2 Nephi Chapter 9
2 Nephi 9 Jacob's two-day sermon includes teachings on the atonement.
2 Nephi 9:8-9 If there had been no atonement, our spirits must become like him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies forever.
2 Nephi 9:21 And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, Who belong to the family of Adam.
2 Nephi 9:28-29 Intellectualism. When men are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
2 Nephi 9:41 The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel.
Keep in mind that we are still studying the lengthy sermon delivered by Nephi's brother Jacob. Jacob's discourse in this chapter is in fact a commentary on 2 Nephi 7 or Isaiah 50. Commenting on 2 Nephi 7:1-3, Jacob teaches that the Jews will be restored to the true church of God and be reestablished in the land of Palestine (2 Nephi 9:2). In 2 Nephi 7:4-9, Jacob sees a prophecy of the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth. He teaches of the fall of man and the Lord's atonement (2 Nephi 9:4-27). Jacob uses 2 Nephi 7:10-11 as a text to exhort his people to give heed to revelations and the truths of the gospel and not to rely upon their own wisdom (2 Nephi 9:28-43). Finally, using the end of verse 11 of 2 Nephi 7, Jacob exhorts mankind to repentance, and he discourses on the final judgment, the time when all mankind will stand before God to be judged (2 Nephi 9:44-54).
Before studying this chapter, please read Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement, and volume 2, chapter 2, Consequences of the Savior's Atonement. The several scriptural passages that are especially useful in helping us to understand the Lord's atonement are contained in these chapters and also in 2 Nephi 2, Mosiah 3, and Alma 12, 34, and 42.
1 And now, my beloved brethren, I have read these things that ye might know concerning the covenants of the Lord that he has covenanted with all the house of Israel-
verse 1 "I have read these things" Jacob has reference to chapters 7 and 8 of 2 Nephi which are actually chapters 50 and 51 of the book of Isaiah. Verse 54 of this chapter suggests that Jacob read these two Isaiah chapters from the brass plates and then delivered chapter 9 as a major oral address or sermon on one particular day.
2 That he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.
verse 2 "that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God . . . [and] be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance" Keep in mind that "gathering" has two separate components, spiritual and temporal. This phrase refers to both. A people is gathered spiritually as they accept Christ and join his church. They may be then gathered temporally to a "land of promise" or to a "land of their inheritance." Here Jacob might be prophesying of the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon during the time period 538 to 515 BC, though a latter-day final gathering in Palestine seems more likely when the Jews will accept Jesus as their Messiah. Also, as discussed below, Jacob's use of the term "Jews" here may include more than just the tribe of Judah.
"shall be established in all their lands of promise" The members of the tribe of Judah have been promised one specific land as their "land of inheritance," the land of Palestine. In this phrase Jacob uses the word "lands" in its plural form which is even further emphasized by the modifier "all." Also in the next verse Jacob seems to apply this promise of restoration to a "land of inheritance" to his contemporaries whom he is addressing there in the western hemisphere. It would thus seem likely that Jacob may have intended his use of the word "Jews" to include more than just the tribe of Judah. He seems to be including at least the tribe of Joseph to which he and his brethren belong. The promised land of the tribe of Joseph is the western hemisphere. The term "Jews" here likely refers to all those who inhabited the kingdom of Judah, which may have included people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. It may, in fact, include all of scattered Israel.
3 Behold, my beloved brethren, I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow upon your children.
verse 3 Obviously Jacob believes that the promises of restoration promised to the "Jews" apply to the descendants of his own tribe, the tribe of Joseph whom he refers to here as "your children."
4 For I know that ye have searched much, many of you, to know of things to come; wherefore I know that ye know that our flesh must waste away and die; nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God.
verse 4 Jacob now changes the subject and begins to discourse on the doctrines of the fall, the atonement, and resurrection.
"ye have searched much" A sobering question that might be asked of any member of the Church in this latter day is, "When was the last time you made a sincere and diligent effort to search, through prayer and scripture reading, for spiritual truths?"
"our flesh must waste away and die" Because of the fall of Adam, decay and death are the literal inheritance of every human being on this earth. There is no escape, and there are no exceptions.
"nevertheless, in our bodies we shall see God" Jacob introduces his discussion of the doctrine of the resurrection which will continue in verses 5-7 that follow. Please note that the first time the doctrine of the resurrection was given to the earth was not during the mortal ministry of Christ. The doctrine was understood by Adam (Moses 5:10) and likely by all subsequent prophets.
5 Yea, I know that ye know that in the body he shall show himself unto those at Jerusalem, from whence we came; for it is expedient that it should be among them; for it behooveth the great Creator that he suffereth himself to become subject unto man in the flesh, and die for all men, that all men might become subject unto him.
verse 5 "in the body he shall show himself to those at Jerusalem" The phrase "in the body" suggests that this verse applies to Christ's appearances following his resurrection. Christ in his resurrected body, of course, did show himself to his disciples in Jerusalem. Also, he will yet appear to those at Jerusalem at his second coming.
"for it is expedient that it should be among them" This provocative phrase suggests that there was a particular reason why the resurrected Lord appeared to those "at Jerusalem," or in the area of Jerusalem. What is that reason? Perhaps he appeared to these particular people as a witness to the world that whereas he was at one time subject to death and to those in the area of Jerusalem who executed him, now he has demonstrated to people in the same area that death and all men are subject to him.
"it behooveth the great Creator . . . that all men might become subject unto him" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines behooveth as, "To be necessary for; to be fit for; to be meet for, with respect to necessity, duty, or convenience." Christ's ordeal in Gethsemane and on the cross was absolutely essential according to the law of justice and served to qualify him to be able to cleanse each of us of our sins as we repent and obey his commandments.
verses 6-16 These verses are among the most valuable in all scripture in providing truths about the Fall and the Atonement.
6 For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
verse 6 "death hath passed upon all men" The death inherited from the fall of Adam is of two kinds, physical and spiritual.
Intuitively we all understand physical death-the separation of body and spirit. Spiritual death is spiritual alienation from God. It may or may not imply a physical separation from God. Some have distinguished a first spiritual death from a second spiritual death. The separation from God we experience because of the fall of Adam is temporary, and we are not to blame. This is the "first spiritual death." When a person reaches the age of accountability, understands the difference between good and evil, and commits sin, he suffers the "second spiritual death." It is the same spiritual death suffered by all accountable individuals. If such a person fully repents, accepts the gospel, and is properly baptized of water and of the Spirit, he can be spiritually born again through the cleansing action of the Holy Ghost and he may qualify to enter God's presence. In our lifetime we will all likely experience many second spiritual deaths and, through sincere repentance, many rebirths.
Because of Adam's sin, we are (1) all obligated to suffer physical death and (2) we are all assigned a temporary physical and spiritual separation from God. All are redeemed unconditionally from both of these by the Savior's resurrection. Thus, all will be resurrected, and all will be returned to the presence of God, at least long enough to be judged.
Because of our own sins, however, we suffer a "permanent" spiritual death, we become "permanently" separated from God. This "permanent" alienation has a solution. Read on!
"merciful plan of the great Creator" This is the "plan of salvation." Man has always had a deep need to discern some design, purpose, pattern, or plan regarding his existence. This has been referred to as man's "architectonic" need. That our God is a God of order and has a well defined plan for the redemption of his children is clear from other references in the Book of Mormon. The "plan of salvation" is also mentioned in the Book of Mormon in Jarom 1:2, Alma 24:14, and Alma 42:5. The same plan is referred to by other names several times in the Book of Mormon including: "the way of deliverance of our God" (2 Nephi 9:11), "the plan of our God" (2 Nephi 9:13), the "eternal plan of deliverance" (2 Nephi 11:5), "the great plan of redemption" (Jacob 6:8), "the plan of redemption" (Alma 12:25), the "plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8), and the "plan of mercy" (Alma 42:15). It is interesting to note that nowhere in the Bible is it even mentioned that God has a plan for the salvation of his children. We know, however, that Old and New Testament authors knew about the plan of salvation. We read, for example, in the books of Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price about the pre-earth life and the Grand Council that we attended there. In these books, these concepts are mentioned but briefly. Evidently they were assumed to be common knowledge among those for whom these books were originally written. Peter's reference to Christ's visit to the spirit world also illustrates this point. He obviously did not intend to give a discourse on the subject. Rather, his reference to spirit prison was only used in making another point (1 Peter 3:18-19).
"To fulfil" this plan of salvation is to be resurrected and exalted and return to the presence of God. This verse might be made slightly clearer by removing the comma after the word Creator. We might also add "in order" prior to the words "to fulfill." Then we would read, "In order to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator there must needs be a power of resurrection." In other words, God's plan for us cannot be fulfilled without our being resurrected.
"there must needs be a power of resurrection" The power of resurrection resulted from Christ's suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross and is given freely to all men born into mortality-all will be resurrected.
"the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall" At first reading, this phrase suggests that the resurrection resulted from the fall. This is not the case. Rather, the resurrection was made necessary by the fall. Adam's sin, also referred to as the fall of Adam, resulted in the inevitable physical death of all men born into mortality. Thus, it became necessary that man be eventually resurrected.
"the fall came by reason of transgression" Many would distinguish between transgression and sin. Transgression implies simply breaking of a law, whereas sin implies willful disobedience. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that Adam and Eve were not guilty of sin-only transgression. He said, "I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin" (Doctrines of Salvation 1:114). Joseph Smith said, "Adam did not commit sin in eating the fruit, for God had decreed that he should eat and fall" (The Words of Joseph Smith, 63). Adam and Eve knowingly broke a commandment so that they might become parents to the children of God. They knowingly partook of the fruit. They had to deliberately break one commandment in order to keep a greater one. They were, then, were guilty of transgression and not sin.
