How unkind would it be to fail to warn people of this risk they face? How unkind would it be to allow them to proceed into the afterlife unprepared, uncleansed, and unredeemed? Which would be better, to stay silent while the idolatry of the Latter-day Saints robs them of redemption, or to speak up and warn? Men and institutions will never redeem a man. Idolizing an institution will damn every participant. Idolizing men will damn those false religionists. In the Latter-day Saint community we have two groups: Those who are humble and follow Christ, but who are taught by the precepts of men and err. (2 Nephi 28: 14.) And the rest are those who follow men and worship the institution and proclaim “All is well” with their faith. For the first group there is hope, so long as they are able to find the truth. (D&C 123: 12.) For the rest, they will become heirs of this prophecy of Nephi’s, all the while assuring one another that the odds are they are going to be exalted.
“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.
“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…
It is not that the atonement ceases to operate for the redeemed. The atonement continues to cover the on-going sins of these redeemed souls which arise from their foolishness, mistakes, errors of comprehension, and the things they don’t understand yet. Christ does not require them to do what they don’t know is a requirement yet. As the gentle and kind Lord, He will forgive all they do that is wrong, while He reveals through greater light and knowledge a higher path. As He unfolds to their understanding more light, they can measure their conduct according to that greater light.
“Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;”
They went through “repentance.” So we know they made the same kinds of mortal mistakes as we do. They experience the bitter and then are able to prefer the sweet. They knew what it was like to feel the bitterness of hell, because they felt the sting of sin. So they repented. These great souls are NOT perfect, after all! They “repented” because they didn’t do it right the first time. What a refreshing idea. They weren’t fake. They didn’t feign virtue. They had failing. They were filled with life, made errors, and needed to repent. They were not immune to the circumstances of this fallen world.
More importantly, do the terms “exceeding faith” and “repentance” go together? That is, do you necessarily have to possess “exceeding faith” in order to become one who fully “repents?” If so, why? How is it done? This may be an important clue to the process of “keeping the second estate” and “proving” that you are ready to move on. Perhaps it is in this manner that some will then have “glory added upon their heads forever,” (Abr. 3: 26) and in another cycle of existence and eternal progression then also join in the ranks of those belonging to the “holy order after the Son of God.”
These called persons are, despite everything, “righteous before God.” God measures differently than do we. Being “righteous before God” may not mean the same thing we think “righteous” means. We want outward signs, symbols, dress, grooming and conformity. God looks at the intent of the heart.
Interestingly, they “choose to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish.” What do you suppose that means? First, they “repent,” then they “work righteousness.” Because of this, they do not “perish.” So do these things all go together? Can a person “repent” but then not “work righteousness?” Does a person have to “repent” and “work righteousness” in order to not “perish?”
In D&C 138:57-59 it states:
The scripture then says that the dead who REPENT WILL BE REDEEMED, THROUGH OBEDIENCE TO THE ORDINANCES OF THE HOUSE OF THE LORD. I thought temple ordinances, including baptisms for the dead, were only necessary for those who are heirs to at least some degree in the Celestial Kingdom. See Doctrines of Salvation, II, p. 191. If this is so, then why does the scripture go on to say “[a]nd after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation.”
If they repent and are redeemed through the ordinances of the temple then why are they paying the penalty for their transgressions? I understood D&C 19:15-18 to mean if you repent then because of the atonement you do not suffer because Christ suffered for us. As I read this scripture it can only mean one of two things. First, some people who end up in he Celestial Kingdom must suffer for their own sins. Second it could mean that these people are not going to the Celestial Kingdom (“for they shall receive a reward according to their works”). So am I wrong that an “heir of salvation” (not “exaltation”) can end up in the C, T or T Kingdom, as all are kingdoms of glory and the heirs of each of these kingdoms are saved with a “resurrection of endless life and happiness”? (Mosiah 16:11) And if so then why did they need the ordinances of the temple?
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
I am absolutely convinced that any one of you is a better candidate than I was to receive an audience with the Lord. The wonder of this process is not that someone has done it, but that so few have. Given that I am probably the least qualified, the point should not be lost on you. If it has happened to me, then it absolutely can and should happen to you.
His willingness to leave those errors in the past and remember them no more is greater than you can imagine. It is a guiding principle for the Atonement. Asking for forgiveness is almost all that is required to be forgiven.
I know all my mistakes. They are greater than most of yours. I am in awe of His mercy and forgiveness. I am not at all impressed by my worthiness. It is nothing. It consists of borrowed finery from Him who has let me use His great worthiness to cover my own failings. To the extent that I have any merit, it comes from Him. I remain astonished that He would condescend for someone like me.
I believe them to be “FIRST” in the sense of primacy, not a singular event which happens and then you can take them off the list of stuff to do. They are primary. They are foundational. They are required to be used constantly. Therefore, they are “FIRST.”
Repentance is required because even if we are doing what we should be doing we are always going to learn more. It is the nature of the Gospel that our light should increase. Whenever we learn more, we must change to reflect what we have just gained. Change is the heart of repentance.
Baptism is to have sins washed away. If you are already baptized, then the ordinance does not need to be done again, but the remission of sins and washing them away is required repeatedly. For those already baptized, this is done through the Sacrament. It is still required for us to have sins remitted.
These are the only means by which we can avoid the same dismal fate as all others of all prior dispensations. We must do this individually. It does not matter if it is done collectively. I’ve yet to see any reason in the scriptures to expect great collective success by the Gentiles who inherit the Gospel in our dispensation. There are individual promises to the few Gentiles who will repent, have faith, be baptized, enter into the covenant and remain faithful. But the collective outcome is not particularly rosy.