Misconceptions about the atonement

Here is a list correcting common misconceptions about the atonement. Notes explaining these corrections follow.

1. The atonement does not work by taking whatever good we have at baptism and combining it with Christ’s goodness, which then sums up to 100% perfection!

2. We do not obtain perfection by taking what Christ has, and then adding it by covenant to what we have.

3. In deciding how much of the 100% perfection we have from baptism onward is from Christ and how much is our own goodness, we should not conclude that our part is really zero, because Christ has already paid the whole price.

4. If we are faithful members we will not find ourselves to be very nervous at the judgement bar hoping for some extra credit or some extra good deed to be remembered, and then have Christ correct us.

5. If we live disobediently, we will not find Christ at the judgement bar begging for us to accept his atonement and stay in the Celestial Kingdom.

6. If a girl goes too far on a date and feels a terrible sense of failure, it is Not because she doesn’t understand the atonement.

All of these are examples of the protestant version of the atonement teachings that are becoming increasingly prevalent among our members, but which are completely false.

Reasons for the list of corrections.

1. The atonement does not work by taking whatever good we have at baptism and combining it with Christ’s goodness, which then sums up to 100% perfection!

When we enter in at the gate of baptism, not only are we not perfect, we are not even prepared for the Celestial Kingdom (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R McConkie all taught this). There is a reason Joseph Fielding Smith’s book entitled “The Pathway to Perfection” doesn’t just say “get baptized so your goodness plus Christ’s goodness adds up to 100% perfection”, and then end there. We are not forgiven of what we have not yet repented of. We are sufficiently cleansed at baptism to enjoy a measure of the gift of the holy ghost. When we are confirmed we are commanded to receive the Holy Ghost, which we do over our lifetime as we grow in obedience and consequently into a greater measure of the gift of the Holy Ghost. We are not perfect at the gate of baptism, rather we have entered in at the gate that leads to perfection. There is a huge difference.

Those in Alma 13 only became “holy, without spot” after exceeding faith and repentance. That just isn’t compatible with saying they were 100% perfect at baptism by taking their goodness and adding it to Christs. And that isn’t how the atonement works. At all. The atonement works by in part by making repentance and change possible along with resurrection. These are universal gifts to all mankind. For those who will enter the gate of baptism, the atonement opens the path to eternal life. The atonement works by giving us covenants, forgiveness for sins on condition of repentance, and spiritual endowments such as the gift of the Holy Ghost. Keeping our covenants changes us, which prepares us for greater covenants, greater repentance, greater cleanliness through the atonement, and greater spiritual endowments. This continues from baptism, possibly until we are prepared to enter the celestial kingdom. We become perfect by, well, becoming perfect. Yes, the spiritual endowments make a great difference. We must behave to have the gift of the Holy Ghost, but with the gift of the Holy Ghost, we can also behave so much better. Growing into that gift may well be the greatest part of what becoming perfect is really all about. That fits with our experiences as members, far better than the “perfect at baptism” description does anyway. This is something that we expect to continue well into our time in the spirit world.

2. We do not obtain perfection by taking the perfection Christ has, and then adding it by covenant to whatever goodness we have.

Same as Number 1.

3. In deciding how much of the 100% perfection we have from baptism onward is from Christ and how much is our own goodness, we should not conclude that our part is really zero on the basis that Christ has already paid the whole price.

This one is problematic because the whole idea of taking our perfection and adding it to Christ’s to get a “total joint perfection” is total bologna. It isn’t that we aren’t completely dependent on Christ for forgiveness and spiritual blessings. We are. The problem with this statement is that it is a totally false description of how the covenant works in the first place.

It is also basically the same as number 1, but with a note that the fact that Christ paid for our sins does not mean that we gain blessings above and beyond what we merit by our current behavior.

The atonement doesn’t offer perfection by a slight of hand in spiritual accounting. It offers perfection by offering mankind repentance and forgiveness and through those the opportunity to work out our own salvation by fear and trembling.

