Alma 39:1 I have somewhat more to say unto thee
Corianton gets the dubious distinction of a long dissertation from his father. Shiblon was so righteous that he only needed a 15-verse lecture. Corianton, on the other hand, gets a 91-verse reprimand. This advice was spawned by Alma's great love for Coriaton. Hugh Nibley said, "Corianton was a wild guy, but his father had a sneaking likeness for his youngest son." (Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Lect. 55, p. 454)
We should be thankful for this length of Alma's fatherly advice. In the next four chapters, Alma discusses fundamental doctrines about sexual sin, the spirit world, the resurrection, the punishment of the sinner, and the relationship between mercy and justice. Alma's advice on these subjects is so filled with the spirit of revelation that it provides one of the great testimonies to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Finally, we realize that Alma not only had somewhat more to say to Corianton, but he also had somewhat more to say to us.
Alma 39:1 Behold, has he not set a good example for thee?
Alma's sons demonstrate the importance of setting a good example. Even more so, they demonstrate the damage that can be cause by a bad example. Shiblon and Helaman had been good examples for their little brother, but Corianton had not. Unfortunately, Corianton's bad example had more of an effect on the Zoramites than the good examples of Shiblon, Helaman, Alma, and Amulek put together. Even Alma's credibility was destroyed by Corianton, for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words (v. 11).
Harold B. Lee
"A good example is powerful. Our task is to 'hold up' to the world that which Jesus has done for man: the Atonement, the example He set, and the teachings He has given us personally and through His prophets, ancient and modern. The Master also counseled us: 'Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven' (Matthew 5:16). This was not urging us to be immodest or ostentatious, since Jesus also warned us not to do good things 'to be seen of [men]' (Matthew 6:1-2). Yet, as Harry Emerson Fosdick observed, we should 'let the finest things that God has wrought in us' shine forth, so that we are not guilty of either of the two basic forms of hypocrisy: pretending to be better than we are, or letting ourselves appear worse than we are." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 508)
Elder Francis M. Lyman
"It is our duty to preach the Gospel. That is our chief calling--to preach the Gospel by word, to preach it by our conduct throughout our lives. Nothing is stronger, nothing is more real, or more reliable and substantial than the good example that men set in their lives." (Conference Reports, Apr. 1910, p. 31)
Elder Abraham O. Woodruff
"We expect that every officer in this Church will set a good example, and say to the people, Follow me; that he will not require anything of his people that he is not willing to do himself. We expect this to be the case in every organization of the Church, among the sisters as well as the brethren." (Conference Reports, Apr. 1901, p. 14)
Alma 39:2 thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom
Bruce R. McConkie
"Boasting in the arm of flesh, one of the commonest of all sins among worldly people, is a gross evil; it is a sin born of pride, a sin that creates a frame of mind which keeps men from turning to the Lord and accepting his saving grace. When a man engages in self exultation because of his riches, his political power, his worldly learning, his physical prowess, his business acumen, or even his works of righteousness, he is not in tune with the Spirit of the Lord. Salvation itself comes by the grace of God, 'Not of works,' that is not of the performances and outward display of the law, 'lest any man should boast.' (Eph. 2:4-22; Rom. 3:27.) As King Benjamin asked, after explaining the goodness of God and the comparative nothingness of men, 'Of what have ye to boast?' (Mosiah 2: 17-26.)" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 93)
Alma 39:3 Thou...did go over into the land of Siron...after the harlot Isabel
Corianton was not seduced in a moment of personal weakness. He was not the object of pursuit. His sin is more heinous because he willingly forsook his ministry and traveled a considerable distance to get to the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites. In effect, he had made the conscious choice to actively seek out "the red light district." What do you suppose he was thinking about as he traveled? He must have had a lot of time to reconsider his wicked choice, but the lusts of the flesh prevailed. Maybe this was the time when he began to question the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner (Alma 42:1).
Alma 39:5 these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord
Sexual sin is particularly abominable to the Lord because it abuses the procreative privilege. That procreative ability is sacred, and in fact, is a characteristic of divinity. Boyd K. Packer has stated, "the power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan of happiness, it is the key-the very key." (Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 331)
David O. McKay
"A dominant evil of the world today is unchastity. I repeat what appeared over the signature of President Joseph F. Smith while he was living: 'No more loathsome cancer disfigures the body and soul of society today than the frightful affliction of sexual sin. It vitiates the very fountains of life, and bequeaths its foul effects to the yet unborn as a legacy of death.' (The Improvement Era, Vol. 20, p. 739.) He who is unchaste in young manhood is untrue to a trust given him by the parents of the girl; and she who is unchaste in maidenhood is untrue to her future husband and lays the foundation of unhappiness, suspicion, and discord in the home." (Conference Report, Apr. 1969, p. 6)
First Presidency Message
"The doctrine of this Church is that sexual sin--the illicit sexual relations of men and women--stands, in its enormity, next to murder.
