Alma the Younger's Seminal Sermon at Zarahemla

The book of Alma is a microcosm of the cosmic conflict between
the forces of good and evil. The stage for this conflict is set in the very
first chapter when two men on opposite sides claim to preach the word of God.
Nehor, inspired by Satan, introduces priestcraft for the first time among the
Nephites, preaching “that which he termed to be the word of God”
(Alma 1:3) and testifying that “all men should have eternal life”
(v. 4). Immediately, Nehor is confronted by Gideon, a righteous teacher
and former military leader. “Because Gideon withstood him with the words
of God” (v. 9), Nehor killed him with his sword. The conflict in Alma
between word and sword thus commences. And while in the beginning the victor in
this conflict may seem in doubt, Alma later assures us that “the preaching
of the word had a . . . more powerful effect upon the minds of the
people than the sword” (Alma 31:5).

The contest for the souls of the people ensues over the
entire sixty-three chapters of Alma, with Alma the Younger and his sons, the
sons of Mosiah, and their companions “bearing down in pure testimony”
(Alma 4:19) against the Nephites, Lamanites, Amulonites, Amalekites, and
Zoramites, and with such figures as Nehor, Amlici, Korihor, and Zeezrom
attempting to undermine their work at every step. The dramatic struggle plays
out as powerful men fight one another with words and with weapons of war.

It is fascinating to note the degree to which the archetypal
conflict in Alma is a contest of words. Alma, who might be considered the great
intellectual in the Book of Mormon, has impressive persuasive power, as do the
sons of Mosiah. They are all adept in using language to call members of the
church to repentance or to convert the Lamanites and other nonbelievers. Those
who oppose these preachers of the word are also sophisticated in the use of
language. One after another they lead people astray by their sophistry. These
language merchants “were learned in all the arts and cunning of the
people; and this was to enable them that they might be skilful in their profession”
(Alma 10:15). By the use of intellectual argument, cross-examination,
contradiction, and verbal deception, these men try to undermine the work of the
Lord’s servants. For example, when Korihor appears before Alma, we are told “he
did rise up in great swelling words” (Alma 30:31).

That the contest between good and evil is waged with words
is seen in the way word is used in Alma’s narrative. Nearly half the
instances of word in the Book of Mormon are found in this one book, including such phrases as the word, the
word(s) of God
, the word of the Lord (Alma 9:14), the word(s) of
(Alma 37:44–45), and so forth. Together, they
constitute a leitmotif running throughout the narrative. The word is used so frequently and in such a variety of ways and contexts that it begins
to take on powerful symbolic significance. By the end of the book the accumulated
associations of the word with Christ (see, for example, Alma
37:44–45 and Alma 44:5) may remind us of John’s opening declaration, “In
the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
(John 1:1). Both testaments of Christ confirm that he is the embodiment of God’s
power and love.

Central to understanding the conflict between good and evil
are the five sermons of Alma the Younger directed to (1) the members of
the church and potential converts at Zarahemla (Alma 5); (2) the
people in Gideon (Alma 7); (3) those in Ammonihah (Alma
9:8–30); (4) Zeezrom and “the people round about; for the multitude
was great” (Alma 12:2, 12:3–13:30); and (5) the Zoramites (Alma
32:8–33:23). This paper examines in detail the first of these, Alma’s
great sermon at Zarahemla.

It is important to establish the context for this sermon.
The Nephites had recently passed through a crisis that nearly destroyed their
civilization. The wickedness of King Noah and his corrupt priests resulted in a
cultural crisis of such dimensions that had it not been for Alma’s father
rescuing the church, the society might have disintegrated into the kind of
mutual annihilation that destroyed the Jaredites.

At the waters of Mormon, Alma the Elder began a small but ultimately
triumphant reformation that transformed Nephite society by reestablishing
ecclesiastical primacy and social coherence. While Alma the Younger was blessed
to come of age during this period of peace and stability, he and the sons of
Mosiah rebelled against their fathers and “went about . . .
seeking to destroy the church of God” (Alma 36:6). As the formerly sinful
son of a prophet, Alma, addressing the people at Zarahemla, knows the societal
dangers of discord. More significantly, he knows the personal price that must
be paid by those who rebel against God, for as he later recalls to his own son
Helaman, “I [was] racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up
to the greatest degree and racked with all my sin. . . . I was
racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:12, 16).

