We will focus on two points this week. The first point is that happiness comes from understanding the Plan of Happiness and living its laws. The second point is that having more than one witness is vital in teaching spiritual truths. The Lord will always provide at least two witnesses to anything he requires of us.
Reading Assignment: Alma 8-12.
The purpose of this lesson is “to increase class members’ understanding of the plan of redemption and the power of having more than one witness to testify of gospel truths.” I’ll leave it up to you as to whether this section sidesteps that purpose or contributes to it.
Alma demonstrates a longstanding and familiar pattern among those who teach the gospel. They pour their heart and soul into being obedient to the commandments. They commit themselves, body and soul, to the work of saving the souls of others, but they are rejected and mistreated for their efforts. Read the following passage from Alma 8. I’ll pick up the commentary on the other side.
13 Now when the people had said this, and withstood all his words, and reviled him, and spit upon him, and caused that he should be cast out of their city, he departed thence and took his journey towards the city which was called Aaron.
14 And it came to pass that while he was journeying thither, being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah, it came to pass while Alma was thus weighed down with sorrow, behold an angel of the Lord appeared unto him, saying:
15 Blessed art thou, Alma; therefore, lift up thy head and rejoice, for thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God from the time which thou receivedst thy first message from him. Behold, I am he that delivered it unto you.
16 And behold, I am sent to command thee that thou return to the city of Ammonihah, and preach again unto the people of the city; yea, preach unto them. Yea, say unto them, except they repent the Lord God will destroy them.
In verses 13 and 14 we get a glimpse at how much he suffered at the hands of the people of Ammonihah. To revile someone is to be verbally abusive of them, to speak to, and of them, in the most vile of terms. As the former chief judge over the people, and the high priest of his religion, these people couldn’t have been more disrespectful towards him. After abusing him verbally, and spitting on him, they literally had him physically thrown out of the city.
Alma was a man of no small faith. He had poured his heart and soul into the ministry, praying night and day, and as we learn shortly after these verses, he had fasted for many days on behalf of the people. He was hoping for a miracle that would never come to pass. He did all in his ability to show his confidence in the Lord that God could humble these people that he might be able to reach at least some of them and convert them to a path of happiness.
The scriptures are full of examples of the suffering endured by those who are faithful to the Lord in His work. Yet they all find a reason to rejoice and be glad. How is this? Haven’t they been thrown into prison? Haven’t they been falsely accused and publicly humiliated? Haven’t they been stripped, spat upon, slapped, starved, and suffered every form of indignity in their efforts to teach their fellowman the gospel? The answer can be found in many places, but we will use an upcoming verse from the Book of Mormon. Here is Alma 26:35. The sons of Mosiah are returning from their mission to the Lamanites and meet up on the road. Ammon is glorying in his God.
35 Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I say unto you, there never were men that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name.
Here is a group of missionaries who have collectively suffered pretty much everything that can be suffered, except death. Yet for all that they find a reason to glorify God. What is their cause to rejoice? With all they have suffered, what is the source of their joy?
The answer is found in Alma 8:15 where the angel tells Alma “thou hast great cause to rejoice; for thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God.” The joy we seek does not come from our outward circumstances, but from our inward state of grace. When we are obedient and repentant the Lord forgives our sins and we have hope in a life hereafter in the presence of God. Our confidence in our God’s love for us increases, and we feel more deeply than ever what it feels like to love like God loves. We find joy in equal measure to the gratitude that fills our hearts.
It is makes sense that the key to Alma’s cause for rejoicing was his own willingness to repent of his sins and be obedient. Lasting joy is not generated from outward circumstances, but from our inward relationship with God. Confidence before the Lord comes from consistent obedience to God’s commandments. After all Alma had suffered on behalf of the people of Ammonihah, all he needed to hear from the angel was that the Lord was pleased with his obedience, and that this should cause him great joy. What would that do to your attitude to have an angel appear to you and tell you to rejoice for the Lord is pleased with your behavior?
The power of witnesses
Never underestimate the power of multiple witnesses. The Lord set up the law of witnesses in the very beginning, and all things are established by the word of two or more people. It is not in our nature to believe just one person. They are too easily dismissed or found fault with. But when two or three or more people come forward claiming to have the same knowledge, and their testimony holds up as consistent across the board, it is difficult to explain away.
The people knew Alma. He was their chief judge for years. But when he came among the people of Ammonihah preaching religion, they dismissed him as a crackpot, being offended with his teachings. Yet when Amulek, a man of “no small reputation” among the people of Ammonihah, gave an identical witness to what Alma was saying, the people had to either accept what they had to say or harden their hearts and deliberately turn from the Lord’s offer to repent.
The bulk of this lesson is the preaching of Alma and Amulek, and the reaction of the people to what they were being taught. In last week’s article we learned that what is taught by the prophets depends on what we are ready to hear. The people of Ammonihah needed to hear the end result of living a wicked life, and the possibility of joy if they turned to the Lord and repented of their sins.
We tend to forget that many of the people in Ammonihah used to be active members of the church who had hardened their hearts and had fallen away from the church. Their whole society was based on the law of Moses, so none of them were ignorant of their heritage as Jews and children of Israel. So their resistance towards the words of Alma was wholesale rebellion of all they had been taught from birth. This is why Alma told them it would be more tolerable for the Lamanites than for the people of that city if they did not repent. The people of Ammonihah had simply been given too many blessings from the Lord to have any excuses for their behavior.
Do we still follow the law of witnesses? You bet we do. Watch in church devotionals for the intro of the speaker. The one introducing them will always build them up as one who is worthy of your trust and one to whom you should listen. After talks in Conference the one conducting echos the words of his brethren and testifies that what they said is true. The all testify of each other and of the calling of the prophet. Yes, the law of witness is alive in the church today just as it has been alive and well since the beginning of man.