The Meaning of the Atonement
The Meaning of the Atonement
From a talk by W. Cleon Skousen
Right now I would like to share with you some things that are beautiful and powerful and almost lost from the Church and were introduced by President Kimball at the Priesthood meeting on Saturday night, April 2nd (1977).
There are many profound and beautiful things that have been restored with the Gospel that are not often discussed. Sometimes when they are discussed, you will hear people say, "Why donít the Brethren talk about that more?" Well, when the Brethren are heard in conference, they are talking to the world. If you get the Brethren together in a cloistered setting, youíll hear it. If you are a group of missionaries with one of the General Authorities, theyíll open up on the profound truths of the Gospel that are not generally discussed when the Brethren are talking to the world.
These truths are very sacred, and President Kimball introduced on Saturday night what I want to comment on briefly because it is the whole foundation of Easter, but it is hardly ever discussed. We just donít talk about it, and we are the only people who know about it. And we have almost lost it as a doctrine of the Church, and I was thrilled when I heard President Kimball introduce it. He said, "I want everyone to understand that in this life we only have a very limited amount of Priesthood authority with which to function. There are many ordinances that must as yet be given in the next world, and one of them will be the ordinance of resurrection. We are not allowed to perform that ordinance here. It is an ordinance of the Priesthood. Youíll get it over there. Over in the next life you will also have the ordinance of begetting spirit children with your then resurrected bodies. That is something that we have no power to do here. Physical bodies, yes, but not spiritual."
Then he got on a theme that I am sure seemed strange to some ears. He said, "You will be able to have access to the intelligences in the universe and organize them and make planets and organize kingdoms." Now this is a beautiful doctrine, and it is time that we discuss it a bit more because if we understand that principle, it will help us understand why there had to be an atonement.
I donít know if this bothers you or not, but when I was a little boy in Alberta, Canada, and in Sunday School they talked about the terrible suffering of Jesus on the cross, I would say to my teacher, "Who wanted that anyway? Who was all that suffering for? Who is it to satisfy?" And my teacher would reply, "Well, it was to satisfy Heavenly Father." That didnít answer my question. It seemed that if Heavenly Father wanted us to come to the earth, after we repented, all he would have to say was, "Come on back. You did the best you could." Why do we weed all this suffering? And all my life, at least until I went on my mission, I asked those questions.
So one day I was riding along with President Widstoe, who was in charge of all the European Mission. I was only 17 when I was called on my mission, and I thought that this was my chance to ask Brother Widstoe all these questions that had been on my mind since I was a little boy and so I asked him. "Who told you to ask me that question?" And I said, "Itís my question. Nobody told me to ask it."
So he said, "This is the most profound question of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it shouldnít be answered until people are at first capable of wondering about it so they can understand the answer. So Iíll share the answer with you over a period of time." (And if youíve never wondered, you can stop reading right here.)
"Thatís great!" I said and started getting out a pen and paper. "If youíll just give me the scriptures, Iíll write them down." He started to tell me, "One scripture is in the D&C, another is in the Book of Mormon." "Arenít you going to give me the chapter and verse?" "I wouldnít deprive you of the pleasure of finding them yourself."
As my mission continued, and after it as well, I would report in on my progress. He would say, "Youíre doing quite well. Try the 38th section of the Doctrine and Covenants," and so on. It took me another seven years until I finally put it all together, but I was so thrilled when I finally did it and he said, "Yes, thatís the picture now." Iíll give you all the references so it wonít take you seven years.
Actually read the passages and you will begin to see what a marvelous ocean, an avalanche, a veritable waterfall has been poured out upon the Saints in the latter days, and some of it we have allowed to run off without really appreciating what it meant.
No the first is in 2nd Nephi 2:14. Here is what you shall read. Father Lehi says that everything in the universe is made of two things. This is where we get our building block concept. Something to act and something to be acted upon.
