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The Rising Generation and Apostasy
1 Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
2 They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
3 And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
4 And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.
The dramatic change in topic from the end of chapter 25 to the beginning of chapter 26 makes it quite understandable why Orson Pratt created a chapter break at this point. It seems so logical that it seems to require explanation as to why Mormon didn’t break the chapter here. The original chapter XI comprises all our chapters 23 to 27. That chapter begins in the land of Nephi but moves to the land of Zarahemla. Mormon’s intent was to provide the information that will explain the events in the land of Zarahemla, and this chapter begins to lay out the critical information that there were undercurrents in Zarahemla society that would result in massive changes.
The first change was the establishment of churches. However, lest Mormon’s readers assume that the establishment of churches solved problems, he moves now to issues that continued in Zarahemla society. These verses serve as a contrast to the creation of the churches. While there are righteous believers in Zarahemla, there are also unbelievers.
Mormon begins by explaining how it happened that the people who were united under Mosiah2’s father, King Benjamin, could be now disunified. Mormon indicates that there were those who were too young to have made the covenant. What he doesn’t explain is how they came to see the option to disbelieve in the coming Messiah. There were, perhaps, external influences that led some who had not made the covenant to begin to move away from the belief in a coming Messiah. There were, perhaps, some of the previous generation who had not believed before, and whose conversion might not have been firm.
However the ideas began, they began to flourish. Even though churches had been established, they did not cover all in the society. There were those who would not be baptized. The establishment of churches allowed for a division in the society, and more than allowing a division, the establishment appears to have fostered it. There becomes a distinction between those who believe and those who do not.
5 And now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.
6 For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
An easy comment to miss is Mormon’s statement that “now in the reign of Mosiah they were not half so numerous. . . .” Certainly, we read that they “were not half so numerous,” but the ominous part is that this might only be true in the reign of Mosiah2. Mormon is foreshadowing changes, and he already knows that these dissentions will increase. Therefore, he tells us that it begins smaller, but hints that things will continue to decline.
The beginning of the internal conflict comes first because there is a specific division between church and non-church. That creates the condition that there would be those who did not believe as those in the church did, that they would attempt to convince those of the church that the ideas of the non-church believers were correct. They have success. Mormon indicates that their “flattering words” caused church members to “commit many sins.” These were sins because they were drawing them away from their faithfulness to Yahweh’s revealed covenant. It is also quite likely, because it is the essential definition of Nephite apostasy, that the departure from the covenant and church included a desire for social stratification, a desire to raise themselves above others.
There was now a new situation created by the concept of the church. What happens when someone in the church changes and comes into conflict with the teachings and practices of the church? When there was no church, that was purely a social issue. It is now complicated by the new layer of organization. The next story is about the resolution. As the leader of the church, the dissenters are brought before Alma1, the high priest.
8 Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
9 And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance.
10 Now there had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled in his spirit, and he caused that they should be brought before the king.
11 And he said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes.
12 But king Mosiah said unto Alma: Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged.
The concept of a church was new, and the way it integrated into the larger society was also both new, and unexamined. When the first issue arises, Alma1 takes it to King Mosiah2, even though Alma1 has been made the head of the church. Under the previous understanding, it would certainly be an issue for the king. When all religion was determined by the community, the king was the head of the religion regardless of the religious officiators.
The concept of the church created a new way of thinking and created religious issues as separate from social and non-religious legal issues. Since the law had been given by Moses and codified by kings who acted as the religious leader, it would have been difficult to understand how the law applied to issues of these new church organizations.
King Mosiah2 defines the new relationship by declaring that church matters are no longer kingly matters. They are part of the church itself, not the overall government. There is, for the first time in the Book of Mormon, a separation of church and state. Alma1, as the high priest, is designated as the proper person to deal with church issues.
Principles of Judgment for the Church
13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.
14 And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
When Mosiah2 returns the question of what to do with church dissidents to Alma1, the separation of church and state is explicit. Alma1 first went to the authority on the state, the king. Now he turns to the authority on religion. While Alma1 continues to be the titular head, he understands that it is Yahweh who is ultimately the authority on religious matters. Therefore, he brings the question to God for an answer.
15 Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi.
16 And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them.
17 And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
18 Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
When Yahweh answers Alma1, he begins with declarations intended to show that Alma1 has done well. Therefore, there are blessings pronounced upon those who have followed Alma1, and therefore, upon Alma1 for his leadership.
Ultimately the blessing is that Alma1 has brought people to a closer covenant with Yahweh. Yahweh declares: “blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.” Although King Benjamin attempted to have all his people bear the name of the Messiah, the reality was that there were those who forsook that relationship. In the divisiveness of the social, political, and religious realms in Zarahemla, Alma1 has preserved for Yahweh those who would truly bear his name.
19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.
20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.
