Chapter 24: The Atonement of Jesus Christ: Vast in Its Reach, Intimate in Its Effect

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley

On January 1, 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley led the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in publishing their unified testimony of the Savior. In this message, titled “The Living Christ,” they declared: “We offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.”

In a general conference address three months later, President Hinckley testified of the profound influence the Savior had on his own life. He spoke tenderly and personally, at times choked with emotion:

“Of all the things for which I feel grateful this morning, one stands out preeminently. That is a living testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Holy One. …

“Jesus is my friend. None other has given me so much. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). He gave His life for me. He opened the way to eternal life. Only a God could do this. I hope that I am deemed worthy of being a friend to Him.

“He is my exemplar. His way of life, His absolutely selfless conduct, His outreach to those in need, His final sacrifice all stand as an example to me. I cannot measure up entirely, but I can try. …

“He is my healer. I stand in awe at His wondrous miracles. And yet I know they happened. I accept the truth of these things because I know that He is the Master of life and death. The miracles of His ministry bespeak compassion, love, and a sense of humanity wonderful to behold.

“He is my leader. I am honored to be one in the long cavalcade of those who love Him and who have followed Him during the two millennia that have passed since His birth. …

“He is my Savior and my Redeemer. Through giving His life in pain and unspeakable suffering, He has reached down to lift me and each of us and all the sons and daughters of God from the abyss of eternal darkness following death. He has provided something better—a sphere of light and understanding, growth and beauty where we may go forward on the road that leads to eternal life. My gratitude knows no bounds. My thanks to my Lord has no conclusion.

“He is my God and my King. From everlasting to everlasting, He will reign and rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. To His dominion there will be no end. To His glory there will be no night.

“None other can take His place. None other ever will. Unblemished and without fault of any kind, He is the Lamb of God, to whom I bow and through whom I approach my Father in Heaven. …

“Gratefully, and with love undiminished, I bear witness of these things in His Holy name.”

There are many nice things that President Hinckley says about Jesus. Many Christians who would read these quotes might say, “Wow, Mr. Hinckley sure loves Jesus.” But I noticed that the LDS editors of this manual series missed several telling citations given in church publications that Hinckley said:

In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ.” “No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads,” Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7).

As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say (Gordon Hinckley, “We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).

This is consistent with what a Mormon Seventy named Bernard P. Brockbank said four decades ago:

It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“The Living Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1977, p. 26).

Seventy Charles Didier explained,

Why would we need to grow a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God as found in the Book of Mormon? Today there is much confusion in the Christian world about the doctrine of Christ—not only about His divine nature but even about His Atonement and Resurrection, His gospel, and especially the commandments related to it. The result is a belief in a self-made-man Christ, a popular Christ, and a silent, crucified Christ. Wrong religious beliefs lead to wrong religious behaviors (“Man’s Search for Divine Truth,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2005, p. 49).

Did you notice that the Christ as historically portrayed by the Christian churches is not considered by these General Authorities to be the same as the Christ taught in Mormonism? In fact, the last citation explains how “the Christian world” gets Jesus wrong, making it necessary to have the LDS leadership make a “latter-day” correction. Let’s take a look through some of the teachings of LDS leaders to explain how the Mormon Jesus has been understood by other leaders:

Jesus had a beginning

“Jesus was born of heavenly parents in a premortal world—he was the firstborn of our Heavenly Father” (Robert D. Hales, “Your Sorrow Shall Be Turned to Joy,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1983, p. 67).

“We read in modern revelation that Jesus Christ was and is our elder brother, the ‘Firstborn’ unto the Father. We accept, as Latter-day Saints, the teachings of the prophets to the effect that Jesus of Nazareth was the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father in the flesh; therefore, the revelation I referred to points back to a previous birth, a birth in the spirit world. You and I were sons and daughters of our Eternal Parents in the spirit world. In fact, all the people in this world were of that family, and Jesus Christ was the Firstborn” (Milton R. Hunter, Conference Reports, October 1949, p. 69).

Jesus was not always perfect

“Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fulness” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 1986, p. 68. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 153).