Your next reference is D&C 93:29. A thing that acts is called Eternal Intelligences, plural.
The next one is D&C 93:30. These intelligences are independent and act voluntarily. They are not compelled, and the Heavens wait on them until they obey. They donít do anything until they are readyójust like us. And our Heavenly Father built the whole universe with this element of action. This energy factor in the universe is intelligence, and it only operates as fast as it wants and in a direction it is willing to follow.
Now Abraham 3:19. These intelligences are graded from the lowest to the highest, and the highest of all is Godís intelligence himself, and we are in between. Some intelligences were assigned to the elements, some were assigned to plant life, and some were assigned to animals. Those that were His very special, superior, super deluxe intelligences were given bodies in His image, and you are they. You are very, very special people.
Now, Joseph Smith describes this in D.H.C. 8:519. He says, "...And I explained to the quorum of the Twelve and their wives about the doctrine of Eternal progression of intelligences." Then he doesnít tell us what the explanation is. So you have to go to Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and Heber C. Kimball, and they explain what he explained to them, but they got the doctrine from him.
All right, your next one is D&C 93:33. Those which are acted upon, see there is a thing to act and a thing to be acted upon, are called Eternal elements. It is element. It is matter. Joseph Smith said that matter existed in two dimensions. The very refined element is called Spirit, and the more coarse element is called this temporal matter that we have here (referring to the body). So it is that all matter exists on two planes. It is like ice and water. They are really the same thing, but they are on different dimensions. Now, everything is made up o a combination of intelligence and matter. These are the building blocks of the universe (Abraham 4:10, 12, 18 and Helaman 12:8-9).
If youíre a scientist, this will be very exciting information because our most advanced research scientists in the pure research area have just proven that this is true. Matter does not function mechanically. It has an element of finite intelligence they say. Thatís what Burgeson, the French philosopher, called it. It can distinguish. It can choose. It doesnít always do what the rules say. Same of those little elements are just as ornery as you and me. The go wandering around, and it is the aggregate, we say, that is the law of chemistry. In the aggregate, yes, but you look at them individually, and they are fooling around. As a matter of fact, Robert Milliken said that if all the elements were obeying all the rules of chemistry, you would never die. There is rebellion in the flesh, and it is called the "Seeds of Death."
At Godís command, the elements that have received intelligence attached to them will obey. You want a mountain to move, talk to it. God commands it, or His Priesthood does it by His authority. When God commands, those intelligences obey in the elements. Thatís Jacob 4:6 and 1st Nephi 20:13.
You listen to Brigham Young discussing this principle. "There is light or intelligence in all matter throughout the vast extent of all the eternities. It is in the rock. It is in the sand, in water, air. It is in the gases and, in short, in every description or organization of matter, whether it be solid, liquid, or gas. Particle operation with particle." Now all of a sudden, we begin to catch the vision of this miracle of Godís creation. He goes into the outer darkness of unorganized intelligences and unorganized bits of elements and combines them together so that a little tiny bit of element has an intelligence attached to it, and now He can command it. The Lord has said, "I have given all of them a pattern which becomes the law by which they operate."
God speaks, and they obey. Things are made up of things that act and things that are acted upon. They have been identified for us by name, and President Kimball said that in the next world we will have access to these intelligences to organize our own great systems. Now, our Heavenly Father says, "You know what makes me God?" The source of Godís power is described in D&C 29:36. It is in some other places, tooóMoses 4:1,4.
What makes him God? What makes, over a process of time, a God? "My honor is my power." My honor is my power so that when He speaks and says, "Water reorganize into wine," a very high grade of wine, there is no problem. It reorganizes. We call it a miracle, but it is nothing in the world but obedient intelligences. That is the doctrine!
