Alma 12:9-11, LeGrand Baker – knowing when to tell
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; 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 is what is meant by the chains of hell.
There is an eternal principle in these verses that is so important that it constitutes one of the corner stones upon which every individual must anchor the temple of his own salvation. The principle is this: When a conversation is about sacred things, it is not the understanding of the teacher, but rather it is the understanding of the learner that controls the conversation. The teacher is “under a strict command” to say nothing that the learner cannot comprehend as truth. The teacher can only know that if the Holy Ghost gives insights into the what and how the learner understands. If the teacher were to control the conversation based only on what he thinks the other ought to learn, he would violate a sacred trust and abdicate his own right to know. But if he listens as the Spirit enables him to commune with the soul of the learner, then he lets the background —but more especially the aptitude and desires— of the learner dictate the breath and depth of the conversation. When that happens, both the learner and the teacher are blessed.
One of the marks of the written words of a true prophet, is that they that may be read and understood by anyone who reads them, but —like a sacred code— they also carry a special meaning to those who know or seek to know. Thus, the secrets are revealed to only those who have a right to know, and the those same secrets that are hidden from the foundation of the world” remain hidden still. Alma explained,
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; (v.10)
As I have commented elsewhere, in the ancient world the “heart” was the cosmic center of the human body. It was considered to be the seat of both one’s intellect and one’s emotions. A hardened heart is one that is inflexible: it can not expand to embrace new emotional or academic truths. Consequently both its unbending opinions and its emotional prejudices are rooted in the same rigid rationale. A person who cultivates such a heart renders himself incapable of accepting, assimilating —even of understanding— sacred truth, as Alma explained,
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 [not knowing the mysteries] is what is meant by the chains of hell. (v. 11)
Alma contrasted that debilitation with the freedom of one who “will not harden his heart”— a characteristic which Ezekiel describes most eloquently with this promise from the Lord:
19And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:
20 That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
Alma’s characterization is like Ezekiel’s, but even more explicit:
and, to him [who “will not harden his heart”] 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.
I suppose “in full” really means “in full.” The Prophet Joseph explained the same principle. He said,
The reason we do not have the secrets of the Lord revealed unto us, is because we do not keep them but reveal them; we do not keep our own secrets, but reveal our difficulties to the world, even to our enemies, then how would we keep the secrets of the Lord? (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 194.)
Then Joseph added a sentence that carries no presumption, but that is the very key to his power as a prophet, and to his unbounded knowledge of the mysteries of God. He said simply, “I can keep a secret till Doomsday.”
There is a reason why one must not speak out of turn. It is the same reason why it is possible “to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.” And it is the same reason why the “mysteries of godliness” are and “have been hid from the foundation of the world.” The reason is that the mysteries of God can only be taught by the Spirit of God. If one tries to teach or to learn them any other way, their simple and profound truths become lost in the entanglement of speculation and falsehood.
There is only one who can teach ordinary people eternal truth, and that teacher is the Holy Ghost. However, there are often important agents that facilitate his teaching. The first of these agents is the words of the prophets, whether spoken or written—whether ancient or contemporary. The words stimulate one’s mind, so that the Spirit may teach their true meanings—and this is important: Those meanings are always and only about one’s Self and one’s relationship with the Saviour. Let me explain: The Spirit may testify that Joseph Smith was and is a true prophet, but the impact of that testimony is only incidentally about the Prophet Joseph. One’s testimony of the Prophet is always an enhancement of one’s understanding of the gospel—of the Saviour—of one’s Self—of one’s eternal relationships with others. That is equally true of one’s testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, or of any principle that it teaches. The object of those principles—and of all of the mysteries of godliness— is to help one define one’s Self in terms of the Saviour and his atonement. As that happens, one’s soul expands to embrace all of God’s children—charity becomes the driving force of one’s being, and living the law of consecration becomes its quiet, spontaneous, powerful manifestation. When the thoughts and actions of one’s heart is charity, then, as truth was the stimulus behind the charity, so ever increasing access to truth is the most important personal product of that same charity— and so it goes in a grand and never-ending spiral— until one knows, and loves, all things..
Some of the other agents that facilitate our understand by opening our minds to new insights that the Spirit can teach and confirm, are the ordinances and covenants of the priesthood; our own experiences and our ability to repent, to experience empathy, and also to rejoice; and the dear family members and friends who open the scriptures to our understanding, and who are wise and kind enough to patiently let us taste their meanings as we will, and digest them in our own time.
The reason the mysteries are hidden and remain hidden, is that (notwithstanding the persistence—even the love—of those who would wish us to learn)— is that the whole burden of the ability to know, and of the responsibility of knowing, rests upon one’s Self. There is only one course that leads to a knowledge of the mysteries of God. The Saviour explained:
6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
7 Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
8 For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened….
11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (3 Nephi 14:6-8, 11)
If one asks, seeks, knocks, listens, and speaks only as one is instructed by the Spirit to speak, then the only limit placed on one’s knowing is one’s ability and willingness to assimilate what one is given to know.