“That Jesus attained eternal perfection following his resurrection is confirmed in the Book of Mormon. It records the visit of the resurrected Lord to the people of ancient America. There he repeated the important injunction previously cited but with one very significant addition. He said, ‘I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.’ This time he listed himself along with his Father as a perfected personage. Previously he had not” (Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1995, p. 87).

Jesus gained His godhood because he didn’t always have it

“CHRIST GAINED FULNESS AFTER RESURRECTION. The Savior did not have a fulness at first, but after he received his body and the resurrection all power was given unto him both in heaven and in earth. Although he was a God, even the Son of God, with power and authority to create this earth and other earths, yet there were some things lacking which he did not receive until after his resurrection. In other words he had not received the fulness until he got a resurrected body, and the same is true with those who through faithfulness become sons of God. Our bodies are essential to the fulness and the continuation of the seeds forever” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:33).

“Christ attained Godhood while yet in pre-existence, he too stood as a God to the other spirits, but this relationship was not the same one of personal parenthood that prevailed between the Father and his offspring” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 323).

“Our Lord revealed anew some of the writings of John – writings which explained how Christ himself had worked out his own salvation, finally receiving all power in heaven and on earth – and then he said: ‘I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness’” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 849).

“Christ stands preeminent among all the spirit children of the Father. While yet in preexistence he became ‘like unto God’” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, pp. 442-443).

“Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 51).

 “And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 269).

Jesus is humanity’s “Elder Brother”

 “The Father of Jesus is our Father also. Jesus Himself taught this truth, when He instructed His disciples how to pray: ‘Our Father which art in heaven,’ etc. Jesus, however, is the firstborn among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like Him, are in the image of God” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998, p. 335).

“We worship Elohim, the Father of Jesus Christ. We do not worship Adam and we do not pray to him. We are all his children through the flesh, but Elohim, the God we worship, is the Father of our spirits; and Jesus Christ, his first Begotten Son in the spirit creation and his Only Begotten Son in the flesh, is our Eldest Brother” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:106).

“The oldest child in our heavenly family was Jesus Christ. He is our oldest brother” (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 5).

Jesus had wives on this earth

“Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified” (Orson Hyde, Conference message, October 6, 1854, Journal of Discourses 2:82).

“I discover that some of the Eastern papers represent me as a great blasphemer, because I said, in my lecture on Marriage, at our last Conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children” (Orson Hyde, March 18, 1855, Journal of Discourses 2:210).

“It will be borne in mind that once on a time, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and on a careful reading of that transaction, it will be discovered that no less a person than Jesus Christ was married on that occasion. If he was never married, his intimacy with Mary and Martha, and the other Mary also whom Jesus loved, must have been highly unbecoming and improper to say the best of it” (Orson Hyde, Journal of Discourses 4:259).

“One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus — such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene; and Jesus greatly loved them, and associated with them much; and when He arose from the dead, instead of showing Himself to His chosen witnesses, the Apostles, He appeared first to these women, or at least to one of them — namely, Mary Magdalene. Now it would be natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were His wives” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 159).

Jesus was born of a physical union between God the Father and Mary

“Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death: but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. …So you see Jesus is the only person who had our Heavenly Father as the father of his body” (Joseph F. Smith, Family Home Evening manual, 1972, pp. 125,126. Ellipsis mine).

“CHRIST NOT BEGOTTEN OF HOLY GHOST… Christ was begotten of God. He was not born without the aid of Man, and that Man was God!” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:18.  Italics in original. Ellipsis mine).

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. Jesus was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost” (Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 7. See also the Church News, December 18, 2004, p. 16)

“There was in Palestine a couple, Joseph and Mary. They lived in Nazareth. They had traveled, evidently, from Nazareth to Bethlehem in order to pay a tax that had been decreed by the Roman Emperor. That was the ostensible purpose. She, heavy with child, traveled all that distance on mule-back, guarded and protected as one about to give birth to a half-Deity. No other man in the history of this world of ours has ever had such an ancestry—God the Father on the one hand and Mary the Virgin on the other” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, p. 10).

What are we to make of this?

