President Boyd K. Packer taught:
“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior” (“Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986)
Is that a true statement? To me the key word that makes that statement true is the inclusion of the word “understood”. I think that as we understand a doctrine then we will begin to feel the need to change. The discussion that Alma has with his son Corianton seems to be a great illustration of this.
As Alma warned his son Corianton about the consequences of sin (Alma 39), he also taught about the doctrine of life after death (Alma 40). He explained that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (doctrine), all mankind will be resurrected (doctrine). He taught about the spirit world (doctrine), where the dead, depending on their choices in mortality, wait in either paradise or prison until the resurrection. Alma also taught that the plan of restoration (doctrine) includes not only physical resurrection but also a spiritual restoration (doctrine) in which our eternal state reflects our mortal actions and desires (Alma 41). Alma emphasized the principle that wickedness can never lead to happiness (see Alma 41:10).
Alma concluded his counsel to his son Corianton by explaining that Heavenly Father had provided a way for those who sin to obtain mercy (doctrine). He taught that the justice of God demands that sinners be cut off from the presence of God (doctrine). He then testified that Jesus Christ would “appease the demands of justice” (Alma 42:15) by suffering for all who have sinned and by providing mercy to the penitent (doctrine). Once Corianton “understood” all of this “true doctrine”, he returned to the ministry that he had previously forsaken (Alma 42:31). Twenty years later, he was still faithfully ministering the gospel. (see Alma 49:30; Alma 63:10)
A portrayal of the analogy Elder Boyd K. Packer used in his April 1977 general conference address. A young man who fails to pay a debt is saved from the grasp of justice through the mediation of a friend. (10:44)
President Boyd K. Packer also gave a wonderful talk which used these chapters as an outline to teach the doctrine of repentance (“I Will Remember Your Sins No More”). I invite you to read, watch, or listen to his talk in its entirety and see what changes in “attitudes and behavior” it may inspire you to make.
I Will Remember Your Sins No More
My message is about a father and a son. Alma, the father, was a prophet; his son, Corianton, a missionary.
Two of Alma’s sons—Shiblon and Corianton (the youngest)—were on a mission to the Zoramites. Alma was greatly disappointed at the failure of his son Corianton to live the standards of a missionary. Corianton forsook his ministry and went to the land of Siron after the harlot Isabel (see Alma 39:3).
“This was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted” (Alma 39:4).
Alma told his son that the devil had led him away (see Alma 39:11). Unchastity is “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5).
“I would to God that ye had not been guilty of so great a crime.” He then said: “I would not dwell upon your crimes, to harrow up your soul, if it were not for your good.
“But behold, ye cannot hide your crimes from God” (Alma 39:7–8).
He sternly commanded his son to accept the counsel of his older brothers (see Alma 39:10).
Alma told him that his iniquity was great because it turned away investigators: “When they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words. And now the Spirit of the Lord doth say unto me: Command thy children to do good, lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction; therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities” (Alma 39:11–12).
After this severe rebuke, Alma the loving father became Alma the teacher. He knew that “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else” (Alma 31:5). So Alma taught Corianton.
He spoke first of Christ: “My son, I would say somewhat unto you concerning the coming of Christ. Behold, I say unto you, that it is he that surely shall come to take away the sins of the world; yea, he cometh to declare glad tidings of salvation unto his people” (Alma 39:15).
Corianton asked how they should know about the coming of Christ so far in advance.
Alma replied, “Is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” (Alma 39:17).
Corianton was “worried concerning the resurrection of the dead” (Alma 40:1).
Alma had inquired of God concerning the Resurrection and told Corianton of the First Resurrection and of other resurrections. “There is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead” (Alma 40:4).
He had inquired as to “what becometh of the souls of men from this time of death to the time appointed for the resurrection” (Alma 40:7).
He then told Corianton, “All men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life” (Alma 40:11). The “righteous are received into a state of happiness” (Alma 40:12), and the evil are “led captive by the will of the devil” (Alma 40:13). The righteous remain “in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (Alma 40:14).
“Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34:34).
Alma told his son “that there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works” (Alma 40:21).
