As I have said in a comment on the Alma 13 materials, I do not think that deep doctrine is what is covered in the caution to not “cast pearls before swine.” I think that comment is reserved only to ordinances. Those are to be kept from being profaned. Deep doctrine is meant to be preached, proclaimed and understood. Without it, men’s souls are not saved. And by “men’s souls” I mean mankind, men and women. All must hear the fullness and be offered it in order to make this life meaningful and fulfill its purpose. When the doctrine is ignored or suppressed, then those who had a responsibility to proclaim it will be damned for their refusal to sound the alarm.
This is often the case. John’s Gospel ended with this observation:
Mormon was the editor of this portion of the Book of Mormon. He was the one who determined to omit portions what Alma said to these people on this occasion. From what Mormon left for us to read, his intent is clear. He wanted us to understand the bigger picture of God’s dealings with man, man’s possession of priestly power, and the importance of repentance and defeating religious error. Mormon had seen us, and included specific warnings addressed to us, the Gentiles. He cautioned us about the Book of Mormon as follows:
“And then, O ye Gentiles, how can ye stand before the power of God, except ye shall repent and turn from your evil ways? Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God? Know ye not that he hath all power, and at his great command the earth shall be rolled together as a scroll? Therefore, repent ye, and humble yourselves before him, lest he shall come out in justice against you—lest a remnant of the seed of Jacob shall go forth among you as a lion, and tear you in pieces, and there is none to deliver.” (Mormon 5: 22-24.)
Mormon knew the book would initially be in the hands of the Gentiles. So you can know we are identified as “Gentiles” in the Book of Mormon. Also, Joseph Smith declared in the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple that we are identified with the Gentiles. (D&C 109: 59-60.) Although Brigham Young and President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that Joseph was a “pure blooded Ephramite.” (Doc. Sal. Vol 3: 253-54.)
The selected materials that Mormon gave to us were targeted to the purpose of the Book of Mormon. The title page (written by Moroni) tells us the purpose: “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile.”
Gentiles would receive, translate and disseminate the Book of Mormon. But the Gentiles are prophesied to fail in their faith. They are to become full of their own abominations. When they reject the fullness of the Gospel, then it will be taken from them and given back to the remnant. (3 Ne. 16: 10-11.)
Mormon is using the message from Alma to provide to the Gentiles (who will reject the invitation), an opportunity to understand the fullness which was offered to them. It was intended to remove from them the excuse that they were not given an opportunity and did not understand. Therefore, the Book of Mormon’s primary purpose, to make the Gentiles aware and accountable for their failure, is accomplished by Mormon including this portion of Alma’s teachings. The fact that other portions were left out mean that they would not have contributed to the task before Mormon.
A few of the Gentiles happily may be numbered with the remnant. (3 Ne. 16: 13.) That is conditioned upon their repentance. The degree and completion of that repentance is shown by this portion of the sermon by Alma which Mormon preserved for us.
We are on notice. We are accountable for how we react to that notice. For the most part, the expectation is that we tell one another in reassuring words that “all is well.” and that “Zion prospers,” and to generally allow our souls to be cheated while we are led carefully down to hell. (2 Ne. 28: 21-25.) Still, some few will follow Christ, despite the leaders’ teachings that will cause them to err. (2 Ne. 28: 14.)
The Book of Mormon is a record that will be used as evidence we have been warned. In plain language and with sufficient truth to hold us all accountable, this is the standard by which we are to find our way back to the Lord in this last dispensation before His return. We remain, of course, under condemnation because we are unwilling to do that. (D&C 84: 57.)
What a great and terrible book. What an alarming message. It is no wonder we neglect it so.
“And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.”
Alma’s closing remark here is a prayer. He is asking that the Lord “grant unto you repentance.” This is an interesting cause-and-effect way to state the proposition. We cause it by our desire and willingness to become humble and repent. The Lord causes it because without His atoning sacrifice it could not be done.
We receive the effect because we are cleansed by our acts, humility and willingness to accept what is offered. The Lord receives the effect because He has allowed us to join Him in being pure and holy. He acquires a brother (or, more correctly a son). But He has no jealousy, allowing His brothers/sons to sit upon His own throne. (Rev. 3: 21.) He wants to have “all things in common” with us.
Alma’s petition goes further to ask that the wrath of God not be poured out upon these people to whom he is preaching. There are, of course, two levels of wrath. One is temporal–here and now. The wicked are often punished here by letting them pursue their own evil course until it destroys them. Repentance in that sense relieves them of the physical, emotional, social, military, economic, and interpersonal disasters they bring upon themselves by their ruinous pursuit of destructive behavior.