A Latter-day Saint who reads through these citations might say, “We don’t believe these things anymore.” Well, I agree, some of these things are no longer taught, although some things are certainly believed today. But here’s the point. These things were all taught by LDS leaders at one time or another. If these men were really speaking with authority, what should you make of these? Should we say they were wrong in their teachings? If so, how will Mormons 50 years from now reflect on their leaders from 2017? Will they say, “Ahh, but we don’t teach that about Jesus anymore”? Would we say, then, that there is a chance the leaders today might be teaching error? If so, how should we believe anything that they are saying today?

Truth about the doctrine of Jesus shouldn’t change. The bottom line is that, even discounting some of these teachings, Mormonism’s version of Jesus is still in disagreement with the Bible, even if Mormon leaders don’t emphasize some of the heretical teachings of the past.

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Our Heavenly Father’s love is expressed in the gift of His Only Begotten Son.

My heart is subdued when I think of the great love of my Heavenly Father. How grateful I am to know that God loves us. The incomprehensible depth of that love found expression in the gift of His Only Begotten Son to come into the world to bring hope into our hearts, to bring kindness and courtesy into our relationships, and above all to save us from our sins and guide us on the way that leads to eternal life.

The Savior’s premortal ministry

The Father of us all, with love for us, His children, offered a … plan under which we would have freedom to choose the course of our lives. His Firstborn Son, our Elder Brother, was the key to that plan. Man would have his agency, and with that agency would go accountability. Man would walk the ways of the world and sin and stumble. But the Son of God would take upon Himself flesh and offer Himself a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all men. Through unspeakable suffering He would become the great Redeemer, the Savior of all mankind.

Typically, Mormons like to emphasize the “great love of (their) Heavenly Father.” There is a disdain for the Christian doctrine of “hell.” But many Latter-day Saints have never thought about the lack of love He displayed in the preexistence to one-third of his spirit sons and daughters. As Apostle Richard G. Scott explained,

From before the Creation of this earth, there was rebellion against our Father’s plan, instigated by a brilliant but evil spirit we know as Lucifer or Satan. He proposed a modification of the requirements. So convincing was his argument that one-third of the Father’s spirit children followed Satan and were cast out. They lost the extraordinary opportunity to grow and the critical advantage of a mortal body (Richard G. Scott, “Truth Restored,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2005, p. 78).

A church manual states,

A third part of the spirit children of Heavenly Father followed Lucifer (the devil) and rebelled against God and the plan of salvation, thereby failing to keep their first estate. They were therefore cast out of heaven, with no more opportunity to progress (The Pearl of Great Price Student Manual Religion 327, 2000, pp. 38-39).

They were made to leave heaven, according to another manual:

Our Father in Heaven made Satan and his followers leave heaven. Satan and his followers will not receive bodies of flesh and bones. They will not be able to return and live with our Father in Heaven. Only those who accepted Jesus to be their Savior can have bodies of flesh and bones (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 11).

What was their error? According to Mormonism, humanity’s preexistent brothers and sisters chose Satan. I realize that’s not good. Yet how many people living in this world have chosen Satan, so to speak, and still have the opportunity to go to one kingdoms of glory? Even Adolph Hitler will make it to at least the telestial kingdom. See here for a copy of the temple work records done on Hitler’s behalf.

Christianity says that our error–the Bible calls it sin–affects every single person (Rom. 3:23). According to Romans 6:23a, this sin deserves death. Thank God, though for Rom. 6:23b, which says that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thank God for a Savior who came to forgive His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).

The Savior’s earthly ministry

In all of history there has been no majesty like His majesty. He, the mighty Jehovah, condescended to be born to mortal life in a stable of Bethlehem. He grew as a boy in Nazareth and “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

He was baptized by John in the waters of Jordan, “and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him:

“And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16–17).

During the three years of His earthly ministry, He did what none other had ever done before; He taught as none other had previously taught.

Then came His time to be offered. There was the supper in the Upper Room, His last with the Twelve in mortality. As He washed their feet, He taught a lesson in humility and service they would never forget.

Remember, the Jesus being talked about here

  • Was not always God—he had a beginning
  • Had to earn his place as the Savior
  • Was born out of a union between Heavenly Father and Mary.

While these paragraphs attributed to Hinckley look very similar to what is taught in Christianity, this behind-the-scenes understanding is necessary to understand that this Jesus is much different than Christianity’s version, which this leader admitted to earlier in this article.

Suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane

There followed the suffering of Gethsemane, “which suffering,” He said, “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” (D&C 19:18).

In the Garden of Gethsemane, He suffered so greatly that he sweat drops of blood as He pleaded with His Father. But this was all a part of His great atoning sacrifice.

[I once sat] in the shadow of an old olive tree [in the Garden of Gethsemane] and read of that terrible wrestling of the Son of God as He faced the certain future, sweating drops of blood and praying to His Father to let the cup pass if it might—but saying, Nevertheless, Thy will be done, not mine. … I had an overwhelming feeling that He wasn’t making His plea, He wasn’t facing that ordeal in terms of the physical pain He was about to face, the terrible, brutal crucifixion on the cross. That was part of it, I am sure. But in large measure it was, I think, a sense on His part of His role in the eternal welfare of all of the sons and daughters of God, of all generations of time.

Everything depended on Him—His atoning sacrifice. That was the key. That was the keystone in the arch of the great plan which the Father had brought forth for the eternal life of His sons and daughters. Terrible as it was to face it, and burdensome as it was to realize it, He faced it, He accomplished it, and it was a marvelous and wonderful thing. It is beyond our comprehension, I believe. Nevertheless, we glimpse it in small part and must learn to appreciate it more and more and more.

So here is another difference. According to LDS leaders, it was the Garden of Gethsemane, not the cross, that provided forgiveness of sins. Consider these citations:

“It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all things so that all could repent and come to Him” (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 14).

“Where and under what circumstances was the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God made? Was it on the Cross of Calvary or in the Garden of Gethsemane? It is to the Cross of Christ that most Christians look when centering their attention upon the infinite and eternal atonement. And certainly the sacrifice of our Lord was completed when he was lifted up by men; also, that part of his life and suffering is more dramatic and, perhaps, more soul stirring. But in reality the pain and suffering, the triumph and grandeur, of the atonement took place primarily in Gethsemane” (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary 1:774).

“Near the end of His earthly ministry, the Savior went with His disciples to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane…. It was there that the Savior paid the price for all the sorrows, sins, and transgressions of every human being who ever lived or ever will live. There He drank the bitter cup and suffered so that all who repent may not suffer” (Wolfgang H. Paul, “Gratitude for the Atonement,” Ensign, June 2007, p. 15. Ellipsis mine)

One church manual says that the cross is nothing more than an afterthought:

“In Gethsemane, Jesus suffered for the sins of all mankind, as if they were His own. His suffering for all these sins were greater than any of us can understand. …On the cross, He finished suffering the penalty for Adam’s disobedience and for our own sins” (Gospel Fundamentals, 2002, p. 57. Ellipsis mine).

It is the cross, not the Garden of Gethsemane, that is emphasized over and over again as the place where the atonement took place. It is the death of the sacrifice that is vital. As Hebrews 9:15-17 points out,

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive.

To see more on this topic, click here.

Arrest, crucifixion, and death

He was taken by rough and crude hands, and in the night, contrary to the law, was brought before Annas, and then Caiaphas, the wily and evil officer of the Sanhedrin. There followed early the next morning the second appearance before this scheming, vicious man. Then He was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor, to whom his wife said in warning, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man” (Matt. 27:19). The Roman, thinking to evade responsibility, sent Him to Herod, the corrupt, debauched, and evil tetrarch of Galilee. Christ was abused and beaten. His head was crowned with sharp and platted thorns; a mocking robe of purple was thrown upon His bleeding back. Again He was taken before Pilate, to whom the mob cried, “Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21).

With stumbling steps He walked the way to Golgotha, where His wounded body was nailed to the cross in the most inhumane and pain-ridden method of execution that sadistic minds could conjure.

Yet He cried out, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).9

There is no more poignant picture in all history than that of Jesus in Gethsemane and upon the cross, alone: the Redeemer of mankind, the Savior of the world, bringing to pass the Atonement.

