Book of Mormon Lesson 20 (Mosiah 25–28; Alma 36)
THE CHURCH OF GOD IN ZARAHEMLA
Alma Establishes the Church
Mosiah assembled the people in Zarahemla and read the records of Limhi’s people and Alma’s people to them. They were thankful for God’s blessings to those who had recently returned, but sorrowful for their accounts of sin (Mosiah 25:4–11). Such records “enlarge the memory” of the people and bring them to a correct knowledge of God and his teachings (Alma 37:8).
Alma traveled among the people, speaking to large groups, preaching repentance and faith on the Lord. Many repented and desired to be baptized in the Church (Mosiah 25:14–18). Mosiah authorized Alma to establish “churches” throughout Zarahemla.
This was a “new dispensation” of the Church (Mosiah 25:19–24). The Bible Dictionary defines the Church of God as “the organized body of believers who have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ by baptism and confirmation. To be the true Church it must be the Lord’s church, and must have his laws, his name, and be governed by him through representatives whom he has appointed” (p. 645). Alma’s church met all of these qualifications to be called the Church of God. Their church was a legally-recognized organization under King Mosiah’s government (v. 19; 26:8). These “churches” are what we would call congregations today. Their “priests” were high priests, not Aaronic priesthood priests. And their “teachers” would correspond to our bishops today (v. 21).
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, [It was common practice among the Nephites to] “consecrate priests and teachers, give them administrative responsibility, and send them out to preach, teach, and baptize [and] these priests and teachers held the Melchizedek priesthood.”1
The Lord Promises Alma Eternal Life
Buried almost unperceptively in the midst of this acceptance of Alma’s church organization, is a most important promise that the Lord makes to Alma personally. This extraordinary promise to Alma the Elder shows his greatness in the eyes of the Lord (Mosiah 26:20).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Those so favored of the Lord are sealed up against all manner of sin and blasphemy except the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and the shedding of innocent blood. That is, their exaltation is assured; their calling and election is made sure, because they have obeyed the fullness of God’s laws and have overcome the world. Though such persons “shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation” (D&C 132:26) The Lord says to them: ‘Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection . . . and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths’ (D&C 132:19).”2
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, ‘son, thou shalt be exalted.’ When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints . . . [quotes John 14:12–27] . . . . Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. . . . He will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. . . . This is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions: Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the First Born.”3
DEALING WITH SINNERS IN THE LORD’S WAY
The Rising Generation Rebels
Many of the “rising generation” refused to join the Church (Mosiah 26:1–5). Worse, they did their best to turn people away for the Church, and many “did deceive many with their flattering words” (Mosiah 26:6–8). Ezra Taft Benson said, “Seeking the applause of the world, we like to be honored by the men the world honors. But therein lies real danger, for ofttimes, in order to receive those honors, we must join forces with and follow those same devilish influences and policies which brought some of those men to positions of prominence. . . . Today we are being plagued within by the flattery of prominent men in the world.”4
The Difference Between Sin and Crime
Mosiah wisely declined to judge people who had sinned but committed no crime (Mosiah 26:10–12). Crimes are violations of the laws of the state. Sins are violations of the laws of God. Often an act can be both, but many times it is not. Under Nephite law they could believe as they chose so long as they committed no crime (Alma 30:7–11). This stance has been reaffirmed in our own dispensation (D&C 134:10).
The Process of Church Discipline
Alma was uneasy with judging the sinful among his people. After all, he himself had been rebellious in his youth. But the Lord declared His confidence in Alma and blessed him (Mosiah 26:13–14, 19). He explained to Alma that those who confess Christ but “never knew him” will not be exalted (Mosiah 26:24–28). In our own dispensation the prophets have explained the reasons why Church action against sinners is necessary: (1) To help the sinner to repent and regain lost blessings; (2) To preserve the good name of the Church; and (3) To insure equal justice rather than hiding or overlooking the sins of some while punishing the sins of others.
Repentance and Confession
The Lord instructed Alma to judge the people who had sinned. Those who confessed and repented should be forgiven. Those who repented not should be excommunicated (Mosiah 26:29–32). In our own day, the Lord has declared His own standard of judgment concerning repentance, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).
The Lord promises He will forgive us as often as we repent (Mosiah 26:30). This is comforting news. We are not entering into the process to be condemned or embarrassed. We are entering into the process to be forgiven—and we will be forgiven. But if our repentance is not permanent, neither is our forgiveness (D&C 82:7). The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God.”5
Peace is Re-Established
Alma wrote down the Lord’s instructions. A similar process is shown today by means of the Church Handbook of Instructions, which priesthood leaders are required to follow in all such matters (Mosiah 26:33). And when it is done in the proper way, priesthood leaders’ judgment is the Lord’s judgment (Mosiah 26:34–36).
