A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement

A speech by W. Cleon Skousen – “A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement.”

This speech was given on December 18, 1980 at the invitation of Mission President Orville Matheny to over 200 missionaries at an all-mission conference of the Dallas, Texas mission.

Brother Skousen recorded in his journal, “There was such a marvelous spirit at the conference that I felt impressed to speak on the Atonement instead of the Christmas Story. I spoke for an hour and twenty-five minutes and it was a beautiful experience for me. President Matheny had arranged to have the talk video-taped as well as recorded so I took the time to give scriptural references for everything I said so the missionaries could look up the passages for themselves.” The DVD and mp3 versions of this talk are available for purchase.

The original transcript was done by Jim Harmston.  I have gone through and done some cleanup and added links.  The transcript of the speech follows:

I’ve always been puzzled, as a boy, by the Easter story. I used to sit there in Sunday School, in Raymond, Alberta, Canada, and I used to sit there and they’d tell me how Jesus suffered on the cross and I’d, that just left a lot of questions in my mind. Now here’s a person, a beautiful, beautiful person.  Son of our Heavenly Father and He’s up on that cross, got a crown on his head made of thorns, He’s got dried blood down his face, He’s been all lacerated with a cat-of-nine-tails, and He’s up there on that cross, He’s got spikes in his hands, and He’s got them in his wrists and He’s got them in his feet, and He’s just all sweaty and bloody, and he’s hanging there on the cross. And I want to know what that’s for. I want to know what that does. What does that help do? And who wanted that anyway?

Everybody said it’s necessary. I want to know why. I want to know what it accomplishes. What’s he doing up there? Romans crucified a lot of people, but, why the son of God? What was this for? Why did they prophecy? Why did Enoch say he would die on a cross? So I used to say that to myself every Easter. So when I got on my mission, age 17, I’m riding on a train with an apostle of the Lord. He’s sitting there like all mission presidents do – worrying about the conference that we’re going to have and the missionaries, I guess. He is very quiet and meditative and I said, “Brother Widtsoe, can I ask you a question?” He said, “Oh, oh, yes.” For I knew I had awakened him from a reverie of meditation on something. He was a very famous scientist, by the way, brother Widtsoe. I said, “I wanted to just ask you about why the Atonement was necessary.” I said, “I accept the fact that it is but I just wondered why? I wondered what would happen, or what caused it, to have the Father require the Son to go through this.” And he said, “Elder Skousen, who asked you to ask me this question?”“Oh,” I said, “well, I, nobody. It’s my question. Nobody asked me to ask it.”He said, “I’m not asked that question very often. Do you really want to know why the Atonement was necessary?”And I said, “Well, if it’s alright.”“Yes,” he said, “it’s alright.  How badly do you want to know the answer?”And I said, “Well, I’ve – I’ve wanted to know it ever since I was a little boy.”“Alright,” he said, “You know, if people don’t ask questions, they can’t hear the answer. So, I’ll share the answer with you over a period of time.”“Oh,” I said, “I so appreciate that.” and I got out my pencil. I said, “If you’ll give me the verses and everything, I’ll write it right down here.”“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what to look for and I’ll tell you which standard work it’s in.”I said, “aren’t you going to give me the chapter and verse?”

He said, “I wouldn’t deprive you of the thrill of finding it.”

So he’d tell me, “Now this is what to look for. This is the source of God’s power and this is where you’ll find it in the early part of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). And here’s where Jesus asked if he couldn’t get out of it and this is in several passages in the New Testament and it’ll say these things. Now you look for that.  And then you’ll find some very basic scientific truths located in second Nephi and this is what it will tell you.”  Do you know it took me seven years before I had located all of those passages!

And each time I’d see President Widtsoe, both on my mission and after I returned home, I’d report in.  And he’d say, “Well, you’re doing pretty good. I’ll give you the section of the Doctrine and Covenants – try 88 or 29 or whatever it was.” And so, I’d look and there it was, there it was. I’d read right past it several times and missed it. And finally, finally I wrote it all up and put it together and sent it to him.

“Alright,” he said, “now, we need to get some of these things back into the mainstream of thought because the Latter-Day Saints aren’t doing what Jacob said to do.”  He said, “We ought to talk about the Atonement and why it’s necessary a little more.”  So he said, “Put that in your next book.”  And so I did in “The First Two Thousand Years”, in the appendix-“Why Is The Atonement Necessary.”

