Mosiah 27: 8-17 — LeGrand Baker– Angel visits Alma
Our verses for today are Mosiah 27: 8-17, the account of the angel’s visiting Alma. It is probably one of everyone’s favorite stories in the Book of Mormon—but it asks a couple very serious questions that sits in the back of almost everyone’s mind—“Why not me?” And: “Why not so-and-so, whom I think needs a good kick in the pants by an angel?”
As far as I can tell, there are three answers to those questions. They all have to do with our Father in Heaven’s keeping as many of us as he can from going to hell. And even in that there may appear to be an inconsistency. It seems that some will go to hell because they see angels, and that others are saved from going to hell because they see an angel.
So, I suppose that a perfectly reasonable question is: What criteria does God use to decide who will see angels? First of all, I know as well as you do, that I don’t know the answer to that question. However there are some interesting things in Church history and in the scriptures that can probably bring one close to discovering what that answer is. Lets look at some examples.
The first example isn’t about angels at all. It is about Cain’s conversation with the Lord. Here is the short version:
20 …And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect….
22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted…
26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord,…(Moses 5:20-26)
In the Laman and Lemuel story the same thing happened. They got angry and stayed angry.
Another example is Sylvester Smith (no relation to Joseph). At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, “The heavens were opened unto Elder Sylvester Smith, and he, leaping up, exclaimed: ‘The horsemen of Israel and the chariots thereof.’” (DHC 2: 382 – 383.) George A. Smith added some detail. “In his exertion and excitement it seemed as though he would jump through the ceiling.” (JD 11:10) Sylvester became one of the leading men who spread rumors about the Prophet and drove him from Kirtland. Later on, he bore this reverse testimony. President Jedediah M. Grant told what happened after that.
In relation to men’s apostatizing, I recollect in the upper room of the Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, when we were assembled there, a very noted man, by the name of Sylvester Smith, bore testimony of what he had seen of the Prophet of God, of angels, &c. He said he wanted to bear testimony, and continued to say, “I have spoken by what you call the Holy Ghost; the eyes of my understanding have been touched, and I have seen convoy after convoy of angels; I have laid hands on the lame, and they have leaped like an hart; I have spoken with tongues and had the interpretation thereof; I have seen the sick healed time after time;—but let me tell you, everything I have seen and everything you have seen is the height of idiotism.” This was Sylvester Smith, after he apostatized.
This was the testimony of an apostate, which is conclusive proof to me that a man may see the hosts of heaven—the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof, and gaze on the glory of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost; and unless he retains the Spirit of God, he will apostatize. Therefore my advice to the Saints has been, and is, and whenever I give you good advice in the future, it will be the same, that you propose in your hearts never to depart from God or from his people, only when you are filled with the Holy Ghost; and then when you do it, ask counsel of his servants. (JD 6: 254.)
In brilliant contrast, there are stories of people who were already angry, but who changed, never to change again. These are the stories of Alma, Paul, and the 300 Lamanites who came to the prison to mock Nephi and Lehi.
I have no doubt that the men, women, and children who were gathered at the Bountiful Temple when the Saviour came, were a very select group of righteous individuals, Even so, he made this remarkable statement to them.
…therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.(3 Ne. 12: 1b-2a)
I think the rationale behind that may be this: Before we came to this earth, we already demonstrated how we would behave when we were in the presence of God and his Council. Now we are in this world to demonstrate to ourselves and to God how we bill behave when we are on our own. That does not imply that we don’t get help. It only says we don’t always get to see the help we get. Here are two examples. The first is from the Prophet Joseph.
Also, I saw Elder Brigham Young standing in a strange land, in the far south and west, in a desert place, upon a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color, who appeared hostile. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head, with a drawn Sword in his hand, protecting him, but he did not see it. (DHC 2: 382.)
The other was told by President Heber J. Grant.
From October when I was called to be one of the council of the Twelve, until the following February, I had but little joy and happiness in my labors. There was a spirit following me that told me that I lacked the experience, that I lacked the inspiration, that I lacked the testimony to be worthy of the position of an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. My dear mother had inspired me with such a love of the gospel and with such a reverence and admiration for the men who stood at the head of this Church, that when I was called to be one of them I was overpowered; I felt my unworthiness and the adversary taking advantage of that feeling in my heart, day and night, the spirit pursued me, suggesting that I resign, and when I testified of the divinity of the work we are engaged in, the words would come back, “You haven’t seen the Savior; you have no right to bear such a testimony,” and I was very unhappy.
But in February, 1883, while riding along on the Navajo Indian Reservation with Elder Brigham Young, Jr., and fifteen or twenty other brethren, including the late president, Lot Smith, of one of the Arizona stakes, on our way to visit the Navajos and Moquis—as we were traveling that day, going through a part of the Navajo Reservation to get to the Moqui Reservation—as we were traveling to the southeast, suddenly the road turned and veered almost to the northeast, but there was a path, a trail, leading on in the direction in which we had been traveling. There were perhaps eight or ten of us on horseback and the rest in wagons. Brother Smith and I were at the rear of our company. When we came to the trail I said, “Wait a minute, Lot; where does this trail lead to?”