"they were cut off from the presence of the Lord" This phrase is discussed in the commentary for the phrase "death hath passed upon all men" at the beginning of this verse.
7 Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement-save it should be an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
verse 7 What is an "infinite atonement" or "infinite sacrifice" (Alma 34:10)? Actually the Savior's atonement is infinite in a number of ways:
1. It is infinite because of the scope and comprehensiveness of its coverage. The effects of the atonement extend to all of the worlds that Christ has created and to all mankind therein (Moses 1:33; Moses 7:30; see also McConkie's Mormon Doctrine, 65; Marion G. Romney, "Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe," 46). Elder McConkie observed: "Just as the creative and redemptive powers of Christ extend to the earth and all things thereon, as also to the infinite expanse of worlds in immensity, so the power of the resurrection is universal in scope. Man, the earth, and all life thereon will come forth in the resurrection. And the resurrection applies to and is going on in other worlds and other galaxies" (Mormon Doctrine, 642).
What about other forms of life? What about the animals, the plants, the lower forms of life? And what about the earth itself with all of the "inanimate" materials that constitute the earth? Are these not simply embodied intelligences? Are they not also subject to the fall of Adam, and do they not maintain their agency and are they not capable of sin and thus capable of sinning and falling on their own? Do not all intelligences have their agency and the opportunity to test themselves against opposition? Will they all experience a temporal death? And what about a spiritual death? Are they not all also in need of the blessings of the atonement? They are.
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith spoke directly to this point: "It is a very inconsistent notion which is held by some, that the resurrection will only come to human souls, that the animals and plants have no spirits and therefore are not redeemed by the sacrifice of the Son of God, and hence they are not entitled to the resurrection" (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:7). The Lord promised that "all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, . . . both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea" (D&C 29:24). President Brigham Young wrote: "Christ is the author of this Gospel, of this earth, of men and women, of all the posterity of Adam and Eve, and of every living creature that lives upon the face of the earth, that flies in the heavens, that swims in the waters, or dwells in the field. Christ is the author of salvation to all this creation; to all things pertaining to this terrestrial globe we occupy. . . . he has redeemed the earth; he has redeemed mankind and every living thing that moves upon it" (JD, 3:80-81). Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in discussing the "heresy" of believing that man was the end product of evolution, said: "When those who espouse this view talk of a fall and an atonement, they falsely assume such applies only to man rather than to the earth and all forms of life, as the scriptures attest" ("Seven Deadly Heresies," Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: BYU Press, 1980], 7-8). Elder Talmage shared similar feelings: "We learn from scripture that Adam's transgression brought about a fallen condition, not of mankind alone, but likewise of the earth itself. In this and in numerous other epochal events, . . . nature is seen to be in intimate relation with man" (Essential James E. Talmage, 211).
The inanimate earth also is experiencing a life cycle analogous with that of man. It was created or "born" spiritually when the intelligences that inhabit the inanimate materials of the earth were embodied with bodies of spirit matter. It experienced a mortal creation or birth when the spirit earth was embodied with mortal matter. In the early period of the earth's creation, the earth was located "near Kolob," that great star near the throne of God, and thus not in its present solar system (John Taylor, The Mormon, August 29, 1857). At the time of the fall of Adam, the earth fell from its original location into its present solar system (JD, 17:143; see also JD, 9:317; Mormon Doctrine, 212). The earth experienced its baptism by the flood at the time of Noah. Perhaps its "baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost" will occur prior to the Lord's second coming, and it is possible that at that time all of the telestial elements will be purged from the earth. Finally, at the end of the thousand years, the earth will die, shed all of its terrestrial elements, and be resurrected with a celestial eternal body. It will return back the presence of God and become the abode of all celestial beings. The prophet Joseph explained: "The earth shall be rolled back in pristine purity, into its primeval orbit, and the inhabitants thereof dwell upon it in perfect peace and righteousness" (Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 333).
Joseph Fielding Smith spoke of the death of the earth and its subsequent quickening or resurrection made possible only by the atonement: "The earth, as a living body, will have to die and be resurrected, for it, too, has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ" (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:74). Thus, we may conclude that animals, fish, fowl, trees, and even the "inanimate" earth itself are heirs to the plan of redemption. So all-inclusive and so glorious are the atonement's far-reaching powers that every form of life will "praise the name of the Lord" (Psalm 148:13; see also Revelation 5:7-9; Revelation 5:13), and "declare his name forever and ever!" (D&C 128:23; see also D&C 77:2-3).
2. It is infinite because of its completeness and depth. It is infinite not only in who it covers, but what it covers. It covers all sins except for the sin against the Holy Ghost. There is no escape for those guilty of the unpardonable sin. This is not because the atonement lacks in any degree in its infinite nature, but rather because these souls rejected the gift of repentance that had been offered. To reject a gift is not to disprove its existence. One is reminded of the friend of Galileo who refused to look through his telescope "because he really did not want to see that which he had so firmly denied." Simply put, the atonement can open the door to salvation if we will but turn the key.
The atonement completely overcomes a universal reality, in fact the most universal reality of which we are aware, physical death and the first death. The latter is the temporary spiritual death due to the fall of Adam. It also makes possible the overcoming of the second spiritual death-the spiritual death due to a man's own sins-for all mankind.
3. It is infinite because of its timelessness. Its effects are timeless-that is, they apply to people born from the time of Adam to the end of the Millennium and even before and after. It applies to all of God's creations, past, present, and future. In the premortal council the Savior covenanted with the Father to perform the atonement. John Taylor wrote, "A covenant was entered into between him and his Father, in which he agreed to atone for the sins of the world" (Mediation and Atonement, 97), and hence he became known as "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8; see also Moses 7:47). Even though he did not actually atone until his mortal ministry, his covenant, his pledge was considered good enough by those who enforce the demand of the law of justice. God "cannot break" a covenant (D&C 84:40). And what about the premortal world? Do those spirits need the blessings of the atonement? Do the blessings of atonement apply there? In the premortal world there is good and evil. There is agency and a need for repentance. There is spiritual growth and a lack of spiritual growth. Hence the blessings of the atonement are vital there as well. Orson Pratt believed and taught: "We see no impropriety in Jesus's offering himself as an acceptable offering and sacrifice before the Father to atone for the sins of his brethren, committed, not only in the second, but also in the first estate" (The Seer, 1 [number 4]: 54, italics mine). The Doctrine and Covenants seems to confirm this notion: "Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning [referring to our spirit birth]; and God having redeemed man from the fall [referring to the atonement], men became again, in their infant state [referring to mortal birth], innocent before God" (D&C 93:38). Every man was also innocent at the moment of his birth into mortality. This includes those born before the Savior's atoning experience in Gethsemane and at Calvary. Nevertheless this innocence at birth was and is possible only by virtue of the Lord's infinite atonement. And, finally, what about the post-mortal spirits? Of course the atonement is operative there as well (see D&C 138:19, 58).
4. It is infinite because its source was infinite. The atonement was wrought by a divine, immortal, infinite being who made a perfectly sinless offering. The one who atoned was a God who is infinite in knowledge, power, and glory. He had committed no sin and therefore was not subject to the fall of Adam. He was able to die, yet he was not inevitably subject to death. He had power over death, yet he laid down his life voluntarily.
5. It is infinite in the extent of suffering endured by the Redeemer. He came to know the sum total of the human plight, not just because he witnessed it, but because he embraced and experienced it. The Savior's plunge into humanity was not a toe-dipping experience. It was a total immersion. He did not experience some pains and not others. His life was not a random sampling, a spot audit. It was a total confrontation with-and internalization of-every human experience, every human plight, every human trial. Somehow his sponge alone would absorb the entire ocean of human affliction, weakness, and suffering. For this descent he would fully bare his human breast. There would be no godly powers exercised that would shield him from one scintilla of human pain. "He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him" (D&C 18:11). His suffering was something far deadlier that death.
Christ's atonement was a descent into the seemingly "bottomless pit" of human agony. He experienced the sufferings of the most wretched of all sinners. He descended beneath the cruelest tortures devised by man. He experienced the agony of loneliness, the burden of depression, the pain of inadequacy, the suffering of infirmities and sickness. He suffered all sorrow, all mental, emotional, and physical hurt, and all weakness of every kind that afflicts mankind. He knows the depth of sorrow from bereavement. He knows the widow's anguish. He understands the agonizing parental pain when children go astray. He has felt the striking pain of cancer and every other debilitating ailment heaped upon man. Impossible as it may seem, he has somehow taken upon himself those feelings of inadequacy, sometimes even utter hopelessness, that accompany our rejections and weaknesses. There is no mortal condition, however gruesome or ugly or hopeless it may seem, that has escaped his grasp or his suffering. The Lord has reminded us of our inability to fully empathize. While speaking to the prophet Joseph Smith he described his own sufferings: "How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not" (D&C 19:15). For a more complete discussion of this most essential aspect of the Lord's atonement, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement.
It is also clear that no mortal man could have withstood that which the Savior suffered and remained alive for the entire ordeal. Death would have come to other men as a welcome relief long before the intensity and duration of this infinite ordeal had reached its zenith. Joseph Fielding Smith testified: "I do not care what his fortitude, what his power, there was no man ever born into this world that could have stood under the weight of the load that was upon the Son of God, when he was carrying my sins and yours. . . . [It] was beyond the power of mortal man either to accomplish or endure" (Doctrines of Salvation 1:130-31).
