Book Excerpt – Lehi’s Vision of Redemption

In church meetings I have at times heard people cast about for analogies to further explain the atonement. Ironically, the one analogy I have never heard someone use in a Sunday school or quorum meeting to explain the atonement is Lehi’s dream, or one of the other scriptural variants of it. This is ironic because when people ask for an analogy for the atonement, they are not looking for an analogy for the agony Christ suffered performing the atonement. They are looking for an analogy explaining how the atonement actually provides redemption to fallen man. They want to understand how it actually helps them. They want to make sure they are taking advantage of it and realizing all its blessings. That is precisely the sort of question revelations such as Lehi’s dream are meant to answer. So when people are grasping about for an analogy to understand the atonement it seems the Lord’s own revealed parables of the atonement should first be carefully scrutinized for all that they teach about the atonement. No one understands it better than Him.
Lehi’s dream makes clear some of the great and less commonly understood aspects of the atonement. While there is a gate made up of repentance and baptism (2nd Nephi 31), the gate is not the end. There is more to be done as one must tread the path the gate puts one’s feet on. Lehi’s dream cleanly disposes of the idea that one can be saved in ones sins. Rather the atonement saves us from our sins, by providing us with a path which we progress along by conquering our sins through the atonement of Christ. Clearly it is a path, rather than just a doorway, or a gate that is provided because in order to return to the tree of life found in the garden of Eden, we will need to be changed so that the fruit is no longer a great danger to us, as it would have been to Adam and Even if they had immediately partaken of it after the fall. Thus we must seek to rid ourselves of all our sins. What a better proposition this is than all the worldly doctrines which all amount to some variant of the idea that Christ saves us in our sins, rather than from them.
In fact, a correct idea that Christ will save us from our sins rather than in them is implicit in the whole idea of a path as a proper explanation of the atonement as one see’s in Lehi’s dream. If the atonement is only a gate, with no subsequent path, maybe we would feel we can be saved in our sins, because we know that we all still sin in small ways from day to day even after entering the gate. By way of contrast, using a path shows us that while we still have sins, we must press forward along a path in order to progress. And we cannot push forward without repenting and divesting ourselves of our sins. Other aspects of the dream further enforce this idea. One example is that the mists of darkness are temptations which divert us from the path. Also the fact that we can only stay on the path by holding firmly onto the word of God also emphasizes the idea that we not saved in our sins, but from them. All combine together to show that the atonement doesn’t save us in our sins, rather, it pays the price and offers a path that allows us to be saved from them, and we are saved from them by overcoming them so that we no longer commit them. We know ourselves and so we know overcoming our sins is going to take some serious time, hence it is a path, not just an entryway.
It is also not a short path. We know that in part just because we know ourselves. It’s going to take us a good while before we can stand like Adam and Eve did before the fall and partake of the tree of life. The scriptures teach this. After the fall, Adam is given commandments, and was obedient to the commandments of the Lord, but it was only after “many days” of that obedience that Adam appears to reap the fruits of that obedience.
Joseph Smith also warned the early saints that the given route wasn’t short.
Brother Joseph Smith, Jr. said: That he intended to do his duty before the Lord and hoped that the brethren would be patient as they had a considerable distance (to go). (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith – Section One 1830-34, p.9)
A few interesting points can be made on the basis that Lehi’s vision of redemption is a route to the same tree that stands in Eden. It suggests that redemption is to overcome the effects of the fall. And since it is the same tree it was before. It is presumably still in the garden of Eden. That would mean it is a place where the Lord can come and go freely. At the Tree of Life, like in the Garden of Eden, man can commune with God, as we are redeemed from the fall.
Ether 3:13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
Thus we find the Brother of Jared back in the garden of Eden as it were. He passes through the veil, and the Lord comes to him and teaches him.

Once again, if it is the atonement that provides redemption from the fall, then a parable or vision about how one is returned to the tree of life is, in fact, a parable about the atonement. It may not include Christ’s sufferings and death. Instead it focuses on the practicalities of how we actually partake of the gifts the atonement opens up to us. We will look at other such accounts after making some brief observations about the role of covenants and ordinances in partaking of the gifts of the atonement.

