My dad contacted me today about a quote that mentioned something about the atonement not being a part of the gospel but the gospel itself. I Googled the phrase and found this talk by Elder Madsen.
Now I had first heard this quote from Elder Madsen himself when he came to a zone conference while I was in the mission field and gave a sermon very similar to this one. I remember being very impacted by his words and took a ton of notes! I’m glad that there is a version of this online so here it is!
“The Gospel” by Elder John M. Madsen
It is a sacred privilege for Sister Madsen and me to join with you for a devotional on this beautiful campus, crowned with a holy temple, and to be in this magnificent hall, so recently dedicated to the Lord for His purposes. Especially, in light of His words recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 6:32, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, as I said unto my disciples, where two or three are gathered together in my name, … behold, there will I be in the midst of them–even so am I in the midst of you.”
I am humbled and honored to be invited to address you, because I know something of who you are and what lies ahead of you! I know this through the words of living prophets. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Our young people are … the nobility of heaven, a choice and chosen generation who have a divine destiny.”1
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “We are rearing a royal generation … who have special things to do.”2 And President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I think we have never had a better generation than this.”3 “Upon your shoulders, my dear young friends, will rest the future of the Church.”4
My beloved young brothers and sisters, we have all had, or will have, “defining moments” in our lives! Moments that change our lives, and our priorities, forever! Moments that help us to see the importance and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
One such moment came right after the funeral of our infant son. My wife and I were riding in the hearse with his tiny white casket before us, and with loved ones and friends following behind. Suddenly, we were overwhelmed with deep and inexpressible feelings of love for our son! And we were filled with a determination to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, in such a way, as to be worthy of a glorious reunion with him, on the morning of the resurrection!
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation,”5 and it is only through the gospel of Jesus Christ that glorious reunions and eternal family relationships are made possible!
Some years later, while presiding over the England Southwest Mission, Sister Madsen and I were invited to attend the historic first British Area General Conference, held in Manchester, England, in August of 1971. During the opening session, President Joseph Fielding Smith declared: “The gospel is the sole hope of the world, the one way that will bring peace on earth and right the wrongs that exist in all nations.”6 This was another one of those “defining moments” that helped me to see and understand the profound importance and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
President Hugh B Brown, when speaking to a large gathering of missionaries, asked the following questions: “How many of you know the gospel is true?” Instantly every hand went up! Then he asked, “How many of you know the gospel?” No one moved. There was a profound silence in response to a profound question!
We frequently hear and use the word “gospel,” but what is the gospel? To be brief and to the point, please complete, in your minds, the following phrase: “The Atonement is not part of the gospel…” Now, I will repeat and complete this phrase. “The Atonement is not part of the gospel, the atonement is the gospel.”7
The following scriptural references illustrate this point. We turn first to the Doctrine and Covenants 76:40-42:
“And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us–
That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
That through him all might be saved…”
What then is the gospel? The gospel, or “good news,” as declared by the heavenly voice, is that Jesus Christ came into the world to atone for the sins of the world! Therefore, as used in this context, we can see and say, that the Atonement is not part of the gospel; “the atonement is the gospel.”
Next we turn to 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-4:
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how (and here is the Gospel as declared by the Apostle Paul) that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”
So once again, as used in this context, we can see and say that the Atonement is not part of the gospel, “the atonement is the gospel.”8
And in 3 Nephi 27:13-14, we read these words, spoken by the resurrected Lord:
“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you–that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross…”
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”9
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained it this way: “We view the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ as the center and core and heart of revealed religion.”10 So, if we visualize, in our minds eye, the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the center and core and heart of our religion, then, the all-important question for each of us, and for all mankind, is, how do we lay hold upon the blessings of the Atonement?
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we know how to lay hold upon the blessings of the Atonement! These requirements are clearly set forth in the third and fourth Articles of Faith!
But before undertaking a brief discussion of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel, I wish to remind us of what President Gordon B. Hinckley said about the gospel: “To me the gospel is not a great mass of theological jargon. It is a simple and beautiful and logical thing, with one quiet truth following another in orderly sequence.”11
What then, is the first principle of the gospel? We typically answer, faith! But, to emphasize a point, let me say that the first principle of the gospel is not simply, faith. Faith is defined as “confidence in something or someone.”