I remember being with President Harold B. Lee … in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. We could sense, if only in a very small degree, the terrible struggle that took place there, a struggle so intense, as Jesus wrestled alone in the spirit, that blood came from every pore (see Luke 22:44; D&C 19:18). We recalled the betrayal by one who had been called to a position of trust. We recalled that evil men laid brutal hands upon the Son of God. We recalled that lonely figure on the cross, crying out in anguish, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Yet, courageously, the Savior of the world moved forward to bring about the Atonement in our behalf.

The hours passed as His life ebbed in pain. The earth shook; the veil of the temple was rent. From His parched lips came the words, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46).

It was over. His mortal life was finished. He had offered it as a ransom for all. Gone were the hopes of those who loved Him. Forgotten were the promises He had made. His body was hurriedly but tenderly placed in a borrowed tomb on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

What did the atonement mean for humanity? Basically, it provides a path to one of three kingdoms of glory, but it does not provide salvation in the celestial kingdom. As Seventy Theodore M. Burton explained,

What does it mean when people say, “I am saved”? Generally it means they are saved from death. This type of general salvation comes to all people by the grace of God alone. General salvation comes regardless of obedience to gospel principles or laws and results solely in resurrection from the dead. In this respect, salvation is synonymous with immortality, in that the resurrected person will live forever. Resurrection comes to every person born into this world through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, whether one confesses Christ or not. Whether a person is wicked or righteous, each person will receive the gift of immortality through Jesus Christ ( “Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 78).

He also said:

The true value of the sacrifice of Christ means much more than this general salvation which comes to all mankind. There is an additional salvation that God has planned for his children. This additional salvation is an individual salvation and is conditioned not only upon grace, but also upon obedience to gospel law” (“Salvation and Exaltation,” Ensign, July 1972, p. 78).

Individual salvation, or exaltation, is reserved only for those who keep the commandments, as taught by Apostle James E. Talmage:

This twofold effect of the atonement is implied in the article of our faith now under consideration. The first effect is to secure to all mankind alike, exemption from the penalty of the fall, thus providing a plan of General Salvation. The second effect is to open a way for Individual Salvation whereby mankind may secure remission of personal sins. As these sins are the result of individual acts it is just that forgiveness for them should be conditioned on individual compliance with prescribed requirements—”obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (Articles of Faith, 1984, pp. 78-79).

Stephen L. Richards, a member of the First Presidency, said,

They [Mormon missionaries] made clear distinction between general salvation or resurrection from the grave and individual salvation or exaltation earned by a man through his compliance with the laws of God. They taught that there are preferential places in heaven as there are on earth and that the highest place or Celestial Kingdom could be attained only by those who faithfully subscribe to and keep all the laws and ordinances Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and thereby entitle themselves to come into the presence of our God and Jesus Christ, His Son (Conference Reports, April 1941, pp. 102-103. Brackets mine).

Meanwhile, one-third of humanity’s spiritual brothers and sisters were supposedly kicked out of the presence of God, never given another chance to receive a body, and are destined for outer darkness. If Mormons want to complain about Christianity turning God into an unfair deity (i.e. sending people to hell), you would think they should also have problems with this arrangement as well. And, out of all spirits, shouldn’t those who made it to the “second estate” have known better than to have rebelled against God in this life?

Resurrection

Early in the morning of Sunday, Mary Magdalene and other women came to the tomb. They wondered as they hurried how the stone might be rolled from the door of the sepulchre. Arriving, they saw an angel who spoke to them: “I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said” (Matt. 28:5–6).

It had never before happened. The empty tomb was the answer to the question of the ages. Well did Paul say: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55).12

In Mormonism, the resurrection is just a provision for a person to attain godhood. To gain exaltation, keeping the commandments is required. Hugh B. Brown, a member of the First Presidency, explained to a general conference audience:

All men, regardless of the degree of their guilt or innocence, will be resurrected from the dead, and this belief also becomes a foundation stone in the structure of the Mormon Church. But in addition to this general salvation through the atonement, every soul that lives in mortality to the age of responsibility may place himself within the reach of divine mercy and may obtain a remission of sin (Conference Reports, April 1965, p. 43).

Sixth President Joseph F. Smith said,

Jesus, the Only Begotten of the Father, in whom there is no blemish, is its author; he is the standard to all the world, and will be forever. He had power to lay down his life and take it up again, and if we keep inviolate the covenants of the gospel, remaining faithful and true to the end, we too, in his name and through his redeeming blood, will have power in due time to resurrect these our bodies after they shall have been committed to the earth (Gospel Doctrine, p. 93).

