Ibegan an in-depth study of the Articles of Faith several years ago as a ward Primary president, when I interviewed the boys and girls for graduation. It was a joy to talk to the children about the meaning of each one and to help them with memorization. Thus, I came to understand the Articles of Faith for myself and they became a "standard" for my belief and faith.
The Book of Mormon gives a clear insight into the need for the Atonement. Jacob taught:"For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord.
"Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement - save it should be an infinite atonement, this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more.
"O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! For behold, if the flesh should rise no more, our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more.
"And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself; . . ." (2 Nephi 9:6-9.)
My heart is filled with gratitude for the witness that has come to me that the Savior rescued us from the grasps of death and hell.
The words of a song come to mind as I think of the Savior's suffering for me in the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary's cross:
"And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!" (Hymns, "How Great Thou Art," p. 86)
Early in my childhood I knew that Jesus Christ was a reality. I knew I was loved by my Savior, Jesus Christ, and that He truly was my friend. That witness that sustained me then has continued to sustain and succor me through the years.
A witness of the Atonement has come to me line upon line, precept upon precept, and has indelibly permeated my soul as I have studied the scriptures, as I have borne witness, and especially, as I have had need for repentance and forgiveness in my life. The Atonement has also had its overwhelming effect in the lives of my children.
I recall a conversation I had with our youngest son, Karl. He had played on Canada's "National Men's Basketball Team" in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 and had recently returned from a try-out with the "Denver Nuggets," an N.B.A. basketball team.
He had struggled with the decision to go on a mission, and when he came home from this try-out, he said, "Mom, it is time I go on a mission!" He then made this significant observation: "I have been thinking a lot lately about the Savior and His Atonement. He has blessed me so much and sacrificed so greatly for me, it is time I do some sacrificing for Him and try, in a small way, to repay Him for all the blessings I've received. I want to show my appreciation for what He's done for me." Karl did serve a mission.
One of the greatest blessings of my life has been to teach the youth in the seminary and institute programs. Invariably, lessons on the Atonement have been the most sacred and humbling experiences for me and the students. I have seen rebellious youth weep, worldliness and pride set aside, and renewed dedication to Christ and the principles of His gospel. As we recently completed a lesson on the Atonement I asked two students if they would share their feelings.
Shad Johns, a member of the University 2nd Ward, Calgary Alberta West Stake and a recently ordained elder, said: "Our Father in Heaven loves us so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son. The Savior, Jesus Christ, came to this world to die for us and to take upon Himself the sins of all mankind. On one occasion, I witnessed a visual depiction of Christ's horrible death. That experience had such an impact on me that I was practically speechless, just imagining the mental torment and physical pain He went through brought tears to my eyes. I learned that day how important the Lord's sacrifice was for me. I am grateful to know that because of the redemption of Christ, my burdens can be lifted through repentance and that I may, one day, have the opportunity to live eternally with my Heavenly parents."
Nancy Lambe, a student at the University of Calgary, was recently baptized. She is a new member of the Bow Valley Ward, Calgary Alberta West Stake. She said: "Only by obeying the Lord's laws and performing ordinances such as baptism will we be saved from our sins. The Savior was the only sinless individual to ever have been born into this world. This fact, coupled with His divine parentage, allowed Him to be the only person who could atone for mankind's sins.
"What does Atonement mean? According to the Bible Dictionary, it is `the setting at one . . . and denotes the reconciliation of man to God.' This is a sound intellectual and academic definition, but what does it really mean in a person's life?
"For me, personally, it has meant that my past has been put in order and my future is a thing to be looked forward to with anticipation. Before my conversion, I thought of death as something to be feared. I was afraid to face the reality that my mortal life was finite.
"The Atonement and its promise of eternal life has lifted that uncertainty from me. I cannot comprehend all the blessings that acceptance of the Lord and obedience to His gospel will bring in my life. Yet, I know that only by living the gospel will I be eternally blessed."
The Savior, Himself, bore witness of the Atonement. He said: "For behold, I God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.
"But if they would not repent, they must suffer even as I;
"Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit - and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink -
"Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:16-19).
Repentance and obedience are keys to receiving the blessings of the Atonement.
The Third Article of Faith does not say that a few men will be saved, but that "all mankind may be saved." As we catch the vision of what this earth life is all about, we come to realize that we have been given the gospel with all its saving principles and ordinances to help us find our way back home. We cannot pick and choose which of these principles and ordinances we will obey. We must obey all of them.
- Jean Tilleman is the Relief Society Spiritual Living teacher in the Calgary 17th Ward and also teaches "Doctrines of the Gospel" at the Institute of Religion.