Message Four: The Constants of Conversion (1997)

H. Curtis Wright, Things of Redeeming Worth: Scriptures Messages and World Judgments (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002).

The Constants of C​onversion

 

The doctrine that men and women must change, must be converted, is as old as the world. Adam and Eve were instructed by God himself that “inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten, that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:59).

As a living God, our Heavenly Father is forevermore involved in this matter of change. Because of the fall of our first parents and because men and women are often enticed to wander from the strait and narrow path, the Father sent his Only Begotten Son to alter the course of events on earth-to reverse what would otherwise continue as a movement toward spiritual dissolution. The Savior came into the world to change things, both cosmically and individually. The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about change, about the conversion of the human soul by and through the redeeming mercy and atoning blood of Jesus Christ. The world has its way of bringing about change, while the Lord and his prophets call for another way. The world focuses on rearranging, shifting, and effecting what prove to be cosmetic and rather temporary changes, while God calls for conversion, transformation, regeneration, and a lifelong change of nature.

 The essay that follows deals with conversion, true conversion to Christ. In it Professor Curtis Wright focuses on some of the “constants of conversion,” those elements associated with spiritual change that lead one from death to life, from darkness to light. This essay, like the others in this collection, is grounded in scripture, in the doctrine of Christ, and presupposes that recognition and conviction of sin are prerequisite to conversion and thus fundamentally necessary to salvation.

By now the reader has become well acquainted with Brother Wright’s bold and straightforward discussion of the restored gospel. I find this essay to be thoughtful, provocative, and extremely beneficial to my own understanding of the process of conversion and feel confident that others will be likewise benefitted. It identifies within the New Testament and the Book of Mormon some of the central features of spiritual change so evident in the conversions of Paul and Alma. It demonstrates that conversion to Christ—rather than simply fascination with an idea, excitement about a new cause, or even a strong personal resolve—is what leads to permanent change (see Alma 23:6; 24:19; 2 7:27; 3Ne.28:23;4Ne.l:2).

 All men and women are called to come unto Christ and be perfected in him (see Moro. 10:32). Indeed, to choose to follow the Savior is to choose to be changed, “changed from [our] carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness,” thus becoming “new creatures” (Mosiah 27:25–26). This is Christian conversion, not a mere alteration in behavior patterns or even an acquisition of a few theological truths, but a deep-down change, conversion from the inside out.

—Robert L. Millet,Dean of Religious Education, 1991–2000, Brigham Young University

 

Is every authentic conversion to Christ unique, or is conversion to Christ the common experience of all authentic converts? Do different converts to the same gospel experience the same things? Or different things?

I. The Conversion ​of Paul

Saul was converted to become the apostle Paul when the Lord convinced him of his sins. [1] Blinded by sudden envelopment in a brilliant, flashing light, Saul fell to the ground, where he saw the Lord, who spoke to him in Hebrew about his sinful past and told him of his future calling as a special “witness unto all men of what [he had] seen and heard,” saying: “Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast [already] seen, and of those things in the which I will [yet] appear unto thee” (Acts 22:15; 26:16). [2] So, Saul arose as Paul and was led by the hand to Damascus, where he fasted for three days before Ananias was sent to restore his sight, to prepare him for baptism, and to confirm that God had chosen him to “know his will,” to “see his Just One,” [3] to “hear the voice of his mouth,” and to “be his witness” in the great and wondrous work of redeeming both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:9; 22:12–16).

Paul, once converted and ever mindful of his sinful past, saw in his own conversion to Christ the prototype of all subsequent conversions worldwide. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:15–16).

This saying emphasizes the basic elements of all conversions. Its message is and according to Paul, which means “reliable” and “eminently worthwhile”; [4] and its—its rational structure of intelligibility—is unambiguous: “the message that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners is trustworthy and must be accepted absolutely.” That’s what “worthy of all acceptation” means. [5] The redemptive purpose of Christ’s atoning mission, his ceaseless labor of seeking and saving lost and fallen sinners, must therefore be taken seriously as the fundamental bedrock of revealed religion. When Paul says Christ saves sinners “of whom I am chief,” moreover, the Greek word for “chief” is meaning “first,” by which he describes himself as the most sinful of all possible sinners—as the first and foremost number-one, triple-A, all-time champion sinner par excellence. But he felt this way only after being convinced of his sins by actual revelation; and that’s how all authentic converts feel. They know, because God reveals it unto them, that their sins are not only real but dangerous, and they also know that the ultimate sacrifice of Christ’s atoning blood, which was shed for them, is overwhelmingly paramount in their redemption and absolutely essential to their repentance and forgiveness. “I will work a marvelous work among the children of men,” saith the Lord, “unto the convincing of many of their sins, that they may come unto repentance, and . . . unto the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 18:44; emphasis added). In order to redeem us, accordingly, the Lord himself must convince us of our sins, for we can neither repent nor come unto the Father without an authentic testimony—an actual revealed witness—of our own sinfulness, and it has ever been so. Forgiven sinners, like the Lamanites converted by Nephite missionaries, almost invariably think that prior to their conversions they “were the most lost of all mankind” (Alma 24:11). The Nephite missionaries themselves, furthermore, were convinced of their sins before they were converted: they include Alma the Younger, a malicious malcontent known far and wide as “a very wicked and an idolatrous man” whose father was president of the Nephite Church, [6] and four rebellious sons of King Mosiah, who once called them “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 27:8, 28:4). This gang of five converted hoodlums, who became the finest and most capable missionaries in the Book of Mormon, have described in poignant terms what all converts feel when they are convinced of their sins by the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, Alma the Younger, who was for “three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul” during his conversion (Alma 38:8), uses terms like “great fear and amazement,” “racked with eternal torment,” “harrowed up to the greatest degree,” and “tormented with the pains of hell” in order to describe it (Alma 36:11–13); and Ammon, spokesman for Alma and the sons of Mosiah, describes the common experience of all five converts: “Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state? . . . We went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church. Oh then, why did he not consign us to an awful destruction, yea, why did he not let the sword of his justice fall upon us, and doom us to eternal despair? Oh, my soul, almost as it were, fleeth at the thought. Behold, he did not exercise his justice upon us, but in his great mercy hath brought us over that everlasting gulf of death and misery, even to the salvation of our souls. And now . . . what natural man is there that knoweth these things? . . . There is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent” (Alma 26:17–21).