It is a conditional gift, according to Apostle Neal A. Maxwell:

Christ gave us freely an enormous and unconditional gift, the universal resurrection. However, Christ’s proffer of the further gift of eternal life is conditional. As our lawgiver, He sets the terms for receiving this great gift. Therefore our individual progress toward eternal life requires us to be willing to submit to Christ. Then if we are truly faithful and endure to the end, our wills can finally be swallowed up in the will of the Father (Neal A. Maxwell, “Sharing testimony about the Atonement,” Church News, September 4, 1999, p. 5).

He adds that eternal life must be “merited”:

Thus, brothers and sisters, along with the great and free gift of the universal and personal resurrection there is also the personal possibility of meriting eternal life (“Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1997, p. 23).

What a contrast to Evangelical Christianity! The resurrection is the kingpin upon which all of our faith is based. Without it, there is no hope and all Christians would be foolishly wasting their time while being stuck in their sins (1 Cor. 15:17). In Mormonism, it is only a general admission ticket. You are responsible to find your own seat, provided you are keeping God’s commandments.

Through the Savior’s redeeming sacrifice, all people will rise from the grave.

So here is the main result from the general resurrection we’ve already talked about. While qualifying a person to be raised to one of three kingdoms, it will not get a person qualified for the celestial kingdom.

I remember speaking at a funeral service of a good man, a friend whose goodness caused me to reach a little higher. Through the years I had known his smiles, his kind words, the play of his brilliant intellect, the great breadth of his service to others. And then he who had been so bright and good suddenly died. I looked upon his lifeless form. There was neither recognition nor motion nor word of any kind. …

I looked up at his weeping widow and children. They knew, as I knew, that never again in mortality would they hear his voice. But a tender sweetness, indescribable in nature, brought peace and reassurance. It seemed to say, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).

It seemed further to say, “Don’t worry. All of this is part of my plan. None can escape death. Even my Beloved Son died upon the cross. But through so doing He became the glorious firstfruits of the Resurrection. He took from death its sting and from the grave its victory.”

I could hear in my mind the Lord speaking to the sorrowing Martha: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).

Yet there is so much that should be worried about. One item of concern ought to be if this person did everything he or she was supposed to in order to qualify for exaltation. Alma 34:32-35 in the Book of Mormon says that the work to qualify one for exaltation needs to be accomplished in this life.

32 For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.

33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.

35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

Citing these verses, 12th President Spencer W. Kimball then stated “that the time of act is now, in this mortal life. One cannot delay his compliance with God’s commandments. . . . the need to repent (is) now!” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 10).

Through the Savior’s atoning sacrifice, we are offered the opportunity of exaltation and eternal life.

Ahh, here we go, “the opportunity of exaltation and eternal life.”

Thanks be to the Almighty. His glorified Son broke the bonds of death, the greatest of all victories. … He is our triumphant Lord. He is our Redeemer, who atoned for our sins. Through His redeeming sacrifice all men shall rise from the grave. He has opened the way whereby we may gain not only immortality but also eternal life.

I sense in a measure the meaning of His Atonement. I cannot comprehend it all. It is so vast in its reach and yet so intimate in its effect that it defies comprehension.

The magnitude of [the] Atonement is beyond our ability to completely understand. I know only that it happened, and that it was for me and for you. The suffering was so great, the agony so intense, that none of us can comprehend it when the Savior offered Himself as a ransom for the sins of all mankind.

It is through Him that we gain forgiveness. It is through Him that there comes the certain promise that all mankind will be granted the blessings of salvation, with resurrection from the dead. It is through Him and His great overarching sacrifice that we are offered the opportunity through obedience of exaltation and eternal life.

Notice, “obedience” is what a person does in order to gain exaltation and eternal life. This is so much different than what Christianity teaches about grace and faith.

Are we not all prodigal sons and daughters who need to repent and partake of the forgiving mercy of our Heavenly Father and then follow His example?