A repentant Alma becomes the high priest upon the death of
his father, which puts him in “charge concerning all the affairs of the
church” (Mosiah 29:42). He is also appointed chief judge and thus
inaugurates the reign of the judges. Immediately, Alma has to deal with
political dissent, treason, social unrest, ecclesiastical divisiveness, and
armed conflict with the rebellious Amlicites, who have joined forces with the
Lamanites. Although Alma is successful in defeating his enemies, the war exacts
a great cost to the Nephites: “Now the number of the slain were not
numbered, because of the greatness of their number. . . . Now many
women and children had been slain with the sword, . . . and also many
of their fields of grain were destroyed” (Alma 3:1–2). These losses
produce a brief period of retrenchment during which thousands join the church,
a condition that creates social stability. This stability, however, quickly
starts to erode when the wealthier members of the church begin setting
themselves above their poorer brothers and sisters and persecuting them. These
prideful members infect not only the church, but also “lead those who were
unbelievers on from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction
of the people” (Alma 4:11).

It is against this backdrop of external threat and internal
discord that Alma surrenders his position as chief judge and, retaining his
office of high priest, goes “forth among his people . . . that
he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up to remembrance
of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride
and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no
way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony
against them” (Alma 4:19). The repetition of the phrase the word of
foreshadows the importance of this expression in the narrative
that ensues.

Alma’s sermon to the unrepentant church members in Zarahemla
as recounted in Alma 5 is a verbal symphonic composition of complexity and
elegance. Its skillful blending of various rhetorical devices makes it a
virtual sermonic tour de force. These devices include parallelism, allusion,
repetition, imagery, symbolism, contrasting pairs, rhetorical questions, and so
forth. Suggesting his skill and power with language, Alma is described earlier
in the narrative as “a man of many words” (Mosiah 27:8).

Alma begins his sermon with a clear statement of his
identity and authority. He echoes Nephi’s words at the very beginning of the
Book of Mormon when he declares: “I, Alma, having been consecrated by my
father, Alma” (Alma 1:3). By echoing Nephi, he reminds his hearers of the
deliverance of their ancestors from the destruction at Jerusalem and their
blessings in being brought to a land of promise. By invoking his father, he
reminds them of the dramatic turn in Nephite history brought about by his
father’s faith and courage: “He [Alma the Elder] having power and authority
from God to do these things, behold, I say unto you that he began to establish
a church in the land which was in the borders of Nephi; . . . yea,
and he did baptize his brethren in the waters of Mormon” (Alma 5:3). By
alluding to the rebaptism of lapsed members at the waters of Mormon, Alma is
hoping his hearers remember the dramatic contrast between life under the wicked
King Noah and that under King Mosiah and his father. He skillfully brackets his
sermon by invoking the baptismal renewal at the waters of Mormon at the
beginning of his sermon and returning to it at the end when, alluding also to
Lehi’s powerful dream, he invites his hearers to “Come and be baptized
unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the tree of life”
(v. 62).

To emphasize the significance of his father’s restoration of
the church after the wickedness of King Noah and his own personal rescue from “the
pains of hell” (Alma 36:13), Alma introduces the first of his themes and
one of the central themes of the Book of Mormon and of Hebrew history—the
contrast between captivity/bondage and deliverance/liberation. He reminds his
listeners of the social and political bondage their people suffered under King
Noah and the physical bondage and captivity they suffered at the hands of the
Lamanites: “Behold, I say unto you, they were delivered out of the hands
of the people of king Noah, by the mercy and power of God. . . . They
were brought into bondage by the hands of the Lamanites; . . . yea,
. . . they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out
of bondage” (Alma 5:4–5). Here Alma is echoing Mosiah, who, just
before Alma was chosen as leader, told the people: “Yea, remember king
Noah. . . . Behold what great destruction did come upon them [the
people]; and also because of their iniquities they were brought into bondage”
(Mosiah 29:18).

