Testifying of the Great and Glorious Atonement


Neal A. Maxwell
From a Church satellite broadcast on conversion and retention given at the Provo Missionary Training Center on 29 August 1999.
By personally understanding and believing in the Atonement, you and I can teach and testify of it with greater gratitude, greater love, and greater power.

The very brevity of the missionary discussions reminds us of what a harvest basket the Restoration really is. Jesus asks us, when we give, to give in “good measure,” using the metaphor of a harvest basket which is pressed down, shaken together, and running over (see Luke 6:38). And out of that marvelous harvest basket we are to teach but a few key truths and concepts.

This reality is a powerful reminder about the need for the Spirit to impel the message we give into the hearts and minds of people—because the great things of eternity are being conveyed in some very brief teaching moments. Hence the need for the Spirit to accompany what we say.

When we share the gospel as members or full-time missionaries, our friends and investigators need to feel our convictions and testimonies about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Yes, we are teaching a deep concept, but we should also be sharing a deep conviction about that powerful doctrine.

The most important thing we can do in preparing individuals to receive the full blessings of the Atonement is to understand it and to believe in it ourselves. By understanding and believing in the Atonement personally, you and I can teach and testify of the Atonement with greater gratitude, greater love, and greater power.

Repentance Made Possible

Jesus’ glorious Atonement is the central act in all of human history! It provides the universal Resurrection; it makes our personal repentance and forgiveness possible. Since all of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), the need for repentance is universal. And mercifully, Christ’s Atonement fits sins of all sizes—whether the smaller sins of omission or major transgressions. Hence, when we turn away from our sins, the required arc of that turning varies from person to person, but it is necessary for all.

The Greek word of which repentance is the English translation “denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world” (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance,” 760). This means we are to change our thoughts and then behavior until we are turned away from our sins and are aligned with God’s commandments. This change of mind means that we are actually progressing toward what Paul called “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Repentance is thus a continuing process in which each of us needs to draw on the Atonement for real relief, real forgiveness, and real progress.

Christ gave us freely an enormous and unconditional gift: the universal Resurrection. However, Christ’s proffer of the further gift of eternal life is conditional. As our Lawgiver, He sets the terms for receiving this great gift (see 3 Ne. 11:31–41; 3 Ne. 15:9–10; 3 Ne. 27:13–21). Therefore, our individual progress toward eternal life requires us to be willing to submit to Christ (see Mosiah 3:19). Then, if we are truly faithful and endure to the end, our wills can finally be swallowed up in the will of the Father (see Mosiah 15:7; see also 3 Ne. 11:11).

However, to begin such a significant transformation, we must first “give away all [our] sins” (Alma 22:18), and who else will take them anyway except Jesus? (see Alma 36:18–20).

No wonder there is such an urgency underlying our need to share the gospel! President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) declared:

“A great indicator of one’s personal conversion is the desire to share the gospel with others. For this reason the Lord gave an obligation to every member of the Church to be a missionary.

“Those of us who have partaken of the Atonement are under obligation to bear faithful testimony of our Lord and Savior. For he has said, ‘I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer, in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto you’ (D&C 84:61)” (“The Atonement and Missionary Work” [seminar for new mission presidents, 21 June 1994], 2).

Thus, all of us are to “remain steadfast … in bearing testimony to all the world of those things which are communicated unto [us]” (D&C 84:61). The forgiveness we need is correlated with our steadfastness in the work of the Lord.

Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost

Real repentance, therefore, requires the emancipating effects of baptism; it washes us clean. Think about it: how merciful when our yesterdays no longer hold our tomorrows hostage!

After the cleansing and emancipating effects of baptism, we experience further fortifying effects by receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We desperately need the Holy Ghost to help us choose the right. He will also help by preaching to us necessary sermonettes from the pulpit of memory. He will also testify to us of the truths of the gospel.

Given where we must go, we need the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, not just as an occasional influence.

We can also be further fortified after baptism by regularly partaking of the sacrament as we reflect on the Atonement and renew our covenants, including those made at the time of baptism. This process of emancipation and fortification is made possible by applying Jesus’ Atonement to ourselves as well as those we teach. We should regularly apply the Atonement for self-improvement, while enduring to the end. If we choose the course of steady improvement, which is clearly the course of discipleship, we will become more righteous and can move from what may be initially a mere acknowledgment of Jesus on to admiration of Jesus, then on to adoration of Jesus, and finally to emulation of Jesus. In that process of striving to become more like Him through steady improvement, we must be in the posture of repentance, even if no major transgression is involved.

