Alma 13:3-5, LeGrand Baker, the origins of our personalities
3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained——being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.
5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared –
Perhaps more than any other passages of scripture, Alma chapters 12 and 13 give us a clear window through we can discover our eternal natures. We have spent all summer on Alma 12, and that should not be a surprise. Hugh Nibley said, “This is the hardest chapter in the Book of Mormon. It’s the one that separates us farthest from the world. It’s the [twelfth] chapter of Alma, where the gospel plan is given.” (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon–Semester 1: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988–1990 [Provo: FARMS], p. 330.)
Chapter 13 is not much simpler. It is about the origin of our personalities.
To show how I read that to be so, let me go through verse 3 again, with a slightly different emphisis from last week, then try to tie the ideas in that verse into the ideas in the two verses that follow it.
Abraham 3-5 tells about the Father’s spirit children (called the “noble and great ones” in ch.3, and “the gods” in chapters 4 and 5) who created the earth, while Alma 12-13 tells about the Father’s spirit children (called “his children in chapter 13) who were ordained to teach the unorganized intelligences about the atonement. Of those members of the Council, Abraham wrote, “God saw these souls that they were good.” Alma was much more explicit:
And this is the manner after which they were ordained – being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,
Alma then says that “foreknowledge” was God’s ability to project what he knew about their past into what he knew about their future—that is God’s knowledge of them in sacred time. God knew their works in the past; he knew their integrity, and he knew their future. Therefore, these “children,” —
“being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works;”
That says that because of their faith (pistis – making and keeping covenants) – and good works (in James, Paul, throughout the Book of Mormon and many other places in the scriptures, “works” refer to ordinances.), that they were called and prepared. That should come as no surprise, because that is always the criteria God uses. The surprise may come in the next phrase which answers the question, When?
“in the first place being left to choose good or evil;”
The phrase “in the first place” has one of two meanings: either it is a colloquial expression that is just stuck in there and simply means “early on,” or it means precisely what it says: “in the first place.” If it is only a colloquialism one can make the chapter mean almost anything one wishes. However if it does mean “in the first place,” then these statements describe the attributes of noble and great ones when they were still intelligences. It tells why and how they qualified to be among the earliest spirit children born to our heavenly parents. In this chapter, the phrase, “in the first place” is used twice. I take them to mean exactly what they say: in the first place – as intelligences. Meaning that from “before the beginning” (the Lord’s words to Enoch) they were free to choose good or evil –
“therefore they [as intelligences] having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith [in Christ and his atonement],”
In this verse these “children” are described as having “exceeding faith and good works” and “exercising exceedingly great faith.” If “faith” simply means belief, then that speaks highly of their conviction. However, if “faith” means the same as pistis – tokens of covenants – that helps us understand how truly great these luminaries must have been. Alma says that they –
“are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.”
“Preparatory redemption” is another key phrase which helps us determine the time this was happening. “Redemption” is coming into the presence of God. In terms of this life, to be redeemed is to be brought back into his presence. (Ether 3:13-14, Helaman 14:17, 2 Nephi 2:2-4, 2 Nephi 1:15). The final redemption is being brought into the Celestial Kingdom where one may reside with God.
“Preparatory redemption” does not mean “preparing for a redemption,” it means a redemption which prepares one for something else – a redemption that is “preparatory.” In this case it would be that redemption that brought those intelligences into God’s presence the first time—being born as spirit children to our heavenly Parents. It is preparatory because it is not permanent.
We had to leave their presence again when we come into this world. Later, when we return to stay, that will be a permanent redemption. What we do in this world to prepare for that is what Alma called, in chapter 12, “the plan of redemption.”
So the first redemption, when we became spirit children was “preparatory” because there we were taught to come here and instructed about what we must do here to obtain the blessings of an eternal redemption.
4 And thus they [the “children” – members of the Council] have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith [in Christ], while others [intelligences who were not members of the Council] would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts
That phrase, “the hardness of their hearts,” had just been very carefully defined by Alma, so there could be no question in Zeezrom’s mind what it meant. In chapter 12 Alma said,
9 …It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God [“Mysteries” is the same is sode, and may refer to a real sode experience the prophets receive when they return, in vision, to the Council, or it may to the this-world version of a sode experience that the ancient Israelites received during the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama]; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this [choosing to not know the mysteries] is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11)
4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their heartsand blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this [their refusal to know] they [the “people”— those who were not yet “children”] might have had as great privilege as their brethren [those who are the “children”].
Understanding that verse, in the full context of the atonement, may be the most important concept in the scriptures—certainly the most relevant for each of us to understand one’s Self. For, as the next verse makes it clear, the noble and great ones were not noble and great because they had some special advantages, but “on account of their exceeding faith and good works” – because of the way they exercised their free agency, their advancement as intelligences was an entirely individual matter. (Abraham 3:18-21 teaches that same thing.)