Just as Jews traditionally have been admonished to remember
the captivity and subsequent deliverance of their forebears in Egypt, so Alma
asks his fellow Nephites, “Have you sufficiently retained in remembrance
the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in
remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye
sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from
hell?” (Alma 5:6). Captivity and deliverance is just one of the themes
Alma continues to weave throughout his narrative. He uses powerful images to
dramatize the difference between bondage and freedom, including “bands of
death” and “chains of hell,” both of which can be loosed as
people repent and turn to God (v. 9). His use of such imagery undoubtedly
is related to his own personal spiritual captivity, for he speaks of being
bound himself by the chains of iniquity.

In this sermon, Alma presents his hearers with a series of
contrasting pairs that throw into bold relief the choice before them of
choosing salvation or damnation, life or death. These include God or the devil;
birth/life or death; light or dark; white or stained; pure or filthy; truth or
lies; awake or asleep; saved or damned/destroyed; rejoice or mourn/wail; accept
or deny; righteous or wicked; faithful or unfaithful; faith/belief or doubt/unbelief;
remember or forget; hearken or ignore (not listen); humility or pride; rich or
poor; guilty or guiltless; good shepherd or bad shepherd; sheep or wolves; and
tree of life or tree of death. Alma uses such a long catalogue of opposites not
only to demonstrate that his listeners have been making the wrong choices at
the peril of their souls, but also to remind them that they have the agency and
the power to choose which way they will live on the very day he addresses them:
“Can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26).

One of Alma’s chief rhetorical devices is repetition. Not
only does he repeatedly present contrasting choices, but he continually repeats
words and phrases for emphasis. In fact, one gets the impression that nearly
every word or phrase is repeated at least once in the sermon. One of the most
important of these repeated phrases is “I say unto you.” This phrase
is found an amazing thirty-five times in this sermon (along with one variant, “I
can tell you,” at Alma 5:11). The effect of such repetition is not only
the affirmation of Alma’s authority but also the depth of his personal witness.
That is, he is speaking to them not only as high priest and leader of the
church but also as a reformed sinner (“a very wicked and an idolatrous
man,” Mosiah 27:8). He thus speaks out of ecclesiastical as well as
personal authority. Toward the end of the sermon as he continues to use this
phrase, Alma cleverly expands it from “I say unto you” to “thus
saith the Spirit” (Alma 5:50), “the Spirit saith unto me”
(v. 51), and “the Spirit saith” (v. 52), extending the
authority of his words to that of the Holy Spirit and ultimately to Christ: “I
say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord?”
(v. 16) and, “I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the
voice of the good shepherd” (v. 57). Then, cleverly altering his phraseology,
he shifts the burden to them: “What have ye to say against this?”
(v. 58). The accumulated force of his multiple uses of “I say unto
you” and his one “What have ye to say?” would, one would guess,
leave his hearers speechless. What could they say against such a fortress of
logic and testimony?

Counterbalanced by the rhetorical declarative “I say
unto you” are a series of thirty-five rhetorical questions, most at the
beginning of his sermon. The majority of these questions take the form, “I
ask” or “I ask of you.” These are often interwoven with “I
say unto you,” as in the following example:

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were
they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not. And again I ask,
were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them
about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls
did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that
they are saved. (Alma 5:8–9)

Most instances of Alma’s use of “I say unto you”
are followed by a question, as in the following example: “I say unto you,
can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord?” (Alma
5:16). This constant saying and questioning creates a powerful accumulation of
emotional logic, especially as Alma brings it to the present moment. He knows
he is speaking to members of the church who are aware of the teachings and
practices that once were but no longer are a part of their spiritual observances.
Thus, as pointed out above, he asks, “If ye have experienced a change of
heart, . . . can ye feel so now?” (v. 26).

