In what is often called “Alma’s soliloquy,” an ancient prophet of God once wrote of his desire to express his testimony:
O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth. (Alma 29:1–2).
What good is a testimony?
As with all gospel principles, a testimony is an entirely individualistic witness gained from personally obtained evidence, yet it is necessarily communal in its bearing and witness. In other words, as we learn in the parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13), we must obtain our own spiritual and testimonial oil to light our symbolic fires, yet our testimony — to be a real testimony — is gained in its witness to others. It is interesting this dualistic nature of the gospel, that while we are to wear out our lives in good causes individually, we necessarily need our brothers and sisters to accomplish our individual growth. For a testimony has the literal power of building up to the most high, yet contains the condemnation unto the greatest depths of destruction. A testimony, personally and individually gained, yet publicly expressed, is God’s gift to his children to change the course of our community, society, and nation.
As Alma the Younger testified,
And whosever doeth this, and keepeth the commandments of God from thenceforth, the same will remember that I say unto him, yea, he will remember that I have said unto him, he shall have eternal life, according to the testimony of the Holy Spirit, which testifieth in me (Alma 7:16; emphasis added).
For as Nephi declared,
And now behold, my people, ye are a stiffnecked people; wherefore, I have spoken plainly unto you, that ye cannot misunderstand. And the words which I have spoken shall stand as a testimony against you; for they are sufficient to teach any man the right way; for the right way is to believe in Christ and deny him not; for by denying him ye also deny the prophets and the law (2 Nephi 25:28; emphasis added).
As Moroni’s final testimony and witness in the Book of Mormon stands,
And I exhort you to remember these things; for the time speedily cometh that ye shall know that I lie not, for ye shall see me at the bar of God; and the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man, like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust?…
And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true (Moroni 10:27,29, emphasis added).
What is truth? How do we know of truth? How is a testimony obtained, and what is its importance? How does the obtaining of this testimony separate us from the natural man spoken of in the scriptures (Mosiah 3:19)?
Book of Mormon Examples
The Book of Mormon is full of examples showing the differences between those who possess a testimony and those who do not. Nephi mentioned that Laman and Lemuel’s murmuring was due to their ignorance, for “they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them” (1 Nephi 2:12). Throughout the text, we see Nephi taking it upon himself to remedy this problem. Yet, even with the Lord’s constant bidding and through angelic visitations, Nephi never accomplishes his desire to permanently convert his eldest brethren. For, even with the Nephi’s witness and testimony (and many others), Laman and Lemuel had their own agency. It is no wonder that both Lehi and Nephi learned the lesson so well that
Men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself (2 Nephi 2: 27).
What then is the importance of knowing of the “dealings of that God” who has created us? What are these dealings, and can we really answer better than Laman or Lemuel? Are we really so much better than the rebellious children of Lehi and Ishmael? How do we know our God, our Father, and our Creator? What is this knowledge of which we speak, and is this knowledge the same as truth? Once we have truth, what is our evidence for it? What is our moral and divine imperative once we are in possession of the truth and can offer evidence for it? What was Nephi’s example?
And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them…
For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look to the Lord as they ought…
And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken…
And I said unto them: have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? – If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you (1 Ne 15: 2-3,7-11).
I have a personal testimony to the truth of Nephi’s words, for I have applied them and I know them of myself and I know that they are true. Any worthy child of God, or repentant soul, can know of all things — it is promised (3 Nephi 27: 29, James 1: 5), and God cannot lie. The question is not whether God will or will not answer the humble petition of his children, but how much we desire to know and have a personal witness of the mysteries of God.
What is a testimony?
A “testimony” is a firsthand sworn account of a witness on trial. Is it any wonder that so many prophets’ testimonies, as well as our own, will be called forth at the judgment bar of God (2 Nephi 33:11, Jacob 6:9, Mosiah 16:10, Alma 5:22; 11:44, Moroni 10:27,34)? As a person goes on trial to bear witness, his evidence is called into question. It is necessary to know that a witness must give a true account and can only offer witness of what he knows from firsthand experience. There is no borrowed evidence and no speculation. A witness either knows something of himself, or he does not – there is no middle ground.
A testimony, to be a true testimony, requires evidence of what is said — words alone are not enough (Alma 30:40). To the world, the strength and type of evidence is seen and given in many different ways. The only acceptable evidence before God, however, is knowledge made truth by the power of the Holy Ghost. Knowledge given does not impart truth, nor is knowledge vindicated, validated, or become truth without sure evidence. If wisdom and truth are sought for (James 1:5), the answer — i.e. the very witness — is given of God through the Holy Ghost. It is through the Holy Ghost that we may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:3-5). In short, a true testimony’s evidence is and can only be the witness of the Holy Ghost.
