In the middle of Alma’s remarks to the people of Ammonihah, he uses a phrase which appears no where else in the scriptures: “a preparatory redemption.” What did he mean by that?
In order to understand this phrase, we will need to examine the entire passage (Alma 13:1-3), one verse at a time:
And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.
Why was Alma citing their minds “forward” to an event in the past? In the passage immediately preceding this one, Alma talks about the Fall of Adam and Eve, which resulted in their separation from the presence of God. He also tells them that God sent angels to teach people about the plan of redemption, so that they could “have claim on mercy through [His] Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of [their] sins” (Alma 12:22-37).
Now, Alma asks his audience to think forward. What happens next? After God provided His children with instructions for how to overcome the effects of the Fall, He then needed to institutionalize the process for passing those instructions on from one person to the next and from one generation to the next. If you give the message once and then let people talk about it any way they like, the message will become corrupted over time. So He ordained priests. What was their role? They were keepers of the doctrine. It was their responsibility to teach the principles of the gospel in an orderly way, in order to ensure that the instructions for following the Son of God and entering into the God’s rest would not become watered down or diluted by human opinions and interpretations. Therefore, they were “ordained”—set in order—and were to act in an organized manner, according to the instructions given them by the Lord God and by His Son.
And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.
The intention was that the priests would act as representatives for the Son of God, so that following the priests was equivalent to following the Son of God. This placed an extraordinary responsibility on these priests, who were mortal and human, but who would be followed and respected as representatives of an immortal and divine Being.
And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works…
Before they were born, these priests were foreordained to become priests on earth. Why were they chosen? Alma tells us that it was because of their “exceeding faith and good works.” In the pre-earth life, they exercised faith and made righteous choices. As a result, they were selected to fulfill important responsibilities during their mortal lives.
…in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling…
Even though they had been foreordained—chosen before birth to fulfill these responsibilities—these prospective priests were given time to prove themselves in mortality. Only after demonstrating the same faith and righteousness, which they had demonstrated before birth, were they ordained to hold the priesthood of God in this life.
…yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.
How could they operate as priests—as representatives of Jesus Christ—without being redeemed from the effects of the Fall, without having their sins washed clean? They were imperfect, but because of “their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God,” they “were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb” (Alma 13:10-11). They were made clean through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which qualified them to preach His gospel and to help other people receive the same blessing: “that they also might enter into his rest” (Alma 13:6).
A couple of days ago, we discussed the remission of sins experienced by Enos, the people of King Benjamin, and Alma the Younger. Were they perfect after receiving this gift? Were they guaranteed never to fall short again, never to make a mistake? No. They were still human. But they had received a much-needed assurance that their former sins would not prevent them from moving forward, that their past misdeeds would no longer hang over their heads, and that—for the moment at least—they were in harmony with God’s will.
We all need this kind of redemption to participate in the work of the Lord. The saving power of Jesus Christ doesn’t just prepare us to stand in the presence of God in the next life; it also prepares us to act on His behalf during this life. If we are going to do so worthily, we must be cleansed by Him, here and now. We must be redeemed by Him, preparatory to serving with Him and acting on His behalf.
Today, I will be grateful for the opportunities God has given me to serve others and to participate in His work. I will remember that Jesus Christ can wash away our sins, not only to qualify us for ultimate salvation, but also to prepare us to serve as His representatives here and now, so that we can lead others to His salvation.