17 Who could have supposed that our God would have been so merciful as to have snatched us from our awful, sinful, and polluted state?I often wondered why Ammon said that no natural man could know these things. What things were he referring to? I recently realized that he was referring to the mercy of God, pointing it out as a mystery of godliness that no one could know unless they had experienced it.
18 Behold, we went forth even in wrath, with mighty threatenings to destroy his church.
19 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?
20 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.
21 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent. (Alma 26:17-21)
This is not to say that they did not experience any taste of the justice of God because on the contrary, they did. Alma the younger had his soul harrowed up to the greatest degree and wracked with all his sins and wished that he could cease to exist so that he would not be brought to judgment for them. It was this preliminary view of what they would have to suffer that convinced them of their need for redemption and that view was part of the manifestation of the mercy of God. It was shown to them before it was too late so they could repent. The other part of the mercy of God was that rather than cast them off forever, God had seen fit to redeem them, to take away their sins, and save their souls, once they had called on Him for salvation.
None but the penitent could know this mysterious and godly mercy. The natural man might hear of it and reject it or assume there was no need for it. The natural man might be inclined to think that some people, if they had gone too far, would be rejected by God, no matter how repentant they were. The natural man might take the mercy of God as a license to sin more, thinking they could always repent later. But the penitent know what they have been saved from and recognize the magnitude of God’s mercy and forgiveness and the miracle of God’s salvation.
I know what I’ve been saved from and every time I remember that, I can’t help but thank God for His mercy.