He said, “Oh, it leads back in the road three or four miles over here, but we have to make a detour of eight or nine miles to avoid a large gully that no wagons can cross.”
I asked: “Can a horseman get over that gully?” He answered, “Yes.”….
I had perhaps gone one mile when in the kind providences of the Lord it was manifested to me perfectly so far as my intelligence is concerned—I did not see heaven, I did not see a council held there, but like Lehi of old, I seemed to see, and my very being was so saturated with the information that I received, as I stopped my animal and sat there and communed with heaven, that I am as absolutely convinced of the information that came to me upon that occasion as though the voice of God had spoken the words to me.
It was manifested to me there and then as I sat there and wept for joy that it was not because of any particular intelligence that I possessed, that it was not because of any knowledge that I possessed more than a testimony of the gospel, that it was not because of my wisdom, that I had been called to be one of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ in this last dispensation, but it was because the prophet of God, the man who was the chosen instrument in the hands of the living God of establishing again upon the earth the plan of life and salvation, Joseph Smith, desired that I be called, and that my father, Jedediah M. Grant, who gave his life for the gospel, while one of the presidency of the Church, a counselor to President Brigham Young, and who had been dead for nearly twenty-six years, desired that his son should be a member of the Council of the Twelve. It was manifested to me that the prophet and my father were able to bestow upon me the apostleship because of their faithfulness, inasmuch as I had lived a clean life, that now it remained for me to make a success or a failure of that calling. (President Heber J. Grant., Conference Report, October 1918, First Day—Morning Session 24 – 25.)
So, why do some see, and some not see, and some see some of the time and not all the time? I believe that the answer to all those questions is the same: So God can give his children experiences most conducive to their gaining eternal salvation. Two scriptures help explain how he determines that. The first is in Mormon’s great sermon in Moroni 7:
29 And because he [God] hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.
31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.
32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7: 29-32)
There are two points here that are important to our investigation:
(1) God sends angels to people who are “of strong faith and a firm mind.” The corollary to that is: When people who are not of strong faith or do not have a firm mind, see an angel, one can be assured that the angel they saw is not of God, and therefore the testimony they bear is neither valid nor binding.
[When I sent this to Bruce to review, he responded, “This is a little unclear—are you saying that Paul and Alma really were of strong faith and a firm mind before they were visited?” Now, that’s a jolly good question, and I don’t know the answer. But as I thought about it, I think I would guess that the answer is “yes.” This is my rationale: Paul and Alma had two of the strongest intellects in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon respectively. We don’t know what motivated Alma, but there can be no question that Paul’s persecution of the Church was an honest expression of his being “the perfect Jew.” After Paul’s vision, he did not change—he only transferred his integrity and his academic preparations to supporting Christianity. Since the result of Alma’s vision was the same as Paul’s, it may be true that their motivation and their preparations were similar also. It is certainly true that everything we know about Alma evinces he had a “firm mind.” The question of “strong faith” presents a different problem. If Paul’s misdirected “faith” is brought into play, I don’t think that would qualify. And whatever motivated Alma would not qualify either. So now we have to either disallow Mormon’s statement, or else we have to look somewhere else to discover how it may be true. In the next few pages, I will suggest that the decisions about who would see angels were based on assignments one received and covenants one made while at the Council in Heaven. If that is correct, then it is probably also correct that the “strong faith” one exercised in conjunction with that assignment, happened before one came here. So that whether one is to a Laman or an Alma, Heavenly Father keeps his part of the covenant by sending angels to people according to the decisions and promises that were made at the Council.]
(2) The Reason some see angels is so they can teach the others of us. The corollary to that is “And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.” It follows, then, that those who believe without seeing, have as great a blessing in store as those who have seen.
The remaining question is “How does God decide who does, and who does not see angels?”
Since I do not know a direct scriptural answer to that question, it leaves one to try to understand by inference. But in this case the inference seems to work very well.
– – – – – – – – – – – – –
In Section 132, What the Lord is about to explain to the Prophet Joseph is that the Patriarchs’ having multiple wives was a matter of prior justification, and that justification was based on assignments they received, and covenants they made at the Council in Heaven. So in the next few verses, it is the nature and importance of the law-of-pre-mortal-covenant that he talks about.
3 Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.
“This law,” as he is about to explain, is the law derived from one’s eternal covenants.
4 For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
When the Lord says “no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory,” that is serious business. If he were talking about polygamy, we would all be in bad trouble. But he is not, he is talking about the individual covenants we made at the Council. The covenants he is talking about are “new” because they are renewed in the world, and they are “everlasting” because they were made before we came here and their consequences reach into eternity.
On that same page in the Doctrine and Covenants, but in the previous section, one reads,
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; (D&C 131:1-2)
It is easy to transfer that statement found in section 131 to section 132 where the latter reads “new and everlasting covenant” so that 132 is changed to read, “meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” But to make that change distorts the meaning of section 132. For example, the whole of D&C 22 reads.
1 Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.
2 Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works.
