2 Nephi is the second book written by Nephi, son of Lehi. Besides Mormon, Nephi is the only author of the Book of Mormon who wrote more than one book.
The fact the Nephi wrote two books suggest that he had two main points to make to his reader. In 1 Nephi, Nephi’s thesis was stated in 1 Nephi 1:20: “I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” A careful search of 1 Nephi will reveal more than thirty examples supporting this theme.
In his second book, Nephi follows up his first thesis with this important assertion: we are free to choose deliverance and eternal life or to choose captivity, death and eternal destruction.Nephi chose the words of his father, Lehi, to express this theme. Said Lehi to his sons:
Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit;
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom (2 Nephi 2:27-29).
“The Lord Hath Redeemed My Soul“
These oft-quoted verses were made by Lehi as part of his final admonition to his family just days before he died (see 2 Ne. 1:1 through 4:12). Sometime after he and his family had arrived in the Promised Land, Lehi knew that his mortal probation was drawing to an end. He also knew by revelation that he had successfully past the tests of mortality qualifying him to receive the full effects of the Atonement.
To his sons, Lehi said:
Hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth. But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love (2 Ne. 1:14-15; emphasis added).
Knowing that one’s soul has been redeemed from hell is scripturally referred to as having one’s “calling and election” made sure (see 2 Peter 1:10). [i] In General Conference, Elder Marion G. Romney noted:
To [receive] this one must receive a divine witness that he will inherit eternal life. [ii]
This witness or testimony comes after one has chosen to believe in God, be baptized, and live a life faithful in keeping God’s commandments. Joseph Fielding Smith taught:
Those who press forward in righteousness, living by every word of revealed truth, have power to make their calling and election sure. They receive the more sure word of prophecy and know by revelation and the authority of the priesthood that they are sealed up unto eternal life. [iii]
Further, this witness comes only after one has been thoroughly tested by the Lord. Joseph Smith taught:
After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure. [iv]
As made clear by Joseph Smith, when the doctrine of calling and election made sure is properly understood, it should motivate every member of the Church to make the choice to lose themselves in the service of the Kingdom – devoting themselves entirely to the work of the Lord. Only through such selfless devotion can this blessing be achieved. In other words, members of the Church do not try to make their calling election sure by doing things. Rather, when they become so devoted to God that they lose themselves in the building God’s kingdom, they will find their calling and election made sure. Such exercise of agency is the most important choice one can make. Only this choice brings the blessing of eternal life. Lehi made this choice and hoped all his children would follow his course.
“Awake … and be men”
But all was not well with Lehi’s family; some of his children were not following his example! In particular, Laman and Lemuel had continually demonstrated a rebellious nature against God – they were no better than the Jews of Jerusalem who had been destroyed. Lehi feared for them. Likewise, certain of Ishmael’s family were equally hard-hearted. On the other hand, other of Lehi’s children, such as Nephi, had proven themselves righteous and devoted to the Lord.
Concerned for the welfare of his rebellious sons, Lehi pled:
O that ye would awake, awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe (2 Ne. 1:13).
The “eternal gulf of misery and woe” recalls the river of filthy waters that Lehi saw in the dream. Lehi had seen in the dream that Laman and Lemuel “would not come unto [the tree] and partake of the fruit” (1 Ne. 8:18; cf with 1 Ne. 12:18).
“Awake! and arise from the dust,” Lehi urged, “My heart hath been weighed down with sorrow from time to time, for I have feared, lest for the hardness of your hearts the Lord your God should come out in the fulness of his wrath upon you, that ye be cut off and destroyed forever” (2 Ne.
By their own choices, Laman and Lemuel were choosing an eternal destiny of wretchedness and misery. Lehi knew what destiny their choices would bring. But Laman and Lemuel continually refused to see it! Frantically, Lehi urged, “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Ne. 1:23). Obscurity means “lacking light; dim; dark; murky; not easily perceived.” [v]
By their own actions, Laman and Lemuel had become spiritually dead. They were even dead as to the light of Christ the source of man’s conscience! There actions had so darkened their mind that they could not see the eternal light of Christ – even when it beamed directly in their face!