Not satisfied with a general call to repentance (“Have
ye spiritually been born of God?” Alma 5:14), which might allow his hearers
to excuse certain sinful behaviors, Alma zeroes in on their specific
transgressions: “Have [ye] been sufficiently humble?” (v. 27), “Are
ye stripped of pride?” (v. 28), “Is there one among you who is
not stripped of envy?” (v. 29), “Is there one among you that
doth make a mock of his brother, or that heapeth upon him persecutions?”
(v. 30). Such questions bridge the old and new laws.

That Alma is concerned with an inner sanctification and not
just an outward show of obedience can be seen in his most penetrating
question, one that cuts to the heart of his listeners: “And now behold, I
ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God?
Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this
mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14). Alma here is suggesting that
evidence of one’s spiritual repentance and renewal is visible. And Alma is suggesting
as well the idea of “Christogenesis” articulated by the Catholic
theologian Teilhard de Chardin: in Christ is the power for us to radically
change our lives, to transform them through his loving atonement and thereby to
transform the world itself.1 Alma asks his hearers not simply to consider or think about their repentance (“Can
ye think of being saved when you have yielded yourselves to become subjects to the
devil?” v. 20), but to use their imaginations as well: “Can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord?” “Do ye imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord?” “Can ye imagine yourselves
brought before the tribunal of God?” (vv. 16–18). This
constitutes an invitation to be wholly engaged in an examination of their lives
in relation to the standards of gospel adherence—feeling, doing, and
thinking: “Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean
? . . . can ye think of being saved?”
(vv. 19–20).

Another clever strategy Alma employs to call his hearers to
repentance is to invoke the fathers—that is, the ancient prophets and
patriarchs—but he does so by moving from the personal “my father”
and “your fathers,” to the collective “our fathers” (Alma
5:21), to specifically naming the three great fathers of Israel: “Behold,
my brethren, do ye suppose that such an one [i.e., an unrepentant sinner], can
have a place to sit down in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and
with Jacob?” (v. 24). Nothing in the history of Israel is more
calculated to get people’s attention than to remind them of the great figures
with whom God established Israel through covenant. Even though this is a
pre-Christian-era Christian community, recognizing that they have refused to
abide by the new law of Christ, Alma points them to the old law, the one closer
to the literalistic gospel that seems to be governing their lives. Later, he
says, “I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things
which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come”
(v. 44); “And moreover, I say unto you that it has thus been revealed
unto me, that the words which have been spoken by our fathers are true”
(v. 47).

This invocation of the fathers was deeply ingrained in the
consciousness of every father in Israel, who was expected to teach his children
to remember these first patriarchs. Later in speaking to his son Helaman, Alma
says, “I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the
captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them
except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”
(Alma 36:2).

Alma also invokes the
first fathers of the Book of Mormon, Lehi and Nephi, by using the central image
of their remarkable shared vision—the tree of life: “Yea, he [the
Lord God] saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of
life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and waters of life freely”
(Alma 5:34). By invoking this central Book of Mormon story, Alma is reminding
his hearers of the dramatically contrasting choices made by Lehi’s sons—those
who chose righteousness and those who chose wickedness—and of the
unfolding of their respective histories from these seminal decisions. Alma’s
hearers have just suffered the consequences of the kinds of choices made by
Lehi’s sons Laman and Lemuel.

Alma expands his reference to the tree by alluding to
ancient tree imagery, including the central tree at the heart of Eden and Jesus’s
parable of the tree, as recounted in Matthew 3:10. Thus he includes two
contrasting tree images: the tree of life from Genesis (which alludes to the
primal gift of agency) and the tree of death: “Behold, the ax is laid at
the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit
shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed,
even an unquenchable fire” (Alma 5:52).

As noted earlier, to signify their spiritual captivity, Alma
employs images of bondage: “They were encircled about by the bands of
death, and the chains of hell” (Alma 5:7). In fact, Alma increases the
force of these images through repetition. Having introduced them in verse 7, he
asks, “Were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which
encircled them about, were they loosed?” (v. 9). He then asks how
they could have been loosed: “What is the cause of their being loosed from
the bands of death, and also the chains of hell?” (v. 10).

