Alma and His Sons
Alma is an example of a father who counseled his sons. He explained to them: "The Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good." (Alma 39:12.) Under the guidance of the Spirit, Alma approached each of his sons differently as he urged them to keep the commandments, as he taught them the doctrines of the gospel, and as he bore them his testimony.
Alma promised his sons Helaman and Shiblon that if they kept the commandments they would "prosper in the land." (Alma 36:1; 38:1.) Unlike Eli in the Old Testament, who apparently did not discipline his sons sufficiently for their misconduct, Alma confronted Corianton about his lack of diligence in keeping the commandments. (Alma 39:2; 1 Sam. 2:22-25, 27-34.) Whether Alma taught his sons collectively or individually in a personal interview cannot be determined. Yet even though the approach in addressing each son was different, his discussions have one thing in common: They are Christ-centered. (Alma 36; 37:9, 43-47; 38:8-9; 39:15.)
Unlike his brothers Shiblon and Corianton, Helaman did not accompany his father on the mission to the Zoramites. (Alma 31:7.) Alma encouraged his eldest son, Helaman, to place his trust in God. He promised Helaman that God would support him in his trials, troubles, and afflictions. (Alma 31:7; 36:3.) He referred to the scriptures to teach Helaman that God sustains his children if they worship him and keep his commandments. He challenged him to remember the bondage of their ancestors and that God had supported them in their afflictions. He also referred to the enslavement of ancient Israel. Alma reminded Helaman that God had delivered Israel from the Egyptians by allowing them to pass through the Red Sea safely, while destroying Pharaoh's army. (Alma 36:2, 28-29.) The promise to each group was prosperity. Israel did prosper physically in the land, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob prospered both physically and spiritually as they achieved eternal life. (D&C 132:28, 36-37.)
Alma concluded his remarks to Helaman by referring to the "shadow" and "type" found within the scriptures. Reminding Helaman of the history of his father Lehi, Alma said, "They tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course . . . because of their transgressions."3 (Alma 37:42.) The reason for their wanderings was their lack of faith. The Liahona worked only according to their faith and obedience. Alma taught "that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual." (Alma 37:43.) Thus, the Liahona or "shadow" served the same purpose to Lehi's family that the brazen serpent had served to ancient Israel. (1 Ne. 17:41; Num. 21:4-9.) The Liahona was a "shadow" or "type" that strengthened their faith and led them to Christ.
Alma promised Helaman that the words of Christ "carry us beyond this vale of sorrow [earth life] into a far better land of promise [eternal life]." (Alma 37:45.) Hence, the promised land has a two-fold interpretation. First, it is a physical place to live, where God blesses his children temporally. Second, it has spiritual significance in which God blesses his children with experiences to lead them to eternal life. Alma concluded his interview by admonishing his son not to be slothful because of the easiness of the way, but to "look to God and live." (Alma 37:46-47.)
Shiblon was a faithful missionary and had endured many hardships. During his mission, he was imprisoned and stoned by the Zoramites. (Alma 38:3-4.) Alma commended this faithful son for his "steadiness" and "faithfulness" during a time of persecution. (Alma 38:2.) He also gave special counsel to this son who had brought him "great joy." (Alma 38:3.) Alma cautioned Shiblon to beware of pride, not to boast of his own wisdom, to be diligent and temperate, to use boldness, but not overbearance, to bridle his passions, to refrain from idleness, and to pray. (Alma 38:10-13.) He instructed him to acknowledge the power of God in his prayers, and to remember his own weaknesses, to pray for his brethren, and to "acknowledge [his] unworthiness before God at all times." (Alma 38:14.)
Alma loved his sons and wanted only the best in life for each of them. As he bore his testimony to them he said, "I would not that ye think that I know of myself," for "if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things." (Alma 36:4-5; emphasis added.) He continued to explain that he and the sons of Mosiah had sought to destroy the church of God. (Alma 36:6; Mosiah 27:8-10.) They were stopped by an angel who promised their destruction if they continued, and they fell to the earth in fear. (Alma 36:7-9.) Alma noted that he did not hear the rest of the words spoken by the angel, but he remembered all his sins, and was "tormented with the pains of hell." (Alma 36:11, 13.) He asserted that he did not want to be brought into the presence of God, for he was ashamed, and he knew he was unworthy. It was at this moment that he remembered the teachings of his father "concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world." (Alma 36:17.) He said, "I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness." (Alma 36:18.) From that moment on Alma did not remember his sins, but he knew joy, and then he said, "Methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there." (Alma 36:22; 1 Ne. 1:8-15; Isa. 6:1-6.) He ended his testimony by pointing out that after this experience he had sought continually to teach the people the truth.