The other is eternal–meaning coming after this life. That second “wrath” is a result of leaving this life with accountability for what happened here, and the lack of preparation for the moment when “judgment” is rendered. That “judgment” consists of you finally facing reality. When you are in His presence you can accurately measure the difference between what you are and what He wanted you to become–i.e., like Him. The gulf is so great that you would rather be in hell than in the presence of a just and holy being when you are stained with the blood and sins of your generation. (Mormon 9: 4.)
I have been in the presence of President Ronald Reagan. I met with President Spencer W. Kimball at the law school at BYU when he would come to visit with his son, who was a criminal law professor there. I shook hands and spoke with Chief Justice Warren Burger for about a half hour in the law library at BYU. I have appeared at the US Supreme Court, the Utah Supreme Court, argued before Federal and State courts in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Texas, California, Virginia, Washington DC, New York, Oregon, Nevada, Montana and New Mexico. I have seen Congress in session. Although a boy at the time, I was there when President Kennedy came to Berlin and spoke at Checkpoint Charlie, giving his “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech. I have seen many other men who have shaped history. But there simply is no comparison between these mere children, these insubstantial and powerless creatures, and the holiness, power, majesty and glory of the one True Man, clothed in light. You may see what the world reckons as a “great man” and think he was impressive. But you come from the presence of glory with only one conclusion: Surely man is nothing, which I had never before supposed. (Moses 1: 10.)
It is awful, fearful and dreadful to be in the presence of God. You realize the horror of your own darkness. (Gen. 15: 7-18.) You cry out with the realization that you are unclean, living your life among the unclean, and you are not ready for His presence. (Isa. 6: 5.) You are not prepared, and all your careful pretensions dissolve until you stand naked, revealed, hollow and unworthy to stand in His presence.
How, then, does a man stand in His presence? Through the merits and mercy and grace of this, our Lord. (2 Ne. 2: 8.) If your mouth is unclean, He will use an ordinance to cleanse your lips. (Isa. 6: 6-7.) If you are covered by the blood and sins of your generation, He will cleanse them. (John 13: 5-13.) If you cannot stand, He will raise you up with His own hand. (Daniel 10: 5-10.) He is the God of mercy. Your discomfort is relieved by what He does, and this not of yourself, least you should boast. There is nothing in you from which to boast other than the merit and mercy and love and sacrifice given to you by Him.
How can He love so? It defies explanation. Words fail. You can search your lifetime through every word you have ever seen or heard – nothing comes close to being able to describe it. It cannot be spoken…. Too sacred for language to capture. Beyond our power. So, you are left saying only: “Come, see.”
How, then, can a man come to the judgment and not feel the wrath which they might have overcome by His grace and mercy? Through the merits of Him bestowing upon a man the power to stand in His presence.
Alma’s pain at the thought of these people perishing was real. He was powerless to bring them to Christ. That power consists only in the authorized and truthful declaration of an invitation to come to Him. But the choice remained in those who, having heard, must decide for themselves whether they will repent. They were free to choose iniquity and abominations. Alma was only able to invite.
“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.”
Hope that one can receive eternal life is not the vague optimism that it might happen – it is a certitude. You have the promise. You know you will have eternal life. You haven’t died and entered into the resurrected state yet. Between the time of the promise and the time you leave this sphere, you have hope. (The way it is used here is defined in Eighteen Verses.)
This life will end. But you will be raised up. You know when you are lifted up in the last day it will be the power of God that raises you. Such power as God employs to lift a man up confers upon such a person eternal life. The promise alone is a power, conferring the right to lay hold on eternal life when the moment comes. No power in earth or hell can rescind God’s word. (D&C 1: 38.) It cannot be done. Therefore, you have knowledge that you will not only be raised from the dead, but “lifted up” as well. Powers, principalities, dominions, exaltations are all promised as yours.
Formulas like this one are inspired statements, providing a road map to the Lord’s methods of changing lives. Alma is making such a declaration and invitation in this sermon. It is amazing, really. How succinctly he cuts to the core of the matter.
These words of the prophetic fathers promised that “the mouths of angels” will declare Christ’s birth into the world.
Is this a description of those who hold the same priesthood as Melchizedek discussed by Alma? If so, then does access to that priestly order after the order of the Son of God put the possessors into contact with heavenly messengers? Can a person hold that authority and not receive messages from angels from time to time? Who is it among us who begins an address by referring to the angel who visited the them the preceding night? (See, e.g., 2 Ne. 10: 3; also 3 Ne. 7: 15.)