Now, keeping in mind D&C 29:36, what would happen if the Father violated the confidence of these intelligences? What do you think would happen. No one on the face of the earth has dared to announce the doctrine contained in the back of Alma 42. No church has dared to suggest that God could fall. Our Heavenly Father has said, "I want you to know I walk the razorís edge of celestial law continually in order to maintain the confidence and honor of all these who trust me, because that is the source of my power.
This gives us a while now understanding of our Heavenly Father. In Alma 42:13, 22, and 25, it is repeated over and over again. In Mormon 9:19, it is repeated. If He were unjust, if He were arbitrary, if He were false in any sense, He would what? He would cease to be God. Who dares to suggest anything to challenge the power of the Almighty Elohim, Chief of the Gods?! Our Heavenly Father says, "I want you to know and understand me. I word within very strict rules. I have to function so that I enjoy confidence and so not to violate it." In Alma 34:9, the Father says, "Once I put you down into the second estate, I lost all capacity to bring you back. If I brought you back myself, it would be arbitrary, capricious, and unjust and violate the rules by which the whole kingdom was established. I lost complete control over the possibility of brining you back myself."
God the Father cannot save us. See, these are the doctrines of the Church that we seldom see in these dimensions, but this is the Easter story. This is the real Easter story. Had it been left to the Father, He would have been helpless to get us back! If there had not been some other way for us to get back to the presence of the Father, we would have ended in outer darkness with Satan and his hosts. And everything that had been organized by the Father in connection with us, our Earth, the other earths on which part of this family is located, and all of the creations connected with it, would have disintegrated and would have gone to outer darkness.
Now this takes all the magic out of the creation. All of a sudden, the Father becomes much more rational, comprehensible, and our appreciation accelerates as we begin to realize what a remarkable, beautiful personality He is.
2 Nephi 9:9 says that we would end up with Satan and his angels were there no atonement, that it is absolutely beyond the capacity of our Heavenly Father to lift children who have stumbled while learning the difference between good and evil back into his presence because He has to operate according to law. All the other intelligences would say, "Father, they have sinned and come short of their glory. They cannot come back. Remember all the laws that held us back. We didnít get to be these top people. We were graded down. You kept talking about laws. We are they who demand justice, and will not let them return." And should God try it, as it says in Alma, they would cease to honor Him, and He would cease to be God. That is the doctrine. Then how do we do it? Alma 34:11 says no person can suffer for the sins of another person. Thatís the law. That is what all these little intelligences are saying. You just stop and think why that is so.
If I commit an offense, a very serious offense, can you die for it and satisfy this audience? Do you thing you could, even though we love each other, and you say to everybody, "No, donít let Brother Skousen be killed. Iíll die for Brother Skousen." Do you think they are going to be happy about that? No. It would violate your sense of justice and it does all those little intelligences and Alma 34:11 says that no person can die or be punished for the sins of another and have it be accepted as justice. The demands of justice, that is what these little intelligences defend. "They cannot come back, Father." Everybody see the problem?
Now, the genius of the solution: The gods know that these little intelligences have a capacity for compassion. Therefore, the atonement is based not on law, but on mercy. Thatís in Alma 34:15. In other words, we are going to try to get to these little intelligences in some way so that we can overcome the demands of Justice. The families of God must have worked this out eons and eons ago with other families. So this is the pattern.
Remember when they were selecting a Savior? Jesus volunteered. Then Satan said, "You know, Father, this is a very old-fashioned plan. I mean, this isnít necessary. You can satisfy the intelligences of the universe. Just put your children in strait jackets and get them through the second estate, and it is a great idea I thought of. I really would like credit for it. I am offering the whole human family no-risk insurance. All I am asking is for you to give up on this hang-up that this family has always had on this free-agency thing. Itís only for a little bit of time. We take them down, they get bodies, we prevent them from violating any laws, and we bring them back. It is that simple."