Paul, for all of his terrible sinning, resembles repentant sinners everywhere, who, whatever their unique and specific sins, feel the “crushing weight and killing curse” [7] of personal sinfulness as acutely as he did. On obtaining God’s mercy through forgiveness of his sins, moreover, Paul’s conversion became fully generalizable, thoroughly typical of real conversions wherever and whenever they occur, and it did this not only by revealing the full extent of the Lord’s longsuffering toward notorious sinners like himself, but as “a formative pattern” discernible in “those who will yet have faith in Christ unto eternal life.” [8] How, then, should we understand Paul’s use of which we have translated as “a formative pattern”? If we cannot go by the modern connotations of its appearance in English as “hypotyposis,” [9] we can at least point out that is an actional noun derived from the verb which refers to the constructive activity of forming, sketching, outlining, or characterizing the internal structure or inner nature of anything created from a common prototype—it is the imposed or “imprinted” residue of a predisposing pattern that will be found in even/thing created from that pattern. [10] If we understood “hypotyposis” as Paul understood it, we would interpret as “foundational” or “fundamental” (like sub in “substantial,” not like sub in “substandard”), and we would also know that God’s mercy to Paul, as to all who repent of their sins and come to him through Christ, was—for the sake of dismantling and reconstituting the natural framework of a fallen life [11] to accord with the basic or underlying constructive and patterning matrix, font, or mold that shapes, forms, structures, establishes, identifies, and authenticates the inner nature of every sinner it converts. [12]

Since Paul’s conversion constitutes an authentic exemplar of the thing that creates all valid conversions, the formal structure of conversion is always the same, the same for everyone. But this sameness pertains only to the invisible patternment of conversion, not to its observable details. When a clothier, for example, manufactures hundreds of dresses from the same pattern, are the dresses alike or different? The answer, of course, is “Of course.” The dresses are alike, if we speak conceptually of their production from a common prototype, since their intrinsic patterns are identical; but scientifically speaking, no dress is precisely and mathematically identical to any other dress, because dresses, even if made from the same pattern and cut from the same bolt of cloth, vary widely as to their observable components, which include such things as the materials, colors, weights, sizes, and accessories from which they are constructed. [13] That’s the way it is with conversions. Their forms, their structures, their patterns are the same in every instance; but their experiential content is unique because everyone has unique experiences: we have ours, others have theirs, and nobody has anyone else’s. We are “stuck,” accordingly, with our own experiences, and we must live with that. We can discuss them with others, certainly, and they with us; but that’s where it stops, for human experience is wholly personal, unique—and above all else—nontransferable. Nor can we experience anyone’s conversion except our own because, while all conversions have the same spiritual forms, their empirical contents are inescapably unique.

II. The Conversion of Joseph Smith

Since all conversions exemplify the same formal pattern, Paul’s conversion, which was followed by long centuries of apostasy, anticipates and resembles in remarkable ways the conversion of Joseph Smith. The restoration of ancient gospel realities, which include every penitent sinner’s conversion to Christ, has reinstituted eternal principles of revealed religion that do not change: they cannot change, for if it is eternally true that people are redeemed by the grace of God through faith in Christ, it was true for the ancients; and if it was true for them it is true for us: [14] we are wholly unredeemed, remaining in our natural state “as though there had been no redemption made,” [15] unless we are redeemed by grace through faith. Every conversion in holy writ, accordingly, conforms to the formal pattern of all other conversions, as does the conversion of Joseph Smith.

When organized in 1830, the restored church was commanded by revelation to keep a record of its history: that commandment was repeated in 1831 and 1832 (D&C 21:1; 47:1–4; 69:3–8; 85:1); and the first attempt to fulfill it is a six-page history prepared by Joseph Smith between the summer months of 1831 and the winter months of 1832, which contains our earliest account of his first vision. [16] This account, like our accounts of Paul’s conversion, is a marvelous paradigm that exemplifies all of the basic elements found in the formal structure of any authentic conversion:

At about the age of twelve years, my mind became seriously impressed with . . . all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul. . . . Thus from the age of twelve years to fifteen I pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of . . . mankind, the contentions and divisions, the wickedness and [the] abominations and the darkness which pervaded the minds of mankind. My mind became exceedingly distressed, for I became convinced of my sins and . . . I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord but. .. had apostatized from the true and living faith. . . . I felt to mourn for my own sins and for the sins of the world . . .. And when I considered all these things, . . . I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy. And the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness . . .. And he spake unto me saying, “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee . . .. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. . . . And mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth.” [17]

That is a very significant statement, which should acquire even greater significance as it becomes more generally known, since it supplies essential elements that seem to be missing in other accounts of the First Vision; and it exemplifies the common source—the patterning, molding, shaping matrix—of all conversions, as do the conversions of Paul, Enos, Alma, or any authentic convert. Joseph, be it noted, does not speak empirically: he speaks in formal terms about the invisible mind of the inner man, not in physical terms about the corporeal brain or about the observable behavior of the outer man; and his concern is first for his own mind, then for the minds of others. “My mind,” he says, “became seriously impressed with all-important concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul”; and those disquieting concerns for his own soul weighed heavily on his mind for three years; he took them very seriously, and we should do the same. We may not do it in the same way, but none of us can avoid the painful anguish of worrying, somewhere along the line, about our own souls.