The very name Gethsemane has possibly symbolic significance. Geth or gat in Hebrew means "press," shemen means "oil." Olive oil is created when seasoned olives are placed on a stone in strong bags. Then they are crushed with a huge stone to press out the oil. Brother Truman Madsen has observed that, "the symbolism of the place is inescapable" ("Olive Press," Radiant Life, 58).
We say that the Savior has experienced the suffering of the vilest sinner. Do sinners suffer because of their sins? If a sinner espouses a sinful way of life, does he not come to equilibrium with sin and even take pleasure in it? No, he does not. Every law has both a blessing and a punishment affixed to it. Whenever the law is obeyed, a blessing is given that results in happiness (joy). Whenever the law is disobeyed, a punishment is given which results in unhappiness (misery). Thus "wickedness never was happiness" (Alma 41:10) and it never will be (see 2 Nephi 2:13). Samuel the Lamanite included the same thought in these words to the wicked Nephites: "Ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head" (Helaman 13:38). The sinner is miserable, and the ultimate sinner, Satan himself, is the most miserable of all. True happiness lies only in living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must also add to the sinner's burden the pain of him who is committed to repent-the guilt, the remorse, the embarrassment, and the shame.
But the Savior suffered more than the unhappiness and misery of the vilest sinner. He also suffered all of the adversities and vicissitudes which any individual on earth can ever suffer. It is these adversities that often lead to sin. In a world without adversity, without opposition, there would be no temptation or need to sin. Every adversity, in its way, is a temptation to sin. The Lord experienced all adversities including those that lead to sin and those that result from sin.
In the course of his divine descent Jesus was assaulted with every temptation inflicted on the human race. After our futile attempts to explain the awesome depths of this unspeakable experience, we come back again to those simple but expressive words of the scriptures, "He descended below all things" (D&C 88:6).
An important part of the human experience is to confront temptation. It comes to all. On occasion it roars like thunder. On others it whispers in subtle, soothing tones. With chameleon-like skill it camouflages its ever-present nature, but it is there, always there. Every temptation proves a crossroad where we must choose between the high road and the low road. We are always choosing, always taking sides. That is part of the human experience-facing temptations on a daily, almost moment-by-moment basis-facing them not only on the good days but on the days we are down, the days we are tired, rejected, discouraged, or sick. The Savior drank from the same cup. He faced every temptation of the flesh. As Paul said, he "was in all points tempted like as we are" (Hebrews 4:15).
We know that the Savior did not yield to temptation; he literally gave no heed to them (Mosiah 15:5; D&C 20:22). Some may contend that the Savior cannot empathize with those who succumb to temptation because he never yielded and, therefore, he could not understand the apparently unique circumstances of those who did. The fallacy of such an argument is exposed by C. S. Lewis:
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means-the only complete realist (Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis, 337-38).
What role, if any, did Satan have in the process of the Savior's atonement? Probably no role at all. It was an experience wholly orchestrated by the Father (3 Nephi 11:11; D&C 76:107).
Skeptics have also wondered if Christ really had to exercise faith while he was here upon the earth. Does not each of us here on earth confront those moments in life when faith and the reason of the world are seemingly incompatible, and we must choose between the two? Did the Savior, with his infinite faculties, both spiritually and intellectually, ever really face that dilemma? Was there ever a time he did not know the end from the beginning? Like all other mortals, did he ever have to choose faith in God over his own powers of reason? Was this, too, a part of his experience? If not, did he truly experience the totality of the human plight?
C. S. Lewis spoke of Christ's foreknowledge preceding his impending death.
It is clear that this knowledge [of his death] must somehow have been withdrawn from him before he prayed in Gethsemane. He could not . . . have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope-of suspense, anxiety-were at the last moment loosed upon him-the supposed possibility that, after all, he might, he just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability. . . . But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps he would not have to be the very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man (Joyful Christian, 171-72).
To live a fully predictable life, a life devoid of anxiety, suspense, and faith, is a pseudo-human life-it is no more than a fašade. But this is clearly not the case with the Savior. Never was more faith required of any man, at any hour, than when the Savior, hanging on the cross, faced the terrifying aloneness of the moment when the Father withdrew his spirit and left him comfortless. More faith was required of him than was ever exacted from any mortal.
It is clear that the Savior's suffering was physical, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional pain of the highest order, all wrapped into one. It was of such colossal magnitude that it caused "even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore" (D&C 19:18). It is also clear that he did not live out his mortal sojourn and atonement with a divine shield to protect him from life's sufferings. He lived life much as a man. Paul wrote, "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews 2:16-17). Alma taught that "the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh" (Alma 7:13). The Savior voluntarily let his humanity take precedence over his divinity. His godhood was summoned for one reason only. It was to hold off the unconsciousness and death that would have brought an earlier end to his suffering had he only the strength of a man. He simply brought a larger cup to hold the bitter drink.
It is notable that during the Savior's ordeal in Gethsemane, an angel came from heaven for the purpose of "strengthening him" (Luke 22:43-44). Who was this divine messenger? Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggests it was Michael or Adam ("The Purifying Power of Gethsemane," Ensign, May 1985, 9). While we do not know for certain the identity of this heaven-sent comforter, there are at least four reasons why it may indeed have been Adam. First, Adam was a co-creator of this earth with Jehovah. He was also the patriarch of mortal man. He would surely have had a keen interest in man's ultimate destiny. Certainly he had a vested interest to see that this earth was not created in vain. Second, it seems appropriate that he who triggered in part the need for the atonement would now be the agent to assist him who pled for its redemption. Third, as taught by Joseph Smith, Adam has a presiding role in the hierarchy of divine beings, since all "angels are under the direction of Michael or Adam" (TPJS, 168). No messenger would be more suited to strengthen and bless than he who was the presiding archangel. Fourth, Adam enjoyed a unique relationship with the Savior. Not only did he join with him in the creation process, but likewise as he led the heavenly forces in battle (Revelation 12:7). Now, once again, Adam might momentarily stand beside him as the Savior participated in the most crucial battle of all. Adam could not take the Savior's place (for the Savior must bear this alone), but what he could do, he no doubt wanted to do. Perhaps he was there to console him, to comfort him, to support him, maybe even to give him a blessing. The scriptural account is silent as to the nature of the exchange between Christ and his angelic comforter. Perhaps this was one of those moments so sacred it was not to be recorded in the annals of man. Certainly this was a moment of transcendent pathos. It would not be surprising to learn that each wept and transmitted an intensity of love known only by the gods and angels. Surely this was a sacred, intimate, and eternal friendship. Perhaps the angel offered words of comfort and reassurance. Or perhaps the strength of his silent presence was sufficient. Whatever the divine exchange may have been, the Savior found sufficient strength, in the midst of unfathomable suffering, to press on.
For reasons that are not clear to us, Christ had to shed his blood during the process of atoning in order for the process to be valid (Leviticus 17:11; 1 John 1:7; 1 Nephi 12:10). This he did when he sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane, when he was flogged, when his hands and wrists and feet were nailed to the cross, and when his side was pierced with a sword. John Taylor observed, "Why it was necessary that his blood should be shed is an apparent mystery. . . . Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins; but why this? Why should such a law exist? It is left with us as a matter of faith" (JD, 10:114). Paul does give us a partial insight into why blood must be shed. While speaking of animal sacrifices under the Mosaic law and the redeeming powers of blood, he adds: "It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these" (Hebrews 9:23). He seems to be saying that animal sacrifices are an earthly prototype or counterpart of heavenly sacrifices, but that Christ is the actual or "better" sacrifice that satisfies all heavenly requirements for purification.
Near the end of the Savior's experience on the cross, he uttered, in a moment of ultimate pathos, that never-to-be-forgotten cry, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). This was no rhetorical question. It was the earnest pleading of a divine being, who, under intense pain and stress, sought answers and comfort in his hour of need. The Spirit of God had been withdrawn from him. Why was it necessary for the Father to withdraw his Spirit? Apparently, if it had not been withdrawn, Christ would not have fully known the full extremity of all human agony. Elder James E. Talmage wrote: "That the supreme sacrifice of the Son might be consummated in all its fulness, the Father seems to have withdrawn the support of his immediate presence, leaving to the Savior of men the glory of complete victory over the forces of sin and death" (Jesus the Christ, 612). There was something in the comprehensiveness of his sacrifice-something in the depth of it-that required him to sever all mortal and heavenly ties, and to stand alone, absolutely alone.
Questions have been repeatedly asked about the extent of his suffering: "Why did he have to suffer so much?" "Was the extent of his suffering carefully measured and meted out?" "Are we certain that he did not suffer more than was necessary?" B. H. Roberts wrote: "It is inconceivable that either God's justice or his mercy would require or permit more suffering on the part of the Redeemer than was absolutely necessary to accomplish the end proposed. Any suffering beyond that which was absolutely necessary would be cruelty, pure and simple, and unthinkable in a God of perfect justice and mercy" (The Truth, The Way, The Life, 428).
6. It is infinite because of the motivation of the Redeemer. His motivation was pure. He was motivated by an infinite and incomprehensible love, mercy, and grace for us.
