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Had our Lord died as the result of Satan's power over Him through transgression, His death would have been but an individual experience, expiatory in no degree of any offenses but His own. His absolute freedom from spot or blemish of sin made Him eligible, His humility and willingness rendered Him acceptable as the propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of the world. In these respects, as in that of His having life in Himself and therefore power over death, He was of a status absolutely unique among men. With this knowledge spake the ancient Hebrew prophet, saying: "As the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven, save it be this Jesus Christ of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved." (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:20).
Its Two-fold Effect
ELIEF in the efficacy of the death of Jesus Christ as a means of atonement, whereby redemption and salvation are made possible, is an essential feature of distinctively Christian religion. That belief if sustained by works constitutes faith in or acceptance of the Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God, and is supported by the Holy Scriptures of all ages. Nevertheless, to most of us, the fact of the Atonement is a great mystery.
Be it remembered that the effect of the Atonement is two-fold: (1) Redemption of the human race from physical death, which entered the world as a result of Adam's transgression; and (2) Salvation, whereby means of relief from the results of individual sin are provided.
Victory over death and the tomb became manifest in the resurrection of the crucified Christ. Of all who have lived in the flesh He was the first to come from the grave with spirit and body reunited, a resurrected, immortalized Soul. Justly, therefore, is He called "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Cor. 15:20); "the firstborn from the dead" (Col. 1:18); and "the first begotten of the dead." (Rev. 1:5).
Immediately following our Lord's resurrection, "many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matt. 27:52-53).
We learn that in due time everyone who has lived and died on earth shall be resurrected, "they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:29). However, the order in which we shall be resurrected is determined by individual conditions of righteousness or guilt. (See 1 Cor. 15:23; Rev. 20:5-6.) A latter-day Scripture, describing the general resurrection of the just, incident to the approaching advent of Christ, embodies the Lord's declaration in these words: "The trump of God shall sound both long and loud, and shall say to the sleeping nations, Ye saints arise and live; ye sinners stay and sleep until I shall call again." (Doctrine and Covenants 43:18).
The second effect of the Atonement makes salvation possible to all men through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel; and of these the following are fundamental: (1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; (2) Repentance; (3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; (4) Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It is evident that but for the Atonement accomplished by the Savior, there could be no resurrection from the dead
(see Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 9:7-12); and advancement from the disembodied state would be impossible. And just as plainly the Scriptures declare that without the Atonement of Christ mankind would be left in their sins, without means of making amends therefor and receiving remission thereof.
We have learned but little of the eternal laws operative in the heavens; but that God's purposes are accomplished through and by law is beyond question. There can be no irregularity, inconsistency, arbitrariness or caprice in His doings, for such would mean injustice. Therefore, the Atonement must have been effected in accordance with law. The self-sacrificing life, the indescribable agony, and the voluntary death of One who had life in Himself with power to halt His torturers at any stage, and whom none could slay until He permitted, must have constituted compliance with the eternal law of justice, propitiation and expiation by which victory over sin and death could be and has been achieved. Through the mortal life and sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ the demands of justice have been fully met, and the way is opened for the lawful ministration of mercy so far as the effects of the Fall are concerned.
Sin, followed by death, came into the world through the transgression of one man. The entailment of mortality upon that man's posterity, with all its elements of a fallen state, is natural, we say, because we think we know something about heredity. Is it any more truly natural that one man's transgression should be of universal effect than that the redeeming and saving achievement of One, fully empowered and qualified for the work of atonement, should be of universal blessing? The ancient Apostles were explicit in answer. Thus spake Paul: "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all
men unto justification of life." (Rom. 5:18). And further: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all." (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Christ, victor over sin and death, established His right to prescribe the conditions under which man may attain salvation, and these are summarized as obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. That the physical, mental, and spiritual agony preceding and accompanying the crucifixion was real and necessary to the accomplishment of His foreappointed mission has been affirmed by the Christ in the current dispensation: "For behold I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I. Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit: and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink-Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparation unto the children of men. Wherefore, I command you again to repent." (Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-20).
His Plan Combines Justice and Mercy
HE results of the Atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ comprise (1) universal deliverance from bodily death, that is to say the assured resurrection of all the dead, and (2) deliverance from the effects of individual
It is but just that since death has been entailed upon the entire race through the act of our first parents, redemption therefrom should be likewise universal, without effort or sacrifice on our part. We shall each be resurrected from death, our disembodied spirits tabernacling again in their bodies of flesh and bones, whether we be relatively clean, or filthy from sin; but the time or order of our respective liberation from the grave will be determined by our state of righteousness or guilt. So the Scriptures aver. (See e. g. John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:23; Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 9:6-13; and Doctrine and Covenants 88:96-102.)
Herein is a lawful adjustment between justice and mercy. We are mortal through no personal fault; we shall be made immortal without personal merit. Such is justice. And though many have committed crimes far more heinous than Adam's disobedience, even they shall eventually be absolved from their hereditary mortality. Such is mercy.
The Divine plan of salvation, made effective through the Atonement, is likewise of universal application, so that every man may become a beneficiary thereof; but that plan is not self-operative. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints summarizes the conditions in this wise:
"We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam's transgression.
"We believe that, through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."
However great his moral weakness and sinful tendencies entailed by heredity, every responsible individual knows right from wrong, with some degree of conviction; and in the final judgment of that soul every element, whether of extenuation or crimination, will be taken into due account. Means of making amends for sin, and thereby establishing eligibility