Most people do not gain a testimony by having experiences with angels. Almost all testimonies come through prayer, as did that of Enos. Enos said: "My soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer. . . . There came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away." (Enos 1:4-6.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
Any accountable person can gain a testimony of the gospel by obedience to that law upon which the receipt of such knowledge is predicated. This is the formula: 1. He must desire to know the truth of the gospel, of the Book of Mormon, of the Church, or of whatever matter is involved. 2. He must study and learn the basic facts relative to the matter involved. "Search the scriptures." (John 5:39). "Search these commandments," (D&C 1:37). 3. He must practice the principles and truths learned, conforming his life to them. "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:16-17). 4. He must pray to the Father in the name of Christ, in faith, and the truth will then be made manifest by revelation "by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things" (Moroni 10:3-5; 1 Corinthians 2).4
Many times a testimony comes through fulfilling the challenge Moroni issued to those who have read the Book of Mormon. He promised those who read the book a special witness from the Holy Ghost regarding its veracity. (Moroni 10:4-5.) Testimonies are borne about many things and are expressed in many different ways. Latter-day Saints are expected to receive revelation. Elder McConkie pointed out that "every devoted, obedient, and righteous person on the earth has and does receive revelation from God. Revelation is the natural inheritance of all the faithful. . . . The saints are expected (because they have the gift of the Holy Ghost) to gain personal revelation and guidance rather than to run to the First Presidency or some other church leaders to be told what to do." 5
When Alma related his witness to Shiblon, he only alluded to his conversion, which he had told in great detail to Helaman, and then, he testified boldly of Jesus Christ. (Alma 38:6-9.) To his son Corianton, Alma testified powerfully, while teaching him the doctrines of the kingdom. (Alma 39-42.)
Alma's Charge to His Sons
During his interviews with his sons, Alma challenged each to keep the commandments, to be an example, and to teach the gospel to the people. (Alma 37:47; 38:15; 42:31.) However, he gave Helaman additional responsibilities.
Alma entrusted Helaman with the sacred records: the plates of brass, the twenty-four plates belonging to the Jaredites, and the records of the Nephites, as well as the interpreters or Urim and Thummim, and the Liahona. (Alma 37:24.)
The records that Alma and his predecessors kept served two purposes. First, they had been used to teach the Nephites and the Lamanites. Alma stated, "Were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are on these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect tradition of their fathers." These records brought the Lamanites to the knowledge of the Lord and caused them "to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer." (Alma 37:8-9.) Second, speaking prophetically he said that these records will show God's "power unto future generations." (Alma 37:14, 18-19.)
With the responsibility of keeping the sacred artifacts safe, Helaman was also admonished to write and continue the record. (Alma 37:2, 47.) Likewise, a modern father might entrust to one of his children journals, papers, and diaries belonging to previous generations. From such records may come spiritual witnesses to enrich the lives of living family members as well as future generations.
The Book of Mormon contains several father-son encounters: Father Lehi with Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph; Alma the Elder and Mosiah with their sons; and Mormon and Moroni. But none is more soul-searching than the counsel given to Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton by Alma. Each of these fathers, like Alma, had one thing in mind, the welfare of his children. Alma counseled his sons about physical and spiritual matters. He encouraged them to put their trust in God, to keep his commandments, to pray, to keep records, to be an example, and to teach the gospel to others. And, like the others, he blessed them. Modern-day scripture instructs us to "set in order" our own homes. (D&C 93:43.) Nothing is more beautiful than Mormon's farewell to his son, Moroni. After instructing his faithful son one final time, Mormon, echoing the desire of every father, wrote, "Behold, my son, I recommend thee unto God." (Moro. 9:22.)
- Clark V. Johnson is associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.
- See also Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1938), pp. 158, 323, 337-38.
- Lehi and his family wandered eight years in the wilderness. (1. Ne. 17:4.)
- Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), pp. 786-87.
- Mormon Doctrine, pp. 644-45.
Reference: Kent P. Jackson, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 8: Alma 30 to Moroni, 41-46.
Robert L. Millet1 on the Path of Repentance
1. He had become haughty, had yielded to feelings of self-sufficiency. He had begun to boast in his own strength (Alma 39:2), to rely less and less on the arm of the Lord and more and more on the arm of flesh. In our day, Corianton might have been heard to say repeatedly, "I can handle it!" Corianton learned through a painful process that no man or woman has sufficient strength to resist the enticements of the father of lies. Alma had pleaded almost a decade earlier with a rebellious people: "Cast off your sins, and [do] not procrastinate the day of your repentance; but humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear." (Alma 13:27-28; emphasis added.)