Now you listen to the angels when they appeared to the shepherds. The fact that Jesus was born wasn’t the important thing. Just being born wasn’t important. He frightened the shepherds terribly. I mean they were just out – it was early in the spring – it was April. It wasn’t in December the 25th. That’s when the Romans were celebrating the birth date of Sol, their sun god. Christians didn’t have a birth date so they said, “Well we’ll, now that we’re adopting Christianity, we’ll take the birth date of [Sol], the sun god. That’s how it’s happened to be the 25th of December. There aren’t any sheep out on the 25th of December. They’re out in the spring when the grass is starting. It starts the second week in March so that’s why the shepherds were out there. So they’re watching their sheep – lots of wolves out there in those days. That’s why they are watching them. And all of a sudden it happened. Here’s this burst of light and a personage appears and he knew he had scared them.  Joseph Smith said, “When I prayed and Moroni came, I was expecting something to happen but even so, when he came he comforted me. That was the first thing he said was not to be afraid, “It’s alright, it’s alright.”

So that’s what the angel said, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy. Which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find him wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.” And then the heavenly choirs couldn’t be held back and they just split back the veil and they sang until music just filled the skies. And they said one sentence over and over again. At least the shepherds were able to hear it enough times so they could remember it. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Now, I think maybe we were there. I’m sure the saints from Adam on down. Maybe those of us who hadn’t been on the earth weren’t allowed to be there. But a lot of people were there and they sang. It was exciting to be there in that great conference just before Jehovah, who’d appeared to Nephi the second just that day before and said he was going to come in the flesh tomorrow and tonight would be the sign.  Remember that?

Now here he is and he is ready, He’s telling us all good-by and he’s about to go down into the amnesia of the second estate. So he won’t even know who he is. You don’t even know who you are. I don’t even know who I am. Isn’t that exciting?

By the time he was twelve he’d been ministered to by angels and they had told him who he was. He had seen enough visions and revelations so he could pick up Isaiah, he could take Jeremiah, Ezekiel and talk to the most learned scribes there in the Solomon’s porches on the temple square. And say, “Now this is what Isaiah really saw.” They were fascinated that a twelve year old boy – hadn’t even been to the school of Gamael yet – he knew all the answers to all these mystical scriptures that they had studied so hard trying to understand. By the time he was thirty he was ready for his ministry and had some marvelous experiences. He’s still learning about himself. In fact, when he’d get wonderful things like Lazarus rising from the dead, he would say, “Thank you Father, thank you.” And, he would cry. “You did it for me. Thank you, Father.”  And He’d cry.

He was just kind of learning what it was like to be the Son of God and to have these wonderful powers. But, I’ll tell you as he approached that great final Gethsemane, that shook him. He thought he was equal to it. He was doing pretty good right up to the time that he saw Judas go out. He was pretty sad and he was looking around the table and He said, “One of you will betray me.” Peter said, “John, ask him which one.” So, John, the beloved, said, “Which one?” “He to whom I give the sop.” He took some bread, dipped it into the gravy and handed it to Judas and said, “Whatsoever thou doest, do thou quickly.” It was beginning to get to him. He had washed their feet already.

And as soon as Judas went out, he stood up in that seventeenth chapter of John and gives that great high priest prayer in which he said, “And now O Father, neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on them through their words. That they all might be one as thou Father art in me and I in thee. That they also might be one is us.” That’s a great prayer.

Then he said to his disciples, “I must go pray. I must pray!” And so he went from the upper room and apparently across the temple square and down through the golden gate and across Brook Kidren where we’ve walked so many times – I visited it for the 23rd time here in October. Went on up into the groves of the olive trees and then something interesting happened. Eight disciples he had waiting sort of at the gateway, they immediately fell asleep. Went further up the hill and had the three remaining apostles (there were only 11 of them since Judas left) and had them wait. And apparently John was the only one that stayed awake, as far as we know. At least he’s the only one that recorded the details of what we know about what happened. And it says that Jesus went and threw himself full length – he didn’t kneel at a rock or at a tree. He just threw himself on the ground.

And now I’m going to ask you to take out a piece of paper, so that you won’t have to search for seven years for some of these choice, choice passages.  You can put it on the back of your program or wherever is convenient.

I want you to put down first of all Mark 14:36. Where Jesus said to his Father, “O Father, all things are possible unto Thee.” In other words, “You are God. You can do anything. You have it within your power.” And then the petition, “Take this cup from me. Don’t make me do it. Work it out some other way. Please! Do it without my having to go through with this.” He was trembling.