Developing the Attributes of Christ

As we turn from transgression and strive to become more loving, more meek, more patient, and more submissive, the remaining sins, for most of us, are the less visible sins of omission. However, these must also be given away. Jesus has designated the attributes in that process for which we are to seek, such as faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, and patience. He further denotes the attributes of faith, hope, and charity, and having an eye single to the glory of God, and tells us that these qualify us for doing the Lord’s work (see D&C 4:5–7; 2 Pet. 1:4–8). No wonder we are admonished to ask, seek, and knock in order to receive these gifts of the Spirit so that we can be much more effective in doing this grand work of the Lord. In this process of discipleship, we must never forget that the Atonement continues to be absolutely vital for all of us!

Jesus instructs us, for instance, that we are to come unto Him (see Alma 5:34; Matt. 11:28–30). However, as you have noticed, when we strive to come unto Him, we come to see how He will then make our weaknesses better known to us, sometimes painfully, in order to help us to progress. Christ even promises us that He will make some weaknesses into strengths (see Ether 12:27).

As to the location, nation, time, and circumstances in which our personal discipleship is placed, we should, as the scriptures say, be content with the things allotted to us (see Alma 29:3, 6). Yet there will be an accompanying divine discontent in order to spur us on as we strive to become more like Jesus.

Whether the needed attribute is good cheer, patience, submissiveness, meekness, or love, this process requires the steady help of the Holy Ghost. He will prompt us to repent further, such as when we are too proud, too impatient, or less loving than we should be, including in marriages, missionary companionships, and other relationships. However, since such progress is not cost-free, we also need the Holy Ghost to comfort us as we pay the price.

Yes, it is by means of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, mercifully, that we can be forgiven. But it is through the Holy Ghost that we can know that we have been forgiven—a tremendously important knowledge for us to achieve. So we need not despair nor live a life in which we “droop in sin” (2 Ne. 4:28). Indeed, we can “press forward with a … brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20).

Christ’s Second Coming and the Resurrection of Mankind

If we need any additional reminders as to the importance of our further developing the virtues of Christ, we should contemplate His glorious Second Coming. Then, among other things, the stars will fall dramatically from their places in heaven. Yet there will be no mortal comments about that, for the mortal explanations and exclamations will be about Jesus and will be words of praise for two of His many attributes: His goodness and His loving-kindness (see D&C 133:52). Remember, not only are we to have faith in Christ, but we are to strive to become more like Him in our goodness and loving-kindness (see 3 Ne. 27:27).

At that Second Coming, Jesus will not mention His having endured the crown of thorns, the awful scourging, the Crucifixion, the vinegar and gall. He will, however, cite His awful aloneness: “And his voice shall be heard: I have trodden the wine-press alone, … and none were with me” (D&C 133:50; see also Isa. 63:3).

No wonder the Atonement lies at the very heart of Christ’s gospel. In fact, the Restoration’s central messages are really about Jesus and the Resurrection, and they fulfill this prophecy given to Enoch anciently: “And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth.” Why? “To bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men” (Moses 7:62). Nothing is more central.

Yes, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Jesus and His Atonement represent the most profound expression of Heavenly Father’s love for His children. How important the free gift of the Resurrection is for all mankind, and the proffer of the greatest gift which even God can give—eternal life for those willing to so live and to so qualify (see D&C 6:13; D&C 14:7).

Adversity

In this process of working out our salvation, adversity will provide part of the perspiration. Again and again for you and me, experience upon experience, we will have cause to ponder upon and rejoice in the great Atonement. For me, several scriptures have proved to be especially relevant and reassuring. When read aloud with and by some who suffer, these verses have been far better than anything I could say, especially to those valiant souls who have reached that point where they are sick of being sick.

First, consider what a perplexed but remarkable Nephi said: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17). We really do not need to know the meaning of all things if we know God loves us!

Likewise, our submissiveness to Him needs to grow, as in the words of King Benjamin, in order to become “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

King Benjamin’s use of the word inflict suggests to us customized challenges and tutoring which will require from us special submissiveness.