This was a personal and not a mass atonement. Somehow, every soul was individually (as well as cumulatively) accounted for, suffered for, and redeemed for. Christ tasted "death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). Isaiah suggests that Christ may have envisioned each of us as the atoning sacrifice took its toll-"when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed" (Isaiah 53:10; see also Mosiah 15:10-11). Just as he listens to our prayers one by one, so, perhaps, he suffered for us, one by one. C. S. Lewis wrote: "He [Christ] has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with him as if you were the only being he had ever created. When Christ died, he died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only man in the world" (Quotable Lewis, 248). Moses's vision of the world may offer some insight on how the pains and infirmities of countless individuals could be perceived in a relatively short time, perhaps even concurrently. Moses saw the numerous inhabitants of the earth, but the scriptures make it clear this was not merely some mass panoramic vision. To the contrary, the sacred record reads, "There was not a soul which he beheld not; and he discerned them by the Spirit of God" (Moses 1:28).
7. It is infinite because of the infinite blessings it bestows. See the supplemental article, Justification and Sanctification.
"this corruption could not put on incorruption" For a discussion of the terms corruption and incorruption, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 2:11. Were it not for the infinite nature of the atonement, fallen man could never be resurrected, that is, the mortal body (corruptible or corruption) should never become immortal (incorruptible or incorruption).
"Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration." If there had there been no atonement made, we would all have been subject eternally to the "first judgment." What is this "first judgment"? It was: "Thou shalt surely die!" (Genesis 2:17). The first judgment is the physical and spiritual deaths which were the decreed consequences of Adam and Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden. We would live forever in our spirit bodies separate from God and subject to the will of Satan (see verse 8 and 9 below).
"this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more" If there had been no infinite atonement, there would be no resurrection of the body. There would also have been another major consequence had there been no atonement. See the next two verses.
verses 8-9 Also without the atonement, "Our spirits, stained with sin, unable to cleanse themselves, would be subject to the author of sin everlastingly; we would be followers of Satan; we would be sons of perdition" (Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 130). Now don't make the mistake of regarding these verses as just so much rhetoric. They are vitally important verses that spell out what our eternal fate would have been had not Christ suffered the agony in Gethsemane and on the cross. We would have all become sons of perdition! We would all have lived in our spirit bodies with Satan forever. The reason is simple. Without the Savior's atoning sacrifice, there could be no law of mercy, and every being would be subject to only the law of justice. By this law "no unclean thing can enter the presence of God" (1 Nephi 15:34; Alma 11:37). There could have been no exceptions to this tenet of the law of justice, and there would have been no kingdom of glory available to any of the Father's children. This doctrine is taught repeatedly in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 2:39; Mosiah 15:19; Mosiah 16:4; Alma 34:9; Alma 34:35) but is not clearly taught in any of the other standard works. See also the commentary for Mosiah 15:19.
8 O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
9 And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; yea, to that being who beguiled our first parents, who transformeth himself nigh unto an angel of light, and stirreth up the children of men unto secret combinations of murder and all manner of secret works of darkness.
verse 9 "angel of light" We know that Satan has the ability to deceive man by appearing to be a light-giving messenger of God (see D&C 129:8). Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines beguiled as, "Deluded; misled by craft; eluded by stratagem."
10 O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit.
verse 10 "that monster, death and hell" The "monster" in this case is not Satan, but rather Jacob has personified "death and hell" and referred to them as "that monster." "Death and hell" refer to physical and spiritual death.
11 And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave.
verse 11 "the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel" Here is another name for the plan of salvation (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:6). In this verse, however, this phrase seems to refer to one specific aspect of the plan of salvation-the Lord's atonement.
12 And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.
verse 12 Because of the atonement of the Savior, "spiritual death shall deliver up its dead." That is, those who have sinned now have an opportunity to be reunited with their God. We now know that this will happen in a kingdom of glory.
"which spiritual death is hell" This phrase speaks of spiritual death or the estrangement of man from God, and it refers to this state as "hell." Though we may enjoy, from time to time, the ministrations of the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, all of us in this mortal life are in a state of spiritual death, separated from God. Also those who pass into the spirit prison after this life are in the same state.
The phrase "death and hell" generally refers to the combination of physical death and spiritual death. This combined state delivers up its captives. Hell delivers "its captive spirits" only on conditions of their repentance and obedience. "The grave," on the other hand, delivers up "its "captive bodies" to be resurrected unconditionally without any effort or merit on the part of him who is resurrected. The overcoming of both of these deaths is possible only because of Christ's atoning sacrifice.
13 O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.
verse 13 "the plan of our God" Another name for the plan of salvation. See the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:6 above.
"For on the other hand" In the previous verse we have just discussed the "captive spirits" who can earn their way out of spiritual death on condition of their repentance. "For on the other hand" those spirits who are in the paradise of God have already earned their exaltation. Their trial is over. They will be resurrected and exalted in the Kingdom of God.
"the spirit and the body is restored to itself again" The construction of the phrase seems awkward since the two nouns "spirit and the body" are the antecedents of the singular verb "is" and the singular reflexive pronoun "itself." In the Church today, we have a singular name for the combination of the spirit and body. It is the soul of man (D&C 88:15). In this phrase the "spirit and the body" are obviously regarded as a single entity, the soul. The same type of construction is found in Alma 11:43: "The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form" (emphasis added).
"all men become incorruptible, and immortal" The resurrected body which all men will receive will not be subject to infirmity, alteration, imperfection, error, or impurity, and it will live forever (see Mormon 6:17).
"they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect" The scriptural concept of "perfect knowledge" apparently refers to that sure knowledge which a man obtains when he is able to corroborate and confirm a fact with his own senses. In contrast, in order to "know" a fact that cannot be perceived with the senses, one must exercise faith. The knowledge thus obtained is, by definition, imperfect knowledge (see Alma 32:26; Alma 32:29; Ether 3:20). After a person is exalted, his knowledge of God and other eternal verities will become "perfect knowledge" since he will be able to verify his knowledge with his senses. He will know, for example, that Jesus Christ lives because he can see him and speak to him and touch him. This is the same way we learn things here on earth, but in the hereafter our knowledge will be purer, loftier, more permanent, indeed more perfect.
14 Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.
verse 14 "we shall have a perfect knowledge" After our resurrection, we will perceive "perfectly" our performance in mortality relative to the commandments of God. All pretense, all denial, all that is false will be stripped away. We will see ourselves as God sees us. For those who have wasted the days of their mortality this will be a confrontation of exquisite pain never to be forgotten. For those who have been wise in the use of their probationary period it will be a moment of affirmation and satisfaction. It seems likely that this perfect self knowledge is essential so that we may be able to strip away from us everything that is unbecoming and begin in earnest our growth toward godhood.
The term "perfect knowledge" does not refer to a fulness of knowledge or omniscience. Our knowledge in mortality will rise with us. We will not know all things at the time of our resurrection. Rather, will come to know all things as God knows them "in due time" (D&C 93:19).
"being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness" In a previous verse, this terminology was used to describe those blessed to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection (see 2 Nephi 4:33 and its commentary). Perhaps to be "clothed with purity" or to wear "robe of righteousness" is to have a celestial eternal body.
15 And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God.
verse 15 "when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal" This phrase refers to the resurrection. Here Jacob teaches that after the resurrection, all must come before Christ to be judged. Is this really the proper sequence? Does the judgment come after the resurrection?
First, it may seem self evident to you, but let us define resurrection. Resurrection is simply the inseparable union of the spirit with an eternal body (see Alma 11:45; D&C 138:17). Actually, the judgment occurs concomitantly with the resurrection. The type of immortal body in which we come forth in the resurrection is the judgment. We will come forth in a celestial body, a terrestrial body, or a telestial body. As we stand before the "judgment seat" of Christ, we will do so in our immortal bodies. The judgment will have already been made. Thus, this final judgment is, at least for those righteous destined to inherit a degree of glory, in a sense a formality-a simple declaration of their blessed eternal state. For the wicked, however, those who will go with Satan to outer darkness, it will be a dramatic moment of confrontation and humiliation when they will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and that his judgments are just.
The sequence of resurrection. All men are not resurrected at the same moment. There exists a pre-defined order and sequence in which man is resurrected. Let us summarize this sequence. The apostle Paul said, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order" (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; italics added).
Two resurrections. Actually there are two separate resurrections. One is the first resurrection (also called the "resurrection of the just"), and the other is the second resurrection (also referred to as "the resurrection of damnation" or "the resurrection of the unjust").
The first resurrection. The first resurrection is divided into two parts: the "morning of the first resurrection" and the "afternoon of the first resurrection." Those who merit a celestial body come forth in the "morning" of the first resurrection. These are they who once resided in paradise, those who bore the title "just men made perfect," those referred to as "the just" (D&C 76:17), meaning that they are justified, ratified, sealed, and approved of God. These are they who have had their calling and election made sure-they who have received the promise by revelation that they shall be equal with him in "power, might, and dominion" (see D&C 76:95). Those who come forth in this resurrection will live with God and enjoy eternal life which is God's life.
The morning of the first resurrection began at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, and it is likely continuing at the present time. The final phase of the "morning" is the major resurrection that will occur at the time of Christ's second coming just prior to the Millennium. Of course, those who live during the Millennium and merit celestial glory will receive their celestial bodies during the millennial period (see D&C 132:19). Actually the phrase "morning of the first resurrection" refers not so much to a time as to a quality of resurrection. In other words, those who inherit the celestial kingdom rise in the morning of the first resurrection, whether they are resurrected at the time of Christ, at his second coming, during the Millennium, or sometime in between these events.