The path we travel back

One of the most interesting things that clicked for me this past year was when I realized that at the end of our mortal lives we go to the spirit world, but that isn’t when we get to live with the Father and the Son. We typically think that happens at the end of mortality, but it doesn’t and that is quite important.

The fact that the spiritual world isn’t where the Father and the Son dwell is actually quite plain in teachings of the scriptures and modern prophets. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught that the spirit world is here on this earth (Brigham Young going into even a bit of detail about it), but the doctrine and covenants state the the place where God dwells is not like this earth. The resurrected Christ spends three days in the spirit world but tells Mary that he has not yet ascended to his father. The listing of all the important people that Joseph F Smith sees gathered in the spirit world in D&C 138 does not include the Savior except for the three days he was dead and it talks about his actual personal work there being limited to those days.

Why is it important? Because we only enter the presence of the Father and the Son in the celestial kingdom when we are actually prepared to live the celestial law (Joseph Smith’s explanation of this adds the clarifying phrase “and the whole law, too”). No unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God. The commitment we make at baptism doesn’t prepare us at that point to enter the celestial kingdom. We are instead worthy to enjoy the presence of the holy Ghost. That is less than the whole experience of living in the physical presence of God the Father and the Son in whose presence we have a perfect knowledge of our guilt or a perfect knowledge of our cleanness. When we are baptized we are made clean, but not all. We are clean from the sins we have repented of to be baptized, which is enough to enjoy the gift of the holy ghost, but there is greater cleanness to gain, as we are not yet cleansed from those smaller sins that we persist in even after baptism. The condition for forgiveness and cleansing is always repentance.

I also learned that there is a persistent theme of reaching a state where we are prepared to live a greater commitment, a higher law, so to speak, then being given the higher law along with greater spiritual endowments (i.e. have progressed from one grace to another) that make it easier for us to avoid falling back into sin. However at each such point turning back to our old ways become a more serious matter with greater consequences. At some point one can gain enough that if one rebels severely enough they can become a son of perdition, but that is only the “ultimate” version of this pattern. 
Up until one is baptized, the commitment necessary for baptism involves little more than being asked if one will keep the baptismal commitment. But once one makes the commitment once gets greater spiritual endowments in the Gift of the Holy Ghost as well as the sacrament along with a lot of weekly gospel instruction, prophetic instruction twice a year. However, now serious sin has much greater consequences. A similar thing happens when one is endowed and again when one is sealed. But those are by no means stopping points. It is a long ways from here to exaltation.

Feminism – Pride and Animosity all dressed up in self righteous zeal

Feminism is about nothing if it is not about pride. Ezra Taft Benson spoke on the topic of pride. He said that pride, in the scriptural sense, was enmity. He warned that it caused the fall of the Nephites. Interestingly enough Feminism is also full to overflowing with animosity. One of its most universal achievements in its converts and admirers is undermining the most perfect unity possible – that of a man and a women – with enmity.

The perfect unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is offered to the Nephites as a perfect example of the unity they ought to have with each other in 3 Nephi 11. We will never experience unity in that perfection in mortality, but the closest we can come is in the holiest of relationships – the relationship of a husband and wife who have chosen to seal themselves together for eternity.

Feminism turns wives against their husbands. It declares a silent but pitched battle in which the spouse is automatically part of the enemy territory. It takes “what God hath put together” and divides it asunder into warring factions.

Zion is built first in the individual and in the couple according to modern leaders. Zion cannot be built as a city if it cannot exist in the hearts of the people and it cannot be built in the hearts of the people if it cannot even exist in the most basic building block of Zion – the unity of husband and wife. One cannot have the “one mind, one heart, dwelling in righteousness” of Zion in a marriage if the wife is holding to pride and animosity against men generally.

Joseph Smith, when detecting the prophesies and spiritual experiences of another religious group as coming from the adversary used this as one of his keys to detect them:

“Those women would speak in the midst of a meeting, and rebuke Mr. Irving or any of the church. Now the Scripture positively says, ‘Thou shalt not rebuke an Elder, but entreat him as a father;’ not only this, but they frequently accused the brethren, thus placing themselves in the seat of Satan, who is emphatically called ‘the accuser of the brethren.’ “

As a group, the feminists in the church are certainly “the accusers of the brethren”.