Through the atonement we can repent and be forgiven. From 2 Nephi 9 we learn that without Christ’s atonement real change and repentance wouldn’t be possible, as we would all eventually become devils and angels to devils without the atonement. That gift of the ability to repent and change is universally given to all. All people can repent and change. To obtain remission of sins we must be baptized. But it isn’t baptism for the 100% perfection. It is baptism for the remission of sins. And there is no condition ever under which we are forgiven for things we haven’t and won’t repent of. We commit to enough at baptism to ensure we are worthy to have the gift of the holy ghost. Further repentance and change beyond that allows us to grow into that gift.

Honestly we already know this. This whole “we add our goodness to Christ’s goodness at baptism which makes us perfect” garbage goes against our own experience. If that is how baptism works, you should enjoy the fullest measure of the gift of the holy ghost ALL THE TIME. Frankly God and his angels could not be restrained from being our associates right after baptism if that was really how things worked.

But it isn’t, and we know it from our own experiences with the gift of the Holy Ghost. Taken as a whole we slowly but surely find we enjoy the Holy Ghost more now than we used to as we simultaneously find we are better now than we used to be.

4. If we are faithful members we will not find ourselves to be very nervous at the judgement bar hoping for some extra credit or some extra good deed to be remembered, and then have Christ correct us.

Just read from the book of Mormon:

2 Nephi 9:13 …all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.
 14 Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.

5. If we live disobediently, we will not find Christ at the judgement bar begging for us to accept his atonement and stay in the Celestial Kingdom.

Same as 4, along with the fact that this is the day of our probation. Christ won’t be offering last minute chances at the judgement bar. This is the day of our salvation.

6. If a girl goes too far on a date and feels a terrible sense of failure, it is Not because she doesn’t understand the atonement.

We live in a day where the commonness of immorality has made us put aside our faith about what prophets have said about the seriousness of it. Is repentance and forgiveness through the atonement the answer to the girl’s plight? Yes it is. But there is a tendency now to simply treat the atonement as a magic credit card to go commit moral transgression with, as long as the bill of mourning is paid, then go spend some more on it next month. Moral transgression has been being treated as less and less serious. Spencer W Kimball would not have said the deep sense of failure was out of place at all. In fact, from what we can read it seems clear he would have said it was a first step in real repentance so the atonement can actually be applied. Just read “Miracle of Forgiveness” in which he describes various couples and individuals he dealt with. Just read “Miracle of Forgiveness” in which he describes various couples and individuals he dealt with.

Among the most common sexual sins our young people commit are those of necking and petting. Not only do these improper relations often lead to fornication and abortions – both ugly sins – but in and of themselves they are pernicious evils, and it is often difficult for youth to distinguish where on ends and another begins. …Paul wrote as if to modern young people who deceive themselves that their necking and petting are but expressions of love: “Wherefore God also gavem them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.” (Rom 1:24)

How could the evils of petting be more completely described?

Too often, young people dismiss their petting with a shrug of their shoulders as a little indiscretion. Too many of them are shocked, or feign to be, when told that what they have done in the name of petting was in reality fornication. (Spencer W Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 65-66)

President Kimball also taught

All those who have slipped into the disgraceful and most reprehensible habit of transgressing through petting should immediately change their lives, their habits, and their thought patterns, repent sorely in “sackcloth and ashes,” and be confession get so far as possible a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church so that a measure of peace may accompany them through their lives. (Spencer W Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, page 67)

Or turn to a conference talk of his on the matter. One such talk is here:


Can you read this and believe such a girl feels a deep sense of failure only because she doesn’t understand the atonement? Quite the contrary. A recognition of the severity of such matter must not be pushed out of our society one more jot than has already been done by the advocates of this sort of thinking.  Failure to teach the full seriousness of moral transgression or the difficulty in repenting of it makes it harder for people to really repent and consequently robs the individual of the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of the atonement.

