President Harold B. Lee taught that we must understand the Fall of man in order to understand the Savior’s Atonement, which overcame the effects of the Fall and made possible eternal life. He said, “How vital … it is to understand the Fall, making necessary the Atonement—hence the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ.”1
President Lee often testified of the divine mission of the Savior, without whom we could not be delivered from death and sin. He declared: “The Son of God … had the power to make worlds, to direct them. He came here as the Only Begotten Son to fulfill a mission, to be as a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, to bring about salvation to all mankind. By giving His life He opened the door to resurrection and taught the way by which we could gain eternal life, which means to go back into the presence of the Father and the Son. That was who Jesus was in all His grandeur.”2
This chapter discusses the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Savior’s Atonement that overcame the effects of the Fall, and our responsibilities if we are to receive the full blessings of the Atonement.
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
How did the Fall of Adam and Eve make the blessings of mortality possible?
Adam and Eve … exercised their agency and of their own volition had partaken of the fruit, of which they were commanded not to eat; thus they had become subject to the law of Satan. In that disobedience, God was now free to visit upon them a judgment. They were to learn that besides God being a merciful Father, he is also a just Father, and when they broke the law they were subject to the receiving of a penalty and so they were cast out of that beautiful garden. They were visited by all the vicissitudes to which mortals from that time since have been heir. They were to learn that by their disobedience they received the penalty of a just judgment. They were forced to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow, for now they had become mortals.
… Pain, misery, death, all now came in their wake, but with that pain, quite like our own experiences from that time to this, there came knowledge and understanding that could never have been gained except by pain. …
… Besides the Fall having had to do with Adam and Eve, causing a change to come over them, that change affected all human nature, all of the natural creations, all of the creation of animals, plants—all kinds of life were changed. The earth itself became subject to death. … How it took place no one can explain, and anyone who would attempt to make an explanation would be going far beyond anything the Lord has told us. But a change was wrought over the whole face of the creation, which up to that time had not been subject to death. From that time henceforth all in nature was in a state of gradual dissolution until mortal death was to come, after which there would be required a restoration in a resurrected state. …
… One of the greatest sermons, I suppose the shortest sermon ever preached by a person, was preached by Mother Eve. …
“Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” [Moses 5:11.]
So should we, with Eve, rejoice in the Fall, which permitted the coming of the knowledge of good and evil, which permitted the coming of children into mortality, which permitted the receiving of joy of redemption and the eternal life which God gives to all.
And so Adam likewise, blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost, “blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.” [Moses 5:10.] …
May the Lord give us His understanding of the great boon that has thus come to us, and let us honor in our minds and in our teachings the great legacy which Adam and Eve gave to us, when through their experience by the exercise of their own agency, they partook of fruit which gave them the seeds of mortal life and gave to us, their descendants down through the generations of time, that great boon by which we too can receive the joy of our redemption, and in our flesh see God and have eternal life.3
How does the Savior’s Atonement overcome the effects of the Fall?
The Lord God cast Adam out of the Garden of Eden because of his disobedience. He suffered spiritual death. … But behold I say unto you that the Lord God gave unto Adam the promise that he should not die the temporal death until He should send forth angels to declare repentance in the name of His Only Begotten Son that by his death, he might be raised to eternal life [see D&C 29:41–43]. … When Adam was driven out of the Garden of Eden, he suffered spiritual death, which is a separation of the close communion with the presence of the Lord.4
Why was the Savior sent into the world? The Master himself answered that question during his ministry when he said: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” [John 3:17.] …
Saved from what? Redeemed from what? Well, first, saved from mortal death through the resurrection of the dead. But in another sense we are saved likewise by his atoning sacrifice. We are saved from sin.5
To the Latter-day Saint, salvation means liberation from bondage and the results of sin by divine agency, deliverance from sin and eternal damnation through the Atonement of Christ.
I think there is no place where we have a finer discussion of the plan of the Atonement than in the writings of Jacob, as found in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, the 9th chapter. I therefore call it to your attention and urge you to read carefully again and again that precious explanation: …
“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.
“O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.
“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.
“And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day.
“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.
“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.” [2 Nephi 9:19–24.] …
Herein is defined … individual salvation, which comes to each, dependent upon his own conduct and his own life. But we [also] have what we call “general” [salvation], that which comes upon all mankind, whether they are good or bad, rich or poor, when they have lived—it makes no difference. All have the blessings of the Atonement and the blessings of the resurrection given to them as a free gift because of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. …
These basic teachings, therefore, plainly set forth that by the atoning power all mankind may be saved, for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive without exception. Even the sons of perdition who commit the unpardonable sin shall be resurrected along with all others of Adam’s posterity. … We have that declaration in the Articles of Faith: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” [Articles of Faith 1:3.]6
How does having faith in Jesus Christ and being obedient allow us to receive the full blessings of the Atonement?
