Alma 5:14-24 — LeGrand Baker — engraven upon your countenance
There seems to be 4 dominant themes in these verses.
1) The first, “Have ye spiritually been born of God?” is a clear reference to the blessings of kingship and priesthood promised in Psalms 2 and 110; and repeated in the Beatitudes, Moroni 7 and so many other places in the scriptures. That theme is elaborated on throughout Alma 5 with references to one’s having the right to wear sacral clothing.
2)Another theme is the resurrection and final judgment. Alma asked, “Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?” (v. 15) The Book of Mormon prophets consistently taught that one’s resurrection would precede one’s final judgment. (2 Nephi 9:22, Jacob 6:9, Alma 33:22, Alma 40:21, Mormon 7:6, Mormon 9:13-14) So it appears that Alma’s next questions — about clothing — are about how one will be dressed when one approaches the Saviour to be judged. In his discourse, Alma describes the clothing in one of two ways, which constitute the other two themes of this part of his discourse:
3) The garments of the unrighteous will be stained with blood
4) The garments of the righteous will be spotless and white.
Alma asks, “do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say—Lord, our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth—and that he will save you? (v. 17)
The answer is: “Not likely. It will be jolly hard to make that lie sound even a little bit convincing.” The reason it will be hard is because when one stands before the Saviour to be judged, his resurrection will already have happened. The final judgment comes after we have already received our resurrected bodies. Samuel the Lamanite explained:
15 For behold, he surely must die that salvation may come; yea, it behooveth him and becometh expedient that he dieth, to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord.
16 Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. (Helaman 14:15-16)
In D&C 88 the Lord explained how the resurrection works: The first rule is that one’s resurrected body must be compatible with one’s spiritual capacity:
22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.
The second rule is that when one is resurrected, the parts of one’s physical body that one claims, are the parts that are compatible with one’s spiritual capacity:
28 They who are [present tense] of a celestial spirit shall receive [future tense] the same body which was [past tense] a natural body; even ye shall receive [future tense] your bodies, and your glory shall be [future tense] that glory by which your bodies are [present tense] quickened.
29 Ye who are quickened [present tense] by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive [future tense] of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened [present tense] by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive [future tense] of the same, even a fulness.
31 And also they who are quickened [present tense] by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive [future tense] of the same, even a fulness.
As I read that, it says that the glory that now animates one in this life shall be the glory that defines one in the resurrection.
I think what Alma is saying is that at the final judgment, if one is standing before the Saviour with a telestial resurrected body, it will be jolly hard to make the case that one has really kept the celestial law. But Alma describes that situation in terms of one’s clothing, rather than in terms of the nature of one’s body.
18 Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance of all your guilt, yea, a perfect remembrance of all your wickedness, yea, a remembrance that ye have set at defiance the commandments of God? …
20 I say unto you, can ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the devil?
21 I say unto you, ye will know at that day that ye cannot be saved; for there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white….
22 And now I ask of you, my brethren, how will any of you feel, if ye shall stand before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness? Behold, what will these things testify against you?
23 Behold will they not testify that ye are murderers, yea, and also that ye are guilty of all manner of wickedness?
It is probable that no one in the congregation had actually committed murder by killing anyone’s physical body. It is for more likely that the murder he was talking about was the same as he would later accuse himself of having committed:
13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. (Alma 36:13-14)
If that is so, then the crimes he accused them of, were not only the things they had done of themselves, but also the things they had caused or encouraged others to do.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
In sharp contrast to that imagery, Alma asks,
14 And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren 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?
15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?
16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?…
19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?….
21 … there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from their sins. …
24 Behold, my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one can have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, and also all the holy prophets, whose garments are cleansed and are spotless, pure and white?
Again, Alma moves his referents from this life to the next with remarkable ease. With reference to this life, he asks: “Have ye received his image in your countenances?” Then with reference to the final judgment he asks again, “Can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?”
That immediately brings to mind three quotes. All three describe how one must look in order to be like God. The first is from President McKay who writes about the light that shines from one’s person. The other two are from ancient texts. They, like Alma, describe the clothing one must wear in order to be in the presence of God.
President McKay wrote:
Every man and every person who lives in this world wields an influence, whether for good or for evil. It is not what he says alone; it is not alone what he does. It is what he is. Every man, every person radiates what he or she really is. Every person is a recipient of radiation. The Saviour was conscious of that. Whenever He came into the presence of an individual, He sensed that radiation — whether it was the woman of Samaria with her past life: whether it was the woman who was to be stoned, or the men who were to stone her; whether it was the statesman, Nicodemus, or one of the lepers. He was conscious of the radiation from the individual. And to a degree so are you. and so am I. It is what we are and what we radiate that affects the people around us. (David O. McKay, Radiation of the Individual,”The Instructor, October, 1964, p. 373-374.)
