Chapter 23: A Lesser and Greater Portion

When Zeezrom begins to “inquire diligently” about Amulek’s words to the people of Ammonihah, Alma responds, “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of his word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of his word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:9–11).

These statements reflect the condition of wickedness the people of Ammonihah are in after hardening their hearts against the word of God. At the same time, they are an invitation to obtain greater light and knowledge, which knowledge Alma identifies with the “mysteries of God.” Alma implies that these mysteries are desirable to know, even to know “in full.” Failure to know them, on the other hand, comes from hardening our hearts against God’s word until we are incapable of comprehending his mysteries and the devil has power over us.

Alma’s statements further represent a classic categorization of God’s word into a “lesser portion” and “greater portion,” reflecting, respectively, the law of the Mosaic covenant and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul draws a distinction between the two when he says, “When for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the [first] principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works” (Hebrews 5:12–6:1; cf. Articles of Faith 1:4).

Paul compares “going on to perfection”—after we have obtained a remission of our sins through the merits of Christ’s atonement—with progressing from observing a “law of carnal commandments” to being imbued with the “power of an endless life” as we emulate Christ (Hebrews 7:16).

Each of these spiritual categories is further affiliated with a priesthood: “The lesser [Aaronic] Priesthood . . . holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments” (D&C 84:26–27), whereas “this greater [Melchizedek] priesthood . . . holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19). Thus, “the power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to . . . have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18–19).

These scriptures encourage us to not falter in our spiritual progress—not to remain satisfied with the “preparatory gospel”—but to go on and attain a firm and abiding knowledge of the mysteries of God. Nephi says, “He that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old” (1 Nephi 10:19). The Lord declares, “Unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life” (D&C 63:23; cf. D&C 76:5–10).

Elsewhere, Alma records, “He that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed” (Alma 26:22). Alma nevertheless proscribes a strict censure of such divine mysteries, charging the Lord’s people that they should not reveal them freely lest they turn to the condemnation of both giver and receiver (Alma 12:9).

Lastly, Isaiah decries the fact that the people of Ephraim are quite satisfied with only a preparatory gospel of “line upon line” (which expression Isaiah uses in a satirical sense), thus disqualifying themselves from receiving the further light and knowledge the Lord wishes to give them: “Whom shall the Lord give instruction? Whom shall he enlighten with revelation? Weanlings weaned from milk, those just taken from the breast? For it is but line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, a trifle here, a trifle there.

“Therefore, by incomprehensible speech and a strange tongue must he speak to these people, to whom he said, This is rest; let the weary rest! This is a respite! But they would not listen. So to them the word of the Lord remained: Line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, a trifle here, a trifle there, that, persisting, they might lapse into stumbling and break themselves, become ensnared and be taken captive” (Isaiah 28:9–13; Gileadi Translation).

In other words, when to some people the lesser portion of God’s word becomes the whole—when, in their minds, that is all there is—they are in no position to receive more. Isaiah likens that situation to a plowman forever plowing the same ground over and over, not going on to sow seed; or to a farmer endlessly threshing his grain, not taking the next step of grinding it to make bread (Isaiah 28:23–29). Like Alma, Isaiah also shows that failing to move from point A to point B in our spiritual journey results in captivity and death (Isaiah 28:1–8, 14–22).