Breakdown of Alma 32:28
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
For the sake of convenience, I’m going to break each part of this verse down into digestible elements. This will not be exhaustive by any means and I might use this as a starting point for later study.
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed.
As a letter in the alphabet of symbolism, “seed” has been used to convey the idea of posterity or faith, but in this case “the word” is being compared to a seed. What is “the word” then? Well, technically, the word can be anything, it’s whatever you want to know. The word comes to us in many ways. It is preached to us, we read it in the scriptures or we just simply come across it or it reveals itself to us in diverse ways.
Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord
Today the concept of the ‘heart’ is the seat of emotions, but to the ancient Hebrews the heart was the center of everything, not only your emotions but your mind and intellect as well. So the planting of this seed is not just something we take into our emotional selves, it’s taking the word into the center of your whole being, your thought processes, etc. you consider it with all you are.
There are good seeds and bad seeds; some grow, some don’t, some grow and bear fruit, others grow and bear bitter fruit. Not all seeds are created equal but they all must be given a fair chance because we do not know if a seed is good or not unless we go through the effort of getting it to grow.
We are instructed to plant this word and to not cast it out by our unbelief. Evidence of the growth of this word comes though the Spirit of the Lord and by discarding the seed with our unbelief we are resisting the Spirit and which is like keeping the sunshine from a young plant. The young plant will die along with any hope of you finding the truthfulness of this word.
it will begin to swell within your breasts
With a little help from the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary we can learn more about what this phrase means:
1. To grow larger; to dilate or extend the exterior surface or dimensions by matter added to the interior part, or by expansion of the inclosed substance.
2. To increase in size or extent by any addition;
BREAST, n. brest.
4. Figuratively, the heart; the conscience; the disposition of the mind; the affections; the seat of the affections and passions.
The indication here is that the word will expand the disposition of your mind. There will be some kind of effect that will be discernible to you. As you have accepted this word into yourself and given it place that it might be allowed to grow and expand and interact with all of your current knowledge, ideas and sensibilities, it too will begin to take on a life of its own; it will swell within us.
and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good
As this word begins to grow, we experience certain things that could range from intellectual to emotional as we ponder the word. Because of the impact that this word has upon us we conclude that it is good, it is not a dead seed, it is good but only really in that it is growing at this point. There is still a long journey ahead because it is the fruit that we want at the end, that pure knowledge. But we know enough at this point that we have something viable here and we want to keep nourishing it because we have faith that it could be something valuable to us when it matures.
Now there might be many who will try to apply these swelling motions to Emotions, however, I feel inclined to object that emotions are to be trusted in and of themselves. Emotions are responses to thoughts, merely the ripples in the pond, not the stone that was dropped. Emotions may be the evidence that something has entered the waters of our psyche, but our focus needs to be on what caused the ripples in the first place.
Blaine Yorgason, in Spiritual Progression in the Last Days, put it this way:
Because our spirits are housed in physical bodies, the effect of the Holy Ghost influencing our spirits and minds is almost always accompanied by at least some physical reaction; our bodies feel the workings of the Spirit. [Spiritual Progression in the Last Days (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994), p. 184;]
Emotions are wonderful but dangerous things if we are not careful. Someone can tell us a completely made up story that is a real tear-jerker, this happens all the time in fiction books. It is an undeniable fact that emotions can be manipulated, and because of this, cannot be trusted as a source for the interpretation of truth from error. Emotions can incite us into anger or revenge in ways that might feel right at the time when they are the 100% opposite of what we should do.
President Howard W. Hunter said about emotions:
I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Preach My Gospel (2007), pg 99.)
I met many people during my service as a full-time missionary who told me that emotions could not be relied on as evidence of the truthfulness of the things we were teaching. I replied that I couldn’t agree more with them which is why we do not encourage people to follow emotional feelings in the determination of what is or is not true. This mistake often comes because we use words like “feel” when we should probably use words like “perceive” instead. Semantics aside, it is important to understand how these factors interplay with one another.