Earlier, Nephi had observed this condition in Laman and Lemuel. Note these chilling words uttered by an indignant Nephi to his rebellious brothers:
Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder.
And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up.
O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts? Behold, my soul is rent with anguish because of you, and my heart is pained; I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever (1 Ne. 17:45-47; emphasis added).
Worried that they would be “cast off forever,” Lehi warned his sons that their destiny of misery was their own choice – but a destiny they could change by choosing a different path. “O my sons,” Lehi exhorted, “that these things might not come upon you, but that ye might be a choice and a favored people of the Lord.”
The key to such a destiny, Lehi taught, is obedience to the will of God:
But behold, his will be done; for his ways are righteousness forever. And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence (2 Ne. 2:19-20).
The earnestness of Lehi for his sons can be seen in his next statement:
And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity; that ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body (2 Ne. 1:21-22; emphasis added).
“Arise from the dust, my sons, and be men“!! What did Lehi mean? “A man is but a beast as he lives from day to day, eating and drinking, breathing and sleeping. It is only when he raises himself, and concerns himself with the immortal spirit within him, that he becomes in [very] truth a man.” [vi]
To the end that Laman and Lemuel would “come forth out of obscurity” and “be men,” Lehi urged: “Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.”
Speaking further to the whole family, Lehi continued: “And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel and Sam, and also my sons who are the sons of Ishmael, behold, if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish” (2 Ne. 1:28; emphasis added).
The Difference a Choice Makes!
Nephi had passed through what Laman and Lemuel had experienced – leaving his home and land of inheritance, the family wealth, the city he grew up in, the hardship of ancient travel – yet, he came out ennobled rather than bitter. How? The answer lies within a choice Nephi made.
After Lehi and his family left Jerusalem – and all their wealth, possessions, and friends – and camped along the river Laman in the valley of Lemuel, Laman and Lemuel began to murmur against their father and the command of the Lord to leave Jerusalem (1 Ne. 2:11-12). The choice of Laman and Lemuel to murmur was born of their hard hearts. Yet, Nephi also had a hard heart! He likewise was bothered by the same situation.
But rather than choosing to murmur, he approached the Lord in prayer, pleading for understanding. Nephi records: And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me.” Further, Nephi said, the Lord “did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers” (1 Ne. 2:16; emphasis added).
The outcome of the choice made by Laman and Lemuel to murmur and the choice Nephi made to come unto God through prayer is remarkable.
Laman and Lemuel became bitter. Their minds became darkened. Their lives were full of misery, hate, and unhappiness – never satisfied and always ill-content. On the other hand, Nephi found great joy and happiness. He continued to call upon God who blessed his efforts with great enlightenment through glorious visions and revelations. Nephi found satisfaction in obedience and love in his heart.
The difference a choice makes!
The Necessity of Opposites
Lehi taught his sons that both experiencing and choosing between opposites is a major reason why we are here in mortality. This he did by speaking directly to Jacob, yet in the hearing of the other brothers (see 2 Ne. 2).
Why Jacob? Apparently, Jacob was troubled by the number of trials he had experienced in his short life. He had been born during the wilderness journey from the valley of Lemuel to the land of Bountiful. His life had been full of trial and hardship made worse by the rebelliousness of Laman and Lemuel.
To this very young boy, the old and well-experienced Lehi observed: “And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my first?born in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.” Then Lehi declaring the thesis of his thoughts, Lehi said: “Nevertheless, Jacob, my first?born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Ne. 2:1-2; emphasis added).
How are afflictions consecrated for our gain? The power of the Atonement. In verses 3-10 of 2 Nephi, Lehi discussed various aspects of the Atonement. Then at the end of verse 10, he interrupted his discussion of the Atonement explaining that the Christ’s atonement was necessary because of the Creation and the Fall.
The Atonement was made necessary because of the Fall of Adam. The Fall of Adam initiated the purpose of the Creation. The Creation was necessary to provide a place where man could experience and choose between opposites. The Atonement, therefore, necessarily followed Creation and the Fall to free man from the consequences of opposites experienced in this world.
Lehi explained this to Jacob using the following reasoning. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things,” Lehi revealed (2 Ne. 2:11; emphasis added). The small word “an” in this verse is important. This verse is often mis-quoted and mis-used.
