Behold the Condescension of God

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    Taken from a devotional address delivered to the students at Brigham Young University on December 16, 1969.

    Of all the people in Christendom, we Latter-day Saints are the only ones in a position to reap the full blessings of the spirit of Christ in our lives, to know what actually is involved in his ministry, to partake in full measure of that spirit which goes with this season of the year. We have everything that the world has; we have the historical accounts of his coming onto the earth; we are aware of the traditions that have been woven around his birth, many of which have little substance in reality and fact. But the thing with which we are particularly blessed is the knowledge, gained by latter-day revelation, of his Divine Sonship. We know the doctrine of the Divine Sonship of our Lord, and it is this doctrine which I shall consider with you.

    I shall take my text from the account in 1 Nephi 11. The visions here recorded were seen about 600 years before our Lord’s birth into mortality. Lehi had received marvelous manifestations pertaining to our Lord’s birth and ministry, and had recited them to his son Nephi, who then in the power and majesty of the faith he had developed, went forth and prevailed upon the Lord to show him the same visions. These included the following:

    “I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.

    “And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?

    “And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

    “And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?” (1 Ne. 11:13–16; italics added).

    Now Nephi, great and inspired as he was, had but a partial comprehension at that time on this point. And so he said:

    “And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17).

    Well, what is the condescension of God as it pertains to our Lord’s birth and coming into mortality?

    The next words in the account say:

    “And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

    “And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

    “And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

    “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Ne. 11:18–21).

    What, then, is the condescension of God? As I understand the definition of condescension, it is the act of descending to a lower and less dignified state; of waiving the privileges of one’s rank and status; of bestowing honors and favors upon one of lesser stature or status.

    So if we are going to speak of the condescension of God, meaning that of our Eternal Father, we must first know the nature and kind of being he is. We must come to know the dignity and majesty and glory that attend him, of the things that he had and is doing for us and for all his children and in all eternity among all his creations.

    Now we have had revealed to us knowledge about God and his work and his ministry. We understand that he is a personal being in whose image man is created; that he is glorified, perfected, and exalted; that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; that he has progressed and advanced through an infinite period until he has become the Creator of the universe and all things therein.

    He has ordained the laws by which all things exist. He has established everything pertaining to this world and an infinite number of worlds that roll in space. In our finite and temporal condition, we have no way of measuring, no way of understanding, no way of comprehending the majesty and glory and dominion and might and power and exaltation that attend him. We can read the words of the revelations and get a slight understanding, as far as mortal man quickened by the Spirit can, of what is involved. But his might and his dominion, his status and his position, are so far above anything that we can comprehend or understand, that we can but envision it slightly. With it all he has acquired the fulness of every good and godly attribute. He is the embodiment of charity and knowledge, of faith and power, of integrity and uprightness, of every attribute that is righteous and edifying.

    When we think of him, we think of the most noble and exalted being there is. Then we read this question, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” and discover that somehow it is associated with his love for us, his children, his spirit children who are now dwelling as mortals here on earth. We discover in our text that he shall be the Father of a Son born “after the manner of the flesh”; that is, he condescends, in his infinite wisdom, to be the Father of a holy being who shall be born into mortality. He determines to fulfil what he decreed and announced in the plan of salvation in the premortal life when, having explained the plan, he asked for a redeemer and a savior and said, “Whom shall I send to be my Son?” Thus the condescension of God is that he is the Father literally of a Son born in mortality, in the language here, a Son born “after the manner of the flesh.”

    Now we are all the spirit children of this glorious and omnipotent being. We dwelt with him for an infinite period of time in the premortal life. We were trained and prepared and made ready to come here for this mortal probation, and we have come as the children of mortal parents. But there is one person, one person only—and that was his firstborn spirit offspring, the Lord Jehovah—who was destined to come into mortality with God our Father, an immortal person, as the parent of his mortal body, and, of course, with Mary, a mortal individual, as the mother of his mortal body.

    The angel, having manifested this truth about the condescension of God the Father to Nephi, then shows him added material, added visions, and comes again to the matter of divine condescension. He says: “Look and behold the condescension of God!” (see 1 Ne. 11:26). And this time he is talking about the condescension of Christ the Son, and not God the Father. Nephi says:

    “And I looked, and beheld the Lamb of God going forth among the children of men. And I beheld multitudes of people who were sick, and who were afflicted with all manner of diseases, and with devils and unclean spirits; and the angel spake and showed all these things unto me. And they were healed by the power of the Lamb of God; and the devils and the unclean spirits were cast out.

