The Atoning Sacrifice: Modern Prophets Testify


“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. …” (1 Pet. 3:18.) The great fact of the atonement lies at the very heart of the gospel, preached from Adam to the present day. Here we present some of the teachings of this dispensation’s prophets—from Joseph Smith to Spencer W. Kimball—on the centrality of the Savior’s sacrifice.

Joseph Smith

Notwithstanding the transgression, by which man had cut himself off from an immediate intercourse with his Maker without a mediator, it appears that the great and glorious plan of His redemption was previously provided; the sacrifice prepared; the atonement wrought out in the mind and purpose of God, even in the person of the Son, through whom man was now to look for acceptance and through whose merits he was now taught that he alone could find redemption, since the word had been pronounced, Unto dust thou shalt return. … Repentance is a thing that cannot be trifled with every day. Daily transgression and daily repentance is not that which is pleasing in the sight of God. … There is no salvation between the two lids of the Bible without a legal administrator. Jesus was then the legal Administrator. …

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 57–58, 148, 319.

Brigham Young

Our first parents transgressed the law that was given them in the garden; their eyes were opened. This created the debt. What is the nature of this debt? What will pay it? I ask, Is there anything short of a divine sacrifice that can pay this debt? No; there is not. …

A divine debt has been contracted by the children, and the Father demands recompense. He says to his children on the earth, who are in sin and transgression, it is impossible for you to pay this debt; I have prepared a sacrifice; I will send my Only Begotten Son to pay this divine debt. Do we understand why he should sacrifice his life? … unless God provides a Savior to pay this debt it can never be paid. Can all the wisdom of the world devise means by which we can be redeemed, and returned to the presence of our Father and elder brother, and dwell with holy angels and celestial beings? No; it is beyond the power and wisdom of the inhabitants of the earth that now live, or that ever did or ever will live, to prepare or create a sacrifice that will pay this divine debt. But God provided it, and his Son paid it, and we, each and every one, can now receive the truth and be saved in the kingdom of God.

Journal of Discourses, vol. 14, pp. 71–72.

John Taylor

We are told [in 2 Ne. 9] that the atonement needs to be infinite. Why did it need an infinite atonement? For the simple reason that a stream can never rise higher than its fountain; and man having assumed a fleshly body and become of the earth earthy, and through the violation of a law having cut himself off from his association with his Father, and becoming subject to death; in this condition, as the mortal life of man was short, and in and of himself he could have no hope of benefitting himself, or redeeming himself from his fallen condition, or of bringing himself back to the presence of his Father, some superior agency was needed to elevate him above his low and degraded position. This superior agency was the Son of God, who had not, as man had, violated a law of His Father, but was yet one with his Father, possessing His glory, His power, His authority, His dominion.

The Mediation and Atonement, pp. 142–43.

Wilford Woodruff

When men are called upon to repent of their sins, the call has reference to their own individual sins, not to Adam’s transgressions. What is called the original sin was atoned for through the death of Christ irrespective of any action on the part of man; also man’s individual sin was atoned for by the same sacrifice, but on condition of his obedience to the Gospel plan of salvation when proclaimed in his hearing.

Millennial Star, vol. 51, p. 659.

Lorenzo Snow

While thus living we may look forward far away into the spirit-land, with full assurance that when reaching that happy clime, we shall be crowned with the sons and daughters of God, and possess the wealth and glory of a Celestial kingdom.

Apostle Paul in his time, taught the Saints to have the same mind in them as was in Christ Jesus, who, finding Himself in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. Apostle John, on the same subject says, “When Jesus appears we shall be like Him.” “Every one that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as God is pure.”

As man is, God once was—even the babe of Bethlehem, advancing to childhood—thence to boyhood, manhood, then to the Godhood, this, then, is the “mark of the prize of man’s high calling in Christ Jesus.”

We are the offspring of God, begotten by Him in the spirit world, where we partook of His nature as children here partake of the likeness of their parents. Our trials and sufferings give us experience, and establish within us principles of godliness.

Journal of Discourses, vol. 26, p. 368.

Joseph F. Smith

From the natural death, that is the death of the body, and also from the first death, “which is spiritual” there is redemption through belief on the name of the “only Begotten Son,” in connection with repentance and obedience to the ordinances of the Gospel, declared by holy angels, for if one “believes,” he must also obey.

If men will not repent and come unto Christ, through the ordinances of His Gospel, they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, but must remain forever subject to the will of Satan and the consequent spiritual darkness or death into which our first parents fell, subjecting all their posterity thereto, and from which none can be redeemed but by belief or faith on the name of the “only Begotten Son” and obedience to the laws of God. Christ is the great example for all mankind, and I believe that mankind were as much foreordained to become like him, as that he was foreordained to be the Redeemer of the man.

Journal of Discourses, vol. 23, pp. 169–70, 172.

Heber J. Grant

We do not believe that the mere confession of faith, when a man is dying, is going to save him. I remember as a youngster, working in a bank, Seeing some cartoons that illustrated the absurdity of that belief. This was in “Puck” magazine. A very villainous looking man came into a room, stabbed a man, and stole some money that he was counting. In the next picture he was in jail and a priest said: “Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The criminal thought: “A mighty easy bargain. I believe.” In the next picture he was tried and convicted: in the next, he was on his way to the gallows, with sentimental ladies throwing flowers in his path, “a soul going to Jesus.” The next showed him hanging at the end of a rope by his neck; and in the next he was soaring up to heaven, escorted by angels. The final picture showed the good and benevolent man whose money had been stolen and who had been stabbed, down in hell being pitched from one fire to another. He said he did not have time to say he believed. He had been stabbed.

