I’ve always loved Alma chapter 5. It could be taken as the most introspective chapter in all of holy writ. Alma asks more than 40 questions of his listeners and really wants them to probe their spirituality in a deep way. But Alma wasn’t just talking to the people in Zarahemla—he is talking to us!
I’ve always loved Alma chapter 5. It could be taken as the most introspective chapter in all of holy writ. Alma asks more than 40 questions of his listeners and really wants them to probe their spirituality in a deep way. But Alma wasn’t just talking to the people in Zarahemla—he is talking to us! So, to put it in our language and context today: If you have received a witness of this great work, if you have felt those wonderful feelings of the Spirit in your life, if you came to know something was true at some point in your life; can you feel so now? Let’s explore Alma’s teachings together.
Hello dear listeners. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and we are so delighted to join you again this week for the podcast covering Alma, chapters 5 through 7. The lesson is entitled: Have Ye Experienced This Mighty Change in Your Hearts? Before we get into the lesson, Scot, do you have something you want to say about your book?
Yes! I’ve wanted to say this for may weeks: Eleven Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Book of Mormon is finally ready. I’m thrilled to be able to share this with you. The only way we could do this is through electronic means, so you can download a version for your eReader device, whether it’s a Kindle, or a Nook or your smart phone, or, if you desire, you can download the PDF version for your computer—it’s up to you. I’m going to send you to a page to read about this and that will give you the link to buy the book. The page is right on Meridian at latterdaysaintmag.com/eleventhings and you spell out the word eleven.
That’s latterdaysaintmag.com/eleventhings Remember, this is the first in a series of books that will be coming out, so these books are under 100 pages and are meant to give you a wonderful taste of the topics covered. Because this is a shorter read, we are pricing this one at just $6.99—that’s right, just six ninety-nine. That’s less than a first run movie ticket! And trust me, Scot has given the title as Eleven Things—but there are many more things I think you will learn that will excite your interest and your studies of the Book of Mormon.
Go to the page: latterdaysaintmag.com/eleventhings and just spend a few minutes reading that article. This will give you a taste for what a fun read this will be for you in your studies of the Book of Mormon. I know that even the most seasoned of you will learn at least five new things about the Book of Mormon—but for the newer readers, you could learn 20 or 30 new things. And more importantly, I think this will excite your mind to dig deeper and to see things you’ve never seen before. And yes, it’s only $6.99 in either Kindle, Nook or pdf formats. Please order your copy today!
One of the things I think is worthy of note in these powerful teachings of Alma the Younger is that these are given just a dozen years after his own conversion to the Lord. He had spent most of his life in spiritual darkness and now he can give this sermon to the saints with great conviction. At the latter end of his sermon it’s as if some may have been questioning whether he, Alma, truly knew for himself what he was talking about. Was he saying these things because his father, Alma, had been the founder of the Church and had been the great high priest? Alma answers:
Do ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true. And how do ye suppose that I know of their surety? (Alma 5:45)
And this next bit gives each of us a pattern we can follow:
46 Behold, I say unto you they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God. Behold, I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me.
47 And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true, even so according to the spirit of prophecy which is in me, which is also by the manifestation of the Spirit of God. (Alma 5: 45-46)
This reminds me: I used to teach my institute students about what I called “the push broom theory.” That is, we are always just a few hours away from the most spiritual experience we have ever had, but like a broom, just keeping things in front of us, it’s always there. There is a price to be paid for spirituality, for deep spirituality—and it comes through much fasting and prayer and study and by the manifestations of the Holy Spirit that come to us. Alma knew this well—and he invites us to experience the same and come to know the richness of the Lord’s gifts.
Alma gives his own witness of the coming Messiah:
I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name. (Alma 5:48)
And he gives further witness of the coming Messiah in chapter 7:
10 And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.
Just a footnote here: Many have criticized the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith because of this verse—that Jesus would be born “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers.” This is not an issue. Scot and I go to the Jerusalem and Bethlehem every year and know these places well. Bethlehem is less than six miles south of Jerusalem and it is without question incorporated into “the land of Jerusalem.”
That’s right and it’s worthy of bringing in Hugh Nibley here:
“…while the Book of Mormon refers to the city of Jerusalem plainly and unmistakably over sixty times, it refers over forty times to another and entirely different geographical entity which is always designated as “the land of Jerusalem.” In the New World also every major Book of Mormon city is surrounded by a land of the same name.
