"The Glorious Atonement"
By Elder Neal A. Maxwell
Elder Maxwell's address delivered at the Missionary Training Center in Provo,
Utah, Sunday, Aug. 29, 1999.
8 1999 by Intellectual Reserve Inc. All rights reserved. (As prepared but not as delivered.)
The very brevity of the missionary discussions reminds us of that what is selected to be taught comes from the harvest basket of the Restoration. Jesus asked us, when we give, to give in "good measure." We give from a basket, the Restoration, which is "pressed down, and shaken together, and running over." (Luke 6:38.)
The abundance from which a few key concepts are taken is a powerful reminder of the need for the Spirit to impel the message into hearts and minds. The great things of eternity are being conveyed in such brief teaching moments! Hence it is vital for your friends and investigators to see and feel your convictions and testimony about the Atonement. Yes, you are teaching deep concepts, but you are also sharing your deep convictions about Jesus' atonement. Hence my remarks will focus on the doctrine of the glorious Atonement. As you know, the Atonement is touched on briefly in the First Discussion as well as others, but it is the focus of the 2nd Discussion.
The most important thing you can do in "preparing individuals to receive the full blessings of the Atonement" is to understand it and to believe in it yourselves! By understanding and believing in the Atonement personally, and by drawing on it to become better and better, you and I can teach and testify of the Atonement with greater gratitude, greater love, and greater power.
Jesus' glorious atonement is the central act in all human history! It provides the universal resurrection and makes our personal repentance and forgiveness possible. Since all of us "have sinned and come short of the glory of God," the need for repentance is universal. (Rom. 3:23.) Mercifully, Christ's atonement fits sins of all sizes whether the seemingly smaller sins of omission or the major transgressions. Hence, when we turn away from our sins, the required arc of that turning varies from person to person, but it is a necessary arc for all.
The Greek word of which "repentance" is the English translation, denotes a "change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world." (LDS Bible Dictionary, p. 760.) This means to change one's thoughts and then behavior, until we are turned away from our sins and are aligned with God's commandments. This change of mind means that we are actually progressing toward what Paul called "the mind of Christ." (1 Cor. 2:16.) Repentance is thus a continuing process in which each of us needs to draw on the Atonement for real forgiveness, real relief, and real progress.
Christ gave us an enormous and unconditional gift: the universal resurrection. However, Christ's proffer of the further gift of eternal life is conditional. As our Lawgiver, He sets the terms for receiving this great gift. (3 Ne. 15: 9, 10; 3 Ne. 11:31‑41; 3 Ne. 27:13‑21.) Therefore, our individual progress toward eternal life requires us to be "willing to submit" to Christ. Then, if we are truly faithful and endure to the end, our wills can finally be "swallowed up in the will of the Father." (Mosiah 15:7; 3 Ne. 11:11; Mosiah 3:15.)
In order to begin such a significant transformation, we must first "give away all of [our] sins," and who else will take them anyway, except Jesus? (Alma 22:18; 36:18‑20.) No wonder there is such an urgency underlying our need to share the gospel! President Howard W. Hunter declared:
A great indicator of one's personal conversion is the desire to share the gospel with others. For this reason the Lord gave an obligation to every member of the Church to be a missionary.
Those of us who have partaken of the Atonement are under obligation to bear faithful testimony of our Lord and Savior. For he has said, "I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment C that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spiritof prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you" (D&C 84:61) (Pres. Howard W. Hunter, The Atonement and Missionary Work [New Mission Presidents' Seminar 1994, Tuesday, 21 June 1994], p. 2)
Thus all of us are to remain "steadfast . . . in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto [us]." (D&C 84:61.) The forgiveness we seek and need is correlated with our steadfastness in the work of the Lord.
Real repentance requires the emancipating effects of baptism; it washes us clean. How merciful when our yesterdays no longer hold our tomorrows hostage!
After the cleansing and emancipating effects of baptism, we experience further fortifying effects by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We desperately need the Holy Ghost to help us choose the right. He will also help by preaching to us necessary sermonettes from the pulpit of memory. He will testify to us of the truths of the gospel.