Commenting on difficult experiences, I have often heard members of the Church say, “there must be opposition in all things,” suggesting that everything has is its resistance, or hinderment, or opponent. Though that is often true, that is not what Lehi meant. Rather, he observed, “there is an opposition in all things.” In this context, Lehi was using the root meaning of the word of opposition which is opposite or antithesis. In other words, Lehi said, “everything has its opposite.”
Continuing his thought, Lehi cited a series of opposites:
If not so, my first?born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.” Then he said: “Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility (2 Ne. 2:11; emphasis added).
What did he mean by compound in one? Opposites are essential in order to have genuine and accurate knowledge. [vii] When we look at others, we can discern them for they are a combination of opposites – light and dark. Without the combination of light and dark, a person would be a “compound in one” with the background for he could not be distinguished from the background. That is, if all there were was darkness, we could not differentiate a person from the background for both are dark.
It is the opposites of light and dark that bring discerning knowledge. The Lord said it this way, “if [men] never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39). If all we ever had was sweet, sweetness would have no meaning to us. It is bitter that gives sweetness definition to our senses. Therefore, only through experiencing opposites can we comprehend.
Lehi taught Jacob the purpose of the creation of this earth was to provide a place where opposites not only exist but are experienced. Indeed, he explained that if opposites did not exist in this world, the earth would “have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation” (2 Nephi 2:12). With no opposites there could be “no joy” for there would be “no misery” (2 Nephi 2:23).
The earth was created, therefore, that man “might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25) and joy can only come by experiencing misery. Brigham Young taught this very principle when he observed: “Facts are made apparent to the human mind by their opposites. We find ourselves surrounded in this mortality by an almost endless combination of opposites, through which we must pass to gain experience and information to fit us for an eternal progression.” [viii]
The Fall of Adam
In the eternal plan, God provided mortality as the condition by which man could experience a multitude of opposites. These opposites are experienced through the instrumentality of the mortal body. Brigham Young explained that God has sent His children into this existence “to be clothed with flesh, and to be subject, with their tabernacles, to the ills that afflict fallen humanity. When they have proved themselves faithful in all things, and worthy before Him, they can then have the privilege of returning again to his presence, with their bodies, to dwell in the abodes of the blessed. If man could have been made perfect, in his double capacity of body and spirit, without passing through the ordeals of mortality, there would have been no necessity of our coming into this state of trial and suffering. Could the Lord have glorified his children in spirit, without a body like his own, he no doubt would have done so.” [ix]
The Fall of Adam was the means of initiating the mortal experience. Speaking to all his sons, Lehi began teaching them of the Fall. “And now, my sons,” Lehi stated, “I speak unto you these things for your profit and learning; for there is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Ne.
2:14). God’s children were placed in this world not to be acted upon but to act!
But man can only act if he has agency. Agency exists when four conditions are met: (1) there must be choices; (2) the choices must be opposite; (3) there must be a knowledge of the consequences of both choices; and (4) both choices must be enticing. [x] Knowing this, Lehi said, “to bring about [God’s] eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter” (2 Ne. 2:15).
Thus, Adam and Eve had a choices and those choices were opposite. We know from Moses 3:16-17 that Adam was told the consequences of eating the fruit of both trees. Further, Lehi told his sons, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” How would Adam and Eve be enticed to do eat the forbidden fruit?
Lehi explained that Satan enticed Adam and Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit:
And I, Lehi, according to the things which I have read, must needs suppose that an angel of God, according to that which is written, had fallen from heaven; wherefore, he became a devil, having sought that which was evil before God. And because he had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind. Wherefore, he said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies, wherefore he said: Partake of the forbidden fruit, and ye shall not die, but ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil (2 Ne. 2:16-18).
As a result of the Fall, opposites became a part of man’s experience in the mortal world through the knowledge of good and evil; a phrase that simply refers to opposites. In old English, evil did not always refer to sin, but often simply meant something considered undesirable or disagreeable. In this sense, sin as well as sickness or any other affliction or hardship would have been considered evil. Such evils were opposite to good or things considered agreeable.
