"And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
"And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts." (Mosiah 18:8-11)
It is unknown whether at this time, Alma, having been a wicked and idolatrous priest, having repented at hearing the teachings of Abinadi, had obtained sufficient knowledge through the sacrifices he made to know what baptism meant and why it was important. But he at least knew it was ordained of God and therefore important. He at least knew as did Adam, when he replied to the angel, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me." He may have been much smarter than me, so it's possible it was obvious to him. But I was confused by it. I wondered why it was important and what its significance was, so prayed today and asked. The answer came and I was floored. I often read while walking around a track and when the answer came I said out loud "rebirth!"1 I had to sit down at the nearest bench and take it in, shocked at how whole, complete and fulfilling the Gospel, how it all literally points to the covenant, to Christ.
So here's my attempt to explain it. I hope you'll be patient with me as I ask questions. There are a couple reasons for this method. The first is it allows you to ask and answer yourself. Asking is something I think we've lost. Asking is something that has helped me to receive answers from the Lord. Asking your own questions may lead you to a much greater understanding than I know myself or could have written. A second reason is I want to protect the material. I don't want it to be profaned by a simple and frank explanation. Thirdly is that questions allow me to ponder without pontificating which allows pride which seals off further understanding. Questions allow an evolving understanding, and an understanding now isn't necessarily negated by a greater understanding later, but it is more full.
So what is baptism for? What does it symbolize? Is it an end in itself, or does it, like temple ordinances, point to something greater? At its core, baptism symbolizes rebirth. The one being baptized is buried under the water and comes forth again out of the water symbolizing (as opposed to actually being) a new man in Christ, taking upon himself the name of Christ, dedicating himself to gain the light and knowledge the symbol this ordinance offers, being commended to receive the Holy Ghost. The Lord is pleased in baptism itself, because it is following what he has ordained, but there is something much greater to which it points, and the Lord is also displeased when we take what he offers us lightly, with rote thought or memorized lines.
What do waters symbolize? Does it have anything to do with "living waters" that Christ promised to those who asked of him to drink?2 How does one receive these waters?3 How do we become immersed in them? What does rebirth symbolize? When we are born in the first instance as infants, what do we become part of? What do our parents lovingly give to us? Are we born into something we were not part of before, and thus something new, accepted and loved? Are we nourished, sheltered, taught, educated? Do we receive a new name and a blessing? Is that a symbol of something? Are infants not carried in water, come into the family through blood,4 and the mother herself made holy and exalted by her sacrifice as a type of Christ, and the father likewise through his labor to care and support the child? Is it a traumatic experience? Must we do uncomfortable things, be in uncomfortable situations? But is it not joyous that a new baby is in the world? Is there not much rejoicing on the side that received this new born, are not family and friends called together to share in the wonder, sacredness and joy of such an event?
Is there not labor and discomfort involved for months as the mothers body provides the perfect environment in which the child can develop, stretch and exercise his muscles according to his capacity as he develops into his potential? When the baby is born, does the mother (a type of Christ) nourish the child with her own milk until the child is able to eat strong food?5
Something else to consider. Are all babies that begin to develop born, or are some lost in a miscarriage in which there great sorrow, weeping, depression and disappointment? Does the fact that most babies are born normally symbolize something? Could it symbolize the love of God, in that while we may not rise up to meet Him, He desires all, to come to him and partake of the waters of life freely?6 Does he desire all to receive it?
If baptism symbolizes rebirth, what does birth symbolize, or are they a symbol of the same thing together?
When we grow up and partake of the world, we lose our paradisaical status, we corrupt ourselves. Is this why baptism is for those who are accountable and capable of sin? It is abominable to baptize little children, because little children already represent what baptism does? Little children are whole, they are themselves a symbol and a type of what we must become.7
Waters are a symbol of the covenant, because when we are connected to the true vine we have the waters of eternal life flowing freely into us. Water is a symbol of the covenant because baptism symbolizes rebirth or the fulness of the Gospel.
Is all of this sacred description, a type and shadow of another holy and sacred event that the Lord desires for us? Is this something that can plant in us the promises made to the fathers such that our hearts turn towards the fathers?8
1. Rebirth was a one word summation of my thoughts that sprung out of my mouth during my amazement.
2. "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:10-14)
4. "Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and 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; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
"And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time. And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
"And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water. And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man. And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying: Thou art baptized with fire, and with the Holy Ghost. This is the record of the Father, and the Son, from henceforth and forever; And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. Behold, thou art one in me, a son of God; and thus may all become my sons. Amen." (Moses 6:58-68)
5. Milk here does not represent a watered down Gospel, but instead a healthy substance which can sustain life indefinitely. It represents the words of eternal life, the words of Christ until he leads us to something greater. Strong food could be considered having risen up to the point where were are able to endure everlasting burnings and the voice of the Father says "let him enter."
6. "Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire—For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn. O ye workers of iniquity; ye that are puffed up in the vain things of the world, ye that have professed to have known the ways of righteousness nevertheless have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd, notwithstanding a shepherd hath called after you and is still calling after you, but ye will not hearken unto his voice! Behold, I say unto you, that the good shepherd doth call you; yea, and in his own name he doth call you, which is the name of Christ; and if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd, to the name by which ye are called, behold, ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd." (Alma 5:33-38)
7. "And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children. Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children." (Moroni 8:9-10)
8. "After telling me these things, [Moroni] commenced quoting the prophecies of the Old Testament. He first quoted part of the third chapter of Malachi; and he quoted also the fourth or last chapter of the same prophecy, though with a little variation from the way it reads in our Bibles. Instead of quoting the first verse as it reads in our books, he quoted it thus: For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly shall burn as stubble; for they that come shall burn them, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming." (JSH 1:36-39)
"And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I will establish my covenant with you, which I made unto your father Enoch, concerning your seed after you....And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant, which I made unto thy father Enoch; that, when men should keep all my commandments, Zion should again come on the earth, the city of Enoch which I have caught up unto myself. And this is mine everlasting covenant, that when thy posterity shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy; And the general assembly of the church of the firstborn shall come down out of heaven, and possess the earth, and shall have place until the end come. And this is mine everlasting covenant, which I made with thy father Enoch." (Genesis 9:15, 21-23, Inspired Version)