Brothers and sisters, given where we must go, we need the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, not just as an occasional influence.
We also can be further fortified after baptism by regularly partaking of the sacrament as we reflect on the atonement and renew our covenants, including those made at the time of baptism. This process of emancipation and fortification is made possible by applying Jesus' atonement to ourselves both initially and then regularly, while enduring to the end.
If we choose the course of steady improvement, which is clearly the course of discipleship, we will become more righteous and can move from a mere acknowledgment of Jesus on to admiration of Jesus, then on to adoration of Jesus, and finally to emulation of Jesus. However, in that process of striving to become more like Him through steady improvement, we must be in the posture of repentance even if no major transgression is involved. (See 3 Ne. 27:27.) As we turn from transgression and strive to become more loving, more meek, more patient, and more submissive, the remaining sins, for most of us, are usually the less visible sins of omission. However, these, too, must also be given away.
Jesus has designated the attributes for which we are to seek, such as faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, etc. Further, the attributes of faith, hope, charity, and having an eye single to the glory of God fully qualify us for doing the Lord's work. (See D&C 4:5‑7; 2 Peter 1:4‑8.) No wonder we are admonished to ask, seek, and knock in order to receive these gifts of the Spirit, so that we can be much more effective in doing this grand work of the Lord. In this process of discipleship, we must never forget that drawing upon the atonement continues to be absolutely vital for all of us!
Jesus instructs us that we are to come unto Him. (Alma 5:34; Matt. 11: 28‑30.) However, as we strive to come unto Him, we come to see how He will then make our weaknesses better known to us, sometimes painfully, in order to help us to progress. (Ether 12:26, 27.) However, Christ even promises that He will make some weaknesses into strengths.
As to the nations, location, time, and circumstances in which our personal discipleship is placed, we should be content with the things allotted to us in life. (Alma 29:3, 6.) Yet, as we strive to become more like Jesus, there will be an accompanying divine discontent in order to spur us on. Whether the needed attribute is being of good cheer, patience, submissiveness, meekness, or love, this process requires the steady help of the Holy Ghost. He will prompt us in order for us to repent further, such as when we are too proud, too impatient, or less loving than we should be, including in marriages and in missionary companionships. However, since such progress is not cost free, we also need the Holy Ghost to comfort us as we pay the price.
Yes, it is by means of the atonement of Jesus Christ, mercifully, we can be forgiven. But it is through the Holy Ghost that we can know that we have been forgiven! So we need not despair, nor live a life in which we "droop in sin." (2 Ne. 4:28. See also Moroni 10:22) Instead, we can "press forward" in a "brightness of hope." (2 Ne. 31:20.)
If we need any additional reminders as to the importance of our further developing the virtues of Christ, we should contemplate His glorious second coming. Then, among other things, the stars will fall dramatically from their places in heaven. Yet the mortal exclamations about Jesus will be words of praise especially for two of His attributes: His "goodness" and His "loving kindness." (D&C 133:52.) Remember, we are not only to have faith in Christ, but we are to become more like Him, including these attributes! (3 Ne. 27:27.)
At that point in the Second Coming, Jesus will not mention His having endured the crown of thorns, the awful scourging, the crucifixion, the vinegar and gall, etc. He will, however, cite His awful aloneness: "And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine‑press alone, . . . and none were with me;" (D&C 133:50. See also Is. 63:3.).
No wonder the Atonement thus lies at the very heart of Christ's gospel. In fact, the Restoration's central message is about Jesus and the resurrection, fulfilling this prophecy given to Enoch anciently:
And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; (Moses 7:62)
Yes, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son." (John 3:16.) And Jesus and His atonement represent the most profound expression of Heavenly Father's love for His children. How important the free gift of the resurrection is for all mankind, and the proffer of the greatest gift which even God can give eternal life for those willing to so live and to so qualify! (D&C 14:7; 6:13.)
