Jesus Christ and Him Crucified
BRUCE R. MCCONKIE
Bruce R. McConkie was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside
was given at Brigham Young University on 5 September 1976.
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We have assembled here tonight in the spirit of worship and gratitude and
thanksgiving, desiring, I think, to be fed the bread of life, to have the
guidance and edifying, uplifting influence of the Holy Spirit. We need very much
to be so guided. If I can be given utterance and be guided by the power of the
Spirit, what I shall say will be what the Lord wants said; it will be what he
would say if he personally were here. It will be the mind and will and voice of
the Lord and the power of God unto salvation. And if each of you can have that
same Spirit resting upon you, then you will have that burning assurance and
feeling in your soul that will certify that the truths taught are accurate and
right, and that, if we live our lives in conformity to them, we'll be making
progress along the path leading to eternal life in our Father's kingdom.
Now, I've left my mind free, hoping that proper inspiration might be given,
but I've thought that if I am properly guided, I shall take this sentence that
Paul wrote and use it as a theme or a text. He said, "I determined not to know
any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
That, then, is my subject: Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
To set the stage and lay a foundation for what appropriately might be said
about this subject, I shall read three quotations. One is from the Doctrine and
Covenants; in it the Lord says:
Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit,
and you shall have peace in me. [D&C 19:23]
The second, Nephi writing, is from the Book of Mormon:
Believe in Christ, and . . . be reconciled to God; for we know that it is
by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. . . .
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we
prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children
may look for a remission of their sins. . . .
. . . believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of
Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your
might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in
nowise be cast out. [2 Nephi 25:23, 26, 29]
The third quotation, from the Prophet Joseph Smith, gives us information that
he learned by translating the papyrus, a portion of which is published as the
book of Abraham:
Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the
organization of this earth, and relates to their dispensation of things to men
on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham's record, are called: God
the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the
Witness or Testator. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190]
Now, we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We
have taken upon ourselves his name in the waters of baptism. We renew the
covenant therein made when we partake of the sacrament. If we have been born
again, we have become the sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are
members of his family. We are obligated and expected to live by the standards of
the family. Because of that family membership, that close association, we have
the privilege of an intimate association with him. We have been given the gift
of the Holy Ghost, which is the constant companionship of that member of the
Godhead based on faithfulness. And that Holy Spirit has as one of his chief
missions to bear record of the Father and the Son, and to reveal to us, in a way
that cannot be controverted or questioned, his divine sonship and the glorious
truths that are in him.
Salvation is in Christ. We have set ourselves apart from the generality of
mankind and have become his witnesses. And so tonight, if we may be properly
guided, and have all our thoughts and attentions centered on this matter, so
that we will be mutually edified, I shall call attention to some of the great,
basic realities in the eternal scheme of things. And as we shall see, all of
these things, as far as we are now concerned, center in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Truth and Heresy About the Godhead
Now, to begin with, we start with God, our Heavenly Father, who is here named
God the first, the Creator. And we have to understand that he is a holy and
perfected and exalted person; that he is a being in whose image man is created;
that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; and that we are
literally his spirit children, the Lord Jesus being the firstborn. I suggest
that the greatest truth in all eternity, bar none, is that there is a God in
heaven who is a personal being, in whose image man is made, and that we are his
spirit children. We must build on that rock foundation before any progression
ever begins in the spiritual realm. We first believe in God our Heavenly Father.
I suggest also that the greatest heresy that was ever devised by an evil
power was the heresy that defines the nature and kind of being that God is as a
spirit essence that fills immensity; as a being without body, parts, or
passions; as something that is incomprehensible, uncreated, and unknowable. The
greatest truth is God; the greatest heresy is the doctrine that recites the
opposite of the truth as to God's person.
I suggest that the second greatest truth in all eternity is that Christ our
Lord is the Redeemer; that he was foreordained in the councils of eternity to
come down here and work out the infinite and eternal atoning sacrifice; that
because of what he did we are ransomed from the effects of the temporal and
spiritual death that came into the world by the fall of Adam. Because of what he
did, all of us gain immortality, meaning that we shall come forth in the
resurrection. And all of us have the hope, the potential, the possibility, to
gain eternal life in addition to immortality, meaning that we can become like
God our Heavenly Father. That is the second greatest truth in all eternity.
The second greatest heresy in all eternity is the doctrine that denies the
divine sonship, that sets up a system that says you can give lip-service to the
name of Christ, but you are saved by grace alone without efforts and without
work on your part.
Now I suggest, conformable to what the Prophet said about God the third, who
is the Witness or Testator, that the third greatest truth in all eternity is
that the Holy Spirit of God, a personage of spirit, a member of the Godhead, has
power to reveal eternal truth to the heart and soul and mind of man. And that
revelation--known first as a testimony, and then known as the general receipt of
truth in the spiritual field--that testimony is the great thing that man needs
to lead him on a course back to our Father in heaven.
