You may want to begin class by singing together the hymn, "I Stand All Amazed."
"[The Atonement of Jesus Christ] is the very root of Christian doctrine, You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them" (Elder Boyd K. Packer, April 1977 General Conference).
Once a branch is cut from a tree, it no longer grows or produces fruit. It becomes firewood.
"The Atonement is the central act of human history, the pivotal point in all time, the doctrine of doctrines. Everything we do and everything we teach should somehow be anchored to the Atonement" (Tad E. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, p. ix).
"The pursuit of this doctrine requires the total person, for the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most supernal, mind-expanding, passionate doctrine this world or universe will ever know" (Callister, 2).
"The Atonement gives purpose and potency to every event in history. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of its relationship to other events in world history: 'When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, there is nothing so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace'" (Callister, 3).
"The Prophet Joseph Smith said: '...all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it'" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121).
"It is indeed the keystone of Christianity and the foundation of a spiritual life. It is the beacon light for a benighted world. It is the foundation from which all hopes spring....The Atonement is our singular hope for a meaningful life" (Callister, 9).
"Every attempt to reflect upon the Atonement, to study it, to embrace it, to express appreciation for it, however small or feeble it may be, will kindle the fires of faith and work its miracle towards a more Christlike life. It is an inescapable consequence of so doing" (Callister, 17).
WHAT IS THE ATONEMENT?
When we speak of the Atonement, what exactly is involved? "It is, in short, that suffering endured, that power displayed, and that love manifested by the Savior in three principal locations, namely, the Garden of Gethsemane, the cross of Calvary, and the tomb of Arimathaea" (Callister, 23).
Lorenzo Snow said, "It required all the power that He had and all the faith that He could summon for Him to accomplish that which the Father required of Him" (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, 98).
"He took upon him infinite suffering, but chose to defend with only mortal faculties, with but one exception--his godhood was summoned to hold off unconsciousness and death (i.e., the twin relief mechanisms of man) that would otherwise overpower a mere mortal when he reached his threshold of pain. For the Savior, however, there would be no such relief. His divinity would be called upon, not to immunize him from pain, but to enlarge the receptacle that would hold it" (Callister, 119).
President Ezra Taft Benson said, "We may never understand nor comprehend in mortality how He accomplished what He did, but we must not fail to understand why he did what He did. All that He did was prompted by His unselfish, infinite love for us" (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 15).
One of the purposes of the Doctrine and Covenants is to help us know and understand the Savior and His Atonement:
"I give unto you these sayings [specifically the writings of John the Baptist recorded in D&C 93:6-17, but generally the entire book] that you may know and understand 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. For if ye keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace" (D&C 93:19-20).
The Doctrine and Covenants is the only scripture that contains the Savior's description of the extreme difficulty of His ultimate sacrifice, D&C 19:16-19: "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit--and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."
President Joseph F. Smith's great vision of the redemption of the dead is also found in the Doctrine and Covenants: "And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world; and the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world; that through his atonement, and by obedience to the principles of the gospel, mankind might be saved...[I saw] an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality; and who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer's name. All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. And I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand" (D&C 138: 2-4, 12-15).
The Doctrine and Covenants contains over 60 names for Jesus Christ. You may want to mark them or list them as you read through the book. It truly testifies of Christ. There is a beautiful list of D&C scriptures that testify of different aspects of Christ's character in the Gospel Doctrine manual on p. 9.
HOW DOES THE ATONEMENT AFFECT OUR DAILY LIVES?
Here is the place to have your class members volunteer to finish the sentence on the board. Encourage them to share personal experiences as they feel moved by the Spirit. There should be many and varied answers, some of which may align with these shared by Elder Callister:
- We can be resurrected
- We can repent
- We can have peace of mind
- We can be succored in our challenges
- We can be motivated
- We can be exalted
- We can be made free
- We can receive grace
THE SCOPE OF THE ATONEMENT
Why doesn't God just hack down someone who is excessively evil and make life better for the rest of us?
There are many answers, but one is that often in His mercy, He "lengthens out their probation," to give them time to prepare to meet him, whereas those that the evil person torments or even kills are more prepared for judgment.
"Wickedness alone seldom, if ever, has been the cause of man's destruction; the greater tragedy is wickedness coupled with an unwillingness to repent" (Callister, 182). Examples from the scriptures of extremely wicked people who eventually gained a willingness to repent are plentiful: The people of Ninevah to whom Jonah preached, the people of Melchizedek, Alma the Elder, the Sons of Mosiah, the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, Zeezrom. In more recent world history, the author of the lyrics to the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace," is another example of the Lord's amazing patience with sinners who still have "the embers of repentance" inside. Listening to his story may help Latter-day Saints to realize that they can also fall within the loving embrace of the Savior's grace, even if their sins are scarlet.
John Newton was born before the Restoration, in the year 1725. He was British, a slave buyer in Africa, and the captain of slave ships. He became a Christian in the year 1748 at the young age of 23, after surviving a violent storm at sea.
"Though he might have become a Christian, he did not yet allow it to interfere with his making a living...He was hardly the poster boy for the truly penitent" (Barbara Mikkelson, Snopes.com).
He didn't quit the slave trade until 1754-55, when his wife begged him to settle down. At that point, he became a "tides surveyor," or customs officer.
By 1764, his heart had changed enough that he was ordained a priest in the Church of England.
Around 1772, with a growing awareness of his grave past sins, and in gratitude for the Atonement, he composed the hymn, "Amazing Grace." Originally, it was set to a different tune than we sing it to today, but the words have remained unchanged.
In the year 1780, he expressed regrets about his role as a slave trader.
In 1785 he began to fight to abolish slavery, speaking out in public, and encouraging William Wilberforce to fight it from within the British Parliament. He continued this crusade until his death in 1807, the same year in which the abolition of the slave trade in England was finally achieved, over 50 years before it was achieved in the United States, and without a civil war.
(This was portrayed beautifully in the stirring film, "Amazing Grace," directed by Michael Apted. There are some disturbingly accurate scenes depicting the horrors of the slave ships, but overall, the movie is triumphant, stunning, and definitely enlightening, appropriate for later teens and adults.)
"Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned 'Amazing Grace.' But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. In Newton's case, the 'amazing grace' he wrote of might well have referred to God's unending patience with him. Still, Newton's story gives us all hope--even the greatest of sinners can ultimately and meaningfully repent" (Barbara Mikkelson, Snopes.com Urban Legends Reference Pages, 5 biographical sources listed at the end of the article).
In his own words, "Only God's amazing grace could and would take a rude, profane, slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of God." (I'm finding the quote all over the internet, but I'm getting tired of looking for the original reference. If anyone else knows it, please post it in the comments.)
John Newton's hymn, "Amazing Grace," has been recorded over 1800 times. You can see it sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir outdoors with beautiful scenery on YouTube. Here are the complete original words:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.
A final verse was included in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, which may have been written by her or taken from another hymn, but is commonly included with the hymn today:
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.
"When we more fully understand the depths to which the Savior descended, the breadth to which he reached, and the heights to which he ascended, we can more readily accept that our own sins are within the vast sphere of his conquered domain. We then become believers, not only in the Atonement's infinite expanse, but in its intimate reach" (Callister, 197).
"[The Atonement] replaces despair with hope, darkness with light, and turmoil with peace" (Callister, 203).