    “And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

    “And I, Nephi, saw that the was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Ne. 11:27, 31–33).

    Now we have a second matter relative to Deity’s condescension. This time it is the fact that Christ elected, chose, and volunteered to come into the world and be born as God’s Son, undergo the mortal probation and ministry assigned him, and then climax it with the working out of the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice.

    So when we think of Christ’s condescension in this matter, we must think of the glory and dominion and exaltation that he possessed. We read in the revelations that he was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24). We read the language of the Father where he says, “worlds without number have I created; … and by the Son I created them, which is mine only Begotten” (see Moses 1:33). We discover that Christ was like the Father; that he was co-creator, that he had the might and power and dominion and omnipotence of the Father and that he acted under his direction in the regulating and the creating of the universe.

    We read the words which an angel spake to King Benjamin, in which the angel described him as “the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity,” and then said that he would come down and tabernacle in a body of clay and minister among men; that he would be the Son of God and that Mary would be his mother (see Mosiah 3:5, 8).

    Here we have a glorious thing. Here we have exalted, noble beings on a plane and status so far above our present circumstance that we have no way of comprehending their dominion and glory, and we have one of them, God our Eternal Father, through the condescension and infinite love and mercy that he has for us, stepping down from his noble status and becoming the Father of a Son after the manner of the flesh. We have that Son being born, that Son who was his firstborn in the spirit, who had like power and omnipotence with the Father. We have each of them performing a work that there is no way for us to understand as far as magnitude and glory and importance is concerned.

    Now the greatest and most important single thing there is in all eternity—the thing that transcends all others since the time of the creation of man and of the worlds—is the fact of the atoning sacrifice of Christ the Lord. He came into the world to live and to die—to live the perfect life and be the pattern, the similitude, the prototype for all men, and to crown his ministry in death, in the working out of the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice. And by virtue of this atonement, all things pertaining to life and immortality, to existence, to glory and salvation, to honor and rewards hereafter, all things are given full force and efficacy and virtue. The Atonement is the central thing in the whole gospel system. The Prophet said that all other things pertaining to our religion are only appendages to it.

    Well, this atonement is made possible because of the doctrines of the Divine Sonship; and if Christ had not been born into the world in the express and particular manner in which he was, he would not have inherited from his Father the power to work out this infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice, in consequence of which the whole plan of salvation would have been void and we never would have inherited or possessed the blessings of immortality or the glories of eternal life.

    And so here we have a doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We have one man out of all eternity—one man among the infinite hosts of the spirit children of God our Father—who is born into the world, inheriting from an immortal exalted Father the power of immortality and inheriting, on the other hand, from a mortal woman—the best and most gracious and most noble mortal woman without question—inheriting from her the power of mortality. Now the power of immortality is the power to live. It is the power to elect to continue to live. The power of mortality is the power to die. And so here is one being who had a dual nature, who could elect to live or elect to die; and having made the election in accordance with the plan of the Father, having elected to separate body and spirit, then by the power of the Father, which is the power of immortality, he could elect to live again. As a consequence we have the redemption from death, the ransom from the grave; we have immortality for him and for us and for all men.

    Now we cannot comprehend, we do not understand, we do not know nor can we in our present state, how the effects of this infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice passed upon all men. We cannot comprehend and understand how creation works, where God came from, or how we came into being. Someday these things will be within the comprehension and understanding of those who gain exaltation. But the fact that we cannot comprehend them does not lessen the fact that we have been created, that we do exist, that there is a resurrection, that in due course all men will be raised in immortality, and that those who have believed and obeyed the gospel law will be raised in addition unto eternal life in our Father’s kingdom. And all of this is possible because of the divine Sonship of Christ the Lord, because he inherited in his birth—in that day when he was born after the manner of the flesh—he inherited the power of immortality from God his Father.

    Now it is our custom and our practice to read in Luke and in Matthew the accounts that attended Christ’s coming to earth. These are historical events. Woven into them is some expression of the doctrine that is involved; but the historical events are of lesser import. It is the doctrine that is of transcendent value and worth to us; out of it comes the great blessings that I have indicated. How glorious it is that Christ was born into the world as the Son of God.