"The Lord has drawn no essential distinctions between fornication, adultery, and harlotry or prostitution. Each has fallen under His solemn and awful condemnation.
"You youths of Zion, you cannot associate in non-marital, illicit sex relationships, which is fornication, and escape the punishments and the judgments which the Lord has declared against this sin. The day of reckoning will come just as certainly as night follows day. They who would palliate this crime and say that such indulgence is but a sinless gratification of a normal desire, like appeasing hunger and thirst, speak filthiness with their lips. Their counsel leads to destruction; their wisdom comes from the Father of Lies.
"You husbands and wives who have taken on solemn obligations of chastity in the holy temples of the Lord and who violate those sacred vows by illicit sexual relations with others, you not only commit the vile and loathsome sin of adultery, but you break the oath you yourselves made with the Lord Himself before you went to the altar for your sealing. You become subject to the penalties which the Lord has prescribed for those who breach their covenants with Him.
"...By virtue of the authority in us vested as the First Presidency of the Church, we warn our people who are offending, of the degradation, the wickedness, the punishment that attend upon unchastity; we urge you to remember the blessings which flow from the living of the clean life." (Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay, Conference Report, Oct. 1942, pp. 11-12)
Spencer W. Kimball
"It is not the soil of earth or the grease on a person's hands that defile him; nor is it the fingernails 'edged in black,' the accumulated perspiration from honest toil, or the body odor resulting from heavy work. One may bathe hourly, perfume oneself often, have hair shampooed frequently, have fingernails manicured daily, and be a master at soft-spoken utterances, and still be as filthy as hell's cesspools. What defiles is sin, and especially sexual sin." (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 62)
Alma 39:5 most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost
If sins are to be ranked, denying the Holy Ghost is the worst. This sin qualifies one for an eternity with Satan as a son of Perdition (DC 76:31-38). The sin of murder is next. Those who commit pre-meditated murder cannot be forgiven and will inherit a telestial glory (Rev 22:15, compare DC 76:103, see also commentary for D&C 132:39). Adultery is next on the list. Although forgiveness can be obtained, it is not easy.
(Applicable to our day, is the sin of elective abortion. One might wonder where this sin ranks in the list of most abominable sins. While the brethren have not specified its rank, it is clear that this sin is at least as serious as adultery. The brethren have consistently used the following scripture to refer to the sin of abortion. It states, Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it (DC 59:6, italics added). The fundamental element of the sins of murder, abortion, and adultery is man's tampering with the power of life itself)
"What is the difference between an 'unpardonable' and an 'unforgivable' sin?
"The second most serious sin is to commit murder -- that is, to willfully shed innocent blood. Concerning this sin, the Lord has said: 'Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come.' (D&C 42:18.) Thus this is an unforgivable sin, which means that Jesus Christ cannot pay for (or 'atone for' or 'forgive') the penalty demanded by the broken law. This sin is a pardonable sin, however; that is, the sinner can eventually make full payment himself, and be received into a state of pardon. Apparently one reason this sin is unforgivable is that forgiveness is based upon repentance, and a murderer cannot fully repent of his sin for he cannot make restitution of the life he has taken.
"The third most serious sin is unchastity. The Lord has said, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery; and he that committeth adultery, and repenteth not, shall be cast out. But he that has committed adultery and repents with all his heart, and forsaketh it, and doeth it no more, thou shalt forgive; But if he doeth it again, he shall not be forgiven, but shall be cast out.' (D&C 42:24-26.) Thus adultery is both pardonable and forgivable, but if committed again after a person understands the law it is unforgivable...
"All unpardonable sins are of necessity also unforgivable." (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp. 221-2)
Bruce C. Hafen
"Perhaps there is a common element in those two sins, unchastity and murder. Both have to do with life, which touches upon the highest of divine powers. Murder involves the wrongful taking of life, while moral transgressions may lead to the wrongful giving of life. At the least, sexual transgressions involve a wrongful tampering with the sacred fountains of life-giving power. Immorality rejects the God-given sanctity of life itself." (Belonging Heart, p. 271)
Alma 39:6 if ye deny the Holy Ghost
What does it mean to deny the Holy Ghost? If this is the worst possible sin, the answer to this question is crucially important. The Savior explained that anything spoken against the Son of Man would be forgiven, but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come (Matt 12:32). However, it is impossible to deny the Holy Ghost without also denying the Christ. Therefore, in order to qualify as a son of Perdition, the individual must deny both the Holy Ghost and the Savior, Having denied the Holy spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame (DC 76:35).