Positive Consequences of the Fall
Many are bothered by what appears to be conflicting commandments given by God to Adam and Eve. Curiously enough, the conflict of opposing commandments is never an issue of concern in the scriptures. It is just a matter-of-fact. This is the case because the Fall is the mechanism by which mortality was introduced in such a way that God is not held responsible for the consequences of Adam’s actions yet Adam was free to exercise his agency.
Man came to multiply and fill the earth and at the same time to experience opposites. And Adam chose to do both things. As a result, any negative consequences of the Fall are not the responsibility of God. Therefore God is free to implement the plan of redemption. An understanding of both the positive and negative consequences of the Fall is essential to this.
Lehi described the positive results of eating the fruit as twofold. First, the Fall made it possible for Adam and Eve to have children. As a result, God’s children could continue their progression by coming to mortality (2 Nephi 2:20-25). Second, because of the mortal experience, Adam, Eve, and their posterity could “be as God, knowing good and evil” (2 Nephi 2:18).
As a result of the positive consequences, Lehi explained: “All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things. Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:24-25). The positive results are confirmed in the Book of Moses where Eve declared, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil” (Moses 5:11).
Acquiring a knowledge of good and evil is vital for God’s children. Without it they could not become as he is. Elder James E. Talmage wrote:
A knowledge of good and evil is essential to the advancement that God has made possible for His children to achieve; and this knowledge can be best gained by actual experience, with the contrasts of good and its opposite plainly discernible. [xi]
Mortality is necessary to the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil.
Elder Talmage said, A knowledge of good and evil is essential to progress, and the school of experience in mortality has been provided for the acquirement of such knowledge.” [xii]
President George Q. Cannon declared:
It is for this purpose that we are here. God has given unto us this probation for the express purpose of obtaining a knowledge of good and evil – of understanding evil and being able to overcome the evil – and by overcoming it receive the exaltation and glory that He has in store for us. [xiii]
In light of this, at the beginning of World War I, the First Presidency gave the following instruction to the Church:
God, doubtless, could avert war, prevent crime, destroy poverty, chase away darkness, overcome error, and make all things bright, beautiful and joyful. But this would involve the destruction of a vital and fundamental attribute in man – the right of agency.
It is for the benefit of His sons and daughters that they become acquainted with evil as well as good, with darkness as well as light, with error as well as truth, and with the results of the infraction of eternal laws. Therefore he has permitted the evils which have been brought about by the acts of His creatures, but will control their ultimate results for His own glory and the progress and exaltation of His sons and daughters, when they have learned obedience by the things they suffer.
The contrasts experienced in this world of mingled sorrow and joy are educational in their nature, and will be the means of raising humanity to a full appreciation of all that is right and true and good. [xiv]
The Negative Consequences of the Fall
The Curse of Adam. The negative side of all this is that the acquisition of knowledge of good and evil brings dire consequences both in mortality and in eternity. The Book of Mormon reveals that the Fall of Adam brought upon Adam, Eve, and “all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 42:7,9; see also 2 Nephi 2:21; 9:6; Mosiah 16:3; Alma 12:22; 22:12; Helaman 14:16; Mormon 9:12). Together these two deaths comprise what the Book of Mormon calls the “first death” (2 Nephi 9:15; Alma 11:45; Helaman 14:16). Mormon also called it “the curse of Adam” (Moroni 8:8).
Why? In this fallen state, man to became “carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature” (Alma 42:10; see also D&C 20:20; Moses 5:13; 6:49). Abinadi explained that the condition man inherited by the Fall is the very means by which he experiences the knowledge of good and evil. He taught that Satan “did beguile our first parents, which was the cause of their fall; which was the cause of all mankind becoming carnal, sensual, devilish, knowing evil from good, subjecting themselves to the devil” (Mosiah 16:3).
Elder Talmage wrote:
From Father Adam we have inherited all the ills to which flesh is heir; but such are necessarily incident to a knowledge of good and evil, by the proper use of which knowledge man may become even as the Gods. [xv]
Because of this condition, man’s relationship with God changed. The brother of Jared described this relationship while pleading to the Lord for a blessing:
We know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures [i.e., physical bodies] are evil continually (Ether 3:2).