    I indicated that we, as Latter-day Saints, are the only people who have the full understanding and knowledge of the doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We alone have the sure knowledge of God’s personal, yet exalted nature. We worship him as an exalted and holy being of tabernacle who had power to beget a Son and who also is the Creator and upholder of all things. And our knowledge comes through latter-day revelation. We have received from God in our day the knowledge that saves. The heavens have been opened and God has spoken again to us. Although we have everything that the world has relative to Christ’s birth and his ministry, and we are grateful beyond measure for it, in reality the blessings that have come to us in this respect have come by latter-day revelation, which revelations have clarified and expanded the ancient accounts and enabled us to have a clear perspective of what is involved.

    A Book of Mormon prophet, for instance, shortly before the Lord’s birth gave this prophecy:

    “Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth.

    “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:9–10).

    Now I think because of this revelation and a host of related ones that have come to us, telling us in plainness and in perfection what is involved in the doctrine of our Lord’s birth, I think we have an especial and particular obligation to stand as witnesses to the world in this day of the truth of this fact. We happen to live in a very perilous, treacherous era of the earth’s history—an era when iniquity abounds, when the love that men should have for God has waxed cold in the hearts of people generally. We live in the great era of darkness, spiritual darkness and apostasy, that is to precede the second coming of the Son of Man. But in the midst of this darkness, God has restored for the last time on earth the fulness of his everlasting gospel. He has called us out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ. He has given us the revelations of heaven, given us an understanding of what is involved in the plan of salvation—given it by latter-day revelations so that we do not need to rely on tradition and history or even on the biblical accounts.

    He has called us and appointed us to stand as lights to the world. He has appointed us to hold the standard around which the righteous in all nations and among all people shall rally in this day, and we are attempting to do this to the best of our ability. We are expected to be witnesses of the truth; to bear record of the doctrine of the Divine Sonship; to stand valiantly and courageously on the Lord’s side of the line in defense of truth and righteousness and in proclaiming the gospel to his other children in the world.

    I am proud and gratified to be a member of his kingdom and to have in my heart what is called the testimony of Jesus. The testimony of Jesus in its nature and by definition is to know by the revelations of the Holy Spirit to one’s soul that Christ is in fact the Lord; that he was born in the way he testified he was born; that he inherited from his Father the power of immortality; that he walked among men as a mortal performing the miracles, doing the ministry and the things that the prophets said he would do and that the New Testament says that he did do. This testimony also is to know that he was lifted up upon the cross; that he died for the sins of the world; that he took upon himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance, doing this primarily in the Garden of Gethsemane; and that finally he has risen again in glorious immortality and returned to inherit that status and dominion which was his before the world was.

    This is not something that we are particularly concerned with debating. We have ample evidence. The revelations are before us and the world. We can point to them. We can explain them. We can expound the doctrine that is involved. But the Lord has said that this is a day of warning and not a day of many words; he has said that we who are in the Church are called to be witnesses of his name and that it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor (see D&C 88:81).

    So I say, we have an obligation to testify of Christ, to have in our hearts at this season and at all times the spirit that goes with him and his work. I for one desire that spirit and in some measure have it, and as a consequence I bear witness to you, as we approach the Christmas season, that God has, in fact, restored his everlasting gospel, that the truths of heaven and the truths of salvation are here, that there are legal administrators on earth at this hour who have the power to bind on earth and have it sealed eternally in the heavens. The work of God is here. The plan of salvation has, in fact, been revealed. We know the doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We have the obligation accordingly, because of the light and knowledge that has been poured out upon us, to walk as becometh saints, to rise above the world, to overcome the world, to be living witnesses of the truth and the divinity of the work. Just as surely as we are, we shall reap for ourselves peace and joy and happiness in this life. We shall have the true spirit of Christmas at this season and at all seasons, and then in due course we shall go on to the fulness of the kingdom of our Father hereafter.

    [illustration] God, in his wisdom, condescended to be the literal Father of a Son born “after the manner of the flesh.” (Painting by Heinrich Hofmann.)

    [illustration] Christ condescended to come into the world, to minister to those “afflicted with all manner of diseases.” (Painting by J. James Tissot.)

    [photo] Appointed by God, we are expected to condescend to be witnesses of the truth in a world of darkness. (Photo by Grant Heaton.)