Furthermore, we are to understand that in order to deny the Holy Ghost, the individual must have first had a strong testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost, '[The sons of perdition are] all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power (DC 76:31).' Another key element comes from Alma. He states that the rebellion is a willful rebellion, if ye deny the Holy Ghost when it once has had place in you, and ye know that ye deny it.
The last element is that the sons of perdition must "endure to the end." In other words, they continue in sin because it is impossible for them to repent (Heb 6:4-6). Then, at the last day, they are found filthy still, That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still (DC 88:35).
"All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 333)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"All who partake of this, the greatest of sins, sell themselves as did Cain to Lucifer. They learn to hate the truth with an eternal hatred, and they learn to love wickedness. They reach a condition where they will not and cannot repent. The spirit of murder fills their hearts and they would, if they had the power, crucify our Lord again, which they virtually do by fighting his work and seeking to destroy it and his prophets." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 49)
Alma 39:6 whosoever murdereth...it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness
The Doctrine and Covenants explains that the sin of murder cannot be forgiven, he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come (DC 42:18,79). However, the Book of Mormon leaves some hope, saying, it is not easy for him to obtain forgiveness. The disparity occurs because of differences in the definitions of murder. The D & C definition refers to premeditated murder, like the sin that king David committed in the case of Uriah (DC 132:39). The Book of Mormon definition of murder includes those who have killed during military campaigns. After their conversion, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies considered their military killings murder because the Nephites killed were innocent. Certainly, this sort of killing is different than premeditated murder. Apparently, the Lord forgave these righteous Lamanites after they had repented (Alma 24:11).
Bruce R. McConkie
"Murder, the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought or under such circumstances of criminality that the malice is presumed, 'is a sin unto death' (1 John 5:16-17), a sin for which there is 'no forgiveness' (D. & C. 42:79), meaning that a murderer can never gain salvation. 'No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.' (1 John 3:15.) He cannot join the Church by baptism; he is outside the pale of redeeming grace.
"The call to repentance and baptism which includes murderers (3 Ne. 30) has reference to those who took life while engaged in unrighteous wars, as did the Lamanites, because they were compelled to do so, and not because they in their hearts sought the blood of their fellow men...
"Murderers are forgiven eventually but only in the sense that all sins are forgiven except the sin against the Holy Ghost; they are not forgiven in the sense that celestial salvation is made available to them. (Matt. 12:31-32; Teachings, p. 356-357.) After they have paid the full penalty for their crime, they shall go on to a telestial inheritance. (Rev. 22:15.)" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 520)
Alma 39:8 ye cannot hide your crimes
Richard G. Scott
"Do not take comfort in the fact that your transgressions are not known by others. That is like an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. He sees only darkness and feels comfortably hidden. In reality he is ridiculously conspicuous. Likewise our every act is seen by our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son. They know everything about us...I invite each one of you to thoughtfully review your life...Is there a dark corner that needs to be cleaned out?... When it is quiet and you can think clearly, does your conscience tell you to repent?" (Ensign, May 1995, p. 77 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 334)
Alma 39:9 go no more after the lusts of your eyes
Every sin is associated with a punishment. Part of the punishment for the sin of lust is to lose the Spirit of God, he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but they shall deny the faith and shall fear (DC 63:16).
Ezra Taft Benson
"'The lusts of your eyes' - in our day what does that expression mean? Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd. Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic. . . .