Yes, if she repents, she shall be forgiven, but as a generation we are pretty bad at estimating the price of repentance in a way that sounds anything like the miracle of forgiveness. And it is not Spencer W Kimball who is in error.


Grace in Moroni 10

Protestant style interpretations of the atonement are becoming increasingly popular among our own membership, in class discussions, and even in popularly authored books on the atonement. These interpretations are not correct, and as the atonement is the most fundamental doctrine of the gospel, insofar as our understanding of that is wrong, the entire gospel structure built on top of it ends up skewed.

One place I have heard such interpretations pull quotes from are the concluding verses of Moroni 10. Phrases like “come unto Christ and be perfected in him”, “if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ”, and “then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” get forced into a protestant style interpretation of the atonement in which the grace of Christ is a mechanism by which we are proclaimed “perfect in Christ” and receive all the benefits of that perfection at baptism.

Since this is the real atonement that is being taught in Moroni 10, not the protestant atonement, this is not teaching that God will give us all the rewards of being perfect, even though we aren’t, as a consequence of Christ’s intercession for sin. Rather it is presenting part of how Christ’s atonement, through its mediating forgiveness, opens up a path to us that allows us to be redeemed from our sins.

These verses in Moroni become clearer when placed against the backdrop of Alma 13. The two scriptures mutually combine to burn brighter and throw greater light on one another’s meaning. A close comparison of what is described at the end of Moroni 10 and in the middle of Alma 13 makes it clear they are talking about the same thing. In Alma 13 we read that these individuals “were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.” By comparison, in Moroni 10 we read that the individuals in question who are “perfect in Christ” and “deny not his power” are “sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.” The descriptions of just who these two scriptures are talking about match up very well. They are apparently talking about the same thing.

Moroni 10 speaks of those who are “perfect in Christ”. Alma 13 doesn’t use that phrase, but it does state:

Alma 13:12 Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence;

This Alma 13 verse sounds like a remarkable description of someone who might reasonably be described as being “perfect in Christ”. This is very different than the protestant style interpretation in which the phrase “perfect in Christ” refers to the state of anyone who manages to at least stay worthy of his or her baptismal covenant.

A protestant interpretation of the atonement would use the phrase “his grace is sufficient” without giving other requirements other than some one time event. That is exactly the point in protestant interpretations of the atonement. But just look at what Moroni 10 says. It says “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you“. Wow. Talk about important fine print. People usually don’t like to tack on those criteria: “deny yourselves of all ungodliness” and “love God with all your might, mind and strength” to the phrase “his grace is sufficient”. I mean, don’t get me wrong. We are getting there. Our covenants, if kept, teach us to deny ourselves all ungodliness and we will come in time to love God with all our might, mind and strength. It is the path the gospel provides to us. But our progress is slow, and we make it by keeping our covenants. Saying Christ’s grace is sufficient if you deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength is wildly different than saying that because Christ is called the Savior then after baptism we are saved because his grace is sufficient. Salvation requires a Savior, but it is no more finished at baptism than setting up camp at the base gets you to the top of a great mountain.

It is worth pointing out that these sets of scriptures are not referring to a point most members have attained. I know I personally have not come to the point where I cannot “look upon sin save it were with abhorrence”. In my opinion we as a people generally have a long ways to go before we can’t look upon sin save with abhorrence. As things currently stand, it isn’t uncommon for our members to participate in movies, music, books and television that offer up plenty of sin without so much as flinching. We need to turn and instead follow President Monson’s counsel to avoid anything that even uses innuendo.

However, it might be worth noticing that there is a relation between the efforts exerted and the reward offered. It makes sense that if we “deny ourselves of all ungodliness” (from Moroni 10) then in time  God will reward us by sanctifying us so that we cannot “look upon sin save it were with abhorrence” (from Alma 13). That fits.