"No," said the Father, "it is not that simple," apparently implying that if you introduce compulsion into our eternal plan of salvation or into the cosmic universe you also plant the seeds of what? Revolution. Disintegration. Everything we have out there is moving as it is willing to move. You donít get any revolution that way. But Satan said he would start a revolution, and he got it. I wouldnít be surprised if the real followers of the Father were a minority for a while. We had a big, uncommitted, in-the-middle majority.
Jesus said, "Father, I will do it your way. I will do it the way they have always done it before. We do have casualties, true, bet we are able to maintain voluntary participation. I know that someone has to suffer in order to have an atonement and create that felling of compassion, but Iíll do it."
And so we had a big argument, and revelation says that the war in heaven was a kind of big testimony meeting. We said to one another, "Look, Fatherís way is the right was. We donít want to introduce compulsion. If we start compulsion, who is to say where it will end? Lucifer is trying to steal the throne of our Heavenly Father and he wants glory for it and there is nothing in that direction but rebellion and destruction."
We finally got two-thirds on our side. I wonít be surprised, when we see this vision, to learn that we only had a minority to begin with, but we finally got our majority while the other third went for no-risk insurance. They wouldnít take a chance with us.
All right, now how does this atonement work? Watch how the principles function. You are an intelligence. You are capable of being subjected to so much sympathy and compassion that you stop asking for every "pound of flesh" that the law permits. To overcome the demands of justice on all mankind, you must have a person who is infinitely loved as it says in Alma 34. You know that infinitely means universally. Everyone recognizes that. So we take a spirit who is so superior that he is the first counselor in the First Presidency of Heaven. He is so honored that when the Father wants something done He speaks to this person, and then he in turn speaks to these intelligences. He is identified as the Word, the one through whom the word passes. He is loved and respected by all, just like the Father is. So we use him. He is infinitely loved, and we have him come down to the second estate and live a perfect life without offense so that he can return to the Father. While laboring among the human family, we have him suffer so terribly that the little intelligences of the entire universe are affected. They abhorred the suffering that he went through. They loved him, as it says in the Book of Mormon, and the very elements cried out against this torture of someone they loved. All this was done by design.
That was the mission of Jesus Christ. He had to suffer so much that when He goes to those little intelligences and pleads on the behalf of someone who did the best he could, which is called repentance, theyíll say, "Well, he shouldnít go back, but if you want him to, after all youíve gone through, then, yes, he can go up." Thatís the atonement. Listen to Alma 34 as we hear the prophets who used to understand and preach this doctrine extensively, which we kind of stopped preaching among ourselves. Alma 34:15, "And this he shall bring salvation to all those who believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercyÖ" Whose mercy? Our Father already has mercy for us. This is His plan. We donít have to create that in Him. We have to create that in those who are demanding justice. "Father, they have sinned and come short of the glory of God." That is where you must arouse the bowels of mercy which overpowereth justice. And thus, mercy can satisfy the demands of justice and encircle them in the arms of mercy, while he who does not exercise faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of justice. Therefore, only unto him who has exercised this faith is brought about the great and eternal plan of salvation.
Now let me turn to Doctrine and Covenants 45, and you listen to the Savior telling you about it. Verse 3, "Listen to him who is the advocate of the Father, who is pleading you cause before Him saying, Father, behold the suffering and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified. Wherefore, Father spare these my brethren that believe on my name." You see how he did that? He doesnít plead for those who do not believe in him. He canít. That would rob justice. "Spare these my brethren who believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life." And the Father can do that without ceasing to be God. Because of what? Mercy. Let me give you an example of how that works.
During the Civil War, there was a 19-year-old soldier who went to sleep on guard duty. A whole section of the Union army was wiped out in that particular sector. He lost many of his very best friends, all because he fell asleep and the opposing forces were able to make a surprise attack on one flank of that particular defense effort. He survived the battle, was court-martialled, and was sentenced to be hanged for neglect of duty and going to sleep, which is routine military law.