“The land of Jerusalem is not the city of Jerusalem. Lehi “dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days” (1 Nephi 1:4), yet his sons had to “go down to the land of our father’s inheritance” to pick up their property (1 Nephi 3:16,22). The apparent anomaly is readily explained by the Amarna Letters, in which we read that “a city of the land of Jerusalem, Bet-Ninib, has been captured.” It was the rule in Palestine and Syria from ancient times, as the same letters show, for a large area around a city and all the inhabitants of that area to bear the name of the city. It is taken for granted that if Nephi lived at Jerusalem he would know about the surrounding country: “I, of myself, have dwelt at Jerusalem, wherefore I know concerning the regions round about” (2 Nephi 25:6; italics added). But this was quite unknown at the time the Book of Mormon was written—the Amarna Letters were discovered in 1887. One of the favorite points of attack on the Book of Mormon has been the statement in Alma 7:10 that the Savior would be born “at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers”. Here Jerusalem is not the city “in the land of our forefathers”; it is the land. Christ was born in a village some six miles from the city of Jerusalem; it was not in the city, but it was in what we now know the ancients themselves designated as “the land of Jerusalem.” Such a neat test of authenticity is not often found in ancient documents.” (Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), chapter 8, pp 101-102.)
Alma gives his moving witness of Jesus Christ—who would not come to earth for another 83 years:
11 And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)
That last witness is especially poignant because Alma had truly fought against the Lord and His Church for many years and he had finally repented and also received forgiveness for his sins—and from that time forth he had been true and faithful to the Lord and his commandments. He wanted others who had sinned to have that same experience he had in being free from the bondage. He wanted others to come into that marvelous light he now lived in. He wanted others who were on the brink, to be snatched from everlasting darkness and pain. He could feel for the sinner almost as no one else. He had been there and he wanted to do all in his power to bring people to the Lord.
That’s right. Let us not forget that this desire was so great, he had given up his eight-year position of Chief Judge over all the land, so that he could focus on bringing souls to Christ. He could see that wickedness was starting to take over and the people of the Church were letting pride enter into their hearts and they were turning their backs on the poor and the needy.
So, Alma gave the judgement seat to Nephihah,
19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.
That political move by Alma is certainly not something we see very often in all of history. It’s so impressive. So, Alma is going to take his message to all parts of the land, beginning in the capital city of Zarahemla. And his lead for the message is such an important thing—He wants them to REMEMBER! Remember the captivity of their fathers. Remember “that he has delivered their souls from hell.” (Alma 5:6)
These details are so tender:
7 Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them. (Alma 5:7)
In some ways you’d wonder whether this use of the concept “remember” was a powerful enough lead in this speech Alma was going to give in all the cities and villages of the Nephites. Let’s explore this a bit. Maurine, in our early history here in Utah, the saints were reminded to remember their deliverance from the crickets by the miracle of the seagulls. To this day we have a monument on Temple Square to that miracle. Elder Steven E. Snow taught this at a BYU commencement:
“We…place monuments to help us remember. The miracle of the seagulls, the suffering of the handcart pioneers, and the arrival of the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley are all examples of events and miracles remembered with monuments. Even on this campus monuments have been erected to help us remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before. But it is not just monuments we erect. As members of the restored Church we are encouraged to do certain things to help us remember:
a. We keep journals.
b. We attend the temple.
c. We offer prayers of gratitude.
d. We study our scriptures.
e. We attend Sunday School, institute, and seminary classes to study the gospel.
f. We partake of the sacrament.” (Steven E. Snow, BYU Commencement, April 23, 2015)
Alma really knew what he was saying when he started by telling all the people to remember the captivity and deliverance of their fathers. I can’t help but turn to President Henry B. Eyring’s emphasis on remembering:
“When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.
“He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
“I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.
“I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.
President Eyring continued: “More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.
The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.
My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness. It will build our testimonies.” (Eyring, Henry B., O Remember, Remember, General Conference, October 2007)
It’s that getting too tired at night that seems to slow me down from keeping this habit up. I kept about 50 or more large volumes of a daily journal for many, many years—but then—raising this large family really sapped my energy for writing late at night. But Wilford Woodruff kept a careful journal for 64 ½ years, never missed a day—because he wanted to remember the things that he observed about the coming forth of the Kingdom of God on the earth and his interactions with Joseph Smith and other Prophets and members of the Church. On his first page of his journal he entitled it “The First Book of Wilford.” I thought that was fun. These journals, kept by various people in our history, have expanded our memories and helped us understand the trials, tribulations and jubilations of the early Saints of this dispensation.
Then Alma the Younger makes this personal:
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren [and sisters] of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
These are great questions to ask ourselves—in fact, this whole chapter is full of probing questions for those most interested in seeing a true view of his or her own spirituality.
This whole idea of receiving his image in our countenances is real. We experience this all the time in Israel. Wherever we go in Jerusalem or in the Galilee or in various sites, the natives see us and recognize us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ—or, as they still call us: Mormons.
