fulfill his premortal covenant, which is to atone for our sins, and so the people are to prepare for that process by turning to Him in humble repentance.
“… the Spirit hath said this much unto me: Cry unto this people, saying – Repent ye…. the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth” (verse 9).
Then Alma prophecies that the Savior will be born of the virgin Mary, in Jerusalem (verse 10). The Savior will “go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind…” (verse 11), and “he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people” (verse 12). The whole purpose was to transform us and to grant us mercy, even to redeem us.
“Now the Spirit knoweth all things;… the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now, behold, this is the testimony which is in me” (verse 13).
“Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins… I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea…. show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism” (verses 14 and 15).
The gift is ours, waiting for us to receive it.
I love these verses because I know what it is to be “easily beset by sin”.
It reminds of me this CS Lewis quote:
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
Alma asks the people if they believe what he has taught them, and says he knows they believe because the Spirit has confirmed it to him directly (verse 17).
“And now because your faith is strong… great is my joy” (verse 17).
With the authority of a prophet, just like the stake president for a stake, and the bishop for a ward, or the prophet for all of us, Alma knows – by the Spirit – whether the people are responding or not, believing it or not, trying it out or not. He rejoices because the Spirit confirms to him that the people are believing and living what they believe – they are making and keep covenants.
“For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God…” (verse 19).
Just as he knew the other people were not doing what they should, he knows that these people are covenant-keepers (verse 20).
They are not unholy and filthy and unclean, removing themselves from access to the Spirit and release the Savior from His promises to them (verse 21).
No, he can tell they really are covenant-keepers, but they are observing-to-keep-their-covenants, doing the things that covenant-keepers should be doing – their duty, walking blameless before Him (by the power of the atonement), and being set apart – living set apart from the world – by the priesthood and premortal covenants (“holy order of God” – verse 22).
“And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive… And see that ye have faith, hope, and charity, and then ye will always abound in good works” (verses 23 and 24).
That’s what it means to be covenant keepers.
And when we keep our covenants, the Lord also keeps up His end of the deal:
“And may the Lord bless you, and keep your garments spotless, that ye may at last be brought to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the holy prophets who have been ever since the world began, having your garments spotless even as their garments are spotless, in the kingdom of heaven to go no more out” (verse 25).
This is what Alma taught the people, by the power of the Spirit and his testimony, and how he rejoiced because of the diligence by which the people were obedient (verse 26).
Then, as in the close of every General Conference, Alma leaves the people an apostolic blessing:
“And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever…. Amen.” (verse 27).