The death sentence and order of execution were placed on the desk of President Lincoln, and he was prepared to sign it. President Lincoln was contacted by a little old woman. I think she came in person, but Iím not sure. Anyway, this little mother said to President Lincoln, "When this war started, I had a husband and five sons. First I lost my husband and then, one by one, four of my sons. I have just one son left, and heís sentenced to die for neglect of duty. He feels just terrible about what happened. He expects to die. He thinks it is only just that he should die. President Lincoln, I was wondering if you could pardon him, not for his sake, but for my sake."
And President Lincoln said, "Little mother, for your sake, I pardon your son. Pray God that he will survive the war and be a blessing to you all the days of your life." See how compassion works. It completely overcame the demands of justice, and nobody criticized President Lincoln for that decision.
I would like to just pause at this moment and ask, "What is an Intelligence?" It is a wonderful, self-knowing, eternal, little entity that says, "I am." "I am" is right inside. That is the seed of power. You want to know what an intelligence is? Itís you. And you are one of the very advanced intelligences. You are so smart that one of your brothers, at your level, thought that he was as smart as the Father and tried to take over the Fatherís kingdom. Than is something the other intelligences wouldnít even have thought of.
I tell you this is an exciting place to be. And it took eons to bring us here, and everyone is so precious that Heavenly Father says that if you see one of them trying and backsliding, we must work with him and forgive him seventy times seven as long as he is trying. Keep pushing, and we might make it eventually. Maybe you have an Alma the Younger in there, who knows?
Towards the evening, they went to the Last Supper. They partook of the Passover lamb, and ho looked out as his twelve apostles and said, "One of you will betray me." Peter said, "Which one? John, youíre the closest, ask him which one." And so John asked, "Master, which one?" The Savior whispered, "Him to whim I give the sop." He then picked up a piece of bread and dipped it in the gravy and handed it to Judas Iscariot and said, "Judas, what thou doest, do quickly." Judas got up and just went out.
Now Jesus became very depressed and rose up and gave that beautiful high priestís prayer found in John, Chapter 17, where he pleads to the Father, "to bless these that they might be one, as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they all may be one in us." And he said, "Bless these who shall believe in these words who have not seen me, that they also may be one."
Then he said, "Let us be gone. I need to pray." So they went from the part of the city where the poor people lived. It is dark now, and he tells eight disciples to stay by the gate. He took Peter, James, and John and went back into the grove and he had them watch while he went further up the hillside in the grove. Apparently, only John stayed awake, and he heard Jesus fall on the ground. He didnít kneel on a rock, he fell full length on the ground, and he said, "Oh, Father, all things are possible unto thee, take this cup from me. Nevertheless not my will bet thy will be done."
What he is saying is, "Father, you are God! You can do anything. Donít make me go though this. Please work it out some other way." And that is when an angel came to administer unto Jesus. What the angel must have said, though we donít have the message, was something like this. "Oh, Jehovah, thou son of God, you do not have to do this if you donít want to, but you should know that unless you fulfill this assignment, Heavenly Father will not only lose his family but the entire creation associated with themóthe planets, the plants, the animals. Everything that you helped create will be lost and go back to outer darkness from whence it came."
He must have said something like that because when the angel had finished ministering unto him he said, "Thy will be done." He sweat great drops of blood. We canít understand how terrible it was, but Jesus himself has given us an idea of what he went though in the 19th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which he said at the beginning of the 15th verse, "Therefore I command you to repentórepent, lost I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger and your sufferings be soreóhow sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, how hard to bear, you know not. For behold, I God, have suffered these things for all that they might not suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at ever pore and to suffer both body and spiritóand would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrinkóNevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." In other words, "If you will be obedient and repent, the spirit will justify you, and I will sanctify you. Iíve done it. Iíve paid the price... donít waste it! Come unto me. Remember. Come unto me."