Those who will inherit a terrestrial body arise in the "afternoon" of the first resurrection. The afternoon of the first resurrection begins some time after the onset of the Millennium and ends before the end of the thousand years. As mentioned, it is during this phase that those bound for the terrestrial glory will receive their bodies. These are called "Christ's at his coming" (D&C 88:99). These are they "who have received their part in that prison which is prepared for them, that they might receive the gospel, and be judged according to men in the flesh" (Ibid.). These have accepted Christ but not to the degree that would result in their exaltation.
The second resurrection. The second resurrection begins at the end of the Millennium. The first to come forth in the second resurrection are those who have been cleansed of their sins and have thus earned the telestial glory. Then, finally, those who have earned no glory and who are destined to spend the rest of eternity with Satan in outer darkness come forth with their bodies. Even "hell" or the spirit prison cannot purge these of their filth. They were given a sure witness and knowledge of heaven's secrets, but they denied it all and came out in open rebellion striving to destroy the church. Thus, they "crucify Christ afresh." Their fate is unknown, but some have speculated that they may eventually experience dissolution of their resurrected bodies and exist forever as naked or disembodied intelligences in outer darkness. It has been suggested that in the absence of the life-sustaining powers of God's Spirit, sons of perdition will eventually become disorganized and return to "native element" (JD, 1:349-52; 5:271; 7:358-59). However, scripture declares that "the soul can never die" (Alma 12:20) and that in the resurrection the spirit and the body are united "never to be divided" (Alma 11:45; cf. 12:18; D&C 93:33). The ultimate fate of sons of perdition will be made known only to those who are partakers thereof and will not be definitely revealed until the last judgment (D&C 29:27-30; D&C 43:33; D&C 76:43-48; TPJS, 24).
16 And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end.
verse 16 "his eternal word, which cannot pass away" His word will never cease to be relevant, applicable, and binding (see verse 17).
"they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still" The Book of Mormon here simplifies our post mortal destiny into two possibilities only-those who "are righteous and shall be righteous still" and "they who are filthy shall be filthy still." The Book of Mormon makes no mention of the three degrees of glory. The former group-"they who are righteous"-likely refers to those who are exalted in the celestial kingdom. The precise identification of this latter group is problematic-"they who are filthy shall be filthy still." These could be only those who go with Satan and his angels to live in outer darkness forever, though the sweeping application of this penalty here suggests that it may also refer to a large group of people-those who enter that part of the spirit world we call spirit prison.
The remainder of this verse outlines the fate of the "filthy" in graphic, if somewhat hyperbolic, images.
Another idea that seems to be expressed in this verse is that our death does not change our basic nature. After death we will possess precisely the same motivation, disposition, spiritual inclinations, and desires that we possessed here on earth.
"as a lake of fire and brimstone" There are several references in the Book of Mormon to the suffering of those in the spirit prison and also those who eventually go with Satan as sons of Perdition (2 Nephi 9:26; 2 Nephi 28:23; Jacob 3:11; Jacob 6:10; Mosiah 3:27; Alma 12:17; Alma 14:14). They shall be cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone where there shall be "weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth." Brimstone is sulfur, and what could be more noxious than burning sulfur? The "lake of fire and brimstone" is, of course, figurative or symbolic. Joseph Smith taught the meaning of this symbolism as he spoke of the spirit prison: "A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. . . . The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone" (TPJS, 357). "The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits . . . is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves" (Ibid., 310-11). It is thus easy to understand why we maintain that hell is both a place-either the spirit prison or outer darkness (less often, the telestial kingdom) and a state-a condition of the mind characterized by keen realization of what might have been.
As we understand the "spirit prison" today, there is another reason it might be referred to as "hell." Those spirits who failed to be granted a state of paradise at their deaths are placed under a clear and challenging obligation. They must learn about, confess, and commit and covenant to follow and obey Jesus Christ. And they have a precise deadline. They must repent and commit themselves to Jesus Christ prior to the resurrection and final judgment. If they do not, they will remain "filthy still" (see also Mormon 9:14; D&C 88:35) and they will go with Satan and his angels forever. This awesome obligation and deadline can often be most challenging. So much so, that it may be referred to as "hell."
17 O the greatness and the justice of our God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled.
verse 17 "O the . . . justice of our God!" It is sobering to know that each of us will be dealt with by an all-knowing God who is perfectly just. And justice is certainly an important factor in our final judgment. How do we measure up relative to the commandments of God? What do we really deserve? What are our real motivations and desires and feelings? We can hide nothing.
18 But, behold, the righteous, the saints of the Holy One of Israel, they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever.
verse 18 It is sobering to learn that more than just a passive belief is necessary in order to earn our exaltation. We must actively endure the "crosses"-the challenges and problems and lusts, of the world. They are "crosses" in that they are contrary to our spiritual nature and must be resisted with determination, overcoming all obstacles.
To "despise the shame" of the world is to go on clinging to the iron rod in spite of the mockery and scorn that flow over us from the multitudes in that great and spacious building seen by father Lehi.
"the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world" We doubtless knew of the possibility of our exaltation in the pre-mortal world.
19 O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.
verse 19 There is a unique LDS definition of salvation. Joseph Smith crystallized it into a crisp statement: "Salvation is for a man to be saved from all his enemies" (The Words of Joseph Smith, Ehat and Cook, 205-07). In other words, salvation means to be placed beyond the power of all our enemies. Then Joseph continued in his definition and explained that these "enemies" are death, hell, and the devil. In this case, it might be difficult to know specifically what Joseph had in mind by "death" and "hell," but we can speculate. "Death" is physical death or separation of body and spirit. "Hell" is either spirit prison or outer darkness.
Consider the following question: By this definition of salvation, is a person who inherits the telestial kingdom "saved"? Is he placed beyond the power of death? Of course. He has been resurrected and will never again be separated from his immortal body. Is he protected from the devil and from hell? Yes. He has been redeemed from the devil and has been placed in a kingdom of glory. Thus he is indeed "saved."
The terms "salvation" and "saved," when used in scripture, almost always mean "exalted." It is this definition that pertains in statements such as, "There is no gift greater than the gift of salvation" (D&C 6:13); or "salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power, and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else" (Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith, Jr., vol. 7:9). Even our own third Article of Faith intends this meaning when it states: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."
Is it possible to be saved in the celestial kingdom and yet not exalted? Yes, those who do not wish to comply with the law of eternal marriage become, in the celestial heaven, "ministering angels" who live "separately and singly without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity" (D&C 132:16-17). For further discussion of this subject, see chapter 7 of volume 3, Salvation, in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
"lake of fire and brimstone" See the commentary for this phrase in verse 16.
"endless torment" This term, as in this verse, is used by Jacob (see also verse 26 and Jacob 6:10), Nephi (2 Nephi 28:23), and Mormon (Mosiah 28:3). Similar expressions are used by other Book of Mormon authors. For example, "eternal torment" is used by Alma (Mosiah 27:29; Alma 36:12) and "never-ending torment" is used by an angel and king Benjamin (Mosiah 2:39; Mosiah 5:5). For the devil and his angels, those who are sons of perdition, this torment is truly endless, eternal, and never-ending in the usual sense of those terms. Through accepting the atonement of Jesus Christ, however, all others will be released from such suffering in time. The younger Alma, for example, will explain that he suffered "eternal torment" (Alma 36:20-21).
How something "endless," "eternal," and "never-ending" can come to an end is explained in D&C 19 where we are taught that "Endless" and "Eternal" are names for God. Thus "endless" punishment and "eternal" punishment simply refers to God's punishment (see the commentary for D&C 19:4; see also D&C 19:10-12). These terms have nothing to do with the duration of the torment.
20 O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
21 And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.
verse 21 "that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice" To be saved in a lesser kingdom or exalted in the celestial sphere, one must be obedient and repentant-in other words "hearken unto his voice."
"he suffereth . . . the pains of every living creature" While we cannot comprehend the extent of suffering, qualitatively or quantitatively, that Christ experienced as he atoned in Gethsemane and on the cross, this verse attempts to give some idea as to the quantitative magnitude of his agony. It certainly was not his fear of death or even the physical torture of crucifixion that caused the large part of his suffering. Somehow during the process of atonement he suffered, and thus came to know intimately, every kind of suffering experienced by the inhabitants of earth (see also Alma 7:11-12; Hebrews 2:18). For further discussion of this subject, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 19, The Essence of the Lord's Atonement.
"both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam" We have additional truth on this matter. We know that Christ's atonement was efficacious not only for mankind on this earth, but for the human family on other earths as well. In his poetic version of D&C 76, the Prophet Joseph wrote of the many worlds the Savior had organized:
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav'd by the very same Savior of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God's daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.
The Book of Mormon is silent on this doctrine.
22 And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.
23 And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.
24 And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.
verses 23-24 Keep in mind that one of the most important tools available to Joseph Smith to aid in his learning the gospel in 1828 and 1829 was the text of the Book of Mormon itself. As he translated, he likely clung to every word of doctrinal discourse he translated. He was obviously an apt pupil and very much prepared to "soak up" every word of gospel teaching he encountered. As you read these two verses, imagine how Joseph and Oliver Cowdery might have reacted as they pondered their meaning. Would they have had a desire to be properly baptized? How would they have felt about the importance of faith, repentance, and enduring to the end?
Was the ordinance of baptism practiced among the Nephites? Most certainly it was. There can be no mistaking that the Book of Mormon teaches that baptism for the remission of sins is a fundamental principle of the gospel (see also 2 Nephi 31:5-13;17). We know that baptism has been practiced since the time of Adam (Moses 5:58; Moses 6:52; Moses 6:64-65).