I remember about 28 years ago, going into an obscure bank in West Jerusalem—far away from tourists stops—and I was going to obtain some cash. The teller said to me, “Where are you from?” I said, “America.” She said, “But where in America?” I said, “Utah.” She said, “I thought so!” “How did you know?” I asked. She said, “You have that Utah smile.” I supposed she had been conditioned by all the BYU Jerusalem Center students and other Latter-day Saint tourists who, over the years, have frequented Jerusalem and she knew that look. There is a change in our countenance—we have observed this all over the world—and it is indeed a mighty change of heart that brings this about.
Self-help books abound suggesting how we can change. But is this “the mighty change of heart” that Alma is talking about? We are told how to be more confident, more loving, less angry, less frightened. We are given points on assertiveness training or raising our children. Such books often are appealing to us because we want to make things better. We would like to find the technique that would facilitate change and improvement. Most of us feel a sense that something, somehow is not quite what it could be in our lives. However, as Alma begins his labors “bearing down in pure testimony” to the Nephites, he sounds a theme that is central to understanding the real source of change in our lives. No change is real and authentic unless it is the transformation of the inner man. This change is a spiritual process, not just a behavioral one. The world seeks to change people from the outside with a new program, a new coercion, a new law. The Lord works from the inside, changing the human soul; then all else changes.
That’s right, Maurine, growth starts at the core of our being; it is not just a new set of actions we can don like a new set of clothes. That is why God is central to the process. He is working not just to make us look better but to be better.
Again, when Alma started asking these deep questions of the people, he was asking from the depth of his own experience. He knew firsthand the power of the transformation he was asking. He had been moved from being a wicked man whose intent was to use his fluency and power to destroy the Church of God to become a mighty prophet who could give up position and worldly authority without looking back to preach the word of God. What a mighty change this was!
To be spiritually born of God means the old, complaining, resentful, defensive, self-absorbed person has been shed. In fact, that person, the natural man, has died inside with our permission, and a new person has been born whose eye is single to the glory of God. What Alma was asking was not outward conformity to law, the superficial patina of spirituality, but a change in their very natures, altering the state of their hearts, their way of perceiving themselves and the universe. This was not to be achieved in a single moment with a simple acceptance of Christ. Rather it was a process. The natural man is overcome not just by gritting one’s teeth and trying hard for self-improvement but ultimately by being transformed through the power of the Holy Ghost.
If the natural man grabs for things, believing he must fend for himself, one born of the Spirit trusts in the Lord with all his heart. If the natural man sees others as competitors, one born of the Spirit sees others as brothers and sisters. If the natural man feels he must create a good impression, never admitting error, one born again knows he must grow line upon line. Alma said, “If ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26)
That’s in verse 26 of Alma 5 and I love that question. Don’t all of us know someone—and sometimes it is ourselves—who was, at one point full of the Spirit and had a firm testimony—and then they have drifted from that place of great spirituality? That question, “Can ye feel so now?” is critical to our ongoing spirituality and salvation.
The sins that we commit are not just isolated events like so many beads that have been scattered on the floor and need to be picked up one at a time. Rather they are the expression of our unfinished hearts and souls. Our resentfulness or defensiveness, our need to best others or draw attention to ourselves, our inability to get our minds off ourselves-these unfortunate attributes that we struggle against-are conditions of our hearts. Our sinfulness is the product of our inner being, not just some bad response to the circumstance of the moment. We do not change until our heart is healed. How is this accomplished?
Again, Alma, when speaking of his father’s great repentance when he left the courts of king Noah gives us a clue. He said, “according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart” (Alma 5:12). In other words, if we would be transformed, we must yield ourselves to the working of the atonement and power of Jesus Christ in our lives. Growth toward living with God again is not a do-it-yourself experience. As worthwhile as it might seem, we cannot, on our own, simply decide to be more loving or kind or faithful. Instead, we have to plead with the Lord to help us understand what we are and what we think that keeps us from authentically acting in that way. We have to ask him to let the power of His atoning sacrifice not only heal us, but empower us to understand things differently. We have to let the Spirit work upon us not just until we do differently, but until we are different.
Seeking for a mighty change of heart is the quest of the humble. As long as most of our efforts are dedicated to convincing ourselves and others that we are a finished, competent, completed product where we are, we cannot be upon the most important work of our lives. If we use our energies to justify ourselves or our negative emotions, we maintain the very walls that keep the Spirit from working upon us. A mighty change of heart implies a yielding to the Lord and an openness for his tutorials. It is the only way of true progress.
