It is doubtful that the sons of Mosiah anticipated that their mission among the Lamanites would turn out as successful as it did. It is true that they were promised success before their mission began. When King Mosiah prayed to the Lord to know whether his sons should go on this mission, the Lord responded: “Let them go up, for many shall believe on their words, and they shall have eternal life” (Mosiah 28:7; emphasis added). Again, after they departed to the Lamanite lands, they were promised success when the sons of Mosiah plead that “a portion of [the Lord’s] Spirit” would go with them “that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the Lamanites, to the knowledge of the truth, to the knowledge of the baseness of the traditions of their fathers, which were not correct.” The Lord promised: “I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:9-11; emphasis added). In both responses, the Lord promised that “many” Lamanites would be saved.
But many is a relative term. In this case, many turned out to be literally thousands! Mormon reports: “And thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites; and they were taught the records and prophecies which were handed down even to the present time” (Alma 23:5).
Even more remarkable is that the Lamanite converts “never did fall away.” Mormon observed: “And as sure as the Lord liveth, so sure as many as believed, or as many as were brought to the knowledge of the truth, through the preaching of Ammon and his brethren, according to the spirit of revelation and of prophecy, and the power of God working miracles in them-yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away” (Alma 23:6; emphasis added).
This seems almost unbelievable. As revealed in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23), the Savior taught that there are generally four responses to hearing the gospel. In three of the four cases, the hearer accepts the gospel (i.e., the seed that “fell upon stony places,” the seed that “fell among thorns,” and the seed that “fell into good ground”). But of the three, only one (the seed that “fell into good ground”) continued on the strait and narrow path, thus securing salvation. Because of persecution, tribulation, cares of the world, or riches, did not continue in the gospel and became “unfruitful.” Therefore, Mormon’s statement that the converted Lamanites “never did fall away” is astounding.
Yet, twice Mormon swears with an oath that this was the case. “As sure as the Lord liveth,” he wrote, ” . . . yea, I say unto you, as the Lord liveth, as many of the Lamanites as believed in their preaching, and were converted unto the Lord, never did fall away” (Alma 23:6). To swear with an oath speaks of the validity of a statement. To swear a double oath truly emphasizes not only the legitimacy of a statement but, as in this case, testifies to the importance of the affirmation. Mormon’s use of the double oath reveals how serious he felt the message of this story is to the Latter-day reader.
What is the message? The Lamanites never turned away from the truth they were taught because they “were converted unto the Lord” (emphasis added).
It is one thing to join the Lord’s mortal Church. It is another to be saved in the kingdom of God. There were many in Lehi’s dream who reached the rod of iron and strait and narrow path and began the journy to the tree only to “lose their way” because of the temptations of the devil. There were others who made it to the tree but because of fear and persecution “fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.” Only those who reached the rod of iron and strait and narrow path, advanced to the tree, and patiently endured the vicissitudes of life, were saved in the kingdom of God (1 Ne. 8:21-30; notice the similarity between these three groups and the three soils which accepted the seed in the Parable of the Sower).
Thus, Nephi declared: “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:19-20). Mormon’s rehearsal of the conversion of the Lamanites gives greater insight into what it means to “press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end.” In other words, it gives us greater insight into the process of conversion.
The Meaning of Conversion
Often in the Church, various forms of the word convert – convert, conversion, converted- are used to refer to one’s joining the Church. Implied in this usage is the idea that the person has been taught the gospel, exercised faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ, repented of his or her’s sins and then joined the Church through the ordinance of baptism. This use of the word implies an event that has occurred in the life of an individual.
Though this is not an inappropriate use of the word, it is a limited use. As used in holy writ, the word has greater meaning. In the recently published booklet, True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following is stated regarding conversion:
” To be carnally minded is death,’ declared the Apostle Paul, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace’ (Romans 8:6; see also 2 Nephi 9:39). In our fallen state, we often struggle with temptation, and we sometimes give in to “the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein” (2 Nephi 2:29). To be able to receive the blessing of eternal life, we need to be spiritually minded’ and conquer our unrighteous desires. We need to change. More accurately, we need to be changed, or converted, through the power of the Savior’s Atonement and through the power of the Holy Ghost. This process is called conversion. Conversion includes a change in behavior, but it goes beyond behavior; it is a change in our very nature. It is such a significant change that the Lord and His prophets refer to it as a rebirth, a change of heart, and a baptism of fire.” [i]
Likewise, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve Apostles stated: “We qualify for eternal life through a process of conversion. As used here, this word of many meanings signifies not just a convincing but a profound change of nature.” [ii]
The Process of Conversion
The following statement found in True to the Faith gives a brief synopsis of what is required in the process of conversion: “Conversion is a process, not an event. You become converted as a result of your righteous efforts to follow the Savior. These efforts include exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting of sin, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end in faith.” [iii]
It can be seen that this process includes more than what we normally imply in the word convert. Of particular importance is the receiving of the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end in faith-both constant life-long endeavors.
Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is perhaps the most important part of the conversion process.
The Lord said: “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Ne. 9:20). Thus, “conversion is a quiet, constant process” and many “may be converted now and not realize it.” [iv]
Receiving the Holy Ghost is the beginning of the conversion process. Elder Oaks has observed, “The needed conversion by the gospel begins with the introductory experience the scriptures call being “born again” (e.g., Mosiah 27:25; Alma 5:49; John 3:7; 1 Pet. 1:23). In the waters of baptism and by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, we become the spiritual sons and daughters’ of Jesus Christ, new creatures’ who can inherit the kingdom of God’ (Mosiah 27:25-26).” To continue the process, we must become like God. “In teaching the Nephites, the Savior referred to what they must become. He challenged them to repent and be baptized and be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day’ (3 Ne. 27:20). He concluded: Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Ne. 27:27).” [v]
Becoming is the essence of the process of conversion. “Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts-what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts-what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” [vi]
Characteristics of People Who Are Converted
Therefore, certain qualities characterize those who are “converted unto the Lord.” These are outlined in True to the Faith. [vii]
“They desire to do good. King Benjamin’s people declared, The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). Alma spoke of people who “could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence’ (Alma 13:12).
“They do not rebel against the Lord. Mormon told of a group of Lamanites who had been wicked and bloodthirsty but who were “converted unto the Lord” (Alma 23:6). These people changed their name to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies and became a righteous people; they did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren’ (Alma 23:7).
“They share the gospel. Enos, Alma the Elder, Alma the Younger, the sons of Mosiah, Amulek, and Zeezrom dedicated themselves to preaching the gospel after they became converted to the Lord (see Enos 1:26; Mosiah 18:1; Mosiah 27:32-37; Alma 10:1-12; Alma 15:12).
They are filled with love. After the resurrected Savior visited the people in the Americas, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. . . And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God’ (4 Nephi 1:2, 4 Nephi 1:15-17).”
In this list of characteristics, it should be noted that the Lamanites who were taught and baptized through the efforts of the four sons of Mosiah and their companions were used as an example of a converted people. They not only knew the gospel was true but had become changed people. Thus, Mormon tells us that these Lamanites “did repent and come to the knowledge of the truth, and were converted” (Alma 23:15; emphasis added).
Because of their conversion, they became a different people, even to the point that they wanted a different name. “And now it came to pass that the king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren; therefore the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them, that they might be distinguished. And it came to pass that they called their names Anti?Nephi?Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites” (Alma 23:16-17).
Mormon then describes, in part, what they had become. Earlier descriptions of the Lamanites characterize them as having “become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety” (2 Nephi 5:24) and “a lazy and an idolatrous people” (Mosiah 9:12). But after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, Mormon says: “And they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18).
As remarkable as this is description is, the best illustration Mormon gives of the Lamanite conversion is found in the great covenant story found in Alma 24. Mormon records the following details of this story.
The Lamanites at the time of the conversion were made up of two kinds of people: (1) those who were descendants of Laman, Lemuel, and those who were opposed to Nephi (2 Nephi 5:1-8), and (2) those were apostate Nephites who had left the Nephite lands and joined themselves to the Lamanites. Apostate Nephites living among the Lamanites at that time were the Amalekites and the Amulonites (Alma 23:14). The Amulonites were the wicked high priests of King Noah (and those who followed them) who left at the time of the city of Nephi and defected to the Lamanites (Mosiah 23:30-24:4). Mormon does not tell us any information concerning the origin of this group. We are told, however, that they with the Amulonites were more “hardened” than the Lamanites (Alma 21:3) and “were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites (Alma 43:6). We are also told that “many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors)” (Alma 21:4). It may be that the Amalekites were somehow related to the Amlicites who, because of their association with the order of Nehor, rebelled against the Nephites and joined forces with the Lamanites during the early days of Alma the younger’s reign as chief judge (see Alma 3-4). We are also told that the Amalekites and the Amulonites “had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem” (Alma 21:2).