Joseph also pondered, through the same three-year period, the situation of mankind. But unlike humanists, who evaluate man’s situation optimistically in terms of his greatest and most marvelous accomplishments of art, architecture, literature, philosophy, and science, Joseph’s view of mankind is pessimistic, since he evaluates man negatively by emphasizing the contentions, divisions, wickedness, abominations, and darkness that pervade the minds of all people. This somber mood, so discernible in Joseph Smith, does not suit the folksy humanism of latter-day morality: we elevate the positive, denigrate the negative, and deify cosmetic affirmations of human nicety that obscure our fallen natures and disguise the ugly face of reality. There’s no doubt about it: when Joseph looked into his own mind and heart, and into the hearts and minds of mankind, he beheld the unveiled countenance of unredeemed corruption; and it wasn’t pretty. But for all that, he didn’t sober up or snap out of it or come to his senses. He went instead from being “seriously concerned” about human sinfulness to becoming “exceedingly distressed” by it. His were neither petty concerns nor minor distresses; and it was not his body but his mind—the thinking, sensing, and feeling part of him—that experienced them. These things had two important consequences. First of all, says Joseph Smith, “I became convinced of my sins:” that happened because he saw them clearly in his own heart and mind. Second, he adds, “I found that mankind did not come unto the Lord” but “had apostatized from the true and living faith”; and that occurred when he beheld the hearts and minds of mankind. This kind of talk, to be sure, seems strange and out-of fashion today, especially among those Latter-day Saints who are oblivious to their own humanity: they don’t like to hear about the sins of Joseph Smith because, like obsequious optimists everywhere, they believe in the power of positive thinking and want to see his good side. [18] But the Lord was converting the major prophet of this dispensation by bringing him face-to-face with the grim realities of sin within himself and in all others—in that specific order; and once convinced of sin within himself and others, says Joseph, “I felt to mourn”—in that same order—”for my own sins [first] and [then] for the sins of the world.” These ways of mourning for human sinfulness, accordingly, come pretty much in sequence, since there’s no use mourning for the sins of others if we don’t mourn for our own sins. It was also thus with prophets in the Book of Mormon, who sorrowed for their own sins first, then for the sins of their people, and finally for the sins of the world. [19]

Joseph’s reaction to these years of inner turmoil, finally, is instructive. “When I considered all these things,” he says, “I cried unto the Lord for mercy, for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy.” And right there, at trail’s end where human ingenuity failed him altogether, he found his way completely blocked: he couldn’t go back, and there was no other path to take. All of us, furthermore, must come to this, for if any humanly originated way out of our fallen predicament remains open to us, we will take it: we must therefore know by one form of revelation or another, even as Jacob knew and delighted in proving to his people, “that save Christ should come all men must perish”; for as Amulek also knew by revelation, “there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish” because “all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made” (2 Ne. 11:6; Alma 34:9). It’s only when the Lord himself convinces us of our sins [20]—when we realize fully and understand without ambiguity “that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved” except “through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (Hel. 5:9), [21] and when we finally come to see (not through a glass darkly but face-to-face with our sins and very clearly) that every other avenue to peace with God is closed—that we, like Joseph Smith, will turn to the Lord and plead with him for mercy because there is no one else to help us and nowhere else to go. Thus, in following the pattern implicit in all conversions, Joseph tells us, “the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness”; and “he spake unto me, saying, ‘Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee’”—which means, if the six-page history of 1831–32 is the earliest and truest account of the First Vision, that this statement was the first message revealed by the Lord to Joseph Smith. In what he said very plainly after forgiving Joseph’s sins, moreover, the Lord also emphasized the redeeming nature and absolute necessity of his atoning mission among the children of men through his Father’s restoration of the gospel. This he did in two ways: (1) he spoke about his own work of salvation—about his divine life and redeeming mission among his Father’s children; and (2) he explained the estrangement of all mankind from his Father’s world by their presence in another world—a lost and fallen world that separated them from their heavenly parents and exposed them to all kinds of evil influences. Those were the burning issues in the mind of Joseph Smith for three years running. But then, at long last, he heard the Savior say: “Behold, I am the Lord of Glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life.” This constitutes an extraordinary verification of Paul’s faithful saying “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”: the Lord is saying the same thing here. And finally, referring to the lost and fallen predicament of all mankind, the Lord said to Joseph in plain language: “Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments . . . . And mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth.” These are the fundamental principles of all gospel thinking, the foundational doctrines of the fall of man and the Atonement of Christ, which were revealed to Joseph Smith only after he turned to the Lord and cried unto him for mercy. They are indispensable to revealed religion, since they constitute the most basic of all elements in the formative patternment of conversion that is so prominent in the thinking of every authentic convert.

III. The Conv​ersion of Enos

Not all Latter-day Saints read the Book of Mormon carefully; but the thing that comes most readily to mind in its careful readers, once they see the same pattern of formal constants in the conversions of Paul and Joseph Smith, is probably the conversion of Enos. He was first and last a keeper and recorder of the Nephite scriptures, for we meet him first when he accepts responsibility for the sacred record from his father (Jacob 7:27) and last when he confers it on his son (Jarom 1:1–2). This pattern of conversion, which is eminently discernible in the conversion of Enos, holds great meaning for many Latter-day Saints: they weep real tears over it; and more of us, perhaps, should be moved to tears by its overwhelming presence in Joseph’s account of his own conversion.

The gospel didn’t register with Enos at first, although he speaks of his father as a man of faith who consistently taught it to him. He, too, had to be converted, and therefore he says, “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins” (Enos 1:2). His use of the word “wrestle” seems intentionally unsettling: it implies the trauma, confusion, uncertainty, futility, and unrelieved combativeness of prolonged struggling to withstand powerful assailants and to understand his own precarious existence in a dangerous world that made little sense to him. But that’s how Enos tells his story of wrestling before God with the terrible spirits of unbelief. “Behold,” he says, “I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the Saints, sunk deep into my heart” (Enos 1:3). Enos thus foreshadows the conversion of Alma, who would also remember, while in the throes of conversion, that he had often heard his father speak of those same things without knowing what they meant until, in the depths of anguished sorrow for his sins, they finally penetrated his consciousness. So one day, while hunting for game in a forest, [22] Enos was overwhelmed with memories of his father’s great concern for the words of eternal life and the joy of the Saints. His mind, accordingly, was flooded with these things, which found their way into his heart by seeping into his very being. “And my soul hungered,” says Enos, since these were not temporal problems to be resolved by scholarly research if studied critically in reformed Egyptian: they were eternal problems that God resolves only for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. It was not the body, furthermore, but the soul of Jacob’s son that needed nourishment. Therefore, Enos continues, “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). This is the “mighty prayer” passage that’s so important in the Book of Mormon—the passage in which Enos prays mightily all day long and well into the night for his own soul. This has to be one of the most earnest, sincere, and mighty prayers ever uttered, for few of us can kneel hypocritically and pray insincerely for fifteen minutes without falling to sleep on our knees; but Enos wrestled before God in earnest prayer for something like fifteen hours of genuine concern for the welfare of his eternal soul. What could that be if not mighty prayer? Surely that implies massive concern, great distress, and much anguish of soul over long periods of time.