Further, King Benjamin stated that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been since the fall of Adam” (Mosiah 3:19).
Beyond the mortal consequences, the Book of Mormon teaches that the Fall of Adam brought upon mankind eternal consequences. Jacob declared:
For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like unto himself (2 Nephi 9:8-9).
Elder Orson Pratt discussed why:
By one man came death – the death of the body. What becomes of the spirit when the body dies? Will it be perfectly happy? Would old father Adam’s spirit have gone back into the presence of God, and dwelt there eternally, enjoying all the felicities and glories of heaven, after his body had died? No; for the penalty of that transgression was not limited to the body alone.
He then explained:
When he sinned, it was with both the body and the spirit that he sinned: it was not only the body that eat of the fruit, but the spirit gave the will to eat; the spirit sinned therefore as well as the body; they were agreed in partaking of that fruit. Was not the spirit to suffer then as well as the body? Yes. How long? To all ages of eternity, without any end; while the body was to return back to its mother earth, and there slumber to all eternity.
He then taught that without the atonement of Christ, the effect of the fall would have brought “an eternal dissolution of the body and spirit–the one to lie mingling with its mother earth, to all ages of eternity, and the other to be subject, throughout all future duration, to the power that deceived him, and led them astray; to be completely miserable.” [xvi]
The Individual Fall
Beyond the eternal effects of the “curse of Adam,” each man’s personal transgression of the laws of God also results in eternal consequences. Alma taught his son that each law of God has “a punishment is affixed.” When a law is broken justice demands that the penalty must be paid, for “justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:22).
The penalty of a broken law is as “eternal as the life of the soul should be” (Alma 42:16). Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated:
According to eternal law, the consequences that follow from the justice of God are severe and permanent. When a commandment is broken, a commensurate penalty is imposed. This happens automatically. [xvii]
Lehi explained to his sons that since all men violate the laws of God through their own sinful acts, “by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever” (2 Nephi 2:5). “And thus we see,” said Alma, “that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence” (Alma 42:14).
Thus, through the Fall of Adam and man’s individual fall, mankind experiences both the blessing of bringing children into the world as well as the knowledge gained from contrasting opposites. Since He is not responsible for the negative consequences of both Adam’s transgression and each man’s individual fall, God is free to bring about the Atonement which is designed to free man from the eternal consequences of the Fall.
Lehi taught Jacob, “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
(2 Ne. 2:6). The Atonement for the Fall of Adam redeems man from spiritual death in that they are brought back into the presence of God where they are to be judged. This Atonement is unconditional.
Though man is not responsible for Adam’s fall, they will be accountable for their own actions while in mortality. [xviii] Orson Pratt taught that the “universal redemption from the effects of original sin, has nothing to do with redemption from our personal sins; for the original sin of Adam, and the personal sins of his children, are two different things.” [xix]
Amulek declared that God’s judgment of mankind will be at a personal level (see Alma 11:44). The Atonement for the Fall of Adam will not save each man from his personal sins. An individual atonement is required! Thus a modern revelation states that the mission of Christ was to redeem “mankind from the fall, and from individual sins” (D&C 138:19).
The Atonement for individual sins satisfies the demands of justice and establishes a “plan of mercy” that makes possible the salvation of each man from their individual fallen condition. Alma said: “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).
The Book of Mormon emphasizes the necessity of repentance to appease the demands of justice. Because Christ suffered the eternal consequences of our sins, repentance will release man from the grips of justice. Alma explained: “according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men … for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice” (Alma 42:13).
Thus, Lehi taught Jacob, “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah, behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:6-7).
Lehi explained that as part of the plan of salvation, it became necessary that “the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened” (2 Nephi 2:21; see also Alma 12:24; 42:4,10,13). That is to say, the eternal consequences of sin are temporarily postponed giving mankind an opportunity to repent of their sins.
In such a way, those who have gained a knowledge of good and evil by experiencing opposites, can become free from the eternal consequences of their choices.
This is affirmed by the Lord himself in latter-day revelation:
But, behold, I say unto you that I, the Lord God, gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son.