The grace referred to in Moroni 10 is not the protestant grace that simply means that because of the atonement we get everything for practically nothing, rather than having to use the atonement to work out our salvation with fear and trembling as the scriptures require.

These scriptures should certainly also be put with Joseph Smith’s teaching:

“If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 308)

That is, salvation, as described in scripture requires making covenants, then obeying those covenants, for which they are rewarded in time with greater spiritual endowments and greater covenants. This starts at baptism, continues with the reception of the priesthoods, the temple endowment, and sealing ordinances, but it doesn’t stop there, and that is exactly what is being described in these verses. The atonement opens the way for us to go from one step to the next with covenants, spiritual endowments, continued repentance, forgiveness and change marking out the steps until we at last are prepared to live with and be one with a God who cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

How to save your soul

Heavenly Father’s greatest work is the saving of souls.

Moses 1:39 For this is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

To save our own soul we should recognize that there is a twin principle that goes with this. It is that we save our own soul by saving the souls of others.

D&C 4:4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;

Yes, we must keep the commandments. Yes, we must search the scriptures and pray. But the point is that while these provide a basis, and if we are true to them then, yes, we will be exalted, but it is ultimately as we bring salvation to the souls of others that we bring salvation to our own soul.

Even those who do not thrust in their sickle in this life must eventually come around to this principle. Everyone knows that missionary work is one of the great works in the spirit world. Additionally we learn from Joseph Smith that those in the spirit world work to gather their posterity to the truth:

“The Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed is small, but brings forth a large tree, and the fowls lodge in the branches. The fowls are the angels. Thus angels come down, combine together to gather their children, and gather them. We cannot be made perfect without them, nor they without us” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 159)

The principle is that we find our own salvation by saving the soul’s of others. You can see how this is related to Elder Packer’s principle that a testimony grows in the bearing of it.

“Oh, if I could teach you this one principle. A testimony is to be found in the bearing of it!” (President Boyd K. Packer, “The Candle of the Lord”, Ensign Jan 1983)

Your testimony grows as you bear it, and you save your own soul as you save other’s souls.

This principle is taught very bluntly in D&C 4. The imagery in D&C 4 is that we are farmers laboring in summer in order to get enough food to survive the winter. The only way to harvest food for the winter in D&C 4 is to thrust in our sickle and harvest souls. The lesson is that you save your own soul by saving other’s souls.

You see this taught in the Lord’s statement that a man doesn’t light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick giving light to all that are in the house. The Lord is saying: “Look, I will light your personal spiritual candle inasmuch as you hold up that light to all the world, but I will not fill you with light if you just want to keep it secret from everybody. I will light your soul as you to use it to light others, and the more you do so, the more light I will fill you with.” He lights us as we are willing to share our light with others. It is the same principle.

D&C 4 states that anyone who wants to serve the Lord is called to the work, and indeed, the great spiritual powerhouses: saving our families, missionary work, and redeeming the dead, are all available to start in on any time we are interested in doing so. No calling required for these ones because anyone who desires to serve God is invited to launch into them freely anytime they desire to serve God.

There are some things that will provide a measure of light to ourselves independent of whether it is shared because they are necessary for our salvation regardless. We say our prayers, we search our scriptures daily, we seek knowledge from the brethren. We keep the commandments. We do all of these essentials and they do provide a measure of light even if kept to ourselves. In fact, if we won’t hold to the iron rod, we won’t save ourselves or anybody else according to Lehi’s dream, as nobody was able to stay on the path by any other means.

Yes we have our callings. They are required of us. But they are a law of Moses like tithing trying to get us to the point (myself included) where we will really thrust in our sickle. Where we consecrate not just our time and talents, but also our self image and really decide “what I am here on earth for is to save the souls of mankind”. Someday each of us (myself very much included) needs to decide that, like the Savior, we need to be about our Father’s business. That doesn’t mean we neglect our families, as they are a Great Big Part of our Father’s business, assigned to us as an eternal stewardship. It doesn’t mean we neglect our callings, as they are designed to help us make that change. It doesn’t mean we overdo our callings. Mothers who know do less, as do Fathers who know. They do less so they have more time to devote to sacred family obligations.