Enos really went through it, apparently, for conversion didn’t come easily to him; but after all that, he tells us, “there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (Enos 1:5). [23] Must everyone, then, hear a voice in order to be converted and forgiven of their sins? Paul, Alma, Enos, and Joseph Smith certainly did; but here again, the answer is “No.” Sinners don’t always see visions or hear voices when they are converted. What does have to occur in every conversion, however, is actual communication from God in the other world to someone in this world; and diordinal communication of this kind is strictly vertical: it always comes from the top down, from a higher to a lower order of being, because it constitutes supernatural contact that is very real, cannot be controlled or manipulated by natural beings or processes, and can only be revealed. This contact must be initiated by God himself and implemented personally or through one of his agents—his Beloved Son, the Holy Ghost, an angel, someone you know (like a bishop, teacher, wife, parent, husband, child, neighbor, or friend), or even a stranger—but actual contact has to be made, and it must be real. It cannot be reduced to patriotic fervor or zeal for cultural religion, since the whole purpose of the gospel is to bring individuals in our world into actual contact with the redeeming power of God’s world. Once contact is established, furthermore, the individual contacted must respond to it positively or negatively, for that response is personal and cannot be delegated. Our secretaries can’t decide what we should do with it: only we can decide that; but contact must be made; and this means that, when sinners like Enos or Joseph Smith repent of their sins through faith in Christ, they must know, because God reveals it to them, that he accepts their faith and repentance and forgives their sins. This kind of knowledge, which is not humanly originated like natural knowledge, must be revealed from a source higher than human beings because, since God alone can forgive sins, penitent sinners have no way of knowing their sins are forgiven except by revelation. Revealed knowledge, accordingly, constitutes the most essential component of conversion; and the actual communication of revealed knowledge, which must be communicated by God to man or remain uncommunicated, thus lies at the very heart of all authentic conversions: it is our only means of access to “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) and brings the emancipating joy of knowing by his own revealed witness unto us that God accepts our faith and repentance and forgives our sins.

How important is it, really, to know by revelation that our sins are forgiven? We should know this, to be sure; and according to the Sixth Lecture on Faith, it should not be a matter of guesswork or uncertainty. Nor can this be learned by studying books or taking courses of instruction from professors: it can come through such things, of course, but it never comes from them. It comes any way God wants it to come. And that’s the whole point. Knowledge revealed by God does not come from God’s ways of communicating information: it comes from God; and it doesn’t always come in the same way. But—and this is crucially important—peace does come to converts. “I, Enos,” to cite one of them, “knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away” (Enos 1:6). Once he knows that God forgives his sins, in other words, his guilt vanishes: it’s gone. And Enos can only ask in amazement: “Lord, how is it done?” That it could be done at all was to him, as it is to every convert, a marvelous and mysterious thing. Miracles are seemingly scarce and getting scarcer in our world; but valid conversions that are actually experienced and authentically real are probably the greatest miracles of all. Can anyone possibly imagine anything more miraculous in a lost and fallen world than secular people who somehow get their heads on straight about revealed religion? Well, converts do just that. It happens every day; and every convert, like Enos marveling at his own conversion, asks, “Lord, how is it done?” The answer, as it was to Enos, is: “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard”—meaning really listened to—”nor seen. . . . Wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole” (Enos 1:7–8). Sinners are not converted because they are latent geniuses with lofty ideals, or because they pursue worthwhile goals, or because they know the right people and have powerful friends in high places, or because they desire wealth and earn it honestly through skilful planning and productive work, or because they merit the praise of the world in any way at all: conversions occur only when repenting sinners obtain God’s forgiveness through redeeming faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ; and where redeeming faith in Christ is not, there are no conversions whatever, not a single one.

That was the faith of Enos, the faith that makes forgiven sinners whole. It’s not the clinically ill alone who need wholeness, accordingly, for like Enos, sinners can be spiritually sick in perfect health: it’s only when their faith and repentance are accepted and God forgives their sins that they are made whole; and all of that follows from faith. Sequencing is therefore significant in the conversion of Enos, whose concern was first for his own soul, as in Joseph Smith, and then for the souls of others. His second concern was thus for the Nephites, and his third for the Lamanites. Once forgiven, says Enos, “I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them. And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments . . .. And their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads” (Enos 1:9–10). That wasn’t exactly what Enos wanted to hear: the Lord didn’t say everything would work together for good unto the Nephites or all would be well with them. Their future, Enos knew, was not entirely rosy; but he also knew, since the Lord had dealt mercifully with him, that the Lord would deal mercifully with them; and as it once was with the Nephites it still is with the Latter-day Saints, for God forgives and converts those among them who have faith in Christ and repent of their sins, just as he forgave and converted Enos and Joseph Smith.

Enos, finally, was filled with compassion for his Lamanite brethren, as his faith “began to be unshaken in the Lord” (Enos 1:11). That leaves most of us wondering what unshakable faith is like, for our faith can indeed be shaken. Still, insofar as we live by actual faith and a genuine hope in Christ, we approach the unshakable faith of Enos, who prayed unto the Lord “with many long strugglings for . . . the Lamanites” (Enos 1:11). His heart’s desire was that God would preserve the record of his people, the Nephites, and bring it unto his estranged brethren, the Lamanites. [24] Enos was wary of the Nephites and their future; but his great desire, if they should fall into sin and be destroyed, was that their record might one day find its way to the Lamanites. He lived in a day, he says, when “our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath t h a t . . . they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers” (Enos 1:14). Thus, Nephites and Lamanites killed each other on sight in his day; and although the Nephites “did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God,” he tells us, “our labors were vain” because “their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a bloodthirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; . . . and they were continually seeking to destroy us” (Enos 1:20). [25] “Wherefore, . . . 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 1:15–18). [26]

Enos speaks, lastly, of apostasy among the Nephites, and of his own prophetic ministry. “There were exceedingly many prophets among us,” he says, for “the [Nephite] people were a stiff necked people, hard to understand” (Enos 1:22). This doesn’t mean it was hard for the prophets to understand the Nephites: it means it was hard for the Nephites to understand the gospel; and if that verse is instructive, the next one is amazing: “There was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction” (Enos 1:23).