Similarly, our knowing of Jesus’ perfect empathy for us individually will help us greatly to endure our pains of various kinds. Christ “shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11–12).

Jesus fully understands! His empathy is perfect! He knows how to help us!

Blessings of the Atonement

In summation, the Atonement of Jesus Christ blesses us in so many ways. Through it and it alone, a remission of our sins, bringing the needed emancipation discussed earlier, can occur.

Likewise, the Atonement makes significant personal progress possible by what the Book of Mormon calls “faith unto repentance” in Jesus, in the Atonement, and in the Father’s plan of salvation (see Alma 34:15–17). Otherwise, individuals who do not have faith unto repentance will wrongly reason, “Why bother to repent?” Little wonder the scriptures say that human “despair cometh because of iniquity” (Moro. 10:22). The Atonement, instead, can bring us a “brightness of hope” (2 Ne. 31:20) even amid our losses, crosses, sorrows, and disappointments.

The spiritual submissiveness which is central to the blessings of the Atonement was well exemplified by Melissa Howes as she led her family in prayer a short while before her father died of cancer. Melissa was only 9 and her father 43. Consider unselfish Melissa Howes’s pleading, in her own words as reported to me by her mother: “Heavenly Father, bless my daddy, and if you need to take him and need him more than [we do], you can have him. We want him, but Thy will be done. And please help us not to be mad at you” (letter from Christie Howes, 25 February 1998).

How many individuals, bereft of such an understanding of the plan of salvation, are angry with God instead of being grateful to Him and to Jesus for the glorious Atonement?

Not only is the Atonement the grand expression of Heavenly Father and Jesus’ love for us, but through it we can come to know of Their personal love for us.

The Influence of the Spirit of the Lord

We must never underestimate the power of the Spirit to stir people’s souls beyond any teaching capacity or skills we may have. As you know, such occurred with Alma when he was in his extremity. And what did he remember? He said he remembered the words of his father about the Atonement of Jesus and said, “My mind caught hold upon this thought” (see Alma 36:17–18).

The Spirit can help those to whom you testify to likewise catch hold of your words in a way that their minds and hearts will grasp them, especially when those words concern the deep doctrines of the kingdom, like the Atonement.

In another inspirational moment that reflects cumulative teaching, mothers of the Nephite stripling warriors were aware that their sons had been given special promises before they went off to war. They were not as spiritually mature as their mothers, yet these dramatic promises were such that they were sustained by them. And we read that they did “not doubt [their] mothers knew it” (Alma 56:48).

Some of those whom you teach, under the direction of the Spirit and in like manner, will feel the power of your words about the Atonement and the restored gospel, and they will not doubt that you know it! These individuals are, to use Alma’s phrase, “in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6).

The Glorious Atonement

I give you my testimony of the glory and the reality of the great and glorious Atonement. I praise Jesus for enduring what He endured and for descending below all things in order to comprehend all things. I praise the Father for all that He experienced as He watched His Firstborn, His Beloved, and His Only Begotten, with whom He was well pleased, suffer all that Jesus suffered. I praise the Father for that divine empathy and whatever He endured and experienced in that moment.

I testify that Jesus’ grip on Himself in that atoning axis between Gethsemane and Calvary was really mankind’s grip on immortality. Jesus finished His preparations, as He said, unto the children of men (see D&C 19:19). Now it remains for us as mortals to claim the blessings of the great Atonement. Our gratitude for Christ and His Atonement will grow with the years and the decades. It will never cease growing. And the scriptures foretell that we will praise Him forever and ever (see D&C 133:52).

I so praise Him for the glorious and great Atonement and ask Him to bless all of us that we personally will claim, and in our ministries will help people claim, the blessings of that great Atonement, won at so great a cost. Indeed, “there was no other good enough to pay the price” (“There Is a Green Hill Far Away,” Hymns, number 194).

Detail from Prayer at Gethsemane, © Del Parson, from the Visions of Faith Collection by Mill Pond Press, Inc., Venice, Florida

Photo illustration of confirmation by Eldon K. Linschoten; photo illustration of sacrament by Welden C. Andersen

The Last Supper, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

Photo illustration of woman praying by Eldon K. Linschoten

The Crucifixion, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, courtesy of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg in Hillerød, Denmark

Christ the Consolator, by Carl Heinrich Bloch/Superstock

Photo illustration by Jed A. Clark