Mormon tells us that the Lamanites who were “converted unto the Lord” were true blood Lamanites. “And the Amalekites were not converted, save only one; neither were any of the Amulonites; but they did harden their hearts, and also the hearts of the Lamanites in that part of the land wheresoever they dwelt, yea, and all their villages and all their cities” (Alma 23:14).
Typical of those who have apostatized, those who were not converted became very angry with the Lamanites who had become known as the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s. “And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti?Nephi?Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren.
And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti?Nephi?Lehi” (Alma 24:1-2).
The response to this threat by the Anit-Nephi-Lehi’s demonstrates the true conversion of the Lamanites. The King of the Lamanites who was converted through the instrumentality of Aaron “conferred the kingdom upon his son, and he called his name Anti?Nephi?Lehi. And the king died in that selfsame year that the Lamanites began to make preparations for war against the people of God” (Alma 24:4-5). “Now there was not one soul among all the people who had been converted unto the Lord that would take up arms against their brethren; nay, they would not even make any preparations for war” (Alma 24:6).
In fact, we are told that it was King Anti-Nephi-Lehi who “commanded them that they should not” take up swords against those who had now become their enemy. In a meeting held by the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s to the discuss of how to deal with the impending threat, King Anti-Nephi-Lehi stood and delivered a stirring discourse (Alma 24:7-16) which reveals the deepness of his and his people’s conversion and the strength of their convictions.
King Anti-Nephi-Lehi first noted how greatful he was that God had sent Nephites “to convince us of the traditions of our wicked fathers” – a remarkable thing since it was the wicked traditions of their fathers that had been passed down for centuries and kept the hate of the Lamanites against the Nephites afresh.
He continued, because of the great work of the four sons of Mosiah and those who went with them among the Lamanites, “we have been convinced of our sins, and of the many murders which we have committed.” He was amazed that God “hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”
Then came the point! Since we have been forgiven of our murders, the King stated, “let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.” For, he said, “since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.”
In response to the king’s plea, the converted Lamanites “took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth. And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands” (Alma 24;17-18).
Mormon then makes the point he intends his reader to glean from this remarkable covenant: “And thus we see that, when these Lamanites were brought to believe and to know the truth, they were firm, and would suffer even unto death rather than commit sin” (Alma 24:19)
Their resolve to keep their covenant was immediately tested. Their enemy came upon them in a fit of hatred and anger. “Now when the [Anit-Nephi-Lehi’s] saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword. And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God” (Alma 24:21-22).
The effect this had on the angered Lamanites was amazing. When many of the Lamanites “saw this they did forbear from slaying them; and there were many whose hearts had swollen in them for those of their brethren who had fallen under the sword, for they repented of the things which they had done. And it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for the murders which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying upon the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.”
We are then told that “the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those who had been slain were righteous people, therefore we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved” (Alma 24:24-26). Mormon then makes an interesting statement: “thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people” (Alma 24:27).
Mormon follows this with another surprise! “Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors. Now, among those who joined the people of the Lord, there were none who were Amalekites or Amulonites, or who were of the order of Nehor, but they were actual descendants of Laman and Lemuel.” (Alma 24:28-29).
Having said this, Mormon makes point often made in the Book of Mormon about the dangers of apostasy: “And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things” (Alma 24:30).
The power of conversion is one of the most remarkable miracles ever witnesses by mankind. Such a miracle is the greatest to sought for by God’s children while in mortality. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve Apostles said: “Changing bodies or protecting temples are miracles, but an even greater miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God (see Mosiah 5:2). A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body.” [viii]
The conversion of the Lamanites through the instrumentality of the four sons of Mosiah is a wonderful reminder of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the miracle of conversion. That we may all be so converted is my hope and prayer.
[i] “Conversion,” in True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2004), pp. 40-41; I highly recommend every member of the Church own and use this wonderful booklet.
[ii] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, p. 32.
[iii] True to the Faith, p. 41; emphasis added.
[iv] True to the Faith, p. 41.
[v] Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” p. 33.
[vi] Oaks, “The Challenge to Become,” p. 32.
[vii] True to the Faith, pp. 42-43.
[viii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Miracles,” Ensign, June 2001, p. 17.