21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
Yahweh turns to the particular issue that Alma1 brought before him. Yahweh declares that it is right for Alma to present the question. That is important because Yahweh is the One God, and it could be considered disrespectful to bring things to him that Alma1 should have worked out for himself. In this case, Alma1’s exercise of agency involved turning for advice from the one source that could legitimately offer such counsel.
Yahweh reaffirms his covenant with Alma1, both personally, and as a representative of Yahweh on earth. It is through Alma1 that Yahweh’s people will hear his will, Yahweh will accept into his covenant those whom Alma1 receives into the covenant.
22 For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.
23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
Yahweh reinforces the nature of this new covenant associated with the church. As the entry into the church, baptism takes on a new and more important role. It continues to represent repentance, but it also represents belonging to the community which accepts Yahweh’s reiterated covenant.
Those who enter the church and are repentant accept the atoning mission of the Messiah. That is the essential aspect of what Abinadi preached, and which Alma1 has reinforced. This is a church that looks forward explicitly to the coming Messiah more than back on the law of Moses, even though they still fall under, and obey, that law.
Because they are known by Yahweh’s name, and are his, they will know him in the resurrection, and they will receive their just reward in the next world.
25 And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me.
26 And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed.
27 And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
Yahweh describes the eternal fates of two sets of people. In the previous verses, he described those who accepted him. In these verses, he addresses the fate of the second set. When those who would not accept him and take upon them his name in this world finally stand before Yahweh in judgment, he will declare that he never knew them.
The stakes of belief are not earthly. They are not political. They are eternal. In the common method of scripture, the division between good and evil, between God and the Devil, are made into binary opposites. Therefore, there are only two types mentioned. Those who accept the Yahweh as their God and Redeemer will be redeemed. Those who do not, will not. Yahweh declares that this applies to the covenant made to accept the gospel as part of the church.
If one hears Yahweh’s voice, that person will be received into the church. That person will be the one who stands with God at the last day. Those who reject the church also reject the covenant and, therefore, God. They will not be redeemed in the last day.
29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.
30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.
Yahweh has described, up to this point, the eternal consequences of acceptance of, and conformance to, our covenant with God. Now, he brings that understanding down to the way in which Alma1 is to judge. What Yahweh has said is that he has the ultimate judgment, but that he is also the God of redemption and repentance. Therefore, the task for Alma1 on earth is to judge humankind according to its particular sins. Unlike the polar opposites that are described for the eternities, the earthly realm shows more flexibility.
While there is always the possibility of transgression here on earth, there is also the possibility for repentance. Therefore, Yahweh declares that Alma1 should judge on the basis of true repentance, not just the original transgression. Yahweh declares that when Alma1 accepts the person’s repentance, so too will God.
The principle of repentance is emphasized. The sentiment of repentance in verses 30 and 31 reflect the same concept as taught in Matthew 18:21–22, where Peter is told that he is to forgive seventy times seven. Here, it is more simply stated: “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.”
The difference comes when one will not repent. Just as God says that he “never knew” those who unrepentantly trespassed, the official church policy is to not know the unrepentant sinner. The church exercises that principle of not knowing by having the person no longer numbered among the covenanted people. The church becomes the microcosm of the eternal principle. One either accepts the covenant or rejects it.
33 And it came to pass when Alma had heard these words he wrote them down that he might have them, and that he might judge the people of that church according to the commandments of God.
34 And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord.
35 And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church;
36 And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out.
When we read that “when Alma had heard these words he wrote them down that he might have them, and that he might judge the people of that church according to the commandments of God,” we should understand that this was more than writing something down so that Alma1 wouldn’t forget. This was the creation of new scripture, a new rule for how the church was to operate and how the high priest was to make judgments.
The rest of the verses indicate that, just as we expect of Yahweh’s faithful servant, Alma1 did as he was instructed. Those who repented were numbered among the church. Those who did not, had their names blotted out. Of course, those who were unrepentant had already left the church as a belief system. The blotting of names was the more formal indication that the judgment had been made that they had rejected their covenant with Yahweh as the coming Messiah and true representative of the law of Moses.
37 And it came to pass that Alma did regulate all the affairs of the church; and they began again to have peace and to prosper exceedingly in the affairs of the church, walking circumspectly before God, receiving many, and baptizing many.
38 And now all these things did Alma and his fellow laborers do who were over the church, walking in all diligence, teaching the word of God in all things, suffering all manner of afflictions, being persecuted by all those who did not belong to the church of God.
39 And they did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, every one by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.
There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. As with the change from our chapters 25 to 26, there is a subject change from chapter 26 to 27. Mormon ends this section of his story with the conclusion of how Alma1 acted as not only a high priest in the previous religious organization, but now acted as a new type of high priest: one who had authority from the king, but an authority which was independent from the Nephite religious authority.
The conclusion here is to show that those who were in the church attempted to live the covenants. As with many of this type of statement in the Book of Mormon, Mormon describes the good in order to set the stage from the decline into difficulty. The difficulties are the next story, which Orson Pratt separated into a new chapter.
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