And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the day of his probation-that by his natural death he might be raised in immortality unto eternal life, even as many as would believe;
and they that believe not unto eternal damnation; for they cannot be redeemed from their spiritual fall, because they repent not; for they love darkness rather than light, and their deeds are evil, and they receive their wages of whom they list to obey” (D&C 29:42-44).
Free To Choose
But if men do not repent, the postponed consequences will return at the day of judgment. The probationary period is made possible only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because of the Atonement, men are free to choose to obey God and receive the consequences of obedience, or they can choose to become forever subject to the negative consequences of their fallen condition.
The Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon [that is, by the eternal consequences while in mortality], save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given (2 Ne. 2:26; emphasis added).
He then taught that “men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man” (2 Ne. 2:27). That is to say, because they are enticed to do evil by the flesh, or mortal body, and enticed to do good by the light of Christ, which is given to all mankind, man has agency and is therefore free to choose between good and evil.
Lehi urged his sons to “choose eternal life, according to the will of [God’s] Holy Spirit [i.e., light of Christ]; and not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom” (2 Ne. 2:28-29).
Indeed, all mankind are given the same choice. We are free to act and not be acted upon. We are free to choose to follow the light of Christ and the greater influence of the Gift of the Holy Ghost and experience that happiness and peace that such choices bring. Or we can follow the enticings of the flesh and succumb to a life of unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
In making these choices, we must always remember, as Elder Boyd K. Packer reminded us, that “In mortality men are free to choose, and each choice begets a consequence.” [xx] Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin further warned:
You are free to choose (see 2 Ne. 2:27) and are permitted to act (see 2 Ne. 10:23; Hel. 14:30), but you are not free to choose the consequences. With absolute certainty, choices of good and right lead to happiness and peace, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to unhappiness, sorrow, and misery. [xxi]
Finally, as President Ezra Taft Benson taught: “You are free to choose – but you are not free to alter the results of those choices.
“ [xxii] It is my prayer that we make choices that will result in eternal happiness and avoid choices that will bring about an eternal unhappiness.
[i] . For proper, authoritative treatments of this doctrine see Marion G. Romney, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, May 1977, pp. 43-45; Marion G. Romeny, “Calling and Election Made Sure,” Conference Report, October 1965, pp.20-23; Roy W. Doxey, “Accepted of the Lord: The Doctrine of Making Your Calling and Election Sure,” Ensign, July 1976, pp. 50-53.
[ii] . Conference Report, October 1965, p.20.
[iii] . Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith. 3 vols. (Edited by Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954?1956), 2:46.
[iv] . Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.150; emphasis added.
[v] . Webster’s New World Dictionary (1972).
[vi] . A. Conan Doyle, “The White Company,” in Works of A. Conan Doyle, New York: Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1988, pp. 58-59; emphasis added.
[vii] . See Kay P. Edwards, “Opposition,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4 Vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1031-1032.
[viii] . Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 11:42.
[ix] . Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:42?43.
[x] . For a discussion of these four attributes of agency, see Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Second Edition (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966), p.26; Delbert L. Stapley, “Using Our Free Agency,” Ensign, May 1975, p. 21; L. Lionel Kendrick, “Our Moral Agency,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, p. 32.
[xi] . James E. Talmage, A Study of the Articles of Faith. 12th ed., rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978), 54 ; emphasis added.
[xii] . James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1919), 46.
[xiii] . George Q. Cannon, in Journal of Discourses, 26:190-191.
[xiv] . Messages of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1833-1951). 6 vols., ed. James R. Clark (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1975), 4:325-326.
[xv] . Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 70.
[xvi] . Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 1:284.
[xvii] . Dallin H. Oaks, “Sins, Crimes, and Atonement,” With Full Purpose of Heart (Deseret Book, 2002), pp. 113-131.
[xviii] . This is the meaning of the second Articles of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” See Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:49.
[xix] . Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 1:329.
[xx] . Boyd K. Packer, “Atonement, Agency, Accountability,” Ensign, May 1988, p. 71.
[xxi] . Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Running Your Marathon,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 75.
[xxii] . Ezra Taft Benson, “Think on Christ,” Ensign, Mar. 1989, pp. 2, 4.