One of the sweet gifts of the Spirit is the "discerning of spirits" - the ability to discern the needs and feelings of others (see D&C 46:23). After having spoken very plainly to his son Corianton about the seriousness of Corianton's moral transgressions, Alma discerned through the Spirit, precisely what Corianton was feeling and worried about. Three times, once at the start of each chapter in today's lesson (Alma 40-42), Alma said, "I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning...." and then he gave some profound testimony and heartfelt counsel addressing the problem.
Think about the setting of Alma 40-42 for a moment. Here is a son who committed a grievous moral transgression in the mission field. Here was his father, whose own transgressions against the Church were stopped when an angel from God called him to repentance. God could have given up on Alma when he was younger and committing some serious mistakes, but He didn't. Now, as Alma counsels with his own wayward son, we can feel the love and the longing of this noble father whose desire was to help his son repent and return to God.
The three concerns Alma discerned in his son's heart were (1) Corianton was worried about the resurrection and probably wondering what kind of resurrection he could ever hope to attain in the eternities to come (see Alma 40:1); (2) he was worried about the restoration, no doubt wondering how he could ever become clean again after having committed such a serious sin (see Alma 41:1); and (3) he was worried about the justice of God, thinking that God was now angry with him and was going to send a severe judgment against him and consign him to a state of eternal misery (see Alma 42:1).
Alma's sure testimony to his son is that God has a plan for our salvation. As he taught, Alma testified that this great and wonderful plan was revealed by God, and that God really does have a plan for our redemption which is designed to bring us the greatest happiness. In fact, there is no other plan, and there is no other way to re-enter God's presence and enjoy all the blessings God has to offer. Alma called this plan the "plan of redemption" (Alma 39:18); "the plan of restoration" (41:2); "the great plan of salvation" (42:5); "the great plan of happiness" (42:8); and "the great plan of mercy" (42:15, 31).
Corianton's misunderstandings about the Father's motives and about the Father's plan are commonplace. He was a missionary teaching others, but had failed to receive the message of salvation himself. Those living in our own day who fail to understand and apply the doctrines of the plan will similarly be unable to receive its blessings. President Heber J. Grant once said, "It is not the amount that any individual may know that will benefit him and his fellows; but it is the practical application of their knowledge. There are many men that are great students, and yet so far as making a practical application of their knowledge they are almost what might be called educated fools.... There are many that testify that they know that this is the work of God, and all they do is to bear that testimony. There are some people that attend meetings year after year and listen to the servants of the Lord teach them in simplicity and humility the duties that devolve upon them, and they go away from those meetings and never put in practice what they hear; yet they take great credit to themselves for always going to meetings. Now, my friends, if you always went to your dinner, sat down and took a good look at the food, and never partook of any of it, it would not be long till you died of starvation. There are some Latter-day Saints that go to meeting, and they die of starvation spiritually because they do not receive and digest the spiritual food that is dispensed there. We should not be hearers of the word alone, but doers of it, too." (Heber J. Grant, Nov. 6, 1892; in Stuy, Collected Discourses, 3:193-4)
Here are ten unique doctrines taught by Alma to Corianton about the great plan of mercy. If understood and applied, they will bring us much peace and happiness.
1. Christ was the first to rise from the dead (Alma 40:2; 2 Ne. 2:8) and because of his atoning sacrifice all mankind will eventually rise from the dead (2 Ne. 9:22; Alma 11:42, 44). One of the chief blessings from the Savior's appearances on earth as a resurrected being after his death is the evidence and absolute assurance his resurrection provides us for the hope of eternal life (see Moroni 9:25). His overcoming death and his promise to us of the same blessing, is surely one of the most comforting promises ever given to mortals. Death no longer has a hold on the children of Adam and Eve (Alma 40:4).
2. There is an order to the resurrection. Celestial people come forth first, then terrestrial next, then telestial, and last of all the sons of perdition (See D&C 88:96-102). The first or celestial resurrection began with the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 27:52-53 and 3 Nephi 23:9). The next major group to arise in the celestial resurrection will come forth at the time of the Savior's second coming. And then, another group will resurrect throughout the thousand year millennium. As Alma told Corianton, whether one comes forth in the first group, the second, or the third, "it mattereth not" (Alma 40:5, 8) because all who come forth with a celestial resurrection will receive God's choicest blessings.
3. There is a space of time between death and the resurrection (Alma 40:6). At death, our bodies lie in the grave awaiting the resurrection, but our spirits enter the post-earthly spirit world where we continue our probation, continue to learn, grow and exercise our agency. Contrary to most Christian traditions, death does not usher us immediately into the presence of God. President Heber C. Kimball taught that we won't see the Father until after the resurrection. Alma 40:11 states that at death "the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life." However, President George Q. Cannon explained, Alma did not mean we see God at the time of death.