In this process of working out our salvation, adversity will provide part of the perspiration. Again and again, experience upon experience, we will have cause to ponder upon and rejoice in the great atonement.
For me, several scriptures have proved to be especially relevant and reassuring. When read aloud with and by some who suffer, these verses have been far better than anything I could say, especially to those valiants who reach that point where they are sick of being sick.
First, consider what a perplexed but remarkable Nephi said: "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." (1 Ne. 11:17.) Brothers and Sisters, we really do not need to "know the meaning of all things," if we know God loves us!
Likewise, our personal submissiveness needs to grow, as in the words of King Benjamin, in order to:
. . . becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
Benjamin's use of the word "inflict" suggests customized challenges and tutoring which require an added and special submissiveness from us.
Similarly, our knowing of Jesus' perfect empathy for us will help us greatly to endure our own pains of various kinds.
[Christ] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11‑12)
Jesus fully understands! His empathy is perfect! He knows how to help us!
So in summation, the atonement of Jesus Christ blesses us in so many ways. Through it and it alone, we can have a remission of our sins, bringing the needed emancipation spoken of earlier.
Likewise, the atonement makes significant personal improvement possible, by "faith unto repentance" in Jesus, His atonement, and in Heavenly Father's plan of salvation. (Alma 34;15‑17.) Otherwise, individuals who are without "faith unto repentance," will wrongly reason, "Why bother to repent?" Little wonder the scriptures say that human "despair cometh because of iniquity." (Moroni 10:22.) The atonement can bring us a "brightness of hope" even amid our losses, crosses, sorrows, and disappointments. (3 Ne. 31:20.)
The spiritual submissiveness we all need was well exemplified by Melissa Howes as she led her family in prayer a short while before her father died of cancer. Melissa was only 9 and her father 43. Consider unselfish Melissa Howes' pleading in her own words: "Heavenly Father, bless my daddy, and if you need him more than us, you can have him. We want him, but Thy will be done. And please help us not to be mad at you." (Recorded in letter from Christie Howes, February 25, 1998)
How many individuals, bereft of such an understanding of and faith in the plan of salvation, are angry with God instead of being grateful to Him and to Jesus for the glorious atonement?
Not only is the Atonement the grand expression of Heavenly Father and Jesus' love for us, but we can come to know of Their personal love for us.
We must never underestimate the power of the Spirit to stir people's souls beyond any teaching capacity or skills that we may have. As you know, such occurred with Alma when he was in extremity, and he remembered later the words of his father about the atonement of Jesus and said, "my mind caught hold upon this thought." (Alma 36:17, 18.) The Spirit can help those to whom you testify to catch hold of your words in a way that their minds and hearts will grasp them, especially when these words concern the deep doctrines of the Kingdom, like the Atonement.
In another inspirational moment that reflects the cumulative teaching of mothers, the Nephite stripling warriors were made special promises before they went off to war. They were not as spiritually mature as their mothers, yet they had been given dramatic promises, and they were sustained, as we read, because they "[did] not doubt [their] mothers knew it." (Alma 56:48.)
Some of those whom you teach, under the direction of the Spirit, will feel the power of your words about the Atonement and the restored gospel, and they will not doubt that you know it! For in those golden teaching moments the Lord has previously prepared some individuals so that they are, in fact, "in a preparation to hear the word." (Alma 32:6.)
In closing, I give you my testimony of the glory and reality of the Great Atonement! I praise Jesus for enduring and for descending below all things in order to comprehend all things! (See D&C 88:6.) I praise the Father for all He experienced as He watched His Firstborn, His Only Begotten in the Flesh, His Beloved in whom He was well pleased, suffer so much!
I testify that in the axis of atoning agony that was Gethsemane and Calvary, Jesus' grip on Himself was mankind's grip on immortality.
Jesus "finished" His preparations for us! (D&C 19:19.) Now it remains for us mortals to claim the full blessings of the Atonement won at such great cost!
Our gratitude for Christ's atonement will grow. In fact, the scriptures foretell that we will so praise Christ "forever and ever" (D&C 133:52). I so praise Him now! In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!