“I am young and inexperienced at present,” Joseph F. Smith wrote while on his mission in Hawaii. “Therefore I wish to be humble, prayerful before the Lord, that I may be worthy of the blessings and love of God.”1 Early in his service in Hawaii, the young missionary had a spiritual experience that illustrates the cleansing and comforting power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ: He said that he was “very much oppressed” on his mission and in a “condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge.”
“While in that condition I dreamed that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize just what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion, if it could be called a mansion. It seemed too large, too great to have been made by hand, but I thought I knew that was my destination. As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice, ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was a pair of white, clean garments, a thing I had not seen for a long time. … I put them on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and said:
“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’
“… That vision, that manifestation and witness that I enjoyed at that time has made me what I am, if I am anything that is good, or clean, or upright before the Lord, if there is anything good in me. That has helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty.”2
I want to speak a word or two in relation to another death, which is a more terrible death than that of the body. When Adam, our first parent, partook of the forbidden fruit, transgressed the law of God, and became subject unto Satan, he was banished from the presence of God. … This was the first death. Yet living, he was dead—dead to God, dead to light and truth, dead spiritually; cast out from the presence of God; communication between the Father and the Son cut off. He was as absolutely thrust out from the presence of God as was Satan and the hosts that followed him. That was spiritual death.3
I want to impress upon your minds—“wherein [Adam] became spiritually dead.” Now what was his condition when he was placed in the Garden of Eden? He had access to the Father. He was in His presence. He walked and talked with Him face to face, as one man walks and talks with another. This was the condition of Adam and Eve when they were in the garden. But when they partook of the forbidden fruit they were cast out and banished from the presence of God, … “Wherein they became spiritually dead, which is the first death.” [See D&C 29:41.] And it was impossible for Adam in that condition to extricate himself from the position in which he had placed himself. He was within the grasp of Satan. … He was “spiritually dead”—banished from the presence of God. And if there had not been a way of escape provided for him, his death would have been a perpetual, endless, eternal death, without any hope of redemption therefrom.4
No man can be ushered into the presence of God in his sins, and no man can receive a remission of his sins except he repent and [be buried] with Christ [see Romans 6:4]. For God has made us free agents, to choose good or evil, to walk in the light or in the darkness, as we choose, and he has ordained it thus that we might become like Him, that if we prove ourselves worthy of everlasting life and glory in His presence, it will be because we have repented of our sins and have obeyed and kept His commandments.5
No man can be saved in the kingdom of God in sin. No man will ever be forgiven of his sins by the just Judge, except he repent of his sins. No man will ever be freed from the power of [spiritual] death unless he is born again as the Lord Almighty has decreed.6
God has given to all men an agency and has granted to us the privilege to serve him or serve him not, to do that which is right or that which is wrong, and this privilege is given to all men irrespective of creed, color or condition. The wealthy have this agency, the poor have this agency, and no man is deprived by any power of God from exercising it in the fullest and in the freest manner. This agency has been given to all. This is a blessing that God has bestowed upon the world of mankind, upon all his children alike. But he will hold us strictly to an account for the use that we make of this agency, and as it was said of Cain, so it will be said of us; “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Gen. 4:7). … While God has bestowed upon all men, irrespective of condition, this agency to choose good or evil, he has not and will not bestow upon the children of men a remission of sins but by their obedience to law. Therefore, the whole world lies in sin and is under condemnation, inasmuch as light has come unto the world and men will not place themselves in a proper position before the Lord.7
The Lord designed in the beginning to place before man the knowledge of good and evil, and gave him a commandment to cleave to good and abstain from evil. But if he should fail, he would give to him the law of sacrifice and provide a Savior for him, that he might be brought back again into the presence and favor of God and partake of eternal life with him. This was the plan of redemption chosen and instituted by the Almighty before man was placed on the earth. And when man did fall by transgressing the law which was given him, the Lord gave to him the law of sacrifice, and made it clear to his understanding, that it was for the purpose of reminding him of that great event that should transpire in the meridian of time, whereby he and all his posterity might be brought forth by the power of redemption and resurrection from the dead, and partake of eternal life with God in his kingdom.8
There was a plan laid for [Adam’s] redemption. It was decreed by the Almighty that he should not suffer the temporal death until he should be taught the way of escape from the spiritual death that had come upon him by reason of sin. Therefore the angel came and taught him the Gospel of salvation, held up before him Christ, the Redeemer of the world, who was to come in the meridian of time possessed of power to conquer death and to redeem Adam and his posterity from the fall, and from the grasp of Satan. … Somebody else had to reach down and help him up. Some other and higher power than his had to bring him forth out of the condition in which he had placed himself: for he was subject unto Satan and powerless and helpless in and of himself.
The Gospel was, therefore, preached to him, and a way of escape from that spiritual death given unto him. That way of escape was through faith in God, repentance of sin, baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Thereby he received a knowledge of the truth and a testimony of Jesus Christ, and was redeemed from the spiritual death that came upon him, which was the first death, and a complete and perfect death, so far as spirit was concerned, although he lived and moved and had his being, as he did before he partook of the forbidden fruit and became spiritually dead; he had his entity and his organization; but he was spiritually dead, and he had to be redeemed from that condition.9
Adam … had to be redeemed from [spiritual death] by the blood of Christ, and by faith and obedience to the commands of God. By this means Adam was redeemed from the first death, and brought back again into the presence of God, back again into the favor of the Almighty, back again into the channel of eternal increase and progress.10
If the Lord has revealed to the world the plan of salvation and redemption from sin, by which men may be exalted again into his presence and partake of eternal life with him, I submit, as a proposition that cannot be controverted, that no man can be exalted in the presence of God and attain to a fulness of glory and happiness in his kingdom and presence, save and except he will obey the plan that God has devised and revealed.11
If we live in harmony with the designs of our Heavenly Father, if our hearts are drawn out toward Him, and toward our Elder Brother, the Son of God, our glorious Redeemer, through Him we are raised not only from the dead, but are also redeemed, or may be redeemed, from spiritual death, and be brought back into the presence of God.12
Christ was divinely appointed and sent into the world to relieve mankind of sin through repentance; to relieve mankind from the death which came upon them by the sin [transgression] of the first man. I believe it with all my soul.13
When we commit sin, it is necessary that we repent of it and make restitution as far as lies in our power. When we cannot make restitution for the wrong we have done, then we must apply for the grace and mercy of God to cleanse us from that iniquity.