Unfortunately we cannot speak or write in the language of the Spirit so we are left to try and describe sacred things to the best of our ability and point people in the necessary direction so that they may see for themselves. The distinction between the revelations of the Holy Spirit and emotions can be initially difficult to the novice. One can often get emotional as they search for answers and want an answer so badly that they attach an answer to a random feeling. It takes time, sincerity, desire and worthiness to obtain a witness from God, but once you have it, you know it, just like you know the light from the sun.
for it beginneth to enlarge my soul;
This one has puzzled me for a long time and I honestly haven’t put in the time necessary to understand this phrase until recently. I came across a great post by Neal Rappleye over at his blog Reason and Revelation where he concludes:
When ones soul is enlarged, they have grown as a person and have been changed for the better. It’s something they experience. Their behavior is a reflection of this inner change and growth, but is not itself the actual enlargement of the soul. Behavior and experience also play a role in the changing, or “enlargement” process. When one changes their behavior to conform to specific ideas, they have experiences that affect themselves, and demonstrate whether those ideas are true or false (good or bad). Over a period of time in which you continually reform your behavior based on confirmatory experiences, you become a different person. If that “different person” is a better person then who you were before, then you have experienced an “enlargement of the soul” and you can conclude that the principles which produced the change are good. If you are worse off then you were before (if you have experienced a “shrinking of the soul” so to say), then you know that the changes were not good, and the principles which caused the change are also wrong.
Encapsulated in “the word” are principles that are either right or wrong, true or false. When put into practice through the exercise being discussed, there are certain repercussions generated that are either beneficial or detrimental. True principles enlarge our soul in that they increase our capacity to function as a being in positive ways. A large soul is one that can do and become more because of the capacity it possesses by virtue of the outside influences, like the word, that enable expansion or contribute to apathy.
If the word enlarges our soul, Alma testifies that it is good.
yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding
ENLI’GHTEN, v.t. enli’tn. [from light.]
1. To make light; to shed light on; to supply with light; to illuminate; as, the sun enlightens the earth.
2. To quicken in the faculty of vision; to enable to see more clearly.
3. To give light to; to give clearer views; to illuminate; to instruct; to enable to see or comprehend truth; as, to enlighten the mind or understanding.
1. The faculty of the human mind by which it apprehends the real state of things presented to it, or by which it receives or comprehends the ideas which others express and intend to communicate. The understanding is called also the intellectual faculty. It is the faculty by means of which we obtain a great part of our knowledge. Luke 24. Eph. 1.
By understanding I mean that faculty whereby we are enabled to apprehend the objects of knowledge, generals or particulars, absent or present, and to judge of their truth or falsehood, good or evil.
There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding. Job. 32.
2. Knowledge; exact comprehension.
Right understanding consists in the perception of the visible or probably agreement or disagreement of ideas.
3. Intelligence between two or more persons; agreement of minds; union of sentiments. There is a good understanding between the minister and his people.
According to Noah Webster, the understanding of man is his ability to see things in the real state as they are presented to him or the way in which we comprehend the ideas that others communicate to us. The light of this enlightenment to our understanding comes from the Holy Spirit; this divine intervention allows us to correctly perceive the subject we are seeking to understand in the light of a more eternal perspective.
It is at this point that we can discover a testimony or witness. In order to come to this particular kind of enlightened understanding, we must see by the light of a divine hand. This experience is exciting and, naturally, our bodies often respond with powerful feelings, but it is the exposure to a new way of knowing that jars us into realizing that there is a God and a divine hand at work in our lives.
Once we have experienced this, even in a small degree, it becomes easier in the future to recognize truth as it reflects upon our spiritual and physical senses.