“We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—“And when I say “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” we want it distinctly understood that we believe absolutely in Jesus Christ, that he was the Son of God, and that he did come to the earth with a divinely-appointed mission to die as the Redeemer of mankind on the cross. We do not believe that He was just a “great moral teacher,” but that He is our Redeemer.

Church News, Sept. 3, 1938, p. 7.

George Albert Smith

We are informed that we will not be held responsible for the sin of Adam, but that we will be held responsible for our own sins. The atonement of Jesus Christ removed from us the responsibility of atoning for the sin of father Adam, and he made it possible for us to live here upon the earth, and in due time, if we take advantage of our opportunities, we will be prepared to be resurrected from the dead when that time shall come.

—Conference Report October 1926, p. 102.

David O. McKay

In the Meridian of Time came the Savior of man, toward whose coming man in the morning of life had looked forward, and upon whose life man in the evening of life should look in retrospect. In the meridian of the earth’s history came the Son of Man declaring the eternal truth so opposed to the promises of the earth, that he that would save his life must lose it.

And in his brief stay upon earth, how perfectly he exemplified this truth. He owned no land. He owned no house; for he had nowhere to lay his head. … (See Matt. 8:20.)

His was a life of unselfish service—always helping those who were living incompletely to live completely—whether the incomplete living was caused by a physical defect such as blindness or deafness, or whether through a moral defect such as the woman taken in sin—his mission was to give them life.

Now, … can you not carry this thought a little further and apply it even to the sacrificing of his life, to the shedding of his blood? Man’s life is not dependent upon what this earth can give—his body, yes, but that is only the house in which man lives—but the spirit, the real man is above the selfish and sensual, and seeks for its life and happiness the things which are eternal—faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, Godliness, brotherliness, charity.

In his life and death, therefore, Christ not only fulfilled the law of sacrifice, but he fulfilled every conceivable condition necessary for man to know in order to rise or progress from earthly life, to eternal life. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12: 32.)

In this I think I glimpse, though ever so dimly, a reason for Christ’s shedding his blood—in addition to the one generally offered for the redemption of man from the fall. I confess that the latter has moved me less than the realization that in his life he lived for his fellow men, and in his death, he triumphed over all earthly elements, over the power of death, hell, and the evil one, and arose from the grave, an eternal being—our Guide, our Savior, our God.

Treasures of Life, pp. 277–78.

Joseph Fielding Smith

The plan of salvation, or code of laws, which is known as the gospel of Jesus Christ, was adopted in the heavens, before the foundation of the world was laid. … It was a part of this great plan, that [Adam] should partake of the forbidden fruit and fall, thus bringing suffering and death into the world, even for the ultimate good of his children. …

The fall brought death. This is not a desirable condition. We do not want to be banished from the presence of God. We do not want to be subject forever to mortal conditions. We do not want to die and have our bodies turn to dust, and the spirits that possess these bodies by right, turned over to the realm of Satan and become subject to him. …

The atonement of Jesus Christ is of a twofold nature. Because of it, all men are redeemed from mortal death and the grave, and will rise in the resurrection to immortality of the soul. Then again, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, man will receive remission of individual sins, through the blood of Christ, and will inherit exaltation in the kingdom of God, which is eternal life.

We often hear the word atonement defined as being “at-one-ment” with God. That is a very small part of it. In fact, the great majority of mankind never becomes one with God, although they receive the atonement. “Because straight is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14.) We do not all become “at one” with God, if we mean that we are brought back again and given the fulness of life which is promised to those who keep the commandments of God and become sons and daughters of God.

Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, pp. 121–23, 125.

Harold B. Lee

Beyond the comprehension of mortal man, God has placed a supreme value upon a human soul when he says: “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; for, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance. And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth.” (D&C 18:10–13.)

“For God so loved the world” of men and women, young and old, “that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:4–6) to open the way by which all might return to his heavenly realm. The plan for man’s redemption was laid in heaven even before the earth was formed, and known even was the identity of him who was to make the atonement, who was to be as a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. …” (Rev. 13:8.)

The only thing the Savior expects from us in return for his suffering is that we repent of our sins and keep his commandments. Although his sufferings were so intense that he, the Son of God, was caused “to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit, and would that [he] might not drink the bitter cup” (D&C 19:18), … yet he, … counts it all worthwhile if, at the end of the earth, mankind, for whom he died, might gain eternal life and become his sons and daughters eternally through the acceptance of his gospel, which is God’s plan for man’s salvation.

Youth and the Church (1945), pp. 120–21.

Spencer W. Kimball

Christ’s death on the cross offers us exemption from the eternal punishment for most sins. He took upon himself the punishment for the sins of all the world, with the understanding that those who repent and come unto him will be forgiven of their sins and freed from the punishment. … When we think of the great sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sufferings he endured for us, we would be ingrates if we did not appreciate it so far as our power made it possible. He suffered and died for us, yet if we do not repent, all his anguish and pain on our account are futile. … Forgiveness of sins is one of the most glorious principles God ever gave to man. Just as repentance is a divine principle, so also is forgiveness. Were it not for this principle, there would be no point in crying repentance. But because of this principle the divine invitation is held out to all—Come, repent of your sins and be forgiven!

The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 132, 145, 338.