That’s a marvelous portrait of an unstable civilization by a citizen-prophet who saw only wars between Nephites and Lamanites in the course of his days (Enos 1:24). So, he bids farewell; and in spite of everything, because he had been authentically converted and remained true to his calling, things had gone well with him, if not for his people. “I must,” he says, “soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. . . . I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world. And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father” (Enos 1:26–27).

Enos was thus a penitent sinner who was converted when he was “wrought upon by the power of God.” He knew, by actual revelation while in this life, that his repentance and faith in Christ were accepted by God, that his sins were forgiven by God, that he rejoiced in the word of God above all else, that he was called by God to teach “the truth which is in Christ” all his days, that he could stand before God in judgment without shame or fear of punishment, and that God had reserved a place for him on high. Here’s a man who actually rejoiced in the thought of coming into the presence of God to be judged of his deeds—it thrilled him to think of it! Few, indeed, are delighted when they think of coming to the bar for judgment. Alma, for example, was panicked at the thought—until he was converted. But that’s Enos. His is perhaps the foremost story in the Book of Mormon suggested by our earliest account of Joseph Smith’s conversion.

IV. The Conv​ersion of Alma

Alma exemplifies the urgent necessity of bringing those who are headed for destruction unto repentance by convincing them of their sins. He was caught up, less than two decades after Benjamin’s death, in a powerful anti-Christ movement among the Nephites. This movement, like the attempt of the French Revolution to dechristianize Europe, [27] constituted an all-out cultural revolt of unbelievers against believers, pitted “the rising generation” of young intellectual radicals against the traditions of their fathers, and institutionalized the permanent sophic-mantic divisiveness that eventually destroyed Nephite civilization (Mosiah 26:1–5). Youthful revolutionaries like Alma and the sons of Mosiah, accordingly, were not only sinners but criminals, since their actions were meant to dethrone “God, or even the king” (Mosiah 27:10). [28] Alma tells the sordid story of his anti-Christian radicalism to his sons and explains his subsequent conversion to Christ. [29] “I do know,” he says, that those who “put their trust in God shall be supported in their . .. afflictions, and . .. lifted up at the last day”; and since these things can be known only by revelation, he adds, no one should “think that I know of myself,” since his knowledge is “not of the temporal but of the spiritual, not of the carnal mind but of God” (Alma 36:3–4). That clarifies the nature and the source of Alma’s knowledge, which was neither humanly originated nor humanly communicated. His was revealed—not speculative—knowledge. He didn’t get it from men: he got it from the Father, who teaches “everyone that hearkeneth to . . . the Spirit” of his Son about the new and everlasting covenant of redemption, “which he has renewed and confirmed” in our day “for the sake of the whole world” (D&C 84:47–48). This presupposes an ineluctable difference between natural knowledge, which everyone of normal sensory and intellectual ability possesses, and revealed knowledge, which everyone born of God possesses. Thus, Alma tells his sons, “if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things; but God has, by the mouth of his holy angel, made these things known unto me, not of any worthiness of myself”; for “never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins” (Alma 36:5,38:8). [30] Alma, certainly, did not “earn” revealed knowledge of his forgiveness through personal worthiness: he came to see exactly what he deserved from God when confronted by an angel—and didn’t want to get it; he confessed his unworthiness freely before God and before all men after that; and he counseled others to do likewise. [31] “I went about with the sons of Mosiah,” he recalls, “seeking to destroy the church of God.” That was his acknowledged goal; and by his own admission he pursued it relentlessly until “God sent his holy angel to stop us by the way” (Alma 36:6).

Then follows an account of the angel’s sudden appearance, his terrible voice of thunder that shook the earth where Alma stood with his friends and made it tremble beneath their feet, and the dreadful fear of the Lord that enveloped all who heard it and threw them to the ground (Alma 36:7–8). That awful voice, Alma tells us, then “said unto me: Arise. And I arose. . . . And he said unto me: If thou wilt of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God” (Alma 36:9). This thunderous utterance conceals a Semitic idiom that makes it difficult for us to understand; [32] but Alma understood it perfectly, as though the angel had said to him: “If you want to be destroyed, you miserable wretch of a man, [33] just keep on doing what you’re doing and it will happen; so take this warning to heart: let it sink down into your ears, lest your destruction be made sure, and seek no more to destroy the church of God!” [34] On hearing that, Alma tells us, he fell again to the earth, where he was motionless for three days and three nights. “I could not open my mouth,” he says, “neither had I the use of my limbs” (Alma 36:10). He was accordingly insensate and comatose, dead to the world he lived in, although he still had a pulse (if anyone had known how to take it) and his forehead wasn’t cold; but he was going through abject misery in the world that lived in him. “The angel spake more things unto me,” he recalls, “but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell [again] to the earth and I did hear no more” (Alma 36:11). Before that, apparently, and like most young men, he had never given a thought to temporal death, to say nothing of eternal destruction. But now, and all at once, he had to face the very real possibility of actually being destroyed; and that finally got to him. “I was racked with eternal torment,” he tells us, “for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell” (Alma 36:12–13). An amazing statement, that, for ere long he’ll say he’s forgotten all his sins; but for now, he says, “I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments” (Alma 36:13). Alma therefore went through the agonizing reorientation experienced by all authentic converts that finally convinced him of his sins. Before conversion, apparently, it never occurred to him that he was sinful. This he had to discover by being converted himself: he had to go through the brutalizing process of rethinking everything in order to see clearly that he was rebelling against God and breaking his commandments. And though we can easily talk ourselves out of it, all of us must come to this. “I’m not as bad as the scriptures say,” we tell ourselves and others, or “Look at my neighbors: they’re much worse than I am!” It’s duck soup to talk it all away. Humanists and intellectuals, for example, tell us constantly that there’s nothing to forgive, since there’s no such thing as sin and no one to forgive it, so just pass it off and forget it and it’ll go away. But Alma, who once thought that way, could think that way no more: he even says that he had murdered many of God’s children, although he wasn’t referring to murder one. Still, he had come to believe that leading people away unto destruction was a kind of spiritual murder that was very like, and almost as bad as, first-degree murder. “And in fine,” he concludes, “so great had been my iniquities that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror. Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds” (Alma 36:14–15). That’s how much Alma came to fear the judgments of God: he actually preferred the nonbeing of annihilation—going out of existence altogether and utterly ceasing to be in any way, at any time, or anywhere at all—to being in the presence of God; and that’s how it went with him for three days and three nights. His conversion, however described, was a wrenching, wretched, and wresting experience: his pains were real, sustained, and excruciatingly severe; and his mind, to use Joseph Smith’s term, was extensively and “exceedingly distressed.” But at long last, while deeply enmeshed in writhing convulsions of repentance, Alma thought of something else—something far greater than the memory of his many sins and their awful consequences: “I remembered also,” he says, “to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). That had never meant anything to him before: he had heard a lot about it, to be sure, from Alma the Elder; but now, while in such pain and so much distress for his sinfulness, the realization that Christ was coming into the world to atone for sins like his took hold of him, acquired great and unmistakable meaning, and would not let go. Nor would he let go of it, for “as my mind caught hold upon this thought,” he says, “I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18). That’s how Alma was convinced of his sins, how he found mercy, and how he obtained forgiveness—as Paul did, as Enos did, as Joseph Smith did, as every genuine convert does. Thus Alma, like all authentic converts, exemplifies many recurring themes of conversion: he obtained a revealed conviction of his own sins, acquired redeeming faith in Christ as his only Savior, repented of all personal sinfulness, came to the Father in the name of his Son seeking the help no one else could provide, besought the Father through repentance and faith in his Son for mercy and forgiveness, obtained mercy and a revealed witness from the Father that his sins were forgiven, and found “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” and brought rest to his troubled soul (Philip. 4:7). For “when I thought this,” Alma continues, “I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19). That’s an exceptional and important thing: a moment ago he remembered all of his sins, but now he remembers none of them; so, what goes on here? Well, God was merciful to Alma and forgave his sins, that’s what. “And oh,” he tells us, “what joy and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain” (Alma 36:20). He had never experienced anything more bitter than his pain and knew of nothing sweeter than his joy; and when he envisioned God sitting on his throne amidst throngs of praising angels, Alma—the same man who wanted to be banished and become extinct in order to avoid the presence of God—now says, “My soul did long to be there” (Alma 36:22). Like Enos before him and Joseph after him, he declares solemnly: “I know t h a t . . . [God] will raise me up at the last day,” and “I will praise him forever” (Alma 36:28).