"they must be damned" To be damned is to be judged and found to be unworthy and therefore condemned to some eternal disadvantaged state. The Book of Mormon speaks of damnation in two contexts: (1) being denied a fulness of salvation (exaltation or eternal life); and (2) being delivered up to the devil for eternity (perdition or outer darkness).
The verb to damn comes from a Latin root meaning "to condemn," or "to pronounce guilty." It is unrelated to the similar verb to dam, meaning to stop or to block. There exists a common confusion of these two verbs. This probably has arisen since the effect of being damned might also be to be dammed in one's spiritual progress. President Spencer W. Kimball, for example, stated that to be "damned means stopped in progress" ("Marriage and Divorce," an address, 29). Thus, those who, through the exercise of their agency, choose darkness over light are stopped in their progress of acquiring light and truth" (D&C 93:27). They literally descend toward hell and darkness (2 Nephi 26:10). Joseph Smith taught that "if we are not drawing towards God . . . we are going from him and drawing towards the devil. . . . As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved; thus, we are damned!" (HC, 4:588).
We may summarize this matter. To be "damned" does not merely mean having one's progress stopped. It means to be condemned, to be judged guilty or worthy of punishment. In a spiritual sense it means being declared guilty of sin, the exact opposite of being "justified" or declared innocent of sin. In answer to the question, "Will everybody be damned, but Mormons?" the Prophet responded, "Yes, and a great portion of them [the Mormons], unless they repent, and work righteousness" (TPJS, 119).
25 Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.
verse 25 "condemnation" A censure or penalty invoked by those who keep the law of justice upon all those who violate a commandment. For one to receive condemnation, a law must first exist, one must be subject to that law, and one must of his own volition trespass that law. The degree of condemnation one receives is related to the light and knowledge one possesses (D&C 82:3).
"where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement" This phrase may well lead to some confusion. It would seem that the central purpose of the verse is to emphasize the vital necessity of law. Where there is no law, there can be no punishment or condemnation. How, then, might we explain this specific phrase? See the commentary for verses 25 and 26 below.
26 For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.
verses 25-26 These verses introduce an important doctrine, but if we take the verses at their face value, then the doctrine they describe is a bit confusing. Let us analyze the verses. First, what spiritual blessing is promised to those spoken of in the verses? They are "restored to that God who gave them breath." In other words, they are promised exaltation in the presence of God. Next, just who are these people who are promised their exaltation? They are "those who have not the law given to them." Do the verses make sense, then? Those who do not have an opportunity to hear and accept the law are promised their exaltation! No, of course they don't make complete sense. There is something missing. What is the missing concept? These verses actually apply to those who did not have the opportunity to receive the law on this earth but who would have embraced the gospel had they had the chance.
Here, then, is an important doctrine. We already know that the promise of exaltation is extended to those who hear and accept and endure in the gospel on this earth. In addition, the full benefits of the atonement of Christ (including exaltation in the presence of God hereafter) are extended also to all those who lived on the earth but had no opportunity to receive the law of the gospel or to participate in its saving ordinances but who would have fully accepted the gospel had they had the opportunity to hear it (see also Mosiah 3:11; Moroni 8:22; D&C 137:5-9). Indeed, in all the human family, no one will be denied a blessing because of circumstances beyond that person's control. No one will be condemned for not observing a commandment or participating in an ordinance of which that person was ignorant. Our Lord knows all things. Only he is the perfect judge of all mankind (John 5:22). His qualification to judge was perfected in him through his suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross and through his atoning death (Alma 7:11-12; Hebrews 2:18). Because he atoned, he is the perfect judge (perfectly just) of all mankind, including those who died having not adequately heard of Jesus Christ or the law.
It should be noted that no man of accountable age dies in perfect ignorance since the spirit of Christ, that spiritual entitlement given to all men as they come into mortality, provides all men an intuition that urges obedience to the law.
This doctrine is corroborated in D&C 137:5-9 where we are taught: "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts."
There is an old saying: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The intended meaning of this old adage is that all manner of good intentions are of little value if they are not translated into meaningful actions. There is much truth in this aphorism if the reason the pure intentions are not converted to action is procrastination. However, we have just learned that if an individual is prevented from converting his noble intentions to honorable actions by external circumstances, then he will be judged by an all-knowing Lord as if he had translated his thoughts to actions.
In his helpful article, "Redemption Through the Holy Messiah," found in Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 115-30, Brother Robert L. Millet quoted Elder Dallin H. Oaks to illustrate this point:
When someone genuinely wanted to do something for my father-in-law but was prevented by circumstances, he would say: "Thank you. I will take the good will for the deed." Similarly, I believe that our Father in heaven will receive the true desires of our hearts as a substitute for actions that are genuinely impossible.
Here we see [a] contrast between the laws of God and the laws of men. It is entirely impractical to grant a legal advantage on the basis of an intent not translated into action. "I intended to sign that contract" or "We intended to get married" cannot stand as the equivalent of the act required by law. If the law were to give effect to intentions in lieu of specific acts, it would open the door for too much abuse, since the laws of man have no reliable means of determining our innermost thoughts.
In contrast, the law of God can reward a righteous desire because an omniscient God can discern it. As revealed through the prophet of this dispensation, God "is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (D&C 33:1). If a person refrains from a particular act because he is genuinely unable to perform it, but truly would if he could, our Heavenly Father will know this and can reward that person accordingly ("The Desires of Our Hearts," in Brigham Young University 1985-86 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, 1986], 30).
What is the practical application of this doctrine? It would seem likely that, at death, the people to whom these verses apply are heirs of exaltation. They are either admitted immediately into "paradise" in the world of spirits or perhaps they are placed temporarily in the spirit "prison" where their ordinance work is done for them, and they enter into paradise.
Why are these individuals not simply placed in the spirit prison where they will surely eventually manifest their celestial nature? Is it not possible for those who are assigned to the spirit prison to eventually repent and embrace the gospel and endure in it to a point where they will come to merit exaltation in the presence of God? It is apparent from studying the scriptures that those assigned to spirit prison are those who are judged to be destined to inherit the terrestrial or telestial kingdoms or the state of outer darkness. This mortal life is the probationary state, and when we die a vital "partial judgment" will be made by God, assigning us to our exaltation or to a lesser glory (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 448). We are taught in Alma: "For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors" (Alma 34:32). See also the verse commentary for Alma 34:32 and Alma 12:24; Alma 42:10; Alma 42:13. It would seem that it is most unlikely or even impossible that an individual pass from the spirit prison into exaltation. Conversely, is it possible to fall from the state of paradise and lose one's exaltation? Apparently that will not happen. Once a person has achieved the state of paradise in the world of spirits, his mortal probation period is ended, and he will no longer be at risk of falling.
Does this doctrine help us to understand D&C 137:10?: "And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven." Perhaps it does. Many have chosen to interpret this verse at face value. Others have been troubled by its sweeping implications. When viewed in the context of the world's history, which includes extensive backward cultures with high infant mortality rates, then those who earn their way to the celestial kingdom by dying before the years of accountability may even outnumber all of those who inherit other kingdoms. Also, when the verse is accepted without qualifications, one must assume that God must have intended and sanctioned each of those premature deaths. Certainly our God is capable of directing a righteous spirit, who has no need of a probationary experience, into each of those infant bodies who would suffer death before the age of eight years. But this is a degree of intervention and influence that does not quite square with the general manner in which God seems to deal with the family of Adam. In addition, one might ask the question: Even though the millions of children that have died before the age of accountability are sinless, will each of them be suited for and be comfortable in the celestial kingdom? Might some of them be more "at home" in another degree of glory? Some feel that D&C 137:10 must be interpreted in light of D&C 137:5-9, quoted above. Those spiritually innocent children who would have accepted the gospel, according to the judgment of an omniscient God, had they tarried upon the earth will enter the state of "paradise" and later return to their God. Others will surely be judged as deserving of a lesser glory.
verses 27-38 These verses have been referred to as Jacob's ten commandments and are couched in negative terms. These are vastly important and summarize the most important principles of the Nephite religion. For the Book of Mormon peoples, these "ten woes" function indeed as the ten commandments. A state of "wo" is a condition of deep suffering from misfortune, calamity, affliction, or grief. The ten woes may be paraphrased as follows:
1. Wo unto them who know God's laws and commandments yet transgress them because they think they are learned and wise. Their wisdom is foolishness, and they shall perish (verses 27-29).
2. Wo unto the rich. Because they are rich, they despise the poor. Their treasure is their God, and their treasure shall perish with them (verse 30).
3. Wo unto the deaf who will not hear, for they shall perish (verse 31).
4. Wo unto the blind who will not see, for they shall perish also (verse 32).
5. Wo unto the uncircumcised of heart, for a knowledge of their iniquities shall smite them at the last day (verse 33).
6. Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell (verse 34).
7. Wo unto the murderer who deliberately kills, for he shall die (verse 35).
8. Wo unto them who commit whoredoms, for they shall be thrust down to hell (verse 36).
9. Wo unto those who worship idols, for the devil of all devils delights in them (verse 37).
10. Wo unto all those who die in their sins, for they shall return to God, behold his face, and remain in their sins (verse 38).