Alright, now the Father knew there wasn’t any other way. All things are possible unto God, but he’s a God of law. He’s a God of cause and effect. He’s a God of love. He’s a God of justice. But what the Son had been called to do is the way. There isn’t any other way. So he had to send an angel. I wish we had the conversation. We can only guess what the angel might have said. But he ministered to Jesus and he probably said, “You don’t have to do this. Everybody has their free agency. But the Father knew you would do it and that’s why you were ordained from the preexistence because He knew you would. But you don’t have to. If you don’t do it, everything in which your hand participated by way of creation will go back to outer chaos. The earth, the animals, the plants, the human beings, their bodies, all the other planets on which there are similar families that you helped create – they all go back to chaos. The only way they can be preserved and perpetuated and exalted is to have you do this.”

The angel probably said something like that. At least, he convinced the Savior that he must go forward if he wanted the Father’s will to be done. And so that’s when Jesus said, “Thy will be done.” And he sweat great drops of blood. Now let me give you the other passages that fill in the details. Matthew 26:39. “Let this cup pass from me.” Luke 22:43. The angel came and ministered to him. Luke 22:44. As soon as he had said, “Thy will be done” the terror of the assignment came upon him with such an overwhelming impact that the capillaries of his circularity system couldn’t even contain his blood. And it came through the sweat glands onto his skin as it were great drops of blood. That’s a kind of suffering you and I probably couldn’t even contemplate, let alone endure. But, He did. And then he said in Matthew 26:42, “Thy will be done.”

One of the things that you learn in studying the scriptures is to get all of the authorities who talked about the same incident – take all of the details that each of them have – and then piece them together so that you’ve got the whole picture. And that’s the one we have here. Now, Jesus describes his terror in D&C 19:15-19. I’m going to read that to you in a moment, not now.

In Acts 4:12 we are told that the Father could not have saved us. There is only one name given under heaven whereby you can be saved and it is not Eloheim. Now I don’t know whether that disturbs you or not. I thought God could do anything. Why couldn’t He save us after we had fallen? Does that question bother you a little? That’s the one I asked Brother Widtsoe. Doesn’t God love us as much as the Son? It’s his plan to have us come down. Why is there only one name given under heaven whereby we can be saved and doesn’t include the Father, only the Son.

Is there an answer to that? “Yes,” Brother Widtsoe said, “there’s an answer.” Seven years – you know, he didn’t tell me about that part. But, anyway, now I think that’s enough – just draw a line. That raises all the questions. Now let’s look for some answers.

Brother Widtsoe didn’t give me the answers the way I have lined them up here. He gave me some of the big answers first and I want to start with one of the fundamental answers, which is the bottom line of where it all happens. Would you write down 2 Nephi 2:14.

Father Lehi is on his death bed. He’s trying to share with his sons the last element of gospel testimony before he passes away. He’s pleading with his sons to acknowledge and recognize the great truths of the gospel. He said you must realize that there is a God and that he created everything either to act or to be acted upon. Now, there are two building blocks in the universe. One building block consists of an active ingredient. It acts. There is another thing that doesn’t act but it can be acted upon. Now, you’ve read that in second Nephi. I had read it. I’ve gone through the Book of Mormon as a teacher over a hundred times teaching it or studying it. Over a hundred times. It’s like President Mathiney said, “My brethren, people keep adding things to the Book of Mormon for me. I keep finding new things.” Well, that’s one that I finally found. I didn’t find it on my own. Brother Widtsoe said, “It’s there, now you look for it in the early part of second Nephi.” There it was, something to act and something to be acted upon. Put down D&C 93:30. “That which acts,” the Lord said, “is called intelligence or light.” Now, what’s an intelligence? No description, except that it’s like light. Everything that exists which is truth is filled with intelligence. Everything is filled with it. Now the best way for you to know about intelligence is to find out about it the way I found out about it.

I said Brother Widtsoe, “What’s an intelligence like?”

He said, “Well, look in the mirror and tell me. You’re an intelligence.”

“Oh! That’s right, oh, that’s good. Yes I’m an intelligence, aren’t I?”

Now he said, “How big are you?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

He said, “Where are you?”

“Well, I’m right here.”

He said, “You’re not down there. Did you notice. Isn’t that down from where you are?”

“Oh! Yah, it is.”

He said, “Take ahold of your chin. Shut your eyes.”

So, I did.

Now, he said, “Is that below you or above you or is that right on?”

I said, “That’s below me.”

He said, “Take ahold of your ear. Is that beside you?”

I said, “Yeh, that’s out there.”

He said, “Where is your little ‘I am’?”

I said, “It’s way in there, isn’t it?”