5a. Or in fine, in the first place [“In the first place” – when they were intelligences] they [the “people”] were on the same standing with their brethren [the “children”];
That is, at some point in time—in the first place—before the very beginning—in our very distant past—the intelligences whom Alma identifies as the “people” were on the same standing as the intelligences whom he identifies as “the children.” In the first place, there was nothing arbitrary about the selection of who would be the noble and great ones. They were not noble and great because they were the among the first to be born to our Heavenly Parents, but they were among the first to be born to our Heavenly Parents because as intelligences they had become noble and great.
5b thus this holy calling [the ordination mentioned in verse one] being prepared from the foundation of the world [that phrase always means at or before the Council in Heaven] for such as would not harden their hearts [when they were intelligences], [This priesthood calling] being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared –
If I read that correctly it says that in the very beginnings of our beginning we were free to choose. Those who chose to have faith in Christ and follow him did so; those who chose to do it to the degree that it seemed convenient, did so; those who chose not to, did not do so. To accept that notion, one must also accept the idea that the atonement reaches back forever—is infinite and eternal. For if intelligences were free to make decisions, there must have also been a way provided that would enable them to correct bad decisions, thus the need for repentance, thus the need for the atonement. I accept that as truth. But in my imagination, I cannot conceive of our origin being so two dimensional as to simply assert that one only accepted Christ or not accept him. My notion is that by the time one had matured sufficiently as an “intelligence” to be ready to be born a child in the world of the spirits, one had not only developed one’s inclination to love the Lord and his children; but one had also fully, or very nearly fully, developed the whole complex system of preferences and non-preferences that we call personality. I suppose also, that all the other attributes of personality were subsets of the most important one, which was (still is) charity – one’s love for our Father and his children.
The first commandment is to Love the Lord. The second is to love your neighbor. If our this-physical-life experience was designed to see if we will love in an environment that is not conducive to love, then it was designed very well indeed. The farmer who beats his dogs and horses, and is cruel to his wife and children, is, at his core, not substantially different from the tyrant who over-taxes his people and oppresses them with unjust laws. Similarly the impoverished housewife who feeds the hungry neighbor child is not substantially different from the middle class Latter-day Saint Relief Society sister who looks after her ill neighbor because she chooses to rather than because she feels it is her duty. It seems to me that earth’s experience was designed, not just to show if we will obey, but to show why we obeyed before we came here. That is, to give us sufficient opportunity in this dark and lonely world to confirm to ourselves and all creation whether we obeyed in the spirit world because we knew which side our bread was buttered on, or whether we obeyed because we truly love the Lord and love his children.
In the Gospel of John, the beloved disciple, quotes the Saviour as saying,
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13: 34-35)
This does not imply that the command to love one another was never given before that time. In his letters John explains that the commandment is eternal, but is “new” because it is renewed in this world, but it was first given in the pre-mortal existence. He used the phrase, “from the beginning” four times in these few verses. (In D&C 132, the phrase “new and everlasting covenant” has the same connotation.)
4 He that saith, I know him [God], and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
7 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. (1 John 2: 4-10)
1 The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth;
2 For the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever.
3 Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father.
5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. (2 John 1: 1-6)
If the object of our earth life experience was designed to that end, then human and individual history takes on a whole new meaning. Whether in the extreme of poverty and in utter obscurity, or in great wealth and reputation—or somewhere in between – the purpose of life is the same for everyone – only the specific assignments are different – in this life and, I suppose, in the spirit world which follows. Since “where much is given, much is required” is a true principle, for the rich and the poor, the well educated and the ill-educated, the opportunities for doing good in this life (and/or in the next), are ultimately worked out on a level playing field.
An example is one of the most moving autobiographies I have ever read. Martha Cox’s parents were among the first settlers in St. George, Utah. All of her life she was very poor. Near the end of her autobiography she wrote something like this: “I have always been grateful to the Lord that I had no money. I have noticed that rich people cannot give to poor people without the poor people being reluctant to accept, because they think the rich people are being condescending. But I have always been so poor that I could help whomever I wished, and they were always able to accept whatever I had to give.” (Im sorry I don’t have the exact quote. A typescript of her autobiography is at BYU library: Martha Cragun Cox, 1852-1932. MSS SC 319.)
I believe that one’s love for God and his children—one’s charity (in combination with other personality attributes), and one’s priesthood authority as they are described as a single unit in Abraham 1:2-4, and whose history is described in Alma 13, constitute the ‘law of one’s own being.’ (As I consider it, I think that the phrase “priesthood authority” is the right concept, but as we use the words, probably not the right phrase – though I have no idea what a better one would be. Considering the grand sweep and eternal scope of Abraham’s statements, I think the concept is far too big for our gender oriented phrase “priesthood authority” to say all that is necessary to say. But as I observed, I haven’t the foggiest idea what a better phrase would be.)