What then is the full weight and measure of a testimony born with the power of God through the Holy Ghost? Any man full of a testimony of Christ can change the course of societies and nations. The Book of Mormon is replete with not only examples of the power of a true testimony, but of the true order, nature, and path that a testimony necessarily brings.
Most readers are familiar with Enos’ experience of prayer and repentance, but what is often overlooked in Enos’ conversion story is the process by which he obtained his testimony. The pattern given by Enos, in fact, is also found throughout the Book of Mormon.
In what I have always felt was one of the most physically descriptive phrases in the Book of Mormon, Enos describes his desire for forgiveness and a testimony as a “hunger.”
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens (Enos 1:4, emphasis added).
It is at this point that the Lord responds to Enos, blessing him and forgiving him of his sins. Knowing that God could not lie, Enos’ faith in Christ goes beyond his own welfare as he begins to pray for the welfare of his people (Enos 1:9). Upon receiving the Lord’s affirmation towards the Nephites, Enos’ next step of testimony and conversion focuses his attention and desire upon the well-being of his people’s enemies — the Lamanites.
And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
And now behold, his was the desire which I desired of him – that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation –
For at the present our strugglings were in vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
And the Lord said unto me: Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine (Enos 1:12-18).
In these few versus we find the fulfillment of the newborn soul, as the natural man gives way for the Holy Ghost to bring Enos’ faith (cf. “I had faith, and I did cry unto God”) to a sure knowledge of the truth (cf. “And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made” (emphasis added)). Enos’ process of repentance and testimony brought him from seeking his own individual well-being to desiring his people’s well-bring, on to the fulfillment of testimony as Enos then seeks for and obtains a promise concerning the welfare of his enemies. Herein we see how the individualistic nature of a testimony is necessarily directed to the welfare and development of our brothers and sisters – even to a desire to see our enemies blessed. A true testimony carries a healing power that dowses the hatred that burns within the natural man, as the reality of our divine kinship overrides the emotional call-to-arms against our perceived temporal enemies (e.g. Alma 24:5-27). Testimony softens ours hearts, centers our focus on reality, and establishes within us a love of God and of our neighbor.
Alma the Younger and the Sons of Mosiah
The process of a true testimony leads us to follow the one single and unique doctrine that originated from Christ’s earthly ministry.
And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy;
But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good (3 Nephi 12:42-45).
Of all of Christ’s doctrines, the command to love our enemies is the one doctrine that is uniquely His while ministering on the earth; all other public teachings were repeated from earlier prophetic utterances. Christ’s doctrine of loving one’s enemies is witnessed in the story of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah.
It is not necessary to mention here the full conversion story of Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah, but, as with Enos, the conversion process in obtaining a testimony was the same. Once rebellious (Mosiah 27:8-11), these men sought for and received forgiveness through their repentance (Mosiah 27:24-32). In obtaining forgiveness, their attention turned immediately to correcting the wrong that they had committed against their people and to build the Church in the land (Mosiah 27:32-36). The growth of their conversion and testimony did not stop with their people, as these men then brought their witness to their national, social, religious, and political enemies — the Lamanites (Mosiah 28:1-9). Once a true testimony is received, the true nature and order of this testimony is epitomized by living action of Christ’s one unique earthly doctrine of loving one’s enemies.
Alma the Younger
Alma the Younger characterized yet another principle concerning the value of a true testimony. Alma’s perception was obviously influenced by the change of his nature, for his actions epitomize the words of Elder Maxwell when he said, “Do not expect the world’s solutions to the world’s problems to be very effective.” Alma’s solutions to social, political, and religious problems were anything but what most would consider practical, conventional, or even viable — yet Alma had a testimony born of the Holy Ghost, and his was knowledge of truth, not of convention.
When social, political, and religious problems arose, Alma was in a unique position to offer many different cures — Alma was both the political head of state and the High Priest to the Church. As the political head of the Nephite government, Alma was the Chief Judge and was capable of utilizing government as a way of curing the persecutions and inequality of his day.
And it came to pass in the commencement of the ninth year, Alma saw the wickedness of the church, and he saw also that the example of the church began to lead those who were unbelievers from one piece of iniquity to another, thus bringing on the destruction of the people.
Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs from the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted…
And now it came to pass that Alma, having seen the afflictions of the humble followers of God, and the persecutions which were heaped upon them by the remainder of his people, and seeing all their inequality, began to be very sorrowful; nevertheless the Spirit of the Lord did not fail him (Alma 4:12-13,15).