He said, “I think so. It’s way back in there.  It’s a little tiny ‘I am’. It’s self knowing, it’s self determining, it’s anticipatory, it can learn, it’s a little intelligence. Fascinating! And it always existed as an independent entity. A little ‘I am’.” Oh, alright, that’s an intelligence, alright.

Now, D&C 93:29-30. Intelligence is eternal and it is independent to act for itself. That’s what the Lord said. This is the essence of reality that acts for itself. Alright, Abraham 3:19-23. The intelligences, see it talks about spirits and that some are more intelligent than others. Then it tells you that its talking about spirits which are organized intelligences. So, you’re really talking about intelligences that are one above another. This is the fact that intelligences are organized and graded. What the Lord is saying and we start out with the little ones and we come up and here you are some of my most magnificent intelligences that I gave bodies in my image. You’re real super – you’re special.

Joseph Smith described the graduated intelligences that are structured in nature. Documented History of the Church 4:519. And he says he gave this sermon to the apostles and their wives so that they’d know this wonderful, marvelous God science of graduated intelligence. But, then he didn’t say any more about it and then we have to go to the brethren, the early brethren who heard it to get more details.

That which is acted upon is called element. Now that’s D&C 93:33.  Put down Journal of Discourses 7:2 where Brigham Young says these little bits of element are capacitated to receive intelligence. Now, notice what happens. You get a little piece of element and it must be extremely tiny. You attach a little intelligence to it and you can now talk to it and say, “Move that little fellow over here. You two combine together. Now bring in three more. That’s fine. Let’s get this thing going now. We’ve got ourselves a little atom here working around. We get enough of those and you’ll get a molecule. It’s a universe when you get through. I don’t know how many, maybe a million little intelligences and bits of elements all spinning around that little universe there. We call it an atom, it’s so tiny you can’t see it. We put a lot of them together and we get a molecule. And they’ll do certain things.

The Lord said in the 88th section how he gives them orders and he gives them a pattern that they follow. They’ll always follow that pattern, unless you want them to do something else. And so you get two little molecules that we call hydrogen and another little molecule that acts completely different, called oxygen, and you put them together and you got water. You see, isn’t that nice we got water. But, Jesus said, “Wine. You know what to do. High grade of wine, please.” And it happened. All of a sudden the mystery is gone out of the miracle. You and I perform things by playing force against force. That’s the way you make a motor go – you know you explode something and it’s force. The Lord talks to things. That’s a better way won’t you agree?

See, God doesn’t violate law. He sets things going. And so you’ve got H2O – it’s water. He said, “But, I need wine.” “Oh, Alright.” Now, that’s the universe in which we live. This is God science, and Brother Widtsoe said, “Isn’t that thrilling Elder Skousen?” and I said, “I never even thought of that being a possibility.” He said, “God has revealed so many marvelous things to us if we’ll just study it out and put it all together.”

Alright, just a little bit more here. Abraham 4:9, 10, 12, and 18 where you see intelligence responding to commandments of the Gods during the creative process. Watch what it says, “And the Gods commanded the dry land to come up. And they watched until they were obeyed.” Dirt doesn’t obey as dirt unless it had intelligence in it. Would it? I mean, if it’s just … stuff. It has no capacity to obey. This is one of the great revelations of God. These little intelligences are in everything. I can move a mountain. I just tell it to move and I can let my priesthood tell it to move and if it’s authorized, it’ll move.

Nephi the Second was told by the Lord, “I have declared before all my angels that when you speak all things are to obey you as though God had spoken it. And I know that I can share this power with you because you’ll never use it till I tell you to.” And he could say to the clouds, “Don’t rain. Go away.” Or he could say, “Clouds come in and let us have rain.” That’s the power of God. Jesus would come and say to the little cells of the eyes, “You have not functioned properly since the birth of this man. In your places, please.” The man says, “I can see.” “Crooked arm, straighten.” And it straightened. “Feet, walk.” And everything goes into its proper order. And we call these miracles. It is the science of God speaking to his creations and saying, “Straighten up and fly right like you were suppose to.” That’s what he is doing. Now there’s the key to the miracles. Now this is going to bring this closer to something else in just a moment.

When God commands, they obey. Let’s take Helaman 12:3-18 where he describes all of the things that obey on God’s command. They obey just like they did during the creation process. Take Jacob 4:6 – add that also.  And 1 Nephi 20:13. Why, Jacob says, “We can have the water obey us, trees obey us when we speak with the priesthood.” D&C 88:38-42 where the Lord says, “intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence” to do the things God has instructed it to do.