As a result of Alma’s judgment of the people, the Church “began again to have peace and to prosper,” although they also suffered “all manner of afflictions” and persecutions from outsiders (Mosiah 26:37–39). But when persecution against the Church from outsiders became intolerable, King Mosiah took action to protect their civil rights (Mosiah 27:1–6).
A MIRACULOUS CONVERSION
Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah
Among the young people who were persecuting the Church were the sons of the prophet and the king. Alma the Younger and four sons of Mosiah—Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni (Mosiah 27:34)—caused great consternation to their parents and to the Church, and seemed to revel in it. Alma the Younger told the story, not just once but three times in varying degrees of detail:
— Mosiah 27:7–37 The original historical account of Alma’s rebellion and conversion.
— Alma 36:5–26 Alma’s re-telling of the story to his son Helaman.
— Alma 38:7–8 Alma’s re-telling of certain details of the story to his son Shiblon.
Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah were apostates and persecutors of the Church (Mosiah 27:8–10). Mormon calls Alma the Younger a flatterer—a man “of many words” (v. 8). They caused great dissension in the Church and weakened it (v. 9). They were trying to “destroy the Church of God,” trying to “lead astray the people of the Lord”; in short, they were “rebelling against God” (v. 10). Mormon says Alma the Younger was “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4). Alma himself summarized the seriousness of his many sins (Alma 36:13–14).
An Answer to Their Parents’ Prayers
As we can imagine, the rebellion of these young men caused their parents great anxiety, and they prayed for their sons continually, as did the Church. We can imagine in our own day how it would affect the Church if our prophet’s sons were actively working to destroy the Church. But as Alma and Mosiah and the Church continued to pray for the repentance and redemption of these young men, an angel came in answer to those prayers (Mosiah 27:11, 14).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Perhaps no anguish of the human spirit matches the anguish of a mother or father who fears for the soul of a child. . . . [But] parents can never give up hoping or caring or believing. Surely they can never give up praying. At times prayer may be the only course of action remaining—but it is the most powerful of them all.”6
Elder Howard W. Hunter said, “Such a father or mother is not alone. Our first parents knew the pain and suffering of seeing some of their children reject the teachings of eternal life. (Moses 5:27). Centuries later Jacob came to know of the jealousy and ill feelings of his older sons toward his beloved Joseph. (Genesis 37:1–8). The great prophet Alma, who had a son named Alma, prayed at length to the Lord regarding the rebellious attitude of his son and no doubt was over-whelmed with concern and worry about the dissension and the wickedness his son was causing among those who were within the Church. (Mosiah 27:14). Our Father in Heaven has also lost many of his spirit children to the world; he knows the feelings of your heart . . . Don’t give up hope for a boy or a girl who has strayed. Many who have appeared to be completely lost have returned. We must be prayerful and, if possible, let our children know of our love and concern.”7
The angel called Alma the Younger to repentance (Mosiah 27:12–13, 15–17). Alma the Younger was racked with fear and torment—suffering the “buffetings of Satan” during for three days (Alma 36:10–16). Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the nature of such buffetings: “To be turned over to the buffetings of Satan is to be given into his hands; it is to be turned over to him with all the protective power of the priesthood, of righteousness, and of godliness removed, so that Lucifer is free to torment, persecute, and afflict such a person without let or hindrance. When the bars are down, the cuffs and curses of Satan, both in this world and in the world to come, bring indescribable anguish typified by burning fire and brimstone. The damned in hell so suffer.”8
Alma the Elder rejoiced over what God had done for his son (Mosiah 27:18–23). Though his son was suffering, he knew that by this process he might be brought to repentance. We might ask, “Did the visit of the angel cause their repentance? And if so, why did it not work with Laman and Lemuel in Nephi’s day?” The difference is in the sinner himself—whether he will respond to heavenly warnings or not.