Men cannot forgive their own sins; they cannot cleanse themselves from the consequences of their sins. Men can stop sinning and can do right in the future, and so far their acts are acceptable before the Lord and worthy of consideration. But who shall repair the wrongs they have done to themselves and to others, which it seems impossible for them to repair themselves? By the atonement of Jesus Christ the sins of the repentant shall be washed away; though they be crimson they shall be made white as wool [see Isaiah 1:18]. This is the promise given to you.14
We shall stand before the bar of God to be judged. So says the Bible, so says the Book of Mormon, and so say the revelations which have come direct to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith. And then those who have not been subject and obedient to the celestial law will not be quickened by the celestial glory. And those who have not been subject and obedient to the terrestrial law will not be quickened by the terrestrial glory. And those who have not been subject and obedient to the telestial law, will not be quickened by a telestial glory; but they will have a kingdom without glory.15
All the bodies that lie in the graves are called forth; not all at the first resurrection, nor in the morning of the first resurrection, but some perhaps in the last resurrection; and every soul will be required to go before the bar of God and be judged according to the deeds done in the body. If his works have been good, then he receives the reward of well doing; if [they have] been evil, then he will be banished from the presence of the Lord.16
We live, then; we do not die; we do not anticipate death but we anticipate life, immortality, glory, exaltation, and to be quickened by the glory of the celestial kingdom, and receive of the same even a fulness. This is our destiny; this is the exalted position to which we may attain and there is no power that can deprive or rob us of it, if we prove faithful and true to the covenant of the gospel.17
The object of our earthly existence is that we may have a fulness of joy, and that we may become the sons and daughters of God, in the fullest sense of the word, being heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, to be kings and priests unto God, to inherit glory, dominion, exaltation, thrones and every power and attribute developed and possessed by our Heavenly Father. This is the object of our being on this earth. In order to attain unto this exalted position, it is necessary that we go through this mortal experience, or probation, by which we may prove ourselves worthy, through the aid of our elder brother Jesus.18
Men can only be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God in righteousness, therefore we must repent of our sins, and walk in the light as Christ is in the light, that his blood may cleanse us from all sins, and that we may have fellowship with God and receive of his glory and exaltation.19
Adam, after he was cast out of the garden, was commanded to offer sacrifices to God; by this act, he and all who participated in the offerings of sacrifices, were reminded of the Savior who should come to redeem them from death which, were it not for the atonement wrought out by him, would forever exclude them from dwelling in the presence of God again. But in his coming and death, this commandment was fulfilled; and he instituted the Supper and commanded his followers to partake of this in all time to come, in order that they may remember him, bearing in mind that he had redeemed them, also that they had covenanted to keep his commandments and to walk with him in the regeneration. Hence it is necessary to partake of the Sacrament, as a witness to him that we do remember him, are willing to keep the commandments he has given us, that we may have his Spirit to be with us always—even to the end, and also that we may continue in the forgiveness of sins.20
When Jesus came and suffered, “the just for the unjust,” he that was without sin for him that had sinned, and was subjected to the penalty of the law which the sinner had transgressed, the law of sacrifice was fulfilled, and instead thereof he gave another law, which we call the “Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper,” by which his life and mission, his death and resurrection, the great sacrifice he had offered for the redemption of man, should be kept in everlasting remembrance, for, said he, “this do ye … in remembrance of me, for as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” Therefore this law is to us what the law of sacrifice was to those who lived prior to the first coming of the Son of Man, until he shall come again. Therefore, we must honor and keep it sacredly, for there is a penalty attached to its violation [see 1 Corinthians 11:25–29].21
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper … is a principle of the Gospel, one as necessary to be observed by all believers, as any other ordinance of the Gospel. What is the object of it? It is that we may keep in mind continually the Son of God who has redeemed us, from eternal death, and brought us to life again through the power of the Gospel. Before the coming of Christ to the earth, this was borne in mind by the inhabitants of the earth to whom the Gospel was preached, by another ordinance, which involved the sacrifice of animal life, an ordinance which was a type of the great sacrifice that should take place in the meridian of time.22
What is the Atonement? When have you felt strongly the power of the Atonement in your life?
What is spiritual death? Why is it “a more terrible death than that of the body”?
If “there had not been a way of escape provided” for Adam and his posterity, what would have been the consequence for us? (See also 2 Nephi 9:6–9.)
What has the Savior done to make possible our escape from spiritual death? What must we do to overcome spiritual death? How can we “apply for the grace and mercy of God to cleanse us from … iniquity”?
What blessings have come into your life because you know that Jesus Christ can cleanse the wrongs we do to ourselves and others? How have you seen these same blessings in the lives of others?
What does it mean to be quickened? How can we be spiritually quickened now? (See Moses 6:64–68.) What blessings come to those who are “quickened by the glory of the celestial kingdom”? (See also D&C 88:28–29.)
What is the “object of our earthly existence”?
How does partaking of the sacrament help us overcome spiritual death? How can we always remember the Savior? What can we do to honor the sacrament and keep it sacred?
How might we gratefully receive the gift of the Atonement in our lives?