Now we come to a most interesting passage hidden away. It took me a long time – I read over it at least 10 or 15 times. Brother Widtsoe says, “You’re missing it. It’s in Section 29.” I said, “I couldn’t find it.” He said, “Read it again.” I still didn’t find it. He said, “I know. Read it again. You have to get the spirit when you read. Maybe you’ll get it this time.” Finally got it! D&C 29:36. God says, “My honor is my power.” Do you want to know where God got his power from? He said, “It’s my honor that gives me power.” Brother Widtsoe said, “This is a priesthood principle that often isn’t quite appreciated, You are ordained from above. Your power comes from that over which you have supervision.”

What makes a great bishop? His ordination? He’s ordained from above, isn’t he? What makes him a great bishop? It’s home teachers home teaching. It’s Sunday School teachers preparing their lessons. It’s people having Home Evening, paying their tithes, going to the temple. And people say, “My, what a great bishop.” Why? He is being honored in his calling. That’s what makes a great bishop. He was ordained from above. He was supported from those below that he supervised. Do you follow that? “My honor is my power.” “Water, wine.”

When God appeared to Moses – he was 80 years old when God appeared to him on Mount Sinai (which means “burning bush”). And the Lord said, “I’m now going to rescue Israel out of Egypt.” Moses said, “Oh! I think that’s just great because I’ve got Miriam, my sister is down there. Mother is still down there and Aaron is still down there. I’m so happy to hear about that.” And the Lord said, “And I’m going to have you bring them out.” Moses said, “Oh! No! … No! I’m a capital fugitive, no, they’d kill me.” Well, the Lord said, “I’ll go with you.” Moses said, “I’m still scared.” The Lord said, “What do you have there in your hand?” “My shepherd staff.” “Throw it on the ground.” He threw it on the ground. A serpent! A metamorphosis took place.

The Lord said, “Pick it up.” So he did. By the tail, of course. And it became a staff. Now, watch what the Lord said, “You see that hand. Do you want to see the miracle of God? See that hand? That hand is made of dirt. Isn’t that fantastic?  That hand is made of dirt.  The Lord said to Moses, “Put your hand in your bosom.” So he did. And the Lord talked to that hand and said, “Now my children. Don’t go all the way back. Let’s go back … leprosy – simulate leprosy. Moses, take your hand out.” Dripping with an incurable disease. “Moses, put your hand back in your bosom.” And the Lord said, “My children, as you were. Moses, take your hand out.” “Oh… !,” Moses said. Beautiful pink flesh. Isn’t that marvelous? And the Lord said, “And if you want to take water and pour it out and have it be blood, I’ll do for you. That they may know that you come to them not by your own strength only but by the very power of God.” So, Moses did it you remember. Finally he consented to go.

Now, once we understand some of these principles, we are beginning to comprehend a little bit about the God we worship. And that’s what the Lord says, “I want you to understand more about me. I want you to understand I’m not way off, a mystical being. I’m your loving Heavenly Father and I operate in an atmosphere of cause and effect and in a universe of law. There’s nothing magic about what I do. Everything is based on a science and I’m trying to teach it to you gradually.”

Alright now just a little bit more. We are told that God must maintain the confidence of these intelligences in order that they will sustain him and honor him. No other church has even dared to preach this doctrine. And no other scripture contains it save the Book of Mormon. That it is possible for God to fall. Now, he isn’t going to, because he knows how to avoid it. He just wants us to know that he walks a razor’s edge of necessity of having his conduct – as the great arbiter of heaven whom they all love and respect – absolutely immaculate in dispensing justice and truth and his love among them.

Now that’s a great discipline, is it not? Put it down now, this is Alma 42:13, 22, and 25 and Mormon 9:19. All of these passages say, “… or he would cease to be God.” Who dares preach such a principle?  That God is under the necessity of maintaining certain conditions or he could cease to be God. He wouldn’t have power any more. How could he loose his power? By not being honored any more.

Now, you have the problem of the Atonement. Our Father wanted us to come into a laboratory where good and evil existed side by side. Where you and I could learn for ourselves. Not because Father said so, but we could learn for ourselves the difference between good and evil. And have you noticed, a little rubs off? In fact, you have to repent and erase it continually. It keeps rubbing onto us. You think you’ve just about got it whipped and the next thing you know, you’re doing it again. Or, you’re tempted to do it again. That’s life. And, that’s how we learn the difference between good and evil and the penalties thereof. You never went through this before. You learned how to be obedient in heaven because our Heavenly Father told you what the results would be if you didn’t. And sure enough it would happen. But you couldn’t quite understand. He gave you the criteria but you didn’t know for your self the Book of Mormon says. That’s why you came into this life. You’re really learning for yourself. So am I. Believe me I’m learning.