Mothers who know also have children, as do Fathers who know. They multiply and replenish the earth, they do not limit their children. This partly because having children is part of their great opportunity to save souls, though it takes on a much fuller meaning as those parents bind their souls to the souls of their children in the miracle of parenthood. They consecrate themselves to the salvation each of those souls in a way that is eternal in nature.

There are other aspects of the principle that saving our soul by saving the souls of other’s souls. Refusing to save souls is destructive to our own.

Jacob 1:19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

and also

D&C 68:25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

Thus the work of obtaining our own Salvation is, not surprisingly, accomplished by pursuing the Father’s work and glory: the immortality and eternal life of his children.

The wisdom of Solomon

One of the famous stories about King Solomon was deciding which of two harlots was really the mother of an infant. Everyone knows the story, but I think it is often misunderstood. His ruling as described in the scriptures is:

1 Kings 3:24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
 25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
 26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.

In my entire life I do not think I have heard this story told a single time in which the conclusion wasn’t that Solomon was so wise, that he knew that the real mother would give up the child rather than have it be slain.
But that isn’t the wisdom of the story at all. Anyone who is a parent has the sense to recognize that in that situation where someone is about to cut your baby in two pieces and hand half over to you, that you would rather see the child be put into another person’s hands than face that.
The wisdom of Solomon in this story is seen in the other woman’s reaction. Solomon recognized that both women, being harlots, had given the adversary great sway of themselves. In that circumstance, it is not so surprising that one would be so degenerate as to steal another one’s live baby in place of her own, even though in truth, that could give her no lasting satisfaction for her loss. The woman was so blinded to her own nature to become a wife and mother that she would actually believe another woman’s dead child would salve her own grief. It is more an act of bitterness and spite, salving her own loss by creating tragedy for another than an attempt to enjoy real love.
And in understanding that, one could predict that woman’s reaction. She would rather see the child divided in two.

Solomon’s wisdom was not in understanding the natural affection that parents almost all enjoy, instead it was in understanding the nature of sin and the effects rejecting morality has on the soul. Later, he turned from good and right himself, but in these days of wisdom, his understanding of the effects of sin on the soul plays the lion’s share of this story.

The incomparable gift of the Holy Ghost

The Lord offered to appear personally to the ancient Israelites:

Exodus 19:9 And the Lord said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.
 10 And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,
 11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

On the third day, the Lord descends in fire and smoke and calls Moses up initially. Then as the event unfolds we read:

Exodus 20:18 And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.
 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.
 20 And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.
 21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

We live in a day when there is an increasing belief that being a faithful member of the church means being an echo rather than being an independent witness of the truth.

When apostates rear their ugly heads as in recent days two divergent reactions tend to both take the wrong path. On the one hand, there are those that side with the apostates, choosing to love darkness rather than light. On the other hand, the vast bulk of members remain faithful (thank goodness!) but seem to become further entrenched in something like the attitude that ancient Israel displayed. They seem to recede from dealing directly with God and say in their hearts to the prophet “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us”. That is they seem to move further from the idea that they can and should learn eternal truth from the Holy Ghost through personal revelation, and inflate the role of modern leaders to somehow substitute that critical role in its place. They rightly know there is safety in listening to the prophet, but fail to recognize that it is contrary to our whole system of religion to try to inflate that in a way that stamps out their responsibility to grow into the principle of personal revelation through the Holy Ghost.