His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, reaches out to us in forgiveness and mercy, but in so doing he commands repentance. … Said the Lord—and I quote from a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph:

“Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, 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;

“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. …

“Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.” (D&C 19:15–18, 23.)

When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, nothing is so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty, the Prince of His Father’s royal household, He who had once spoken as Jehovah, He who had condescended to come to earth as a babe born in Bethlehem, gave His life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally. He did for us what none of us could do for ourselves. …

Declared the prophet Isaiah:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: …

“… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:4–5).

This is the wondrous and true story of Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea is preface. The three-year ministry of the Master is prologue. The magnificent substance of the story is His sacrifice, the totally selfless act of dying in pain on the cross of Calvary to atone for the sins of all of us.

The epilogue is the miracle of the Resurrection, bringing the assurance that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.

The problem with the Gospel of Mormonism is that nobody can do everything that this religion’s leaders require. The Mormon has a whole set of laws and commandments thrust into her face and told, “Obey or else.” So what good is the atonement if it cannot cure sin, just merely pave the way for humanity to do something that is impossible to do?

I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal, Living God. None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without equivocation or compromise. I love Him. I speak His name in reverence and wonder. I worship Him as I worship His Father, in spirit and in truth. I thank Him and kneel before His Beloved Son, who reached out long ago and said to each of us, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Hinckley calls Jesus the “Savior and Redeemer” of the world. What exactly does that mean? From what has Jesus saved people? From what has he redeemed them? Only if you do your part (keep the commandments) is His atonement able to have any effect. Notice the reference to Matthew 11:28, which is so ironic. In this passage Jesus beckons for people who “labour and are heavy laden” to come to Him for He will give them “rest.” What does Mormonism do? It puts a heavy burden of people and provides no rest at all. Interesting verse that is cited, for sure.

Spencer Kimball explains,

The gospel is a program of action–of doing things. . . . Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 209).

Forgiveness, however, “is not granted merely for the asking,” as he later explained:

There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit.’ It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 324-325).

But what’s even more killing for the Latter-day Saint is that to be completely repentant, “the sin (must) become most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life” (Ibid., p. 355). If that really is the qualification, who could ever qualify?

If you are a Latter-day Saint, you may work so hard and yet have no assurance that your sins are forgiven. It doesn’t have to be that way. Jesus came to forgive sins and give a peace that passes all understanding. I encourage you to check out this article that I wrote titled 10 Reasons Why a Person Ought to Consider Becoming a Christian. Forgiveness is available for the asking.

… I wish for each of you a time, perhaps only an hour, spent in silent meditation and quiet reflection on the wonder and the majesty of this, the Son of God.

I bear witness [of] the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without it life is meaningless. It is the keystone in the arch of our existence. It affirms that we lived before we were born in mortality. Mortality is but a stepping-stone to a more glorious existence in the future. The sorrow of death is softened with the promise of the Resurrection.

“Promise of the Resurrection”? Or perhaps “Promise that nobody can ever do everything that the LDS Church leaders say must be done in order to even have a chance at exaltation.

Jesus is the Christ, the foreordained Son of God who condescended to come to earth, who was born in a manger, in a conquered nation among a vassal people, the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, the Firstborn of the Father and the Author of our salvation. He is our Redeemer, our Savior, through whose Atonement eternal life is made possible for all who will walk in obedience to His teachings.

So here we are, the last words of the last chapter of the manual dedicated to Gordon B. Hinckley and the last words of a series of 15 manuals that began in 1998, studied by millions of church members all over the world.

Notice the last words: “eternal life is made possible.” In Christianity, the last part would more accurately read “for those who believe in Him.” As Jesus says in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Salvation is the “work of God.” It is not a work of man. (See Ephesians 2:9.)

Yet how does Hinckley’s manual end? It says, “…for all who will walk in obedience to His teachings.”

Such a different message. Such a different gospel. And, yes, such a different Jesus. Mormonism’s claims must be challenged because they are so short of what the Bible teaches.

It has been my pleasure to have reviewed these manuals since 2012. The LDS Church is now going to have the local leaders choose General Conference messages to study during the second and third Sundays. Using this format, look for a new series to begin in 2018.

To read other reviews of the Gordon B. Hinckley manual, click here.