2. Corianton had forsaken his ministry (Alma 39:3), had left his duty station. He was not where he had been assigned to be. One who sings "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord," must not then be guilty of desertion, of negligence and waywardness when the assignment comes. "No man," the Savior declared, "having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62.)
3. He had begun to associate with the wrong kinds of people; he eventually surrendered to the allurements and pressures to conform to the ways of the worldly. But, Alma scolded, because others gave in to sin was no reason for him to do the same: "This was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted." (Alma 39:3-4.)
The Seriousness of Sexual Transgression
Alma then placed all things in perspective by stressing the seriousness of this immoral practice: he explained that only two sins were greater abominations in the sight of Godthe sin against the Holy Ghost, and murder or the shedding of innocent blood. In speaking of the former sin, he taught: "If ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it, behold, this is a sin which is unpardonable." (Alma 39:6.)
"All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men," Jesus warned, "but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men, . . . neither in this world, neither in the world to come." (Matt. 12:31- 32.) These are they who "know [God's] power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy [God's] powerthey are they who are the sons of perdition, . . . vessels of wrath," enemies to the cause of truth, "having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame." (D&C 76:31-35.)2 Joseph Smith declared:
All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy.3
The sin against the Holy Ghost is unpardonable because it is not covered by the atoning blood of Christ and because no amount of personal suffering on the part of the sinner can atone for the pernicious deed.
"Whosoever murdereth against the light and knowledge of God, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness," Alma warned. (Alma 39:6.) "A murderer," Joseph Smith explained, "one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness."4 Murder is thus referred to as an unforgivable sin, a heinous crime against humanity, an offense not covered by the atoning blood of Christ and for which deliverance from hell in the world of spirits is possible only after much personal suffering. "There are sins unto death," wrote Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "meaning spiritual death. There are sins for which there is no forgiveness, neither in this world nor in the world to come. There are sins which utterly and completely preclude the sinner from gaining eternal life. Hence there are sins for which repentance does not operate, sins that the atoning blood of Christ will not wash away, sins for which the sinner must suffer and pay the full penalty personally."5
Sexual immorality ranks third in order of serious offenses before God because it, like murder, deals with life. One who tampers with virtue prematurely or inappropriatelyoutside of marriagetampers with the powers of life. Elder Boyd K. Packer has taught: "There was provided in our bodiesand this is sacreda power of creation, a light, so to speak, that has the power to kindle other lights. This gift was to be used only within the sacred bonds of marriage. Through the exercise of this power of creation, a mortal body may be conceived, a spirit enter into it, and a new soul born into this life." Further, this power "is a gift from God our Father. In the righteous exercise of it as in nothing else, we may come close to him." On the other hand, "God has declared in unmistakable language that misery and sorrow will follow the violation of the laws of chastity. . . . Crowning glory awaits you if you live worthily. The loss of the crown may well be punishment enough. Often, very often, we are punished as much by our sins as we are for them." 6
A Pattern for Repentance
It would appear that much of Corianton's problem was borne of doctrinal ignorance and misunderstanding, particularly concerning the appropriateness of justice and punishment for sin. (See Alma 41:1; 42:1.) It is fitting, then, that Alma should instruct his son about repentance and point the way back to the path of peace and happiness.
First, having stressed the seriousness of the offense, Alma sought now to ensure that Corianton was experiencing godly sorrow for sin, the kind of sorrow that is an essential element of true repentance. In short, Alma desired that his son experience appropriate guiltno more than is requisite, but surely no less than is needful to bring about change. Alma observed: "I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime. I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good." (Alma 39:7; compare 2 Cor. 7:10.) Alma later remarked: "And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance." (Alma 42:29.) Alma knew only too well the awful agony associated with grievous sin; on the other hand, he understood as few others do how intense pain could be turned to consummate joy, how suffering could make saints out of sinners. Appropriate guilt can and does have a sanctifying effect: it alerts the offender to the spiritual chasm between himself and his Maker and motivates him thereafter to a godly walk and conduct.
"Now my son," Alma continued, "I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things." (Alma 39:9.) For Corianton to "cross himself" was for him to turn away from evil inclinations, to deny himself of worldly lusts, to work at cross purposes from the natural man, to forsake worldly paths, and to chart and navigate a course of righteousness. (See 3 Ne. 12:30.) "As well as establishing worthy goals, charting the course prevents one from living an unplanned, haphazard lifea tumbleweed existence."7 Those desirous of keeping themselves from sinful practices must often change associations, places, and attitudes toward life. Corianton was specifically advised to lean upon his older brothersHelaman and Shiblonfor support, to look to their example and seek their counsel. "Ye stand in need to be nourished by your brothers," Alma said. (Alma 39:10.)