V. Brief Con​clusion

Since no one, as authentic converts inevitably insist, can know any of this except by revelation, the revealed witness of personal sinfulness is essential to all conversions, as is the revealed witness of forgiveness to everyone who is converted. Because being properly convinced of our sins is so important, accordingly, this paper not only began but has continued and now ends with a crucial declaration by the Lord himself to his first modern apostles; for it is “by your hands,” he tells them plainly, that “I will work a marvelous work among the children of men, unto the convincing of many of their sins, that they may come unto repentance, and that they may come unto the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 18:44). Convincing us of our sins is therefore the proper work of Christ, who wants to redeem us from sin on conditions of repentance and faith in him; and his work must never be confused with the unholy work of nefarious spirits who attempt the same thing in order to destroy hope in us, or with the profitable work of modern snake oil salesmen who do it because it makes self-help remedies sell like hotcakes and turns their get-rich-quick schemes into stock market successes. It is thus the Lord’s own great and marvelous work, and his alone, that brings us to redeeming faith, sincere repentance, and actual forgiveness by convincing us of our sins; and except the Lord do the convincing, there is no redemption: there is only condemnation, for

Deny it as thou wilt,

They also work in vain

That labor mightily for gain

To ease the unrelenting pain

Of unforgiven guilt. [35]

Notes

[1] Paul’s pre-conversion sinfulness is amply documented in Acts 9:1–2; 22:4–5; 26:9–12; and elsewhere.

[2] Paul’s sinfulness: Acts 9:1–2; 22:4–5; 26:9–12; the sudden flashing light: 9:3; 22:6; 26:13; blinded by the light: 9:8–9; 22:11; falls to the ground: 9:4; 22:7; hears a voice speaking in Hebrew: 9:4; 22:7; 26:14; conversation with the Lord: 9:4–6; 22:7–8,10; 26:15–18; rises to his feet: 9:8–9; 22:11,16; 26:16; the sequel in Damascus: 9:10–19; 22:12–16. Information about Paul’s companions on the road to Damascus is slightly contradictory as follows: they saw the light: 22:9; stood speechless (in 9:7) but fell to the ground (in 26:14); heard the voice (in 9:7) but did not hear the voice (in 22:9); and saw no one: 9:7. That Christ appeared to Paul, who actually saw him, is confirmed in 1 Cor. 15:8 and elsewhere.

[3] Translating as “to see his Just One,” since the definite article often functions as a possessive pronoun but cannot function as a demonstrative pronoun and does not mean “that” (as in the KJV).

[4] The basic meaning of is “weighty,” or better, “weighing the same as”; it implies that something is freighted with significance because it’s “worthy of grave consideration,” it “carries its own weight,” it’s “worth its weight in gold,” etc.

[5] “Worthy of all acceptation” is a mechanical translation of the Vulgate’s omni acceptione dignus: it does not do justice to which means “worthy of total acceptance” or “requiring absolute acceptance.”

[6] Alma the Elder, who spent his early days and nights doing who knows what as a priest of King Noah, was also convinced of his sins by the preaching of Abinadi. “Remember the iniquity of king Noah and his priests,” he says, adding that “I myself [as one of his priests] was caught in a snare, and did many things which were abominable in the sight of the Lord, which caused me sore repentance; nevertheless, after much tribulation, the Lord did hear my cries, and did answer my prayers . . .. [But] in this I do not glory, for I am unworthy to glory of myself” (Mosiah 23:9–11).

[7] This is a partial line from Edward H. Bickersteth, Yesterday, To-day, and For Ever; a Poem in Twelve Books (London: Rivingtons, 1878), 229–30. The segment of this lengthy poem excerpted here reads as follows: As the load immense, intolerable, Of the world’s sin, Casting its dreadful shadow high as heaven, Deep as Gehenna, nearer and more near Grounded at last upon that sinless soul With all its crushing weight and killing curse, Then first, from all eternity then first, From his Beloved Son the Father’s face Was slowly averted, And its light eclipsed.