These social persecutions and inequalities, seen of Alma in his day and easily seen in our own society today, are creations of the world, for they are not patterned after the order of God. Today the most seeming practical solutions involving social, political, and economic inequality center around the government passing legislation to arbitrarily “level the playing field,” yet Alma, having a sure testimony of truth, was less convinced by the world’s solutions to the world’s problems than what we see today. Rather than utilizing his political and legal position, Alma turned over the head of state altogether to Nephihah (Alma 4:16-18). It is interesting to note in verse 16 that Alma
…gave [Nephihah] power according to the voice of the people. That he might have power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given, and to put them in force according to the wickedness and the crimes of the people.
Alma, knowing the power and authority of his political position, gave up the “power to enact laws according to the laws which had been given” for another cure entirely. Alma, recognizing the power of one solution from another, as he went
forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in 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, emphasis added).
Alma’s solution to social inequality was not political, it was not religious, and it was not economic. Alma’s solution to the persecutions and inequality was the only solution that he saw was valid, practical, and true — “seeing no [other] way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down pure testimony against them.” What is the power of a testimony? To Alma, the only true and eternal convincing power was not fear of corporeal (i.e. physical) punishment as government might inflict; indeed, neither was the true convincing power the fear of eternal fire and damnation. For Alma, the convincing power came only in and through the Holy Ghost. Alma proved to be correct, for Zeezrom
…began to tremble more exceedingly, for he was convinced more and more of the power of God; and he was also convinced that Alma and Amulek had a knowledge of him, for he was convinced that they knew the thoughts and intents of his heart; for power was given unto them that they might know of these things according to the spirit of prophecy (Alma 12:7).
Alma did not stop here, but continued on in bearing testimony. Later in life, Alma again saw the root cause of social inequality, persecution, and iniquity, as he ventured to the Zoramites. The problems that Alma saw were very politically and socially oriented, for
the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites (Alma 31:4).
On the brink of war, Alma was a realist. Idealism was no longer an option and Alma had to act. In what, today, seems like folly, Alma once again left behind the trade of politics and government and utilized the proven tool by bearing down pure testimony.
And now, as 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, which had happened unto them — therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God (Alma 31:5).
What is the power of a testimony? What is the effect that one righteous man or woman can have on society who can openly, publicly, and upon a moment’s notice witness of the truth of the everlasting gospel by the Holy Spirit of God? Never should we forget the power and influence of one righteous man or woman — for the examples are before us to stand as their own witness of our divine heritage.
Alma’s understanding and knowledge of truth is shared today and continues on through divine proclamation. To see the eternal nature of a testimony, we need only look to those called as special witnesses of Christ. In October Conference of 2009, Elder D. Todd Christofferson bore witness of the eternal truths expressed in the Book of Mormon in his talk, Moral Discipline. Elder Christofferson expresses the sentiments characterized by Alma.
Self-discipline has eroded and societies are left to try to maintain order and civility by compulsion. The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments.
“Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior. At best, the police and criminal justice system are the last desperate line of defense for a civilized society. Our increased reliance on laws to regulate behavior is a measure of how uncivilized we’ve become.”
In most of the world, we have been experiencing an extended and devastating economic recession. It was brought on by multiple causes, but one of the major causes was widespread dishonest and unethical conduct, particularly in the U.S. housing and financial markets. Reactions have focused on enacting more and stronger regulation. Perhaps that may dissuade some from unprincipled conduct, but others will simply get more creative in their circumvention. There could never be enough rules so finely crafted as to anticipate and cover every situation, and even if there were, enforcement would be impossibly expensive and burdensome. This approach leads to diminished freedom for everyone. In the memorable phrase of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, “We would not accept the yoke of Christ; so now we must tremble at the yoke of Caesar” (emphasis added).
From Elder Christopherson’s words we learn the value of a testimony in our world today. For what purpose do we have one? For what purpose do we share it? What is the social effect of a testimony?
Besides our own salvation, “we are all enlisted ‘til the conflict is o’er.” The gospel of Christ is an amazing thing, for its basis is complete individualism but also perfect group order in family, congregation, and community.
As a Church community, it does us no good to have a prophet, seer, and revelator – if we do not actively obtain our own testimony of the Holy Ghost of what he says. When we deny ourselves a firsthand account and witness of Christ through the Holy Ghost, and merely wait to be “commanded in all things” (D&C 58:26), we are – as President Uchtdorf said – living below our privileges. Who do we to look to for our witness? Without the testimony of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and without continuous personal revelation, what good is the mouthpiece of Jesus Christ to our hearts? Brigham Young observed that
We often hear it said that the living oracles must be in the Church, in order that the kingdom of God may be established and prosper on the earth. I will give another version of this sentiment. I say that the living oracles of God, or the Spirit of revelation must be in each and every individual, to know the plan of salvation and keep in the path that leads them to the presence of God” (April 7, 1862, JD 9:279).