The apostle Paul described these things in his first letter to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 2:4-14:
And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
There will always be nay-sayers and skeptics. I don’t really have a problem with skeptics; to be honest, I’m a rather skeptical individual myself. I consider myself a practical skeptic though as I am always willing to try things that I think will build upon what I already know.
I know how much of a cop-out it may seem to some for me to say that I know something and that there isn’t a way for me, personally, to prove it to them. Some things are easier to ‘prove’ than others, while yet other things are impossible for us to ‘prove’ to one another; we must experience them for ourselves.
It’s intriguing to me how some skeptics will claim “I prayed and nothing happened” while there are millions around the globe who have had a different experience. Just as some say that it is impossible to know what you can’t test with physical instruments I would say that it is equally impossible to prove the intent of one who claims that they prayed in honest sincerity to know the truth of something and received no answer.
Is it possible that God will not answer a sincere prayer immediately? Yes, it is absolutely possible because I have sincerely prayed at times without so much as a peep from on high. Some might conclude that this is because nobody is listening, others may conclude that it was because I wasn’t ready for the answer, or perhaps Garth Brooks was right and no answer was one of “God’s greatest gifts”. However, I didn’t give up, I persisted and studied more about what I was asking, how I was asking and if there was anything in my life that would prevent me from deserving an answer to my inquiry.
At times, I didn’t do enough research. The answers were already around me and readily available, I just didn’t look hard enough. Through the searching I often found out more about my answer than a revelation from God would have provided. At times the manner in which I happened upon an answer would bear the fingerprints of divine guidance. At other times, where the answer was imminently needed an there was no time to seek, the answer came immediately without any work on my part. In some instances, God perceived my need and provide a solution before I even thought to ask the question and I was blessed to understand something that I didn’t know I was missing in the first place. There are also sacred experiences that go beyond all of this that remove all questions of the truthfulness of God and his plan; those I cannot share, they are mine alone.
Richard G. Scott, one of the apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had this to say:
He will always hear your prayers and will invariably answer them. However, His answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. Rather, He will prompt you in quiet moments when the Spirit can most effectively touch your mind and heart. Hence, you should find periods of quiet time to recognize when you are being instructed and strengthened. His pattern causes you to grow…On occasion, the Lord will give you an answer before you ask. This can occur when you are unaware of a danger or may be doing the wrong thing, mistakenly trusting that it is correct.
It is so hard when sincere prayer about something you desire very much is not answered the way you want. It is difficult to understand why your exercise of deep and sincere faith from an obedient life does not grant the desired result. The Savior taught, “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.” At times it is difficult to recognize what is best or expedient for you over time. Your life will be easier when you accept that what God does in your life is for your eternal good.
You are asked to look for an answer to your prayers. Obey the Master’s counsel to “study it out in your mind.” Often you will think of a solution; as you seek confirmation that your answer is right, help will come. It may be through your prayers, or as an impression of the Holy Ghost, and at times by the intervention of others.
(Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer, by Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 2007 LINK)
yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
2. Most pleasing to the mind; very grateful; yielding exquisite delight; as, this poem affords a delicious entertainment.
Just like the first bite of a morsel of food ignites your taste buds with a reflex to dig back in for more, the preceding spiritual experiences with the word cause it to be something that is pleasing to the mind and delightful. We crave more of it and we initiate the further growth of this seed though the nourishment of our faith. We want it to grow and mature so that we may sink our teeth into the promise of the future fruit that this young word holds for us.
These are experiences that I have had and those who read these words who have been down the same path I have will be familiar with what I am saying. To those who are skeptical or who are not familiar with what has been expressed here, I invite you in the privacy of your own lives to experiment on these things for yourself.
It is my witness that these things are true and while I do not know the truth of everything, I know the truth of the most important things. There is a God and His only begotten Son is Jesus Christ. His atonement heals in ways that I cannot describe, but I have experienced. There was a restoration of these truths though Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is the sign to the world that the gathering has begun, the covenant is being fulfilled and that the time of the return of Christ is nearly at hand.