"We counsel you, young men, do not pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards." (Conference Report, April 1986, p. 45)
Spencer W. Kimball
"Each person must keep himself clean and free from lusts...He must shun ugly, polluted thoughts and acts as he would an enemy. Pornographic and erotic stories and pictures are worse than polluted food. Shun them. The body has power to rid itself of sickening food. The person who entertains filthy stories or pornographic pictures and literature records them in his marvelous human computer, the brain, which can't forget such filth. Once recorded, it will always remain there, subject to recall." (Ensign, July 1978, pp. 3-7 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 335)
Gordon B. Hinckley
"The girl you marry can expect you to come to the marriage altar absolutely clean. She can expect you to be a young man of virtue in thought and word and deed. I plead with you boys tonight to keep yourselves free from the stains of the world...You must not fool around with the Internet to find pornographic material...You must not rent videos with pornography of any kind...Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive...it seduces and destroys its victims...I plead with you young men not to get involved in its use. You simply cannot afford to. The girl you marry is worthy of a husband whose life has not been tainted by this ugly and corrosive material." (Ensign, May 1998, p. 49 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 337)
Alma 39:9 take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things
"The meaning of the expression 'cross yourself' is clarified in other scriptures. For example, 3 Nephi 12:30 says: 'For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.' In Matthew 16:24 the Savior says, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.' Both of these scriptures indicate that to 'cross yourself' means to deny yourself. In the Inspired Version of the New Testament the Savior makes it absolutely clear that this is the meaning of the term: 'And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments.' (Matthew 16:26.)" (Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 223)
Neal A. Maxwell
"What are we to deny ourselves? 'It is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.' (3 Nephi 12:30.) 'These things' in this utterance of Jesus included a recitation of the sensual or selfish. Without such denial, we carry too much baggage. Alas, being overloaded, we then shed not the baggage, but the cross!" (Meek and Lowly, p. 95)
Alma 39:11 when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words
The average man is not looking for a reason to believe. Rather, he is looking for a reason to disbelieve. Therefore, any bad example can do more harm in a second than can be overcome by many good examples. Many investigators have had a hard time reconciling the differences between the gospel teachings and the members' actions. Although we often excuse members' hypocrisy by telling investigators not to judge the church by its members, the humbling truth is that the Lord has instructed us that the members should be able to withstand scrutiny, for by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt 7:20).
"Nothing speaks louder to our youth than the bad example of a leader. Such hypocrisy also leads youth to believe that sexual and other misconduct is not serious or will not interfere with the eternally important goals of missionary service, temple covenants and full Church participation, and that repentance is swift and easy.
"Such damning rationalization is Satan's most effective lie and must never be accepted." (Church News, 12/14/91)
Gordon B. Hinckley
"Whenever you step over the line in an immoral act or in doing any other evil thing, the Church is that much weaker...When you stand true and faithful, it is that much stronger. Each one of you counts." (Ensign, May 1996, p. 94 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 332)
Joseph Fielding Smith
"I think the greatest crime in all this world is to lead men and women, the children of God, away from the true principles. We see in the world today philosophies of various kinds, tending to destroy faith, faith in God, faith in the principles of the gospel. What a dreadful thing that is.
"The Lord says if we labor all our days and save but one soul, how great will be our joy with him; on the other hand how great will be our sorrow and our condemnation if through our acts we have led one soul away from this truth.
"He who blinds one soul, he who spreads error, he who destroys, through his teachings, divine truth, truth that would lead a man to the kingdom of God and to its fulness, how great shall be his condemnation and his punishment in eternity. For the destruction of a soul is the destruction of the greatest thing that has ever been created." (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, p. 314)
Sterling W. Sill
"Recently a man came to see me who felt that he needed to talk to someone about his problems. He was very sorry about his dishonesties, his cheating, and his immoralities. He bitterly regretted the unkindnesses that had caused his wife to die of a broken heart.
"But although he had repented a thousand times, yet he was powerless to undo his evil. He was unemployed because his past weaknesses had made future confidence impossible. His children were still suffering the disgrace of his bad example, and after having set all of these evils in motion, he could only say, 'I wish I could live my life over again.' But how ridiculous can we be. No one can live his life over again. There are no rehearsals in life. We can't rehearse birth or life or death. To feel sorry for our sins does not erase the injuries or heal up the wounds. And how can one repent of a bad example or a damaged soul?" (Conference Report, Oct. 1964, p. 113)
Alma 39:14 seek not after riches...you cannot carry them with you
The scriptures clearly tell us that we need to be careful not to lay up for ourselves treasures upon earth (Matt 6:19). This may be particularly hard to do in a society which places so much importance on riches and the vain things of this world. The Lord's 1831 warning still seems to apply, Now, I, the lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for...they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness (DC 68:31). The parable of the rich man is instructive:
'...a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.' (Lu 12:15-21).
The rich man in the parable should have been as the preacher, spoken of in Ecclesiastes, who said, I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun...Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me (Eccl 2:11,18).
Dallin H. Oaks
"When we place our trust in our property, we have 'carnal security.' In that state of mind we are inclined to say that all must be well with us and with Zion because we are prospering, thus relying on worldly success as a mark of divine favor. He who does this is an easy mark for being led 'carefully down to hell.'" (Pure in Heart, p. 79)