Alright, so the next passage is Alma 34:9 where “the Father cannot save us. The atonement is indispensable.” You have to have an atonement. But, what would happen if there hadn’t been an atonement? Would you like to know that one? Alright, it’s 2 Nephi 9:7-9. That’s what would happen if there hadn’t been an atonement. We all would have become subject to Lucifer and suffering the same consequences which the early brethren made very clear was total dissolution. Which means that they are stripped of their spirit body. They are stripped of all things that pertain to the organized kingdom of God and are cast back into outer darkness, naked. A naked intelligence. Unorganized! And the early brethren thought well maybe then they’ll get another chance – they’ll be scooped up again, you know, and come into another creation. The Lord said in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Don’t ever preach that they will be a second chance. I have never authorized that to be taught – that they get another chance.” So, we don’t preach that. (According to Nicholas Dunnaway (see comments below) he asked Brother Skousen about the scripture reference for this and he said it was D&C 29:29.)

Now, how does the Atonement work? Alma 34:11. We can go quickly now.  We have the problem. We have the basic ingredients for the solution. One person cannot pay for the sins of another. Now that’s Amulek, that’s not Alma talking. That’s a new convert to the Church, a missionary companion of Alma talking to the Zoromites – the name’s Amulek – that’s him talking. I hear people quoting Alma on this, no this is Amulek talking.  He said, “One person cannot satisfy the demands of justice by paying for the sins of another.” You just stop and think whether or not this is true.

Let’s say I have committed a heinous offense, a capital offense. And this good elder loves me enough to offer his life on behalf of my offense for which I should die. Does that satisfy any of you? Do you feel good about that? Are you satisfied? Do you feel justice has been done? Has it satisfied your sense of justice? Amulek said no, it won’t. Now this is a very important thing to understand about the atonement. I hear people preaching for this much sin there had to be this much suffering and that’s what Jesus provided. No, that’s the law of quid pro quo.

Amulek says the Atonement is based on a completely different principle. It isn’t quid pro quo. It isn’t this much suffering for this much sinning. It’s a different doctrine entirely. That’s what Paul was so upset about when the Jews tried to preach that doctrine. We have it back in the Church being taught occasionally that way. Then what does Amulek say the key to the Atonement was? He said it was Jesus going on that cross. It had to be somebody, not you and me, but someone who is infinitely loved. Now that’s universally – infinitely means universally loved.  Who would be so terribly tortured in his role as our leader that the sense of compassion in every little intelligence would be touched.

Now isn’t this interesting? You’re this same way. You are subject to compassion. Every intelligence can be reached. He has a sense of compassion. It’s necessary to somehow reach that sense of compassion sufficient to overcome the demands of justice. Because, when our Heavenly Father puts us down here and we try to repent the best we can, we’re still unworthy to come back. Are we not? It’s impossible to become perfect in this life. Right? Everybody agree to that? “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Does that sound familiar. Alright, you can’t become perfect in this life. Those little intelligences say, “Father, remember, you held us back.” You can’t overlook them. Our Father wanted us to learn the difference between good and evil and it’s impossible for Him, then, to bring us back. Everybody see the problem?

Now how does he get us back? He ask us to do the best we can. Then he says, “We’ve worked it out. We’ve found out how we could reach those little intelligences. So, when Jesus was on that cross that suffering has to be so terrible that it is infinite in it’s persuasive power. That we mean that much to Him so that when He pleads for us, He doesn’t do it because of our righteousness, because it wasn’t that good. We did the best we could but it still wasn’t perfect. He says, “They did the best they could now for my sake will you let them come up or I’ll be robbed of the reward of my labor. Will you let them come up? And they say, “Jehovah, not for their sake, because they were imperfect, but if they mean that much to you, let them come up.”

And so Amulek says, “That compassion that has been created in those little intelligences is enough to overcome the demands of justice.”  That’s Alma 34.  Let me give that one to you, Alma 34:15-16. So, the Atonement is not based on the law of so much suffering for so much sin. It’s based on mercy and love. That’s all it’s based on. It’s those little intelligences saying, “Alright, if they mean that much to you after all you’ve gone through.” How much did he go through?

When Jesus was dedicated as the eldest son in the temple, an old man came hurrying up named Simeon. The Holy Ghost had whispered to him, “Rush to the temple today, you’ll see the face of the Messiah as I promised you before, you would not die till you had seen him.” He came up and took that little baby out of the arms of Mary and said, “Now, O Lord, God, Jehovah let me depart in peace for mine eyes have beheld thy salvation. The glory of thy people, Israel, and a light unto the gentiles.” Then he handed the baby back and he said, “Because of him, little mother, one day sorrow will pierce your soul like a sword.”