27 But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!
verse 27 "wo unto him" In his book Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World, biblical scholar David E. Aune sets forth the various formulaic expressions that characterize prophetic speech in the Old Testament (see Donald W. Parry, "Thus Saith the Lord: Prophetic Language in Samuel's Speech," JBMS 1/1 :181-83). These expressions serve to formally introduce vital, sacred utterances and to announce that the Lord is the source behind them. The Book of Mormon prophets used the same formulas in their prophetic discourse. This particular expression, "wo unto . . ." is called the woe oracle (Isaiah 5:8; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 5:20; Habakkuk 2:9; Habakkuk 2:12; Habakkuk 2:15). About forty examples of this formula are found in the Book of Mormon (e.g., 1 Nephi 1:13; 2 Nephi 15:21). Often part of a judgment speech, it is used to pronounce anguish and distress upon a person or group of people.
Here Jacob warns the person who sins against light. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3).
"wasteth the days of his probation" From man's viewpoint, the length of time we spent living as spirits in the pre-existence was virtually infinite. Apparently Joseph Smith taught that our lives there lasted about 2,555,000 years (letter of W.W. Phelps to William Smith, December 25, 1844 in Times and Seasons, vol. 5, 758 and letter of Oliver Cowdery to William Frye, Messenger and Advocate, Kirtland, December 1835, vol. 2, 235-37). Imagine the time and effort spent in developing our talents and preparing for this mortal phase. Imagine the longing and waiting and anxiety we must have experienced as we anticipated coming to the earth to engage the vital trials awaiting us here. The duration of this mortal trial is relatively only an instant. The key moment is now. We have prepared almost an eternity for this brief season. Are we now to waste this day of our probation?
28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
verse 28 Jacob warns those who "refuse to acknowledge the true Source of all knowledge and wisdom, but choose instead to worship at the shrine of intellect" (Robert L. Millet, Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 126). Intellectualism is not necessarily wisdom. Man's understanding cannot supplant God's counsel. Man cannot lean on his own sophistication and logic in matters of the Spirit.
Not all truths are of the same worth. It may be more important, for example, to know that seat belts reduce the chance of dying in an automobile accident than to know that toilet paper costs one penny per roll less at Dan's Food Store. Also one type of truth may be more important than another. There are, for example, secular truths and spiritual truths. Secular truths are learned through the five senses and are often helpful and very important. Spiritual truths cannot be learned through the natural senses, rather they may only be learned Spirit to spirit, by revelation from the Holy Ghost. It is impossible to be exalted in the celestial kingdom without learning some spiritual truths. One cannot truly know that Jesus is the Christ, for example, except one has this knowledge revealed by the Holy Ghost. Spiritual truths are revealed only to those who strive and seek to obey the commandments of God, whereas secular truths can be learned without regard to moral status. The Apostle Paul taught that it is impossible for the natural man to truly know spiritual truths (1 Corinthians 2:14).
"that cunning plan of the evil one" Satan would have us trust in things of the earth-materialism, wealth, and intellectualism-rather than things of the Spirit. An individual ensnared in worldliness to the exclusion of things of the Spirit is guilty of the sin of pride. The word cunning here has a negative meaning: deceitful, designing, tricky. This is in contrast to its meaning in 2 Nephi 13:3.
29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.
verse 29 Properly channeled intellect, however, is vastly important as is affirmed in this verse. It would be very difficult to acquire a testimony of Jesus without striving first to know something of his life and mission. We are commanded, after all, to seek learning "by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118).
We must be competent but resist pride. Joseph F. Smith firmly declared, "Of those who speak in his name, the Lord requires humility, not ignorance" (Gospel Doctrine, 206). All are susceptible to the pervasive curse of pride, but scholars are above average in the pride category. We know by sad experience that when people get a little power, their natural disposition is to exercise unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39), and clearly, knowledge is a form of power.
We must learn with a purpose, and then give purpose to our learning. The bridge between faith and reason is purposeful activity. Study gives us facts, truth, and knowledge. Faith gives us values, goodness, and objectives. Both are necessary. Knowledge, in and of itself, is morally neutral until it is put to work in support of some chosen purpose. There is a trouble with truth: Satan knows a lot of truth. He knows the laws of physics, physiology, psychology, and social behavior. What he lacks is the willingness to do what is good. That conviction comes through the light of Christ and with faith in Jesus. Without the love of Christ, truth is dangerous. No one, scholars included, operates above the moral law. We will read in Alma 32 that what we learn when we plant the seed is not that the seed is true but that it is good. We should know that the gospel is both good and true, for our knowledge will "operate toward [our] salvation or condemnation as it is used or misused" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 206).
30 But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.
verse 30 This verse does not condemn all of those "who are rich as to things of this world." Rather it rebukes those who allow their earthly treasures to become their principal motivation and loyalty, their idol, indeed "their god." The danger does not lie in riches, in and of themselves. The prophet Jacob will point out that nothing would please the Lord more than to have everyone rich: "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free in your substance, that they may be rich like unto you" (Jacob 2:17).
31 And wo unto the deaf that will not hear; for they shall perish.
32 Wo unto the blind that will not see; for they shall perish also.
verses 31-32 Those who are spiritually deaf and blind in the face of ample revealed knowledge and abundant evidence of God's hand in our physical world were described aptly by the Lord: "They are walking in darkness at noon- day" (D&C 95:5-6).
33 Wo unto the uncircumcised of heart, for a knowledge of their iniquities shall smite them at the last day.
verse 33 The "uncircumcised of heart" are those who have spiritual impurities which need to be cut away. These fail to yield their hearts to God. It was father Lehi's contemporary, Jeremiah, who commanded the Israelites to "circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart" (Jeremiah 4:4).
"a knowledge of their iniquities shall smite them at the last day" See the commentary for verse 14 of this chapter.
34 Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell.
verse 34 We have mentioned previously that the word "hell" may refer to one of three states or places. Here it seems to refer to either spirit prison or the telestial kingdom. In other places in scripture it may refer to outer darkness where Satan and his adherents will spend eternity.
35 Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die.
verse 35 The word "die" here probably refers to the state of spiritual death or separation from God experienced by those in the telestial kingdom. The premeditated shedding of innocent blood is a "sin unto death" (1 John 5:16- 17) meaning a sin for which there is "no forgiveness" (D&C 42:79). Is this true? Is the shedding of innocent blood the same as "the unpardonable sin"? Can a man not repent and be cleansed of this sin?
The ultimate and "unpardonable sin" is to shed the only completely innocent blood, the blood of Jesus Christ. Once an individual has been converted to the divinity of Jesus Christ by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost and has come to know God and have an absolute witness, then that individual has a most serious and binding obligation. If he should ever turn altogether against the Church and come out in open rebellion against it, then he is guilty of the unpardonable sin. It as though he "crucifies [Christ]" afresh or "assent[s] unto [his] death" (D&C 76:35; D&C 76:132:27). Such an individual will be resurrected but will not inherit a kingdom of glory. Rather he will spend eternity with Satan and his angels.
The unjustified shedding of human life is the "unforgivable sin" second only to the unpardonable sin in its gravity. A murderer may repent and be cleansed in the post-mortal life, and he may be admitted to a kingdom of glory, the telestial kingdom. He cannot, however be forgiven to the point of being worthy for the celestial (or even the terrestrial) kingdom. He may become a "servant of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come" (D&C 76:112).
Some have suggested that this verse condones capital punishment for murderers. See a discussion of this question in the commentary for Alma 34:12.
36 Wo unto them who commit whoredoms, for they shall be thrust down to hell.
verse 36 Again, most adulterers will inherit the telestial kingdom. This is the first use of the word "whoredoms" in the Book of Mormon. It will be used twenty- six more times before the book's end. It is the general Book of Mormon term for unchastity in all of its forms.
37 Yea, wo unto those that worship idols, for the devil of all devils delighteth in them.
verse 37 Those who "worship idols" are those whose primary dedication and loyalty are attached to things other than Jesus Christ and his gospel. What are some of these idols? How about power, influence, wealth, careers, titles, offices, social status, and fashions?
The "devil of all devils" is Satan.
38 And, in fine, wo unto all those who die in their sins; for they shall return to God, and behold his face, and remain in their sins.
verse 38 "In fine" means in conclusion or in summary.
"all those who die in their sins" These are unrepentant at death-those who have not repented of their sinful nature.
This verse may be interpreted to be referring to the final judgment of God. In this case these individuals shall eventually "return to God" after a period of suffering in the spirit prison. They will stand before him and "behold his face" at the great final judgment. The judgment they receive will be fairly suited to each individual. These will receive a lesser kingdom or be cast out to outer darkness.
Another possibility is that this verse refers to an earlier event, the so-called "partial judgment" that occurs immediately upon a man's death (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 448). In this judgment we are assigned to either paradise or prison. Who is the gatekeeper who renders this judgment? It seems likely that this judgment is made by an all-knowing Jesus Christ (see 2 Nephi 9:41 and the commentary for Alma 40:11-12).
"remain in their sins" It is apparent that a man's nature and character, relative to belief and obedience of gospel principles, is no different after his death than it is prior-indeed, "their works shall follow them" (D&C 59:2).
39 O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one. Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.
verse 39 "O, my beloved brethren" Remember that Jacob is delivering this sermon to his fellow Nephites.