No one is converted to the truth without a testimony in the first place. A testimony is a personal revelation about eternal truth. It is the only gate that opens up being converted to the church. It is a personal responsibility to seek and gain that revelation. You can lean on others for a time, but eventually full conversion requires that you gain a testimony of your own. It is no accident that our missionaries try to help people gain a testimony. There is no substitute for the converting power of personal testimony.

Sadly though, there is an increasing attitude that the correct path is to gain a testimony, get the gift of the Holy Ghost, then throw personal revelation out the window. It is as if the Holy Ghost has been invited for a brief stay, taught us something critical and eternal, been upgraded from a guest to a permanent resident, and then we tell him “I liked what you taught me about the church being true, but from here on out, no more eternal truths that I couldn’t have looked up for myself”.

I’m not saying we like to throw the Holy Ghost all the way out the door, but we seem to relegate the third member of the Godhead to the position of the household butler. He is able to offer advice here or there on small matters, but should keep discussion of important matters (such as eternal truths) to himself. It is ironic. Here we have just opened the windows of heaven and gotten a revelation: “The Church is True, and I know it for myself!” It doesn’t matter whether it was a revelation we got as the gradual dawning of a day over years of time or as sudden and clearly as a light being switched on. Any of these is still a perfectly good revelation.

And that personal revelation comes with tremendous converting power. If gaining a testimony has that sort of power, it seems like there is something terribly backward about winning the grand prize of the gift of the Holy Ghost for our obedience, and then determining that we don’t have much use for personal revelation and its transforming power after entering in the gate and gaining the prize.

A testimony is the initial opening of the windows of heaven to hear the voice of God revealing important eternal truths. And once you have gotten that far and proven you are willing to actually submit your life to such truths, you have shown that you are worthy of the gift of Holy Ghost, so that you can grow into an independent witness of all such truths. The point of this is that every person can grow and develop and eventually become a prophet in his or her own right, over his or her own domain.

Now, having gained a testimony that this is the true church then we need to be true to that revelation. If we start getting revelations that somehow contradict the idea that this church is led by Jesus Christ through prophets and apostles, then we can know we are doing something wrong. Then it is time to look over our behavior and straighten it out so we can sort out the whisperings of the spirit from deception.

When we are listening to the Holy Ghost, we will always find that we have best supported the brethren. We will find that we are very obedient. We will not be “accuser’s of the brethren”. That is what Satan and his followers do. Instead we will find that we have supported them better than anyone else has because we are listening to the same source they are listening to. That is far more powerful than simply echoing every quote we can find that they said, without ever tuning ourselves in to the spirit of it all. It is more powerful to learn so we could have said the same thing ourselves in the first place.

We must not become like the ancient Israelites who would speak with the prophet, but not with the Lord. Can anyone really believe those people were “following the prophet”? No! The prophet wants to direct us to the Lord! This was a critical failure on ancient Israel’s part. We must not think that following the prophet means not learning to grow into the gift of the Holy Ghost. We must not read the scriptures afraid to read beyond the period and afraid to grow into learning to taste truth for ourselves without having to first find a quote that substantiates it.

Wilford Woodruff as a missionary learned through the Holy Ghost that we could become like god before Joseph Smith publicly taught it. Did he go out teaching it himself? No, that wasn’t his right or position. But there is no reason he couldn’t know it, and indeed he should, for as Joseph Smith taught:

“God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye that Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 149)

That is the entire point of giving us the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is for each of us to grow into knowing him from the least to the greatest because we have each independently grown into the revelation of who Christ is by coming to know him through our experience with the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is for each of us to grow into becoming prophets in our own domain, over our own stewardships. If we throw that away, we missed the whole mission of the Holy Ghost as part of the godhead.

Moses 6:61 Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.