Feminism is certainly part of the church of the devil. It is often the basis of derision of the church. It is often used to turn otherwise faithful sisters into critics of church leaders. It leads otherwise faithful sisters to turn to a spirit of calling coveting. It divides wives from husbands, replacing the potential for divine unity with the hollow substitute of a mutually unsatisfying, uneasy truce.

Offense, Mercy, Forgiveness versus Divine Apathy

The miracle of forgiveness is one of the beautiful realizations of the mercy of God. There are marvelous accounts of forgiveness in the scriptures. The mercy of God and the love that he has for his children are two of his magnificent traits. However those traits are undermined in modern thinking as people take on the idea that God’s mercy really means that sin isn’t offensive to him in the first place. The full story of offense, repentance, interceding mercy and forgiveness is shortened into a story in which mercy is replaced with divine indulgence or apathy and sin isn’t really offensive. Divine love is taken as so overwhelming that divine justice simply has no place. It is an ideal that that was prophesied of anciently:

2 Nephi 28:8 And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

But members of the church must not rush to join in with such thinking.


Perhaps a simple parable would make the point. Imagine a grand emperor who discovers that his precious daughter has been badly harmed by a man in his empire. This emperor throws the man in his dungeon to languish. Time passes and the emperor, noting the man’s penitence and shame for what he has done, decides that this man has truly changed from the wicked being he was. In an act of extreme mercy, the emperor lets this man go free.

Upon finding himself set free, the man rejoices in the emperor’s mercy and forgiveness. But on hearing of the Emperor’s profoundly merciful action, many wrongly conclude that emperor must not really care that much about his daughter, and must not have been that upset about what was done to her.

There is nothing in the fact that this man had to go through a period of suffering and contrition that changes the fact that the Emperor showed great mercy to him.


Contrast that with another parable. A man has a son. The man says he loves his son so much that no matter what his son does, the man gives his son all he desires. As the son grows into a man he does all kinds of wickedness, but the father still says that he loves his son so much, he can withhold nothing from him.

These simple stories convey two ways of dealing with offenses. In one story the father simply doesn’t care what his son does. He will give him all he wants because he loves him. This seems to be dangerously close to the spirit of the times. It is as if the atonement is being viewed more and more not so much as an intercession, but as an unlimited credit card we can use to commit sin with. It is as if it was either forgotten than an actual intercession for sin was necessary, or it is assumed that, having made intercession, God is no longer offended at sin and so what need is there of repentance and change?

These simple stories convey the fundamental ideas of a terrible offense, of repentance, and of great mercy. They hit at the essence of some ideas that are being neglected. We seem to be forgetting that the meaning of the atonement is mercy toward that which is offensive on condition of repentance. That is very different than a desire on God’s part to ignore sin, to not really be bothered by it, out of his great love for us. God is not the indulgent father. He did not send his son to suffer, bleed and die simply so that we could “party on dude”.

Many have forgotten that sin is offensive to God. In forgetting that sin is offensive, they have also lost a grip on what it means that he is merciful. In the story of the emporer’s daughter the people of his kingdom fail to recognize how merciful the emperor is, instead determining that the offense committed against him didn’t really bother him that much. When we lose track of the fact that sin is offensive, we simultaneously let go of the fact that God is merciful. There is no need for mercy if there is no offense commited. The indulgent father isn’t merciful, he is indulgent. He doesn’t care what his son has done wrong. That is different than mercy. The offended emperor, on the other hand, loves his daughter, is deeply offended by the man’s actions, has power to punish the man, but extends mercy on condition of repentance. Mercy is the great attribute of diety, but it is completely different than indulgence or apathy. When we forget that sin is offensive to God, we supplant his mercy with indulgence and apathy, and thus lose track of one of His defining traits.

D&C 1:31 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;
 32 Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven;
 33 And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strivewith man, saith the Lord of Hosts.

We also see a recognition of offense, a sincere desire to repent, and mercy and forgiveness extended in the story of Alma. Note that this is not a story of divine apathy toward sin born out of zealous affection.