The essentiality of [the] knowledge of the Savior and his divine mission was impressed by the Master on one occasion when he said to the Pharisees who had gathered around him, as they usually did to try to embarrass or to entrap him, “What think ye of Christ?” [Matthew 22:42.] …
During his ministry there had been [those] not possessed of faith who had declared themselves about the Master. In his home country of Nazareth they had said in derision:
“Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? … And they were offended in him.” [Matthew 13:55, 57.] …
In contrast, … his faithful followers such as Peter, the chiefest of the apostles declared: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)—and from his faithful Martha, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” (John 11:27.) And from another of his disciples after he had seen and handled the Risen Lord, Thomas impressed his testimony with these simple words: “My Lord and my God”! [John 20:28.] …
I am thinking now of two contrasting incidents. A dear friend received one of those fateful messages: “We regret to inform you that your boy has been killed in action.” I went to his home, and there I saw the shattered family, possessed of all the things that money could buy—wealth, position, the things that the world would call honorable, but there they were with their hopes and dreams shattered around them, grasping for something that they had not lived to obtain and from that time on, seemingly did not obtain. The comfort which they could have known was not there.
I contrasted that with a scene I witnessed up in the LDS Hospital just about six months ago now, when one of our dear faithful mission presidents was there slowly dying. He was in extreme pain, but in his heart there was a joy because he knew that through suffering ofttimes men learn obedience, and the right to kinship with him who suffered beyond all that any of us can ever suffer. He, too, knew the power of the risen Lord.
Today we should ask ourselves the question, in answer to what the Master asked of those in his day, “What think ye of Christ?” We ought to ask as we would say it today, “What think we of Christ?” and then make it a little more personal and ask, “What think I of Christ?” Do I think of him as the Redeemer of my soul? Do I think of him with no doubt in my mind as the one who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do I believe that he established this Church upon the earth? Do I accept him as the Savior of this world? Am I true to my covenants, which in the waters of baptism, if I understood, meant that I would stand as a witness of him at all times, and in all things, and in all places, wherever I would be, even until death?7
The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi … said:
“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23.)
The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments. All of the principles of the gospel are principles of promise by which the plans of the Almighty are unfolded to us.8
Each must do all he can to save himself from sin; then he may lay claim to the blessings of redemption by the Holy One of Israel, that all mankind may be saved by obedience to the law and ordinances of the gospel.
Jesus also atoned not only for Adam’s transgressions but for the sins of all mankind. But redemption from individual sins depends upon individual effort, with each being judged according to his or her works.
The scriptures make it clear that while a resurrection will come to all, only those who obey the Christ will receive the expanded blessing of eternal salvation. Speaking of Jesus, Paul explained to the Hebrews that “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9.) …
My humble prayer is that all men everywhere may understand more fully the significance of the atonement of the Savior of all mankind, who has given us the plan of salvation which will lead us into eternal life, where God and Christ dwell.9
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
How would you answer the question “What think ye of Christ?”
Why is the Savior referred to as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”? (Revelation 13:8).
In what ways was the Fall both a blessing and a trial for Adam and Eve? How is it also a source of both joy and sorrow for us?
What kinds of knowledge and understanding can be gained only by enduring the trials and struggles of mortality?
What is spiritual death? How is spiritual death overcome?
What blessings of the Atonement come to all mankind as a free gift? What must we do individually to enjoy all the blessings of the Atonement?
What do President Lee’s two stories about people who faced death teach about the importance of faith in Jesus Christ?
What experiences in your life have strengthened your testimony of the Savior’s Atonement?
How does the Atonement “lead us into eternal life, where God and Christ dwell”?
“Fall of Man,” address to Brigham Young University seminary and institute personnel, 23 June 1954, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6.
Youth devotional address given at Long Beach, California, 29 Apr. 1973, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 24.
“Fall of Man,” 15, 17, 19–20.
Address to Jordan seminary convention, 26 Feb. 1947, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1956, 61.
“The Plan of Salvation,” address to Brigham Young University seminary and institute personnel, 1 July 1954, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4–6.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1955, 54–56.
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 246.
“To Ease the Aching Heart,” Ensign, Apr. 1973, 5.