If all God wanted was for us to simply repeat what the prophet said after we gained a testimony, he wouldn’t give us the gift of the Holy Ghost. Instead he would just give us a testimony, and he would only give the prophet the gift of the Holy Ghost. We wouldn’t really have any need for it. We can figure out basic right and wrong with the light of Christ. We can certainly echo what the leaders of the church say without anything at all. The gift of the Holy Ghost is given to a man so that he can independently grow into the principle of revelation for himself. Joseph Smith taught that “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations, the Holy Ghost is a revelator.” Apparently if we aren’t using the gift of the Holy Ghost for that, then it is a gift which is being left unused. That direction tragically leaves us like ancient Israel, who will speak with the prophet, but have no interest in speaking with the Lord himself.

Instead, let us ask, seek and knock, rather than just google and snatch quotes from lds.org. We will not be converted by or really even appreciate the words of the prophets or the scriptures if all we have learned to do is throw them around like desktop calendar quotes. We need the depth the Holy Ghost offers in our study. We need to say with Joseph Smith “I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom. I believe all that God ever revealed, and I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.” We need to not set up restrictions on God saying “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further”, gagging him from teaching us anything we can’t already find stated by someone else. We need to read, ponder and pray. The thoughtful insights of the Savior are not born out of treating the scriptures like “inspirational quotes” instead of “the mind and will of the Lord and the power of God unto salvation”. We need to learn to ask in such a way that we will be answered, to seek in such a way that we will find, and to knock in such a way that it will be opened unto us. To that end, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Yes, it is critically important that we listen to our leaders. But we must stop this idea that we only faithfully do so by placing our hands over our ears if the Holy Ghost ever has anything meaningful to teach us. We must strive for the opposite. If we learn to listen to the Holy Ghost we will find that the words of our leaders have a familiar spirit, and that we are being drawn to the same source from which they drink. We will have followed them to where they actually were leading us in the first place. We cannot really be holding to the iron rod without striving to seek out the spirit of the whole thing.

The scourging made crucifixion more terrible.

I have never heard this pointed out, so I thought I would point it out myself. The scourging made the cruficixion itself more terrible.

While Christ’s physical suffering was nothing compared to his infinite suffering as he wrought the atonement, the physical suffering of the crucifixion was likely significantly worse due to the scourging. We see scouring portrayed in church films as a few stripes that look red in order to play down the gruesome realities for children. But imagine what 39 strokes of a multithonged whip with cutting bits woven into the strands would really do to a man’s back. It would have flayed a great deal of the flesh off of the Savior’s back. It is hard to imagine the pain as multiple layers of flesh were stripped away. It was with that back that he attempted to carry his cross. It was the flayed flesh of that back that would have been hanging firmly against the cross during the crucifixion unless he placed his weight on his pierced hands and feet. The least motion would have moved and scraped his back against the cross. While we do not consider the Savior’s physical suffering to be anything compared to the infinite suffering of his intercession, it was still unimaginably horrible and we still reverence him for his physical suffering and for the agony that it was. The way the scourging would have magnified the suffering of being crucified is part of the tally of pain he endured for our sake.

Secret combinations and the Crucifixion

We are so used to the scriptural account of the crucifixion that it is easy to overlook how unusual some of it is. A number of things in the scriptural account suggest that Christ was not just killed by the word of an angry rabble, he was killed by secret combinations. Maybe put differently, in the Book of Mormon, secret combinations become the preeminent opposition to all that is good, and there are some indications that such might have been the case in Christ’s own day and time, and that he was killed by just a such a group.

In classic secret society style those who wanted Christ killed fetched the Savior in the middle of the night. Traitor Judas appears to be the only member of the group who would have apparently been able to recognize Christ. This makes the this night time mob sent to “arrest” Christ quite a unique crowd, as Christ was well known in Jerusalem and had been hailed and worshiped by the denizens during his triumphant entry only days before. Judas’s presence may have played multiple roles. Judas was able to identify the Savior. However there are many ways that his presence guaranteed the success of the the mission. Since Judas was a trusted disciple, the crowd was able to draw near without any suspicion and this may be why the other members of the crowd were ones that had not had any direct dealings with the Savior, as they would not be recognized by him. While some knew the high priests servant, he apparently had never dealt directly with Christ as he could not recognize Christ. The crowd seems to have been picked primarily to allow them to get close to Christ without signalling mistrust, with Judas being their chief proof that this was a group that was trustworthy.