It IS the only way. Let us make no mistake about what God is asking. He is asking to redo us. C.S. Lewis compares the process to the remodeling of house. If you were a cottage, you might, in fact be satisfied with your little self, and you might assume that if you let the Lord in, he would be about a slight remodeling job-adding a new paint job here, a little wall paper there. Nothing too painful or jolting-just enough to make you feel a little better. What a surprise you have in store because God starts tearing out walls, throwing up a staircase there, expanding the rooms here, exposing the faulty wiring, the leaky plumbing. It is a process that is more than you expected. Sometimes it hurts abominably, and you want to cry out to leave well enough alone. You are satisfied with being what you are. But He was always about a mighty change. He did not want you to be a cottage, but a palace with expansive rooms where the light poured in, a place where he could dwell.
I love that imagery from C.S. Lewis. The Lord wants us to be born again. There is a mighty gulf between what He is and what we are. To be with Him and like Him is to be willing to cross that gulf, and the only way to do it is in the encircling arms of His love which is His atonement. Jesus Christ not only offers forgiveness for our sins, He also offers the lenses to see them clearly, and the Arm to lean upon to be strengthened beyond them-from the inside out.
Elder Dale G. Renlund offers wonderful insights into this mighty change of heart that can come to us as we turn to the Lord:
“In 1980 we moved as a family across the street from the hospital where I trained and worked. I worked every day, including Sundays. If I finished my Sunday work by 2:00 p.m., I could join my wife and daughter and drive to church for meetings that began at 2:30.
“One Sunday late in my first year of training, I knew that I would likely finish by 2:00. I realized, however, that if I stayed in the hospital just a little longer, my wife and daughter would depart without me. I could then walk home and take a needed nap. I regret to say that I did just that. I waited until 2:15, walked home slowly, and lay down on the couch, hoping to nap. But I could not fall asleep. I was disturbed and concerned. I had always loved going to church. I wondered why on this day the fire of testimony and the zeal that I had previously felt were missing.
Elder Renlund continued: “I did not have to think long. Because of my schedule, I had become casual with my prayers and scripture study. I would get up one morning, say my prayers, and go to work. Often day blended into night and into day again before I would return home late the following evening. I would then be so tired that I would fall asleep before saying a prayer or reading the scriptures. The next morning the process began again. The problem was that I was not doing the basic things I needed to do to keep my mightily changed heart from turning to stone.
I got off the couch, got on my knees, and pleaded with God for forgiveness. I promised my Heavenly Father that I would change. The next day I brought a Book of Mormon to the hospital. On my to-do list that day, and every day since, were two items: praying at least morning and evening and reading in the scriptures. Sometimes midnight would come, and I would have to quickly find a private place to pray. Some days my scripture study was brief. I also promised Heavenly Father that I would always try to get to church, even if I missed part of the meeting. Over the course of a few weeks, the zeal returned and the fire of testimony burned fiercely again. I promised to never again fall into the spiritual death trap of being casual about these seemingly small actions and thereby jeopardizing things of an eternal nature, regardless of circumstances.
“To endure to the end,” Elder Renlund taught, “we need to be eager to please God and worship Him with fervor and passion. This means that we maintain faith in Jesus Christ by praying, studying the scriptures, partaking of the sacrament each week, and having the Holy Ghost as our constant companion. We need to actively help and serve others and share the gospel with them. We need to be perfectly upright and honest in all things, never compromising our covenants with God or our commitments to men, regardless of circumstances. In our homes we need to talk of, rejoice in, and preach of Christ so that our children—and we ourselves—will desire to apply the Atonement in our lives. We must identify temptations that easily beset us and put them out of reach—way out of reach.” And he says, “Finally, we need to frequently biopsy our mightily changed hearts and reverse any signs of early rejection.” (Renlund, Dale G., Preserving the Heart’s Mighty Change, General Conference, October 2009)
Elder Renlund’s counsel is so right on. And it leads us to Alma’s final counsel to the saints in the city of Gideon. It’s one of our favorite passages in the Book of Mormon. In Alma chapter 7 Alma says:
23 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.
This sounds like the same counsel given to the early missionaries in the first part of this dispensation in Section 4 of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 4:6) and to the righteous use of the priesthood in Section 121 (see verses 41 and 42).
The Lord really is about the work of making us new creatures, of inviting us to a higher plane, to bring us to think like He thinks, to make His ways our ways—to truly come to have a mighty change of heart.
That’s all for today. Aren’t these chapters so rich and rewarding? Don’t forget to download your copy of the new book, Eleven Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the Book of Mormon, at latterdaysaintmag.com/eleventhings and spell that word eleven—that latterdaysaintmag.com/eleventhings Next week’s lessons covers Alma, chapters 8 through 12 and is entitled: Jesus Christ will Come to Redeem His People. Thanks to Paul Cardall for the beautiful music that accompanies this podcast and thanks to Michaela Proctor Hutchins who produces this podcast. We love you, dear listeners. Have a great week and see you next time.