Alma next introduces images having to do with purity and
impurity: “Can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean
hands?” (Alma 5:19); “How will any of you feel, if ye shall stand
before the bar of God, having your garments stained with blood and all manner
of filthiness?” (v. 22). Contrasted with the blood that stains is the
cleansing and purification that come through the blood of Christ: “For
there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yea, his garments
must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of
him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his
people from their sins” (v. 21). The unclean to whom Alma addresses
his remarks are set against “all the holy prophets, whose garments are
cleansed and are spotless, pure and white” (v. 24).

Another archetypal image used by Alma in this sermon is that
of the shepherd and his sheep. Emphasizing the role of the caring and
beneficent shepherd, Alma uses the term good shepherd seven times, most
instances coming at the end of his sermon.

Echoing both Isaiah 53:6 and Matthew 9:36, he speaks to
those who “are not the sheep of the good shepherd” (Alma 5:38) but
rather “sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called
after [them] and is still calling after [them], but [they] will not hearken
unto his voice!” (v. 37). Instead of listening to the voice of the
Good Shepherd, these Nephites have chosen “the devil [as their] shepherd”
(v. 39). Not only is the devil seen as a bad shepherd, his undershepherds
are seen as “wolves [that] enter . . . and devour his flock”
(v. 59).

Alma’s attitude toward his hearers is seen in his frequent reference
to them as “my brethren,” an appellation which occurs seven times in
the beginning and middle of the sermon. At the end of the sermon when the logic
of his argument reaches its climax—that is, when he hopes that the
accumulated pleas and threats will bring his hearers to true repentance, Alma
shifts to the more endearing “My beloved brethren,” which he repeats
three times. This is similar to the way Alma ends his second sermon, delivered
not long after this one: “And now, my beloved brethren, for ye are my
brethren, and ye ought to be beloved” (Alma 9:30). Thus, not only does
Alma remind his hearers of their kinship and spiritual relationship, he reveals
the charity he feels toward them in spite of his strong language condemning
their recalcitrant wickedness.

There is a definite shift in the middle of the sermon when
Alma begins to modulate his more accusatory and condemnatory language with the
softer invitation to accept Christ: “Behold, he sendeth an invitation
unto all men, for the arms of his mercy are extended towards them, and he
saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith, Come unto me” (Alma
5:33–34). Christ is the “good shepherd [who] doth call you; yea, and
in his own name he doth call you” (v. 38).

Alma’s language continues to be strong, undoubtedly motivated
by what he must sense is the reluctance of some of his hearers to respond to
his message. “O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain
things of the world” (Alma 5:37). He accuses them of being “liar[s]
and . . . child[ren] of the devil” (v. 40).

His words indicate that he senses the pride and stubbornness
of his hearers, especially evident in his repetition of “persist”: “Will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things
of the world, upon your riches? Yea, will ye persist in supposing that
ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution
of your brethren. . . . Yea, and will you persist in turning your
backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from
them?” Perhaps sensing that his hearers are inclined to answer in the
affirmative, Alma shifts from rhetorical questions to an affirmative statement:
“And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you
that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they
speedily repent” (Alma 5:53–56) .

Perhaps anticipating that
his hearers are forming arguments against his words, Alma makes an attempt to
disarm them when he says, “I have spoken unto you plainly that ye cannot
err” (Alma 5:43). And, as did Abinadi before him, he makes sure his
hearers know the ultimate authority behind his words: “I am called to
speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ
Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people”
(v. 44).

The ultimate strength of Alma’s sermon is seen not in the
logic of his argument, not in his many rhetorical devices, but in the emotional
power of his personal witness. He reveals this in a number of instances: First,
as emphasized at the beginning of this paper, by establishing the authority he
has received at the hands of his father; second, by indicating that these
things have been revealed to him: “Behold, I say unto you they [the things
he has told them] are made known unto me by the Holy Spirit of God” (Alma
5:46); and by divine commission: “I speak by way of command unto you that
belong to the church” (v. 62). Alma seals all of this with his
personal witness (“I speak in the energy of my soul,” v. 43): “Do
ye not suppose that I know of these things myself? Behold, I testify unto you
that I do know that these things whereof I have spoken are true”
(v. 45). To dramatize the difference between the apparent indifference of
his listeners and his own willingness to sacrifice for the knowledge he has
gained, he tells them exactly how he knows: “Behold, I have fasted and
prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I do know of
myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by
his Holy Spirit; and this is the spirit of revelation which is in me”
(v. 46).