Thirty three years later on Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, she saw that beloved boy of hers nailed to that cross. Spiked, crown on his head, blood on his face, lacerated, sweating, crying out in suffering. What do you think that did to that mother? It was so intense that the Father had to do one final thing to make it supreme. He had to withdraw his spirit from Jesus. And that had sustained Jesus as it sustains all of us up to a point because it’s in all of us. All of a sudden the Father withdrew his spirit from Jesus. As it left him, he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani? My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” Then the spirit came back and Jesus said, “Oh … I did it! It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” And he died. At that moment, Jesus became the Christ.

You see, it’s since I came to understand this and the suffering of the Father – that was a terrible experience for the Father. When He had to tell his son that it was necessary for him to go forward with it in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he had to withdraw his spirit from him on the cross, that was a terrible experience. And the Book of Mormon says the reason that Abraham was commanded to slay his own son Isaac was so that one earthly father would at least know what it’s like to have the role of the Father and have to sacrifice your son. Abraham didn’t have to go through with it but he was reconciled to it because he knew it was for a righteous purpose that he didn’t understand. The Father just wanted Abraham, at least one father, to know a little bit what it’s like to be the Father on the night of Golgotha. And then Jesus became the Christ.

Since this began to clarify itself in my mind and I began to see what was the meaning was of Jesus on that cross, he’s become my personal Savior. I love Jesus. I love my Heavenly Father. I never realized before what they went through for me and my children and for you and all the rest of us. I’ve learned to love God with all my heart and feel closer to them. And I love to testify about them. I love to testify of their great mission to us and their great sacrifice. Both the Father and the Son–what they went through for our sakes.

Quite often I’m asked down here in Texas where I speak quite often, “Dr. Skousen, are you saved?” I usually reply by saying, “Thank you for asking that. May I bear you my witness?” They’re used to that. They want to hear my witness. And I say, “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and I’ve asked my Heavenly Father to forgive my sins. I have made a commitment to my Heavenly Father that I will try to obey all his commandments by going down into the waters of baptism by immersion administered by one having authority.  And then I have had hands laid upon my head by one holding the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood so that I could receive the great Gift of the Holy Ghost. Now I am endeavoring to endure to the end that I might have the great privilege of overcoming the very last hurdle, death, and being resurrected to glory and going back unto the Father. That’s my witness”…

Be valiant in your calling from morning until night. Be a good student. Mark your books. Study it out. Be prayerful. Try to understand God’s science of salvation. That’s all I’ve been talking about this morning – the real science of salvation. Why the atonement was necessary and it was. Why God, the Father, couldn’t do it. Why He said His Son is the only name given under heaven whereby we may be saved. So we will know that they have done their part. All we have to do is ours. So that is why Jesus makes such a plea to us.

Let’s read this in closing, D&C 19:15-19. “Therefore I command you to repent – repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, (You see he’s a God of love, but he also has to be a God of justice or the intelligences would loose confidence in him.) and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore–how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; (In other words, what we do is to repent in order to qualify.) But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; (Now notice how terrible it was.) 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, I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” “I did it! I did it! I was so frightened. I was so scared. I trembled. I asked the Lord not to make me go through with it and he said I didn’t have to but you know the consequences no doubt.”

He was just so thrilled about it. Now, he said, “Don’t let that be wasted.” Turn to D&C 45:3-5. “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him–(See the Father loves us as much as the Son. It’s his plan, really! Because that’s what Jesus said in the preexistence, “Father, I will do it the way you want it done.” Lucifer wanted to do it a different way and take credit. The Son said, “I’ll do it as it’s been done before. I’ll do it. I will suffer.”) Saying: Father, behold the suffering and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.” Now turn to Alma 34 … beginning with verse 14, “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, (Meaning the law of Moses.) every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal. (It’s going to reach every corner of the universe.) And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of his last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about the means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircle them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice;” …this is the most profound principle of the whole gospel – the Atonement and why it was necessary…

Let me just give you an example now as I finish of Abraham Lincoln.  I just want to show you how this happens every day in real life.  If you want to see how intelligence overcomes the demands of justice, watch this.  There was a boy fighting in the Union Forces.  19 years old.  Went to sleep on guard duty.  And the opposition broke through and wiped out a whole flank of the army.  Several hundred were killed, including some of the best friends of this young man.  But he survived.  Court-martialed.  Sentenced to die.  He expected to die.  He thought it was only just that he die.  And president Lincoln was ready to sign his death warrant for his execution and a little mother appears on the scene.