[8] Translating from 1 Tim. 1:16. This formative pattern requires explanation: it is translated from in Greek, which means “in view of hypotyposis,” and from ad informationem in Latin, which means “unto informing” or “with a view toward the formation of something in,” and both phrases obscure what Paul means by saying that his conversion establishes a pattern out of which, or following which, all authentic conversions occur. “Hypotyposis” and “hypotypical” appear in English as naturalized concepts whose initial element, has the meaning of sub, its Latin equivalent, which means “under” or “underneath” as in “submarine.” But that makes behave like sub in “substandard,” as though something that isn’t up to snuff were unacceptable. “Hypotyposis” has therefore become a technical term for the flowery description of anything which, though vividly picturesque, is inadequate because its adequacy is obscured by rhetoric; and “hypotypical” means “subtypical” in the sense of being only partly typical, insufficiently typical, or somehow less than fully typical. But we must not be misled by modern meanings imported into traditional concepts. This idea of “under,” meaning sub as in “substandard,” has nothing to do with Paul’s use of since we cannot interpret ancient words by their modern connotations.

[9] A perfect example of what happens when Greek words are naturalized in English is our word “cosmetic.” It derives from which means “pertaining to order,” and because the cosmos was an orderly thing and order was loved by the Greeks, it has notions of beauty in it. But comes into English as “cosmetic” through its 25th or 30th connotation, since among a whole flock of other things, can mean “imposing order on the face,” and once it comes into English that way, “cosmetic” refers to “cosmetics” and cannot be used to mean “cosmic” in phrases like “cosmetic theories” or “cosmetic wonder.”

[10] That may be startling, but it’s what means, and if we consult the Latin text of this passage, it’s also startling to find that Paul’s conversion was accomplished ad informationem—until we realize that he was speaking the formal language of Greek philosophy, and that the basic element of in-FORMA-tio, from which we get “in-FORMA-tion,” is forma. And since forma is an important Latin word that translates all the “forms” of Greek philosophy, the formae constitute the intellectual patterns, as opposed to the empirical contents, of Greek thought that philosophers have never ceased talking about. The Latin word forma, incidentally, translates two Greek words that mean “spirit,” but “spirit” doesn’t mean the same thing in Greek thought that it means in Christianity. It means “nonphysical” in classical philosophy because it describes something that has no chemistry, something that does not exist in a physical way but creates “spiritual” patterns that only the mind can “see” in the world and utilize within itself. These formae are the philosophical patterns known as “forms,” and that is what confronts us here. Forma, accordingly, stands for two Greek words, and If we transliterate we get “idea”; and here again we must be careful, since we think of ideas as subsistents in our minds whereas Plato’s are existents in the world. Both of these words, however, are derived from the root iS- “see,” but there are two ways to see: the philosophical way of seeing refers to the mind’s “spiritual” vision, to its way of seeing the essential significance of things, not merely to its empirical capacity for detecting fluctuations of matter and energy by means of its bodily senses. This is the seeing of intelligence, the way a human mind sees things “spiritually” through its own insights, not by revelation or by means of its sensory organs. Forma, in a word, is rational insight. It describes the rational spirit ofdefinity that makes anything thought or sensed by human beings intelligible; without that spirit of definity, which establishes the limits of human rationality, nothing anyone could think about or detect in the world by means of the senses would be intellectible. The Greek spirit of rational definity, it goes without saying, must not be confused with Roman notions of infinity, which the Greeks do not discuss: their concern with definity and indefinity is definitely not the Roman concern with finitude and infinity. Anyone perusing the parallel lists of the Pythagoreans, who enumerate what’s “good” and “bad” in Greek thought, sees immediately that definity is equated with “good” and indefinity with “evil,” since the good list contains only defined or definite things, while everything amorphous, indefinite, or undefined is in the bad list. These Greco-Latin words for “spirit” constitute whatever it is that “forms” or constrains a thing to be what it is and prevents it from being anything else. The “form” of a fern is thus its essential nature, the thing that makes a fern a fern and not a rose, or a hedgehog, or an orchid, or a lizard, or a tomato; and everything comes down to its patterned definity, to the nature of its definers and definitions.

[11] Ammon, who went through this conversion process himself, recognized at least eight things in it when “king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind,” that “the light which did light up his mind . . . was the light of the glory of God,” that it was “a marvelous light of his goodness/’ that it “had infused . . . joy into his soul,” that “the cloud of darkness . . . [had] been dispelled,” that “the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul,” that “this had overcome his natural frame,” and that “he was carried away in God” (Alma 19:6; emphasis added).

[12] That is also what ad informationem means if we discount the modern connotations of empirical content in our word “information.” When Jerome used that phrase in the fourth century A.D. to translate he did so because its verb, informo, like the Greek verb means “to create form in,” with everything that implies. Thus informatio, too, refers to something, whatever it is, in which, or within which, the nature of anything is formed, shaped, structured, established, identified, and authenticated. These Greco-Latin phrases refer, each in its own way, to the formative matrix that creates the inner structural nature of anything that comes out of it. Since I’ve been involved professionally with “information science,” I might add, I’m very much aware that electrical engineers, who study the movement of electromagnetic particles along wires or ionized pathways in the atmosphere, think they are studying “information”—which means that scientific thinking about information as electromagnetic particles, as empirical data to be studied in laboratories, has replaced the old definition of information-asideas with its new definition of information-as-particles. Thus, information is no longer something in the mind: it is something in the world, something in the physical mechanics of atoms in motion that can be observed, measured, manipulated, and analyzed. We live today with this new scientific understanding of mathematizable information as data, which makes it virtually impossible to understand traditional concepts of informatio as something consisting of forms or ideas.

[13] By changing the scale of the pattern, which does not alter the pattern itself, any seamstress can make dresses of different sizes to fit dolls, little girls, big girls, young ladies, middle-aged matrons, and older women; and the pattern remains unchanged if some dresses are made of silk, some of rayon, others of cotton, and still others of numerous other materials. So, too, every performance of the same play is different from any other, since it varies perforce in such matters as the time, place, audience, scenery, actors, and staging directions of its production. And “God Bless America” is perceived as the same tune whether sung by a man or a woman, played on a violin or a flute, or performed by a string quartet or a symphony orchestra—even though acoustical scientists can easily show that no two notes of like physical frequency are shared by any of its renditions.