3 For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old.
4 Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen. (D&C 22:1-4)
There, baptism is a new and everlasting covenant. That is easy to understand because baptism (either in person or vicariously performed) is a necessary prerequisite to justification. The point is that in the D&C there are three different pre-mortal covenants which are called “new and everlasting:”
1) baptism – D&C 22
2) “of marriage” [but not necessarily of plural marriage] – D&C 131
3) the “law” spoken of in section 132
To confirm the meaning and origin of the “law” which cannot be broken, the Lord ties it to the covenants made at the Council in Heaven.
5 For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
In the next verses he explains what this “new and everlasting covenant” is.
6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, of him who is anointed, both as well for time and for all eternity, and that too most holy, by revelation and commandment through the medium of mine anointed, whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power (and I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days, and there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred), are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
That is one of the most legalistic passages in the scriptures. If one temporarily sets aside the legal language and the part about there being only one prophet at a time on the earth who holds the keys, those verses read this way:
6 And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.
7 And verily I say unto you, that the conditions of this law are these: All covenants, …that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise … are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead. [“unto this end” means mortal actions must accord with the pre-mortal covenants]
Then the Lord explains why that is so.
8 Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
9 Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
10 Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
11 And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
This is the way I read those last four verses. The Lord will not consider what one does in this world to be “good,” and therefore as “acceptable,” unless what one does is in accordance with the covenants one made with the Saviour and his Father “before the world was.” And the Lord will require nothing of us in this life except those things which are inherent in those same covenants.
12 I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord.
If he is still talking about the same law, it is one’s keeping those individual covenants which people made before they came here that qualifies one for the celestial world – that is, it is the meek who shall inherit the celestial earth.
13 And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.
None of these new and everlasting covenants are generic, but are all tailored to specific individuals. Even baptism, which is a universal commandant is an individual matter. The fact that these new and everlasting covenants were made in Heaven does not preclude one’s free agency on earth. Rather, keeping those covenants must be an exercise of one’s agency. One of the reasons we came to this earth was to discover whether we will keep those covenants in an environment which is not conducive to our keeping them – indeed, which offers rewards for our ignoring or violating them. Notwithstanding the covenants one made there, one has the option of not keeping them here – the rewards of not doing so are ephemeral – but they wear the cloak of reality. They include the whole catalog of wealth and power to exercise all sorts of governmental, commercial, institutional, and individual authority in the lives of other people. But all such advantages are tentative, and their only eternal consequence is the permanent loss of their temporary gain.
14 For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.
God keeps his covenants but he will not be mocked. The terms of the covenant are negated by anyone who does not do their part, then they cannot receive the blessings which were guaranteed by the covenant. After that introduction, the Lord opens the subject of latter-day celestial marriage.
15 Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world….(D&C132:1-15)
“Therefore” is the conjunction between the principle of covenantal justification, and the specific question of why the ancients were justified in their practice of celestial marriage. The Lord, having established the principle of the importance of foreordination, will now show how that principle is applied to the question of how those men were justified in having more than one wife. The justification is simply this: that decision was made at the Council and was a part of their individual new and everlasting covenants. Implicit in that justification is another principle: if that arrangement was not part of one’s pre-mortal covenants, and if a man takes multiple wives anyway, he is in very bad trouble.
One more word about keeping one’s “new and everlasting covenant.” Over the years I have heard many young friends wonder out loud: “How am I going to know what the Lord expects me to do in this life?” The consequences of one’s not knowing and not doing are very severe, yet we wander about in this world of darkness, going through life half awake, and uncertain about where and how to walk. After much thought and a good deal of watching other people, I have found an answer to that question which I believe is true: One should seek to be happy — that means live according to the law of one’s own being – be your Self and cover that Self with no facade which prevents family and friends from filling one’s life with companionship and joy – find a profession which gives one a sense of fulfillment, or if that is not possible (as it was not for my own father who was a laborer in a steel factory), then do what he did: use the fruits one’s labors to bless the lives of other people – find joy in seeing others discover their own sense of Self – and live close to the Spirit.
The reason I believe that is the correct answer is this: I do not believe the Lord would give us an assignment which conflicts with the fundamental law of our individual personalities – consequently, I believe our assignments were each designed to bring us maximum happiness, and at the conclusion of our lives, maximum fulfillment. (I can say from personal experience that when one reaches a critical juncture where one must make a life changing decision, the Spirit will tell one which path to take – sometimes with a still, small voice, sometimes with the proverbial 2×4 at the side of the head – but by whichever means, it will be sufficient for one to know what one must do.) I believe that by the time one gets out of this life,1 if one can define one’s Self in terms of charity and faithfulness, then the final “judgment day” will be a time of fulfillment – a time of rejoicing and of renewal.
If that principle holds true with the question, “how does God justify the practice of plural marriage,” I suppose it also holds true with every other facet of our assignments here—including the responsibility of seeing, and responding to the instructions of angels.
1} That statement can only work if “this life” is considered to be all of our experiences between the time of physical birth and the time of our final judgment. Our “this life” must include both our life in this body and the one that follows when we are spirits waiting for the resurrection.