“The soul”—that is, the spirit—“shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul” (Alma 40:23). “This,” he said, “is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets” (Alma 40:24). Alma said that “some have wrested the scriptures, and have gone far astray because of this thing” (Alma 41:1).
Alma then said: “And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand—which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.
“Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee” (Alma 42:1–2).
He told Corianton about the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Adam and Eve: “And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will” (Alma 42:7).
“It was appointed unto man to die” (Alma 42:6).
Alma then explained why death is absolutely necessary: “If it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:11).
Alma taught Corianton about justice and mercy: “According to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men” (Alma 42:13).
Alma explained that “the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).
Alma taught Corianton about the unwavering standard of eternal law (see Alma 42:17–25).
He very bluntly explained why punishment was necessary: “Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul” (Alma 42:16).
Alma knew personally the pain of punishment and the joy of repentance. He himself had once greatly disappointed his own father, Corianton’s grandfather. He rebelled and went about “seeking to destroy the church” (Alma 36:6). He was struck down by an angel, not because he deserved it but because of the prayers of his father and others (see Mosiah 27:14).
Alma felt the agony and guilt and said: “As I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. …Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Alma 36:17–21, 24).
Alma asked Corianton, “Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice?” (Alma 42:25). He explained that because of the Atonement of Christ, both could be satisfied by eternal law.
“Moved upon by the Holy Ghost” (D&C 121:43; see also Alma 39:12), Alma had rebuked Corianton with sharpness. Then, after plainly and patiently teaching these fundamental principles of the gospel, there came the abundance of love.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was taught through revelation that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death” (D&C 121:41–44).
Alma said: “O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:30).
Corianton’s grandfather, also named Alma, was among the priests who had served the wicked King Noah. He heard Abinadi the prophet testify of Christ, and he was converted. Condemned to death, he fled the evil court to teach of Christ. (See Mosiah 17:1–4.)
Now Alma, in turn, was the father pleading with his son Corianton to repent.
After sternly rebuking his son and patiently teaching the doctrine of the gospel, Alma the loving father said, “And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance” (Alma 42:29).
In agony and shame, Corianton was brought “down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:30).
Alma, who was Corianton’s father and also his priesthood leader, was now satisfied with Corianton’s repentance. He lifted the terrible burden of guilt his son carried and sent him back to the mission field: “And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. … Go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness. … And may God grant unto you even according to my words” (Alma 42:31).
Corianton joined his brothers, Helaman and Shiblon, who were among the priesthood leaders. Twenty years later in the land northward, he was still faithfully laboring in the gospel. (See Alma 49:30; Alma 63:10.)
It is a wicked, wicked world in which we live and in which our children must find their way. Challenges of pornography, gender confusion, immorality, child abuse, drug addiction, and all the rest are everywhere. There is no way to totally escape their influence.
Some are led by curiosity into temptation, then into experimentation, and some become trapped in addiction. They lose hope. The adversary harvests his crop and binds them down.
Satan is the deceiver, the destroyer, but his is a temporary victory.
The angels of the devil convince some that they are born to a life from which they cannot escape and are compelled to live in sin. The most wicked of lies is that they cannot change and repent and that they will not be forgiven. That cannot be true. They have forgotten the Infinite Atonement of Christ.
“For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” (D&C 18:11).
Christ is the Creator, the Healer. What He made, He can fix when broken. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the gospel of repentance and forgiveness (see 2 Ne. 1:13; 2 Ne. 9:45; Jacob 3:11; Alma 26:13–14; Moro. 7:17–19).
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10).
The account of this loving father and a wayward son, drawn from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, is a type, a pattern, an example.
Each of us has a loving Father in Heaven. Through the Father’s redeeming plan, those who may stumble and fall “are not cast off forever” (Title Page of the Book of Mormon).
“And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!” (D&C 18:13).
“The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless” (D&C 1:31–32), the Lord said, “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
Could there be any more sweeter or more consoling words, more filled with hope, than those words from the scriptures? “I, the Lord, remember [their sins] no more” (D&C 58:42). That is the testimony of the Book of Mormon, and that is my testimony to you, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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