Of course, Alma’s hearers would know the spiritual
trajectory of his life. As the notorious son of a famous father, his story
would be familiar to everyone in the culture. His life is a dramatic example of
someone who sank to the lowest depths and rose through the mercy of Christ to
the preeminent position in his society. They likely would have heard him
testify on previous occasions that “after wading through much tribulation,
repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy saw fit to snatch me out of an everlasting
burning, and I am born of God. . . . I was in the darkest abyss; but
now I behold the marvelous light of God” (Mosiah 27:28–29).

Everything in Alma’s
sermon at Zarahemla—his invitation to his hearers to repent of their
sins, to break their bonds of iniquity, to cleanse their garments, to remember
God’s long-suffering and mercy toward them—is designed to bring his
hearers to Christ so that they might repent of their sins and gain salvation.
This includes the rhetorical devices he uses—the multiplication of
images, the repetition of words and phrases, the allusions to past Israelite
and Nephite history, the rhetorical questions and declarative statements, the
references to scripture, the symbolism, and the invocation (by direct reference
or by implication) of Lehi, Nephi, Abinadi, Mosiah, and Alma the Elder, as well
as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The language he uses indicates that he sees this
as an ultimate decision. That is, he expects his hearers not merely to make an
outward show of their devotion or even a half-hearted commitment, but rather to
undergo a total conversion, one involving “a mighty change” of their
hearts (Alma 5:12–14) that would result in God’s image being engraved on
their countenances and cause them “to sing the song of redeeming love”
(v. 26).

Alma ends his sermon at
Zarahemla by making a distinction between those who are members of the church
and those who are not. To the former he says, “I speak by way of command,”
and to the latter he says, “I speak by way of invitation, saying: Come and
be baptized unto repentance, that ye also may be partakers of the fruit of the
tree of life” (Alma 5:62). The effect of Alma’s sermon is immediate, both
for those who accept his message and for those who reject it. As soon as he
finished his address, “he ordained priests and elders, by laying on his
hands according to the order of God, to preside and watch over the church.
. . . And thus they began to establish the order of the church in the
city of Zarahemla” (Alma 6:1, 4). Those who refused to repent “were
rejected, and their names were blotted out, that their names were not numbered
among those of the righteous” (Alma 6:3). Having fully succeeded in
cleansing and reforming the church, Alma relinquishes his ecclesiastical responsibilities
at Zarahemla and departs for Gideon to continue his mission.

In his subsequent sermons, Alma uses many of the devices he
employed in his great sermon at Zarahemla, but in none as extensively or as
impressively as in his first sermon, and none reflects the intellect, learning,
complexity, and rhetorical sophistication of this one. It is as if Alma,
sensing the pivotal role he will play in Nephite history for the next two
decades, wants to make as certain and as strong a statement as possible, to
nail, as it were, his theses to the door. In a way, this sermon can be seen as
his inaugural address. And it can be seen as defining his ministry. The themes
he introduces here will continue to be emphasized throughout his ministry, and
the language he uses with such skill and sophistication will continue to echo
in his role as chief priest. All in all, it is one of the most brilliant
sermons in sacred literature.

Robert A. Rees is professor of Mormon studies at Graduate
Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

1.    “Teilhard’s aim has been to
reformulate the theology of creation in terms of a genesis, a ‘becoming’ of the
universe, in Christ. The word he finally makes up after years of reflection is ‘Christogenesis,’
an awkward word perhaps, but a word that sums up the evolutive structure of the
universe as Teilhard sees it: a dynamic movement directed to the final unity of
all things in Christ, directed to Christ in the fullness of the Pleroma.”
Robert L. Faricy, “Teilhard De Chardin on Creation and the Christian Life,” Theology
23/4 (1967): 516.