Now Judas came with the soldiers, and Jesus heard them coming. He came back and found the apostles sleeping again. Judas came up to him. It is nighttime, and they want to be sure to get the right one, so Judas came up to him and, embracing him, says, "Master!" The Savior looked down at him and said, "Judas, betrayest thou the son of man with a kiss?" Then the soldiers cried, "Seize him!" Everybody fled. The Savior was taken to the house of Aninias, and all of you remember the terrible night he spent. You will remember the three denials by Peter. He is terrified. He will find it hard to forgive himself for these three denials.
The next morning there is an illegal trial before the Sanhedrin. They canít kill Jesus without the consent of Pilate, and so they take him into the fortress, right next to the temple square. And right in the middle of that open square, they brought Jesus and turned him over to Pilate. Even Pilate, a gentile, tried to create sympathy in their hearts by flogging him and putting a crown of thorns on his head and letting the blood run down his face. Jesusí robe is saturated with blood, and Pilate brings him and says, "Behold the man." And they scream, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said, "See to it. I wash my hands of this judgment."
So they took him with his cross and made him carry it as long as his broken body could support it. Finally they led him to the place of the skull, and there they nailed the nails first into his hands, then into his wrists, then his feet, and they lifted the cross into position, two thieves crucified either side of him. Towards the end he cried, "I thirst." They put a sponge with vinegar to his lips because it was supposed to dull some of the pain. He looked down in his agony and said, "John, behold your mother. Mother, behold your son." Apparently, Joseph had passed away. He was saying that John should take care of his mother. All this was foreseen by David.
Then, when the agony was almost past bearing and it was getting towards dusk, Jesus looked up and said, "It is finished. Unto thee, Father, I commend my spirit." Then he departed. At that moment Jesus became the Christ. He has done what was necessary to overcome the demands of justice so we could go back. He did it by the great power that was in him. He was gone for three days and three nights during which time he received a resurrected, purified, and glorified body.
That is the Easter message, and our God suffered so much that night in Gethsemane. And our Heavenly Father was suffering so much that night that he wanted at least one of his children here on earth to know what it was like, so he said to our great ancestor, Abraham, "I want you to take your best beloved son to the top of Mount Moriah, and I want you to offer him to me as a sacrifice." In Jacob 4:5 it says that this was done specifically so that one human father would know what the pain and agony was like when our Heavenly Father was asked by his son to "take this cup from me."
You know, as you begin to understand this beautiful doctrine, the foundation of which President Kimball was speaking about in Priesthood Meeting, the intelligences in the universeóthe fact that they are here on earthóGod and what makes him Godóthe fact that if he lost their confidence, he would cease to be God.
These are basic doctrines of the Gospel as it says in Jacob, Chapter 2. I donít know what this knowledge does for you, but it has made me love my Heavenly Father like I never loved Him before. He loves me as much as He loves the Son. He had to go through all that to give me the chance to live with Him again. And I have learned to love my Savior like I have never loved Him before. Now I know what these two wonderful people did for me and you, for my children, and for all the people in the worldófor the planet we live on, and for the beautiful things He has blessed us with. They would all be lost if those two beautiful people hadnít done what they did. I love them for that.
I bear witness to you, my brothers and sisters, from the depths of my heart, Jesus is the Christ. We have a Father in Heaven who loves us. The atonement is real. The atonement works. There is a resurrection. There is forgiveness of sin. And although our sins are as scarlet, if we will truly repent, all can be restored and taken back to our Heavenly Father, cleaned white as snow.
I pray that our Heavenly Father will help us so that we will not let him down, so we wonít betray the Christ. Be good missionaries, and we will spread the message to our neighbors and take it to every valuable child of God, wherever we may find him. Our Heavenly Fatherís children deserve every blessing and advantage that we can give them. We canít take them faster than they are willing to go, but every soul that is saved will bless us beyond any measure that we can dream of.
May I leave my blessing with you and a prayer that we may be worthy of both the atonement of Jesus Christ and the Gospel which he has restored for our salvation. This is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.