[14] Cf. George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, ed. Jerreld L. Newquist (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 1:127: “Gospel principles [are the] same in all ages. If it was necessary in the days of Jesus and of His Apostles that men should believe in Jesus andrepent of their sins, it is necessary today; and no human judgment nor human council can do away with that necessity . . .. As God did make faith in Jesus . . . necessary for man’s salvation, it is still necessary . . .. This has not changed. It cannot be changed . . .. There may be any amount of enlightenment, of wisdom, and of knowledge, but however great this may be, it does not affect in the slightest degree the principle that men must believe in Jesus as the foundation of their faith and of their salvation. They must also repent of their sins. No sophistry, no human wisdom, no human device can remove . . . the necessity of the repentance of sin; the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands absolutely that s i n . . . must be repented of.” Cf. Brigham Young: “There never was a prophet on the earth but what was subject to passions, as we are. Every son and daughter of Adam that has come into this world has been subject to sin, and prone to wander,” Journal of Discourses, 8:352.

[15] This statement appears three times verbatim in Alma 11:41; 12:18; and Moro. 7:38. See also Mosiah 16:5.

[16] See Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (spring, 1969), 275–94; and consult Milton V. Backman, Joseph Smith’s First Vision; the First Vision in its Historical Context (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971). This is not the later account, familiar from its publication in the Pearl of Great Price, which came out of the Nauvoo period.

[17] From an edited text issued by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its Presidents of the Church (student manual for Rel. 345 prepared by Institutes of the Church, Salt Lake City, 1979), 30–31. Joseph Smith’s six-page history uses the word “convicted” rather than “convinced” in this statement. Since both words derive from Latin convincio, convincere, convici,convictus and mean essentially the same thing. Its editors, however, who often follow modern preferences, have probably chosen the best alternative. 

[18] To those Latter-day Saints who confuse their ameliorated humanism with “spirituality,” Joseph Smith should be like Norman Vincent Peale, not like Paul, since, to reverse an old quip by Adlai Stevenson, they find Saint Peale appealing and Saint Paul appalling. As a colleague once told me, on hearing Ernest L. Wilkinson laud the learned Dr. Peale to the skies at BYU, “they confuse Mormonism with Normanism.”

[19] This sequence is clearly discernible in Enos and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon. See, for example, 3 Ne. 28:8–9,38; 4 Ne. 1:44; Morm. 2:12–15,19,27; and Morm. 5:8–11.

[20] As in D&C 18:44, which we frequently refer to in this paper.

[21] “There shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent,” Mosiah 3:17.

[22] Enos wasn’t merely a deer hunter in our sense. He was hunting beasts “in the forests”; and since “forests” is plural, this was no sporting romp on opening day in a specific forest: days go by in this narrative, as Enos goes from forest to forest on an extended hunt for food, which his people sorely needed in order to survive.

[23] Enos says in verse 2 that his wrestling occurred “before I received a remission of my sins,” whereas the Lord tells him in verse 5 “thy sins are forgiven thee”—which clearly shows that “remission” and “forgiveness” are the same thing: to have our sins remitted is to have our sins forgiven.

[24] In 1949–51, Elder Spencer W. Kimball, who frequently visited the Southwest Indian Mission, told us time and again something like this: “Now look, elders, you’re not down here just playing around. The Lamanites must have the gospel. It has to come to them.” He spoke frequently about Enos and others in the Book of Mormon, whose earnest prayers were that the Nephite scriptures might be preserved to come unto the Lamanites. I still have, among my souvenirs from those days, a long list of excerpts from Book of Mormon prophets to this effect that I compiled at BYU and sent to Elder Kimball in the early fifties, together with a gracious letter from him in which he acknowledged once again the importance of such utterances by Enos and other prophets and the great responsibility of the Latter-day Saints in helping to bring about their fulfillment.

[25] This statement is not solely about the nature of the Lamanites. All who allow themselves to be led by their evil nature will become wild, ferocious, bloodthirsty, etc., since the fallen nature of man is like that—it will lead anyone who follows it away from God.

[26] This and similar passages in the Book of Mormon meant a lot to Elder Kimball, who emphasized them time and again to the Lamanite missionaries of the Southwest Indian Mission.

[27] Tracing “the sceptical tradition . . . from the seventeenth century [A.D.] to the present” includes an account of “the French Revolution, which witnessed the first concerted effort in the modern West to dechristianize a whole society and to institutionalize scepticism,” Franklin L. Baumer, Religion and the Rise of Scepticism (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960), 22. This effort is described at length in “Crush the Infamous Thing,” the first chapter of ibid., 35–77.

[28] The way this is stated suggests that these young rebels regarded God as a pious fiction to be ruthlessly exposed and the king as personifying the only “real” power they acknowledged—the formidable power of the Nephite state.

[29] To Helaman in Alma 36:1–30; to Shiblon in Alma 38:5–9; and doubtless elsewhere to Corianton, possibly in such passages as Alma 29:1–17, etc. Thereis an important third-person account of Alma’s conversion in Mosiah 27:1–37, which may also be consulted; but the other references listed here are all to first-person accounts.

[30] Adding that “I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul.” There are many things that only those who are born of God can know; and one of them is that their sins are forgiven.

[31] “Do not say,” he advised Shiblon and others, “that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy—yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times” (Alma 38:14).

[32] We think it should say: “If thou wilt not of thyself be destroyed, seek no more to destroy the church of God”; for otherwise it means: “If you want to be destroyed, don’t try to destroy the church”—which makes no sense at all.

[33] Cf. Nephi’s “O wretched man that I am!” in 2 Ne. 4:17.

[34] This meaning derives from the suppressed apodosis of certain conditional sentences in Hebrew and its cognate languages. The apodosis (then-clause) is omitted in these sentences because the protasis (if-clause) is sufficient in itself to imply something like “or else!” or “beware!” or “watch out!”—which functions as an unexpressed then-clause suggesting that something ominous will happen whenever conditions in the if-clause are met. Thus, the exasperated mother (who comes into the kitchen and finds her precocious four-yearold boy teetering on a chair perched on a table trying to get a cookie from a jar she hid from him on the highest shelf she could reach) may exclaim: “Oh, Billy! If you don’t get out of that cookie jar!”—and that’s all she has to say. Or, we might tell our own children: “If you don’t do your homework, . . .” And so on. The point is that this is the normal way to state conditional sentences like these in many Near Eastern languages.

[35] I have penned these lines to express the spirit of Psalms 127:1, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it,” and of 2 Ne. 26:31, “The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.”