Because Corianton's abominable deeds rang so loudly in the ears of the Zoramites, the words of the Nephite missionaries did not have the spiritual appeal they might otherwise have had. "How great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites," Alma chastened the errant son, "for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words." (Alma 39:11.) It was thus incumbent upon Coriantona major part of his repentance and a key to forgivenessto make restitution where possible. "Turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength; that ye lead away the hearts of no more to do wickedly; but rather return unto them, and acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done." (Alma 39:13.) President Joseph F. Smith asked: "Does repentance consist of sorrow for wrong doing?" "Yes," he answered, "but is this all? By no means."
True repentance only is acceptable to God, nothing short of it will answer the purpose. Then what is true repentance? True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rightsthat which is due to them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance; then God will accept it.8
Indeed, Corianton learned, as do we all, that repentance consists of a major realignment of priorities, a turn from the fleeting, and an acceptance of the permanent. "Seek not after riches nor the vain things of this world," a tender father thus counseled, "for behold, you cannot carry them with you." (Alma 39:14.)
No discussion of repentance would be complete without a focus upon the power and saving grace available through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. And thus it is that Alma set forth in plain and unmistakable language the significance of the timeless and eternal sacrifice available through the blood of him who is man's Advocate with the Father. Alma's testimony (see Alma 39:17- 18) is in harmony with that of John the Revelator: Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). The Book of Mormon provides a restoration of a vital and precious truth, a verity largely absent from the biblical record: the knowledge that Christian prophets have taught Christian doctrine and administered Christian ordinances since the beginning of time. Our Lord's atonement reaches from creation's dawn to millennial splendor; the children of God from Eden to Armageddon can have their sins remitted in the name of the Holy One of Israel. That is, the atonement applies to "not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, . . . as well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost." (D&C 20:26-27.)
The Return of the Prodigal
Corianton's sin was abhorrent to God and the people of God. It hindered the work of the Lord among the Zoramites and caused deep pain and sorrow for those who knew and loved him. But it was not an unpardonable nor an unforgivable sin. Though it is true that the Holy One cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, it is also true that "he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven." (D&C 1:31-32; see also Alma 45:16.) God the Father is anxious for the return of his children to the path of righteousness and peace, perhaps infinitely more so than we can now perceive. Elder Orson F. Whitney held out this hope for the parents of wandering or wayward children:
You parents of the wilful and the wayward: Don't give them up. Don't cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yourslong before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.9
President J. Reuben Clark observed: "I feel that [the Lord] will give that punishment which is the very least that our transgression will justify. . . . I believe that when it comes to making the rewards for our good conduct, he will give the maximum that it is possible to give."10
Alma was not only a concerned father; he was a prophet of God and the president of the Church. His was the gift of discernment and the spirit of prophecy and revelation. He was thus able to judge whether Corianton's repentance was genuine and when his heart was right before God. Knowing these things, it is touching to read these words of Alma to his son: "And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim upon them. And may God grant unto you even according to my words. Amen." (Alma 42:31.) We have every reason to believe that Corianton's repentance was complete, that he "crossed himself" and forsook sinful practices, places, and people, and that he qualified to return to the ministry and to full fellowship among the household of faith. We read of Corianton's labors a year or so later: "Thus ended the nineteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. Yea, and there was continual peace among them, and exceedingly great prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman, and Shiblon, and Corianton, and Ammon and his brethren, yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God." (Alma 49:29-30, emphasis added.) 11 Truly salvation is free (2 Ne. 2:4), freely available, and the Lord's hand is extended to all, such that "whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely" (Alma 42:27; cf. Isa. 55:1-2).
- Robert L. Millet is associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
- There is a sense in which those who have ''shed innocent blood'' are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost. That person who becomes a son of perdition crucifies Christ anew. (Compare Heb. 6:4-6.) ''He gets the spirit of the devil-the same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Life-the same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost.'' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976], p. 358.) ''The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death.'' (D&C 132:27; emphasis added.) See also Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-73), 3:116, 345; The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1979-81), 2:216; A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985), p. 233.
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358.
- Ibid., p. 339.
- A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 231.
- Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, April 1972, pp. 136-38.
- Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), pp. 233-34.
- Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1971), pp. 100-101.
- Conference Report, April 1929, p. 110.
- From ''As Ye Sow . . . ,'' Address at Brigham Young University, May 3, 1955.
- Later in the story we read of Corianton busily engaged in the work of the Lord. (See Alma 63:10.)
Reference: Kent P. Jackson, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 8: Alma 30 to Moroni, 48-54.