"to be carnally-minded is death" Carnal means "of the flesh" or "of the world." Clearly, he who is "carnally-minded" will suffer eternal separation from God. Who is this unfortunate soul? What does it mean to be "carnally- minded"? Perhaps the primal and most fundamental challenge of mortality is the incessant struggle of having to choose between things of the world and things of the Spirit. Literally, such decisions are required of us each and every day. The pattern of choices we make gradually begins to define our eternal character. The "judgment of God" does not take place at a finite point in time. Rather it occurs gradually and insidiously as we make the myriad decisions required of us in mortality. How will we choose today? Will we decide for the world or for the Spirit? Will we select immediate gratification, convenience, pleasure, ease, and expediency even though a spiritual "principle" may be slighted here and there? Or will we manage to stick to the principle even if it means self denial? There is no black and white on the spectrum of carnal versus spiritual. There is every shade of grey, and our shade may change a little every day. It is a dynamic and constantly fluid process. The key seems not so much to be our absolute position along this spectrum, rather the quality of our motivations and the velocity and direction in which we are moving. He who manages to travel a considerable distance down the road toward things of the Spirit is never completely immune to a change in direction, but the likelihood of his "going back" diminishes.
40 O, my beloved brethren, give ear to my words. Remember the greatness of the Holy One of Israel. Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you; for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker. I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken.
verse 40 "for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth" This statement teaches an important truth about people who will not accept the gospel. Those who reject the gospel truths do not usually do so in an indifferent or passive way. There is a tendency for those who reject principles of truth to "revile against [that] truth." It would seem that man cannot usually reject the gospel without some element of ambivalence. There is a basic spirit in all man, perhaps the spirit of Christ, that is not completely suppressed even in those who openly reject the gospel. This spirit produces in them a nagging, itching awareness, however subtle it may be, that they are rejecting their own eternal nature. The frustration produced by this ambivalence often results in angry rejection of the gospel and a need to self justify.
"your Maker" To whom does this phrase refer? Is it God the Father or his son Jesus Christ? It probably refers to Jehovah or Jesus Christ (see 3 Nephi 22:5, wherein Jesus himself quoted Isaiah chapter 54 which refers to Jesus as "thy maker").
41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
verse 41 "the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him" Brother Paul Hoskisson has questioned the use of "straight" in this phrase. He suggests that strait may be more appropriate. Please see the discussion of this issue in the supplemental article Strait and Straight in the Book of Mormon.
The tradition in Christianity that Peter is the keeper of the gate is false and without scriptural foundation. Not only is the Savior the "keeper of the gate," but he is the gate. Only by coming to him and to his gospel is a man admitted into a degree of glory. He waits at the gate, not only to sanction us, but also to welcome us. How humbling yet thrilling to contemplate a personal audience with our Savior. He will be there in person to greet us, as "he employeth no servant there."
Your author has frequently pondered the question, "But which gate?" Will we encounter the Savior at the time of our death when we are subjected to the "partial judgment" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 448)? Or, must we wait until we present ourselves, clothed in our resurrected eternal body, at the celestial gate? Certainly the importance of the discerning judgment made at the time of the "partial judgment" requires the participation of the one true judge (John 5:22). Only time will provide the answer to my question, but I yearn to see him and kneel before him. And, the sooner the better!
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches-yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.
verse 42 Notice this sweeping condemnation of those who are "puffed up" because of their supposed "learning," "wisdom," and "riches." Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines puffed as, "inflated with vanity or pride." The gatekeeper will keep the gate closed to them.
"they are they whom he despiseth" The Lord "despiseth" (regards with contempt or scorn) the sin of pride, not the individual who is proud.
"come down in the depths of humility" This is the first mention of the word humility in the Book of Mormon. Humility may be defined as the realization of one's dependence upon God, and a willingness to seek and follow his will. It is the opposite of pride, as the proud man often evidences loftiness, haughtiness, and stubbornness of heart. Humility is a gift of the Spirit, and can only be experienced when one has deliberately "put off the natural man" by obeying in spite of the "natural" pulls of his flesh.
43 But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever-yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.
verse 43 Those proud individuals described in the previous verse will never be able to comprehend spiritual truths which are understood by those who are spiritually "wise" and "prudent."
It would seem that some of those in the world who are truly intellectual and learned are inclined to acquire humility as they gains knowledge. It has been your author's experience that the truly great intellects-those who are considered "world class"-are inclined to be humble and not "lifted up" in pride. They readily admit to those things which they do not know or understand. They have come to sense the inadequacy of man compared to the vastness of the knowledge yet to be learned. They also come to yearn for a higher meaning, a loftier purpose. This humility is vital, for without it a man is unreceptive to the Spirit. He cannot be taught spiritual truths.
44 O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood.
verse 44 Here we learn from Jacob the importance of obeying gospel principles when they are taught by a prophet. By declaring the message, the prophet discharges his responsibility and clears his skirts of the responsibility of other men's sins, leaving the hearer without excuse. The hearer will obey or be damned.
"I take off my garments, and I shake them before you" The word garments is used frequently in the Book of Mormon, and it may well relate to the temple ordinances. To "shake" one's garments is a figurative expression for absolving oneself of responsibility of another's sins by teaching them spiritual truths and issuing an appropriate warning for them to repent. The prophet shakes the sinner's iniquities from his soul and is thus "rid of [his] blood."
Keep in mind that the symbol of the "all-searching eye" is associated today with the temple, the place where we prepare ourselves to enter his kingdom. No unclean thing can enter his presence and nothing can be hidden from his eyes.
45 O, my beloved brethren, turn away from your sins; shake off the chains of him that would bind you fast; come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation.
verse 45 We shouldn't pass by this verse without calling to mind the imagery found in the vision of Enoch reported in Moses 7:26: "[Enoch] beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced."
46 Prepare your souls for that glorious day when justice shall be administered unto the righteous, even the day of judgment, that ye may not shrink with awful fear; that ye may not remember your awful guilt in perfectness, and be constrained to exclaim: Holy, holy are thy judgments, O Lord God Almighty-but I know my guilt; I transgressed thy law, and my transgressions are mine; and the devil hath obtained me, that I am a prey to his awful misery.
verse 46 See the commentary for verse 14 of this chapter.
"that ye may not shrink with awful fear; that ye may not remember your awful guilt in perfectness" Jacob pleads: "Oh, that you do not present yourself at the final judgment with great fear and awful regret for your sins."
47 But behold, my brethren, is it expedient that I should awake you to an awful reality of these things? Would I harrow up your souls if your minds were pure? Would I be plain unto you according to the plainness of the truth if ye were freed from sin?
48 Behold, if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin.
verses 47-48 To "harrow up" is to vex or cause mental distress.
God's teachings are provided to a people in a timely and relevant manner. A rebellious people are less likely to be instructed in holy and sacred matters, and are more likely to be taught of sin and its consequences.
49 Behold, my soul abhorreth sin, and my heart delighteth in righteousness; and I will praise the holy name of my God.
verse 49 "my soul abhorreth sin" One spiritual reward given, over time, to the repentant individual who makes a sincere effort to live righteously is a diminished desire to sin and an increased affinity for righteous living (Mosiah 5:1-2). This reward comes in the form of gifts of the Spirit (attributes of God) which are inevitably associated with a purging of evil from the soul. This process has been referred to as sanctification. The Holy Ghost is the sanctifier. Sanctification is a two step process. When an individual overcomes his or her natural self and obeys a commandment, the Holy Ghost (in his role as Holy Spirit of Promise) both (1) purges an increment of the natural self from the soul of the obedient and (2) justifies the individual-removes the penalty of sins committed prior to the latest act of obedience. A person in mortality is never completely unsanctified or entirely sanctified. A wide spectrum exists between the unholy and the holy. Eventually an individual may be sanctified to the point where he will hate worldliness and sin and love righteousness. Such an individual is unlikely to succumb to temptation.
verses 50-51 Here Jacob quotes Isaiah 55:1-2.
50 Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.
verse 50 Here Isaiah invites all mankind to partake of a free gift. The gift is portrayed symbolically as a drink of three different liquids, water, wine, and milk. The water is to satisfy the thirst or fulfill the need of man. The wine was traditionally used in times of rejoicing. The milk provides strength, nourishment, and growth. Using Isaiah's words, Jacob is here concluding his sermon on the atonement by inviting all to come to Christ and accept his redemption.
51 Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness.
verse 51 Why waste your money on worldly things of no lasting value?
We are urged to "feast upon that which perisheth not." Christ is the "living water" and the "bread of life" (John 4:13; John 6:47-51) whose gifts and teachings are of supreme eternal worth and are free to all men. Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines fatness as, "That which gives fertility; the privileges and pleasures of religion; abundant blessings."
52 Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.
53 And behold how great the covenants of the Lord, and how great his condescensions unto the children of men; and because of his greatness, and his grace and mercy, he has promised unto us that our seed shall not utterly be destroyed, according to the flesh, but that he would preserve them; and in future generations they shall become a righteous branch unto the house of Israel.
verse 53 "how great the covenants of the Lord" For a discussion of the Lord's "technique" of asking us to enter into covenants with him, see Covenants and Covenant Making in chapter 3, volume 2 of Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine.
"how great his condescensions unto the children of men" For a discussion of the condescension of God, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 11:16.
"our seed shall not utterly be destroyed" This covenant was originally made with Lehi (see 1 Nephi 13:30). Even though the Gentiles will eventually scatter and abuse the descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples, the Lord will never allow those peoples to become extinct.
"according to the flesh" This promise is not to be understood in mere figurative or metaphorical terms. Rather, it will find literal fulfillment among Lehi's descendants.
54 And now, my brethren, I would speak unto you more; but on the morrow I will declare unto you the remainder of my words. Amen.
verse 54 Jacob's reference here is apparently to his teachings contained in the following chapter.