Alma 5:41-49 — LeGrand Baker — Alma’s authority and testimony
There are three main themes in these verses:
v. 42: gives us a working definition of “good works”
v 43, 44, 49: defines Alma’s priesthood authority
v. 44-48: Alma’s powerful testimony.
I would like to discuss them in that order.
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Definition of “good works”
42 And whosoever doeth this must receive his wages of him; therefore, for his wages he receiveth death, as to things pertaining unto righteousness, being dead unto all good works (Alma 5:42).
Here Alma is equating “things pertaining unto righteousness” with “good works.” Righteous is zedek, as in the name Melchizedek, it means the same as right: correct, square, precise. I understand righteousness to mean correct in temple things, whether that is correctness in performing the ordinances and covenants, or correct in living according to those covenants, both are righteousness. Thus, in Alma’s equation, good works means the same thing. That is consistent with James in the Bible and with what Alma says about “holy works” in Alma 12.
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This is a sermon delivered with all the priesthood authority of the president of the church. In that regard it is like Moroni 7, which Mormon introduces by clarifying the authority by which he spoke:
2 And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.(Moroni 7:2)
The authors of the Book of Mormon assume the prophet’s priesthood authority, but rarely tell us how they got it. In Alma’s words to the people of Zarahemla he asserted his authority in an unmistakable way. His words are:
43 I speak in the energy of my soul; for behold, I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot err, or have spoken according to the commandments of God.
44 For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people
49 ….this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land… (Alma 5:43, 44, 49 )
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Bracketed by those declarations of authority, is Alma’s testimony, which I have written here as a paragraph rather than leaving it broken into verses:
45-48 … I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true…. they are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God (That is an interesting phrase because of its ambiguity. It may be read “by the Holy Ghost,” or it may be read like the Ether 3 when the Saviour, as a spirit, visited the Brother of Jared). 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….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….I know of myself that …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. (v 45-48)
It seems impossible to me that a prophet could make a speech more formal—and therefor more binding than Alma has done here. He is God’s prophet and is teaching what he has been instructed to teach! (Mormon does the same thing, and just as emphatically in Moroni 7.)
After again asserting his authority, “this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto [all],” he tells them what he has been instructed to preach. It is this: “that they must repent and be born again.” In the next few verses he explains how they are to achieve that end.