The first principle of the gospel is “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” who “is the Savior, whose atoning sacrifice opens the door for us to be forgiven of our personal sins so that we can be cleansed to return to the presence of God our Eternal Father. This is the central message of the prophets of all ages.” So declared or “affirmed” Elder Dallin H. Oaks, to the faculty and students of Harvard Law School, in February 2010.11
The second principle of the gospel is repentance. In Doctrine and Covenants 58:42-43, we read:
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”12
What does it mean to forsake our sins? The word “forsake” means “to renounce,” “to quit,” or to turn away from and “leave entirely.”14 As we apply these concepts to our understanding of repentance, we can see that as we forsake our sins, we are spiritually and figuratively turning away from, not only our sins, but away from him who is the “master” and “the author of all sin.”15 We are turning away from him, who seeks “the misery of all mankind,”16 and him who is continually seeking to “captivate” and “bring [us] down,” that he may ”reign over” us.17
What then is repentance? Repentance is not only turning away from sin and Satan; repentance is turning and coming unto Christ.18
True repentance is not only coming unto Christ, it is becoming like Him.19
Now, we come to the third principle of the gospel, which is baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. Yes, baptism “is an essential principle of the gospel.”20 But baptism is also an ordinance. I wish to emphasize that ordinances are sacred “acts” that have symbolic and “spiritual meanings.”21
In Romans 6:3-4, the Apostle Paul teaches us of the symbolic significance of the ordinance of baptism:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”22
Baptism, among other things, symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection, or the Atonement of Jesus Christ.23 Through our baptism we proclaim our faith in and our acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
The fourth principle of the gospel is “Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Who can possibly overstate the supernal blessing and importance of the gift of the Holy Ghost in our lives? We all understand the reality of physical death, which is the “separation of the body and the spirit.”24 Spiritual death is “separation from God and His influences,”25 including the influence of the Holy Ghost.
If we are to lay hold upon the blessings of the Atonement, we must live, as we covenant to do each time we partake of the Sacrament, that we “may always have His Spirit to be with [us].”26
Thus far, we have touched upon the first principles and ordinance of the gospel. And we have seen that the word “gospel” as used in some scriptural passages, refers clearly and specifically to the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
But, before proceeding further, we need to understand that the Lord uses the word gospel, to refer not only to the Atonement, but also to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. For example in Doctrine and Covenants 39:5-6, we read:
“And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.
And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”27
The Lord uses the word “gospel” to refer to the principles and ordinances that make it possible for us to lay hold upon the blessings of His Atonement! And the word “gospel,” as used in this context, has reference to “mine everlasting covenant,” or “the fulness of the gospel,” as we see in Doctrine and Covenants 66:2:
“Verily I say unto you, blessed are you for receiving mine everlasting covenant, even the fulness of my gospel, sent forth unto the children of men, that they might have life and be made partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days…”28
In the broadest sense, the word gospel, refers to the entire plan of salvation,29 as indicated in the following: “The gospel is ‘God’s plan of salvation, made possible by the atonement of Jesus Christ,’ … and ‘includes [all] the eternal truths or laws, covenants and ordinances needed for mankind to enter back into the presence of God.’”30
So, what else is required to enter back into the presence of God? We answer: “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”31
President Howard W. Hunter declared: “All our efforts in proclaiming the gospel, perfecting the Saints, and redeeming the dead, lead to the holy temple. This is because the temple ordinances are absolutely crucial; we cannot return to God’s presence without them.”32 Thus, in order for us to lay hold upon the crowning blessings of the Atonement, we must qualify for the purifying and exalting ordinances of the holy temple!
Three words are used in connection with, and help us better understand, the Atonement. The first word is reconcile, which means “to bring back into harmony, or agreement, those who have been estranged,” or separated.33 How can we, or all mankind, be reconciled to God? We answer, through Jesus Christ and His Atonement!34 He is our Mediator, our Intercessor, and our Advocate!
The next word is redeem, which means “to rescue and deliver from bondage;” it means “to obtain or purchase;” it means “to save.”35
How can we, or all mankind, be redeemed from the Fall,36 from sin,37 and “from death and hell and the devil”?38 We answer, through Jesus Christ and His Atonement! He is our Redeemer, our Deliverer, and our Savior!
The next word is ransom, which means, “the price” which is paid to “rescue” or “deliver from captivity, bondage, or punishment.”39 How were we, and all mankind, ransomed? We answer, through Jesus Christ and His Atonement!40
But what was the price He paid? We answer, with the words of the familiar hymn, “I Stand All Amazed”: “I tremble to know that for me He was crucified, That for me, a sinner, He suffered, He bled, and died.”41
These three words, “suffered, bled, and died,” summarize the price He paid to ransom us. But before we consider each of the elements of Christ’s infinite Atonement, I wish to repeat this line of the hymn, one more time: “I tremble to know that for me he was crucified, That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ “is not a great mass of theological jargon.” The Atonement of Jesus Christ was for you and for me–not just for “all mankind.” The Atonement of Jesus Christ must be understood, and applied personally! It was for you and for me that He was “stricken, smitten,” “afflicted,” “wounded,” and “bruised.”42 It was for you and for me that He “suffered, bled, and died.”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ consists of these fundamental elements: First, His suffering. In Doctrine and Covenants 19:16-19, we read:
“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.”43
During our Savior’s indescribable and incomprehensible suffering, His precious blood was shed. And, regarding the shedding of blood, in Mosiah 3:11 and 18, we read:
“…his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam…”
“…salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
And the Apostle Peter declared that redemption is through the “precious blood of Christ, …who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world…”44
Having “finished [His] preparations unto the children of men,” Luke records, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”45
And regarding His death, Isaiah foresaw and said: “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: …he hath poured out his soul unto death…”46
The gospel, as proclaimed by the Apostle Paul, was that “Christ died for our sins…and that he was buried…” just as Old Testament prophets had prophesied! But there was more. Paul also testified that Christ “rose again the third day,” as had been prophesied! Therefore, the fourth and final element of the Atonement is, the Resurrection.47
President Gordon B. Hinckley declared: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the great crowning event of His life and mission. It was the capstone of the Atonement. The sacrifice of His life for all mankind was not complete without His coming forth from the grave, with the certainty of the resurrection for all who have walked the earth.”48
I was present in a gathering of the Saints where Elder Bruce R. McConkie preached a powerful doctrinal discourse. As he concluded, he asked the following question: “How do you prove that Jesus is the Christ?” There was a complete silence. Then, he declared,
“It all centers in the resurrection!” Then he asked, “How do you prove the resurrection?” Once again there was a profound silence. He then declared, “It all centers in witnesses!” There, standing before us, was an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, a special witness.49
Of our living Apostles, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “In our day the Lord has called 15 special witnesses to testify of His divinity before all the world. Theirs is a unique calling; they are Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, chosen and commissioned by Him. They have been commanded to bear witness of His living reality by the power and authority of the holy apostleship in them vested.”50
I know and bear witness that Jesus is the living Christ, the Son of the living God! I know and bear witness that He atoned for the sins of all mankind! And I know that through the Atonement of Christ, we and all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, including the ordinances of the Holy Temple, which make it possible for us, not only to enjoy glorious reunions with those who have gone before, but to live forever as families in the presence of God! All of which I humbly testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 6
2 Spencer W. Kimball, “Boys Need Heroes Close By,” Ensign, May 1976, 45
3 Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 70
4 Church News, June 3, 2000, 2
5 Romans 1:16
6 Joseph Fielding Smith, Official Report of the First British Area General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Aug. 1971
7 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 60
8 See also 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
9 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121
10 Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 81
11 Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct 1984, 5
12 Dallin H. Oaks, “Fundamental to Our Faith,” Ensign, Jan. 2011, 25. See also 2 Nephi 9:23; Alma 32:27,41; Galatians 5:22; Romans 10:17; Moroni 7:33
13 See also Doctrine and Covenants 6:9; 18:10-13; Alma 7:14-15; 3 Nephi 9:13-20; 11:31-40; 2 Corinthians 7:10
14 Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, 7th Ed., 1993
15 Mosiah 4:14; Helaman 6:30
16 2 Nephi 2:18
17 2 Nephi 2:29
18 Alma 39:13; Ezekiel 18:21-32
19 3 Nephi 27:27; Moroni 10:32-33
20 Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 101
21 The Guide to the Scriptures, 184
22 See also Galatians 3:26-27
23 2 Nephi 31:13-14; Mosiah 5:5-7; Doctrine and Covenants 20:72-74; 76:50-52; John 3: 3-5
24 The Guide to the Scriptures, 62
25 The Guide to the Scriptures, 62; 1 Nephi 2:21; Alma 42:9; Helaman 14:15-18
26 Doctrine and Covenants 20:77, 79
27 See also 3 Nephi 27:16-22
28 See also Doctrine and Covenants 133:57, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol 1, 156; 1 Nephi 10:14; 3 Nephi 16:11-12; 20:29-30; Doctrine and Covenants 39:11; 45:28
29 God’s plan of salvation, is referred to, in the scriptures, by many different names, such as, “the merciful plan of the Great Creator” (2 Nephi 9:6); “the plan of redemption” (Jacob 6:8, Alma 12:25-33); “the plan of salvation” (Jacob 1:2, Alma 24:14; 42:5); and “the great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8,16)
30 The Guide to the Scriptures, 96
31 Articles of Faith 1:3
32 Howard W. Hunter, “Follow the Son of God,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 88
33 Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, 7th Ed., 1993
34 Jacob 4:11-12; Romans 5:10-11
35 Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, 7th Ed., 1993
36 Moses 6:59; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2
37 3 Nephi 9:21
38 2 Nephi 9:5-26
39 Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, 7th Ed., 1993
40 See Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:22-23; 1 Timothy 2:5-6
41 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 193
42 Isaiah 53:4-5
43 See also Doctrine and Covenants 18:11; 2 Nephi 9:21-23; Alma 7:11-13; Mosiah 3:7-9; Isaiah 53:3-7
44 1 Peter 1:19-20; See also Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9, 10; Revelation 1:5; Mosiah 3:11-18; Alma 24:13; 3 Nephi 27:19; Mormon 9:6; Moroni 10:33; Doctrine and Covenants 45:4
45 Luke 23:46
46 Isaiah 53:8,12; See also 2 Nephi 2:6-10; Mosiah 3:5-10; 15:7-9; Alma 7:9-12
47 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; See also 1 Corinthians 15:22, 40-44, 51-55
48 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Special Witnesses of Christ”, Ensign, Apr. 2001, 4
49 See Doctrine and Covenants 107:23
50 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Special Witnesses of Christ”, Ensign, Apr. 2001, 4