President Wilford Woodruff said, “I said to [a man who had prayed for a visitation of angels] that if he were to pray a thousand years to the God of Israel for that gift, it would not be granted, unless the Lord had a motive in sending an angel to him. I told him that the Lord never did nor never will send an angel to anybody merely to gratify the desire of the individual to see an angel. If the Lord sends an angel to anyone, He send him to perform a work that cannot be performed only by the administration of an angel. . . . I have always said, and I want to say it to you, that the Holy Ghost is what every Saint of God needs. It is far more important that a man should have that gift than he should have the ministration of an angel, unless it is necessary for an angel to teach him something that he has not been taught.”9
The Persecutors Are Born Again
In the midst of his excruciating torment, Alma the Younger’s plea for mercy brought redemption through the Savior (Alma 36:17–21). He and the sons of Mosiah were born again, just as is every repentant sinner (Mosiah 27:24–29).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “When Alma the younger had his glorious experience and was born again—without any question he had been baptized in his youth but he had not been born again, he had not exercised the power to become a son of God—when this finally came, he received from the Lord the pronouncement that all mankind, men and women, people of every nation and kindred and tongue, had to be born again if they were to become inheritors of peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. And then he was counseled that they had to become new creatures. They had to become a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit; their lives had to be changed. (Mosiah 27:24–31 and Alma 5). And that change is one in which people become alive to the things of righteousness; they die as pertaining to carnality and things that are vulgar, as to things that lead contrary to, and away from, the Lord, our Heavenly Father.”10
The Requirements for Redemption
This all seems so sudden and dramatic to us because they were “snatched” from such a depth of sin to such heights of righteousness in so short a period of time. Yet, if we consider that Alma and his friends were in the throes of “exquisite” pain, fear, and suffering for nearly three days, it does not seem so sudden. And if we consider the elements that were involved, we can see that it was both deep and sincere.
1. A fear of damnation, brought on by a clear realization of their sins and iniquities (Alma 36:13).
2. A deep godly sorrow for sins (Alma 36:12–16), similar to the one experienced by the people of King
Benjamin when they fell to the earth after realizing that they were “less than the dust of the earth”
3. Suffering and torment for sins which they had committed (Alma 36:12–13) produced real pain and
sorrow that was so deep that Alma described it as “exquisite.”.
4. Humility produced by their suffering, similar to the humility of the poor who were being persecuted by
the Zoramites, which prepared them to listen to what the Lord had to say to them (Alma 32:6–13).
5. An appeal to the Savior for forgiveness which required faith in the words of their fathers and also in the
Savior’s atonement on their behalf (Alma 36:17–18).
6. Forgiveness, spiritual enlightenment, and great joy through the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost
(Alma 36:19–23), similar to what happened to the 300 people who witnessed flames of fire
surrounding both them and the prophets Lehi and Nephi and the “joy unspeakable” that accompanied
them (Helaman 5:43–52).
7. A lifetime of righteousness and service thereafter (Alma 36:24–26), which demonstrated the sincerity
of their repentance.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Alma serves as a pattern. The horror for sin that engulfed him should be felt by every wayward member of the kingdom; then repentance would be forthcoming, as it was with our Nephite friend.”11
Alma Bears His Testimony
While telling his conversion story to his sons, Alma said, “If ye keep the commandments of God ye shall prosper in the land” (Alma 36:1, 30). This is a powerful witness, born by a righteous father to his son. Alma’s knowledge and testimony came not in a temporal way, but “of God” (Alma 36:3–5, 22; 38:6). By this same process of revelation, we can all receive our own personal witness.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Every devoted, obedient, and righteous person on earth has and does receive revelation from God. Revelation is the natural inheritance of all the faithful . . . To the faithful the Lord promises: ‘Assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive . . .(D&C 8:1–3; 46:7; Matt. 7:7–8; James 1:5). . . With reference to their own personal affairs, the Saints are expected (because they have the gift of the Holy Ghost) to gain personal revelation and guidance rather than to run to . .church leaders to be told what to do.”12
Making Restitution to the Church and to God
After their conversions, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah dedicated themselves to correcting the wrongs they had done in the Church (Mosiah 27:32–37). Alma the Younger’s subsequent life was full of devoted labors and many blessings (Alma 36:24–29). And the sons of Mosiah were filled with the desire to go and teach the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:1–5).
Elder L. Tom Perry said, “After conversion comes the desire to share—not so much out of a sense of duty, even though that responsibility falls on the priesthood, but out of a sincere love and appreciation for that which has been received. When such a ‘pearl of great price’ comes into our lives, we cannot be content just to admire it by ourselves. It must be shared!”13
We can imagine King Mosiah’s concern for the safety of his sons on such a mission. It would be similar today to have our sons request to go among the most vicious terrorists on the planet to preach repentance unto them. Mosiah was understandably hesitant. But the Lord promised King Mosiah that his sons would not be killed (Mosiah 28:6–10). And so he gave his blessing to their missions.
1. Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:87.
2. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 598–599.
3. History of the Church, 3:380, 381.
4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1964, 57; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1964, 1067.
5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 148.
6. “Alma, Son of Alma,” Ensign, March 1977, 80–81.
7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1983, 91–92; or Ensign, Nov. 1983, 64.
8. Mormon Doctrine, 108.
9. Address given at Weber Stake conference, Ogden, Utah, published in Deseret Weekly [Salt Lake City], 7 Nov. 1896, 1.
10. “Households of Faith,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Provo, 1 Dec. 1970], 4.
11. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 229.
12. Mormon Doctrine, 644–645.
13. In Conference Report, Apr. 1984, 106; or Ensign, May 1984, 79.