What then, more specifically, comes with a testimony of Christ? The Book of Mormon offers yet another example concerning the antithesis of a testimony — i.e. a false testimony — through which we may further understand more fully the true nature of a testimony.
Korihor Verses Alma
There is, perhaps, no greater story in the Book of Mormon that so clearly exemplify the trial-like atmosphere of a testimony called into question as does Alma’s meeting with Korihor. Herein we see the elements of false testimony, as this new anti-Christ appears on the scene. It is interesting to note the Book of Mormon’s mention that “the law could have no hold upon [Korihor]” (Alma 30:12). Even when a government seemingly applies its laws justly, it is still inadequate to find even momentary temporal solutions. It appears that this is the perfect situation for Alma who consistently demonstrates a true understanding and testimony of reality, for Alma had never relied on the world’s solutions to the world’s problems — rather, Alma consistently relied upon God, as his faith had become a sure knowledge of truth.
Korihor’s false testimony sought to attack the validity of the true-believer’s testimony, and, sadly, the doctrine was somewhat well received for he taught doctrines that “were pleasing unto the carnal mind” (Alma 30:53; emphasis added). Korihor argued against any sure knowledge of hope and revelation (Alma 30:13), prophecy (Alma 30:14), the surety that comes through faith (Alma 30:15), repentance and forgiveness (Alma 30:16), and, above all things, the ultimate expression of love — the laying down of one’s life for another (Alma 30:17). This is important to note, as the bearing of a true testimony requires and works together with all of these virtues of divinity that Korihor is so ready to dismiss.
Additionally, Korihor consistently attacked the priests of the Church, saying that they had no evidence (i.e. that they could not know of what they taught) of the truth. To support his own witness, Korihor, incapable of offering sure evidence, offered up blatant lies and argued that the priests did glut themselves upon the poor for the sake of forcing the “pretended mysteries” of God upon the people (Alma 30:28,31).
As previously mentioned, a true testimony must show the evidence of truth — yet Korihor offers no evidence, but only seeks to destroy the validity of another’s evidence. Korihor’s intent is not to build, but to destroy. For this, Alma rebukes Korihor, as he turns the table of testimony against this anti-Christ.
For behold, I say unto you, I know there is a God, and also that Christ shall come.
And now [Korihor], what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.
But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them? (Alma 30:39-41, emphasis added).
Korihor responds by asking for a sign, or, rather, a physically perceived “evidence” of his liking. Korihor’s temptation and provocation is only good for the eager and weak — “If thou [Alma] wilt show me a sign, that I may be convinced that there is a God, yea, show unto me that he hath power, and then will I be convinced” (Alma 30:43). Alma will have none of this, seeing as he had already offered all things as a testimony and evidence of God. Korihor’s persistence becomes an epistemic argument, as he plays word games with Alma:
I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe (Alma 30:48, emphasis added).
Korihor’s false-testimony immediately falls apart. No matter his epistemic attack on Alma’s ability to know, Alma responds with the power and authority of one who holds the priesthood of God — even of having a pure knowledge (D&C 121:42) — and, in the name of God, strikes Korihor dumb that he cannot speak. The demise of Korihor is imminent, as knowledge of his infirmity spread and his doctrine fell apart, he was trodden under foot and died (Alma 30:57-59).
The value of a testimony is unmeasurable to man, for to measure a testimony is to measure the worth of the souls that will become converted to the gospel by hearing it — and this value is only known to God.
A testimony requires firsthand experience. Knowledge alone is not sufficient, for a testimony requires a true witness. Knowledge is made sure only when evidence is presented by the Holy Ghost — for it is by the power of the Holy Ghost that we may know the truth of all things.
The power of a testimony has changed the course of nations, whereas the world’s solutions to its problems only accentuate these problems. Prophetic utterance and scriptural examples teach us that it is through righteous living and the bearing of our testimonies that we will truly change the course of our homes, communities, nation, and the world. Government action is not only inferior to a testimony born of the Holy Ghost, a testimony is the only way truly to change the nature of mankind. Whereas the world tries to control the individual into compliance with social norms and conventions, it is a pure knowledge of Christ that changes the inner nature of man who then changes his environment through “persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:41-42).
I offer my simple testimony that I know the Savior lives. I know that man can receive the witness of truth through the Holy Ghost, if he will but ask with a sincere heart and real intent – having faith in Christ (Moroni 10:4). I know of the peace, comfort, and joy that come to a repentant soul, as well as the power, assurance, and confidence that comes in striving to live more righteously every day. While the world’s problems and its offered solutions bind men into captivity, only the Gospel of Christ will liberate all who abide by its teachings.
To read Shiloh’s follow up article, “The Final Stage of Testimony”, click here.