Alma 36:12 But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
 13 Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
 14 Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
 15 Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
 16 And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
 17 And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
 18 Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
 19 And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
 20 And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
 21 Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.
 22 Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there.

Lastly, it should be pointed out that sin isn’t just something God even CAN ignore, or there would have been no need for a Savior to intercede. God could not, apparently, simply wave his hand and absolve the consequences.

The scriptures, the prophets and the call to repentance.

How many of the scriptural prophets calling a people to repentance, including the Savior, spend part of their discussion emphasizing God’s love for those people. The scriptural answer appears to be “very few”. It seems that usually the people have already convinced themselves that they are in God’s good graces, e.g. that was the intent of “Are we not the sons of God…” response to the prophet Noah’s teachings. Usually the idea that they are perfectly fine spiritually is already firmly entrenched in their hearts, e.g. when Abinidi preaches repentance the people respond that the king and his people haven’t sinned – they already believe everything they have done was justified. When Christ addresses the pharisees, they are already assured of their righteousness. When Joseph Smith addressed the people, false priests were incensed, and in general most people don’t like having the certainty of their spiritual state questioned. There are those who know they are in open rebellion, but as seen in our age as in all others, they quickly convert to a system of worship that covers their sins be it atheism, salvation by grace only or any other system of worship that allows them to feel certain of their salvation in their sins.

It was Joseph Smith’s goodness combined with his Uncertainty about his own salvation that makes him peculiar and enabled him to ask the questions in answer to which he received the first vision.

Obedience, Commandments, and Pharisees

One problem that plagues some people is a serious misunderstanding of the Pharisees. It is common to claim that the Pharisees were people who were very strict and obedient about living the law of Moses. The idea is often that being very obedient was the root of the Pharisee’s rejection of the Son of God, and thus strict obedience is something to avoid. Consulting Abinidi alone confirms that the Pharisees did not keep the commandments.

Mosiah 12:33 But now Abinadi said unto them: I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount of Sinai…

So according to Abinidi, if the Pharisees were really the very obedient people they are often portrayed as, they would have been the sort of people who would be saved. So there is one witness that the Pharisees did not actually keep the law of Moses. But a much more compelling witness steps forward in the New Testament – the Savior Himself.

 John 5:45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
 46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
 47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

One of the oldest tricks in the book for a false religion is to take few ideas and inflate them out of all proportion as the great virtues that a man must achieve in this life, the great things one needs to achieve. It doesn’t even need to be called a religion to use this trick successfully. For instance environmentalism has been very successful at touting itself as the one true virtue among certain groups these days. But what is the appeal of such a scheme? The answer is easy. Tell a man that he has to be chaste, honest, kind, loving, etc…. and you may free him from sin, but it takes a lot of self control. But if instead you tell him that chastity is no matter, he can have all the fornication, all the pornography, all the lusts etc… he wants, he can lie, cheat, and steal to boot, all that really matters is the environment, then you’ve got yourself a convert!

If the Pharisees were to be compared to someone else in the scriptures, they really ought to be compared to the priests of Noah. We tend to think of the priests of Noah as brazenly wicked, but it is quite clear that much of their iniquity was either kept relatively quiet or simply rationalized away as not one of the really important matters. When Abinadi was delivered up to the King, the people stated.

Mosiah 12: 13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?
 14 And now, O king, behold, we are guiltless, and thou, O king, hast not sinned; therefore, this man has lied concerning you, and he has prophesied in vain.

And we later read

Mosiah 17: 2 But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified against them;

The fact that it states “for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinidi had testified against them” suggests that just as with the Pharisees the priest of Noah either rationalized away spending their time with harlots or they did it relatively secretly.

The Pharisees should not be compared to obedient church members. They were anything but obedient. They used exactly this trick of taking a small number of ideas, such as Sabbath worship, tithing and some other religious principles and inflating them out of all recognition as the principle virtues, while at the same time rationalizing breaking all the great big laws. For instance, consider the following discussion.