She says, “President Lincoln, when this war started, I had a husband and six sons.  First I lost my husband, and one by one I lost five of my sons.  Now I only have one son left and he’s sentenced to be executed with a firing squad because he went to sleep.  He feels awfully badly, he lost some of his best friends and he expects to die.  President Lincoln, I’m not asking for the sparing of this boy’s life for his sake, but for his mother’s sake.  He’s all I have left.  For my sake could you spare him?”  President Lincoln said, “For your sake, little mother, I will spare him.”  And as far as I know President Lincoln was never criticized for that decision.

Does that touch the heart of compassion?  Notice how that overcame the demands of justice.  “For her sake, I will spare him.”  And so that’s what’s happened for us.  And the salvation of Jesus Christ is very real and the price he paid was very terrible. And you’re here to testify that Jesus is the Christ and that the Gospel has been restored to prepare for His second coming.  Now that’s our mission.  Now I went to the mission field thinking that testifying of the restoration was my whole mission.  No!  That’s incidental.  The divinity of Jesus Christ is our main message.  And the fact that He is now spoken to prophets and raised them up, they’re now walking the earth the priesthood is back – that’s our good news.  We’re preparing for the second Christmas.  Where there’ll be a thousand years of peace on earth, good will toward men.

I only pray that God will bless every one of us to fulfill our callings with valiance. That the Spirit can testify to thousands of His children that Jesus is the Christ.  And if they can feel our testimony and they can enjoy the fruits of the Gospel… that’s my prayer… in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

28 thoughts on “A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement

  1. To truly have Honor, denotes one is “honor-able”: Exalted, Pure(Free of error), Praise-worthy, a Devoted “Lover of Truth” – Incorruptible, Scrupulous, Strict and True … to The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but The Truth.
    My “honor” is the … degree … to which “I “am in absolute harmony with the Great I AM. This can only be attained through the solitary journey of the repentant sinner willfully laying aside all things lower and worldly (sins, errors, ego, self-interest, vanity and pride, the philosophies of the world and men – even good men) … and submitting (Unconditionally & Exclusively & Eternally) to the Will of God. This journey can only we successful if one is absolutely fixed upon Christ and no one else, nor anything else. His example, His Will, His Ways.

    • Wise words from purifiedlove. Love is full of sins and errors, eggos and waffling, vanities and wardrobes full of pride. Until love has been purified in the bowels of the Lord, it is like unto the venom of a snake from which anti-venom can be crafted under the watchful eye of the Prophet, or injected into the mouth of sinners whilst the Prophet sleeps.

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    • Perhaps there has been a change to how the Guide to the Scriptures defines “intelligence(s)”:

      (1) It is the light of truth which gives life and light to all things in the universe. It has always existed. (2) The word intelligences may also refer to spirit children of God. (3) The scriptures also may speak of intelligence as referring to the spirit element that existed before we were begotten as spirit children.


      Whether some of the details of Skousen’s talk are not 100% true it is irrelevant to me because his main ideas are clearly true. He has brought his very best thinking to us and given us something to ponder and pray about. I consider it a great and sincere gift. I am truly grateful for his thoughts as no other commentary anywhere has helped me wrap my mind around the Atonement better than this one talk. To me, it is clear that Skousen has made great effort to base all his thoughts in scripture, and is clearly a truth seeker. He lived in my neighborhood and I learned from his wife that he has been throughout his life a voracious student of scripture. My impression is that he has been a very humble one as well; familiar with the promptings and communication of the spirit.

      With that said, he is not God’s spokesperson on the earth, and it is my own duty to pursue and confirm truth through the spirit for myself, in the fashion that I believe Skousen did.

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  9. Can anyone provide a historical reference of the story of Abraham Lincoln pardoning this boy. I would like to know if possible who this person was and a reference of the story. I have heard it before but am hoping to prove it is fact and not mormon folklore.

    • Fact? Why do you need fact? Believe it with your heart and truth becomes unnecessary. If you start looking for fact, sooner or later you will pick apart everything in the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith did not use actual facts, he used facts from the heart and if that was good enough for him, why should you need more?

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  15. “And the early brethren thought well maybe then they’ll get another chance – they’ll be scooped up again, you know, and come into another creation. The Lord said in the Doctrine and Covenants, ‘Don’t ever preach that they will be a second chance. I have never authorized that to be taught – that they get another chance.’ So, we don’t preach that.”

    I had the chance to ask Skousen what the ref for this was, it’s D&C 29:29.

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