All this suggests that they were concerned that they would not get close to Christ without such precautions. Judas’s presence also prevented any alert or alarm from being sounded. It prevented and any attempt to misdirect this mob to a false location to find the Savior. It prevented any attempt to hide the Savior. Finally, as a trusted disciple, Judas’ presence also sidestepped any attempt that might have been made to guard the Savior from their access except by those who were immediately present and saw what was happening when the group arrived.

While Christ was very accessible during the day, it appears that a night time action in secret was something that was actively being guarded against, and that was why those who could not personally recognize the Savior, along with a trusted disciple, were sent to “arrest” him. This also underscores the depth of Judas’ betrayal.

But the circumstances of Christ’s crucifixion are far more suspicious than just the absence of those who would know what he looked like. It is the middle of the night but everyone is ready to have Christ stand trial. Herod is ready. Pilate is ready. Annas is ready. Caiaphas is ready. And it all happens so terribly quickly. The arrest takes place somewhere deep in the middle of the night. It takes place late, after Christ has already suffered for hours in Gethsemane. Yet by 9 a.m. Christ has been taken “to Annas, to Caiaphas, to Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate” as well as having been presented by Pilate to those who were present, scourged, presented again by Pilate, led to Galgotha and crucified (Bruce R McConkie “The Purifying Power of Gethsemene” General Conference April 1985).

This is not just efficiency in government. This is secret agreement to combine against the Savior by all involved, including by the reluctant Roman governor. A secret combination has either been formed, or one was already in existence and it is being utilized to crucify the Son of God.

Review the facts. This is executed in the middle of the night. A traitor is hired to ensure they can secure the Son of God at the desired hour. They have four different governing groups ready and waiting, including the roman governor. They manage to get through all of this as well as scourge, mock and crucify him before 9 in the morning.

There is nothing coincidental about the fact that everyone is available and waiting. They have combined against the son of God in secret. This combination includes the roman governor, Pilate, who is somewhat reluctant, but gives way to please the mob.

As it was a secret combinations formed early in the history of the world that slayed righteous Abel, so in the meridian of time it was a secret combination that crucified the Son of God.

Other evidence appears in the scriptural account. Everyone knows the Jews were not allowed to execute someone, only the ruling Romans had power to do so. But Christ’s disciples warned him to leave Jerusalem or he would be slain. As Christ had broken no Roman law, even upholding the Jewish obligation to pay Roman taxes, what did the disciples have to fear? Yet we do not assume their fears were unfounded.

There are also multiple places in the scriptures that specifically refer the Jews secretly combining together to kill the Savior.

Doesn’t it seem odd that while the people saw the miracles Christ did, nevertheless we read at one point earlier in his life, but still after he had miraculously fed a multitude and done other miracles:

John 7:13 Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews.

Wow! That is an impressive degree of oppression. What the particulars of it were are not made clear. Perhaps there were social, familial and material consequences of being cast out of a synagogue are not made clear. Whatever other punishment the leaders were able to inflict is not clear, though the disciples had no doubt killing someone was within their abilities despite all the appearances of the law.

Christ was not killed by a rabble, he was killed by a secret combination of wicked leaders, who held so much oppressive influence over the city of Jerusalem that even after miracles, the vast majority of people initially would not even speak openly of him.

Those who passed by the crucified Lord mocked him, suggesting that after some of his teachings and his second cleansing of the temple the public itself had turned against him despite cheering his entry into Jerusalem days previously, which might have made it the perfect time for those who most despised him to act. He still had enough devoted followers that a man had to climb a tree to see him, because of the press, but maybe the numbers had waned dramatically in the preceding days.