Matthew 19:3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
 4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
 7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
 8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
 9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

The Pharisees are asking whether it is lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Given the legalistic leanings of this group, this almost certainly included very small things. The issue here is not one of serious disharmony, it is of putting away wives in a serial way that is not really any different than have a string of sexual partners. However they were practicing this law, Christ is quite frank that whatever they are doing, it constituted committing adultery.

James E Talmage taught that “It is important to note, however, that in His reply to the casuistical Pharisees, Jesus announced no specific or binding rule as to legal divorces; the putting away of a wife, as contemplated under the Mosaic custom, involved no judicial investigation or action by an established court. In our Lord’s day the prevailing laxity in the matter of marital obligation had produced a state of appalling corruption in Israel; and woman, who by the law of God had been made a companion and partner with man, had become his slave.” (James E Talmage, “Jesus the Christ”)

The important thing to realize here is that, even if cloaked in some other guise such as serial divorce and remarriage, the Pharisees were a very immoral group. They seemed to have standards that were similar to the woman at the well, who had five husbands and was living with a sixth man at the time. Even if the Pharisees crossed all their t’s to make sure each marriage was legitimate, the Lord is not fooled by such thin disguises and called a spade a spade. The Pharisees were a very immoral group.

This is further born out when one takes into account some of Joseph Smith’s teachings about those that seek signs, as well as statements by church leaders by the men who brought the woman taken in adultery.
But Christ is very clear that they were not. But one doesn’t need to rest on that testimony alone. One can listen to what Christ said about the matter.

John 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Thus Christ frankly taught those who are doing what they ought to be doing (in secret as well as in public) will come to the Gospel, but those who do evil hate the true Gospel because they don’t want to change their actions. A similar statement was made by Neal A Maxwell about those that leave the church
 In later years, I saw a few leave the Church who could then never leave it alone. They used often their intellectual reservations to cover their behavioral lapses. (Neal A Maxwell, General Conference – April 2004, “Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been”).

Christ’s teaching about those involved in sin is greatly expanded on in D&C 84. This section bluntly teaches that the whole world groans under sin. To make it perfectly clear how true this, the section than says that there is a key by which one can tell those who are under the bondage of sin (quite possibly secretly), who the Lord calls wicked from those who are righteous. It states

D&C 84:50 And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
 51 For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
 52 And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
 53 And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.

This is not just a reference to the fact that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. If that is all it were, it would not fulfill its stated purpose that “by this ye may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.” Nor is it meant to mean that all who will not join the church are involved in something as serious as the sins characterizing those in the telestial kingdom, because it applies equally well to the honorable men of the earth blinded by the craftiness of men that do not come to the truth and who we are told make up the terrestrial kingdom. However, it does frankly teach the same sort of thing taught in John 3 – those who do evil hate the light.

All these scriptures apply as well to the Pharisee in Christ’s day as to those in any other time and testify that the Pharisees were not the very obedient individuals they claimed to be.

Everyone knows that Christ accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy. So how is it that so many assume that they really followed their own teachings? By definition, a hypocrite is someone who teaches one thing but does something else. The Pharisees taught strict adherence to the law of Moses, but in Matthew 23 we read

Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
 14 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.
 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
 23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
 24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.
 25 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.
 26 Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.
 27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
 28 Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
 29 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,
 30 And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.
 31 Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.
 32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
 33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Christ is quite frank that while the pharisee’s taught strict obedience and outwardly portrayed it, they were in fact hypocrites. That is, they did not practice what they preached. He even condemned them for their “iniquities”. Since the pharisees were condemned by the Savior as hypocrites then I believe they were. In fact, since the Savior accused them of iniquities then I believe they committed iniquities, even if out of the public eye.

I find it interesting how frequently people neglect the Saviors own admonitions to obedience, as if He was only kidding. Some examples of his admonition include:

John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

John 15: 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

As well as his frequent admonitions to individuals go and sin no more.

Keeping the commandments (not hypocritical claims to keeping the commandments while secretly committing iniquities) fits the Savior’s admonition that anyone that does the Father’s will would know the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether Christ was just a regular man speaking His own beliefs.

Christ constantly admonished His disciples, and they sought to do better. We may fail from day to day, but in hearing and feeling that same admonishment and occasional reproof, we only verify that it is the same living Christ we follow now that they followed then.