The first of the ancient texts is an excerpt from Enoch’s sode experience:
And I fell prone and bowed down to the Lord, and the Lord with his lips said to me: “Have courage, Enoch, do not fear, arise and stand before my face into eternity.” And the archistratege Michael lifted me up, and led me to before the Lord’s face. And the Lord said to his servants tempting them: “Let Enoch stand before my face into eternity,” and the glorious ones bowed down to the Lord, and said: “Let Enoch go according to Thy word.” And the Lord said to Michael: “Go and take Enoch from out his earthly garments, and anoint him with my sweet ointment,[ footnote: “oil” ] and put him into the garments of My glory.” And Michael did thus, as the Lord told him. He anointed me, and dressed me, and the appearance of that ointment is more than the great light, and his ointment is like sweet dew, and its smell mild, shining like the sun’s ray, and I looked at myself, and was like one of his glorious ones. (Secrets of Enoch, 22:4-10 from R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, Vol. 2 [Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1913], 2:443)
The second ancient text is from the Hymn of the Pearl that is found in the Acts of Thomas. The Hymn of the Pearl is a perfect example of the cosmic myth.(If you don’t have a copy of The Pearl, I have sent it along as an attachment.)
This typed copy has additions in brackets and is slightly changed from its printed source, which is: Hdgar Hennecki (Edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher, English translation edited by R. McL. Wilson), New Testament Apocrypha, Writings Relating to the Apostles; Apocalypses and Related Subjects, Vol. 2, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia), 498-504.
There are two things he says about the sacred garment that especially remind one of Alma’s “the image of God engraven upon your countenances.” They are: “the likeness of the king of kings was completely embroidered all over it,” and “I saw that all over it the motions of knowledge were stirring.”
Near its beginning, before the hero leaves his home “in the east” (that is, among the gods), he describes his royal garments this way:
9 And they took off from me the splendid robe
Which in their love they had wrought for me,
10 And the purple toga,
Which was woven to the measure of my stature,
[That it was woven to fit him becomes important later on]
11 And they made with me a covenant
And wrote it in my heart, that I might not forget:
[That the covenant is written in his heart is also important later]
12 “If thou go down to Egypt
And bring the one pearl
[Many scholars believe the pearl is the boy himself ]
13 Which is in the midst of the sea,
In the abode of the loud-breathing Serpent,
[some translations say “dragon.” ]
14 Thou shalt put on again thy splendid robe
And thy toga which lies over it,
15 And with thy brother, our next in rank,
Thou shalt be heir in our kingdom.”
[Then, near the end of the poem, after he has fulfilled the mission he was sent to do, his garment returns to him and he is clothed in it in preparation for his return to his Father’s home.]
72 And my splendid robe which I had taken off,
And my toga with which it was wrapped about,
73 From the heights of Hyrcania
My parents sent thither
74 By the hand of their treasurers,
Who for their faithfulness were trusted therewith.
75 Indeed I remembered no more its dignity,
For I had left it in my childhood in my father’s house,
76 But suddenly, when I saw it over against me,
The splendid robe became like me, as my reflection in a mirror;
77 I saw it wholly in me,
And in it I saw myself quite apart from myself,
78 So that we were two in distinction
And again one in a single form.
[That is, he sees himself as two people in one. There is the person who had
the experiences on the earth, and the person of glory who he was, is, and will be.
These two come together to make the one person that is his total Self. ]
79 And the treasurers too
Who had brought it to me, I saw in like manner,
80 That they were two of a single form,
For one sign of the king was impressed upon them,
81 [There is a tear in the original manuscript here so it cannot be read. Apparently it says, referring to the king,]
He who restored to me through them
my pledge [covenant] and my riches,
82 My splendid robe adorned
Gleaming in glorious colours,
83 With gold and beryls,
Chalcedonies and opals,
84 And sardonyxes of varied colour,
This also made ready in its grandeur,
85 And with stones of adamant
Were all its seams fastened.
86 And the likeness of the king of kings
Was completely embroidered all over it
[That is important. The rob (the inner garment) had symbols on it
which represented the boy’s being like God.]
87 And like stones of sapphire again in its
Grandeur resplendent with manifold hues.
88 And again I saw that all over it
The motions of knowledge were Stirring.
89 And I saw too
That it was preparing as for speech.
90 I heard the sound of its songs
Which it whispered at its descent:
91 “I belong to the most valiant servant,
For whom they reared me before my father,
92 And I perceived also in myself
That my stature grew according to his labours.”
[While the boy was wallowing in the muck of this world, the robe
had to grow so it would still be able to fit the boy when he returned.
His experiences were the source of this growth.]
93 And with its royal movements
It poured itself entirely toward me,
94 And in the hands of its bringers
It hastened, that I might take it;
95 And my love also spurred me
To run to meet it and receive it,
96 And I stretched out and took it.
With the beauty of its colours I adorned myself.
97 And my toga of brilliant colours
I drew completely over myself.
98 I clothed myself with it and mounted up
To the gate of greeting and homage.
99 I bowed my head and worshipped
The splendour of the father who had sent the robe to me,
100 Whose commands I had accomplished,
As he also had done what he promised.