Should I be concerned?
If you do not possess this kind of faith, can you be saved? Moroni taught that the absence of such faith condemns the people who no longer have such things happening among them. (Moroni 7: 36-37.)
It is more difficult to be taught than to have faith for miracles. (3 Ne. 17: 2-8.) Even should you behold the Lord “in His glory” just as the Nephites, it would still be more difficult for you to have the faith to be taught by Him and accept what He has to teach than for Him to perform a miracle.
To “wrest” means to apply such twisted reasoning that the philosophies of men are mingled with scriptures so that the result is error.
The object of the scriptures is to make matters “plain” and prevent people from “erring” in their effort to follow God.
What is the difference between someone who with their scriptures before them, finds their message sufficiently “plain” and “understood” that they “cannot err,” and someone who has the same set of scriptures and engages in “iniquity” and “abominations” because of their false religious ideas? How can someone who is religious be certain they are not among those who err, but is instead among those who find holiness and develop faith to repent?
So, applying Alma’s teaching to us, we should ask ourselves if we have repented? If we have received a message from angels declaring glad tidings? If we have received what we would recognize as a message from the Lord by someone declaring repentance? Or do we have a weak tradition which assures us that we are right, while letting us entertain abominable (false, religious-based) errors in our beliefs?
Powerful teachings from Alma. But then again, one should expect nothing less from a true messenger bearing a holy order of power and authority after the order of the Son of God. A weak and vacillating voice telling us all is well and we’re going to be fine just seems wrong by comparison. At least I would think so.
“Now this Melchizedek was a king over the land of Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray; they were full of all manner of wickedness; But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people. And behold, they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.”
He was a king over people who had “waxed strong” in both “iniquity” and also “abomination.” Keep in mind that “waxing strong” means to be increasingly determined or committed. “Iniquity” is generally evil practice, but “abomination” involves the religious justification of wrongdoing. That is, something becomes “abominable” when it is motivated out of a false form of religious observance or is justified because of religious error.
The people to whom Melchizedek would minister were not simply in error, they were motivated by a false set of religious beliefs and errors. The result was that “they had all gone astray.” They were “full of all manner of wickedness.” This was a challenging audience for this man to minister to and try to convert to the truth.
Melchizedek began by “exercising mighty faith” in order to understand the truth and discern the difference between truth and error. Remember how difficult it is to be taught truth. It is more difficult to learn truth than it is to perform miracles. (3 Ne. 17: 2-7.) Despite this, Melchizedek was able to set aside all he beheld and through faith acquire an understanding of the truth for himself. Conferred upon him as part of this education was the priestly authority with which to minister to others.
He “did preach repentance unto his people.” This required him to expose the errors, show them they were involved in iniquity and to expose how their religious errors had made them abominable. This preaching is always most difficult because it confronts the audience with a challenge to their mistaken beliefs, and false religion. There is a risk of violence when this happens. People who entertain abominable religious practices are more often moved to violence than to repentance. The Lord was greeted with violence. So was Lehi, Isaiah, Nephi, Samuel the Lamanite, Abinadi, Peter, Paul, Stephen, James, Zacharias and too many others to mention. To their credit, and to Melchizedek’s, the preaching resulted in repentance.
The serious errors, iniquity, and abominations of these people did not prevent Melchizedek from establishing a Zion. These people were able to acquire “peace in the land” because of their repentance. As used here, however, peace means more than the absence of violence, it means the presence of the Lord.
The statement that he established peace as the King of Salem (Shalom means peace) and “he did reign under his father” is a play on words. Which “father” is being identified in the statement. Was it Noah, or Gabriel? (A man who would also be translated and have a ministry as the Lord’s herald before the birth of John the Baptist and Christ.) Or was the “father” Him would would declare that Melchizedek was “begotten” as a “son of God?” It likely meant both. But it is also likely written this way to let those who do not understand what is being said to read it in a way that conceals the dual meanings. The scriptures are filled with such dual meanings.
What is hopeful for us today, is that no matter how much “iniquity” and religious error we engage in that results in our “abominations” in our pride and foolishness, we still may be candidates to receive something similar to what befell the City of Salem. The first step is to acquire the presence of this priesthood through individual repentance.
We envy these ancients. But we do nothing to try and follow the pattern revealed to us in their course. The Book of Mormon is a course in ancient failure and ancient success. We just do not respect what we have in that volume.
Well, let us press on…