Since that is the third greatest truth in all eternity, it follows that the
third greatest and most serious heresy in all eternity is the doctrine that
denies that the Holy Spirit of God reveals truth to the human soul, and that
denies that there are gifts of the spirit, that there are miracles and powers
and graces and good things that the Lord by his Spirit pours out upon mortal
We ought to have in our hearts an overflowing feeling of gratitude and
thanksgiving. We praise the Lord our God, meaning the Father, because he created
us. If he had not created us, we would not be; neither would the earth, or the
sidereal heavens, or the universe, or anything else. If there had been no
eternal God and no creation, there would be nothing. And because we exist, we
ought in our souls to have an infinite degree of gratitude and thanksgiving to
God our Heavenly Father.
Now, secondly, we ought to have an infinite degree of gratitude and
thanksgiving to Christ the Lord, because he worked out the infinite and eternal
atoning sacrifice and put into operation the terms and conditions of the
Father's plan. If there had been no atonement of Christ, there would be no
resurrection. And if there had been no atonement of Christ, there would be no
eternal life, and hence our bodies would have lain forever in the dust and our
spirits everlastingly been cast out from the presence of God, and we would have
become like the devil and his angels. What I am saying is that, through the
atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, the plan of the Father became operative.
Its terms and conditions were put into force; they were given efficacy and
validity. And so we ought to rejoice and have thanksgiving and gratitude in our
souls to the Lord Jesus, who redeemed us.
Now, thirdly, by virtue of obedience to the laws that are ordained and by
becoming clean and spotless and pure, because the Spirit will not dwell in an
unclean tabernacle, we get in a position to receive revelation by the power of
the Holy Spirit. Once we are in tune, then we become part of the family of the
Lord Jesus. We partake of the same spirit that he possesses; we begin to believe
as he believed, to act as he acted, to speak as he spoke. As a consequence, we
get in a position to gain that glory and eternal life which he, as our
prototype, has already gained. And so, thirdly, we rejoice in what has come to
us by the power of the Holy Ghost and have, again, an infinite gratitude where
those things are concerned.
The Plan of Salvation
God our Heavenly Father ordained and established the plan of salvation.
Joseph Smith expressed it in these words. He said, "God himself, finding he was
in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper
to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like
himself" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354). God is exalted
and omnipotent and enthroned; he has all power, all might, and all dominion. He
lives in the family unit, and the name of the kind of life that he lives is
eternal life. And so if we advance and progress and go forward until we become
like him, we then become, like Christ, inheritors of eternal life in the kingdom
of God. That is our aim and our goal. Hence there is this thing which Paul calls
"the gospel of God," meaning that the Father ordained and established the plan
of salvation. But then Paul says, "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3),
meaning that Christ adopted the Father's plan. He made it his own. He espoused
it. He became the advocate of salvation, the leader in the cause of
salvation--all because he was chosen to be born into the world as God's Son.
All of this was known and taught and understood in the great eternities that
went before. We all heard the gospel preached. We knew its terms and conditions.
We knew what would be involved in this mortal probation. We knew that it was
necessary to come here and get a mortal body as a step toward gaining an
immortal body, one of flesh and bones. We knew that when we came here we would
need to be tried and examined and tested. We'd need to undergo probationary
experiences when we were outside the presence of God, when we walked by faith
rather than by sight, when the spirit was housed in a tabernacle of clay and
subject to the lusts and appetites and passions of mortality. This we all knew.
And then our Father sent forth the great decree through the councils of
eternity, "Whom shall I send to be my son, to work out the infinite and eternal
atoning sacrifice, to be born into mortality with the power of immortality, to
inherit from me the power to work out the infinite and eternal atoning
sacrifice?" He got two volunteers. Christ the Lord said, "Father, thy will be
done" (see Moses 4:13). That is, "I will go down and do what thou hast ordained
and sacrifice myself. I will be the lamb slain from the foundation of the
world." Lucifer wanted to modify the Father's plan so radically that we could
almost say he offered a new system of salvation. He wanted to deny all men their
agency, to save all men and, in return, receive the power and dignity and glory
of the Father. He wanted to take the place of the Father. The decision was then
made: "I will send the first."
The plan was put into operation. Part of it was the creation of this earth.
Then came its peopling. We are all the sons and daughters of Father Adam; all of
us are eternal beings, offspring of Deity. Our mortal bodies have been made from
the dust of the earth. We're here, having mortal bodies, being examined and
tried and tested to see if we will walk uprightly and keep the commandments.
Now, our first obligation is to believe in Christ and accept him literally
and completely and fully for what he is. We believe in Christ when we believe
the doctrine he teaches, the words that he speaks, the message that he
proclaims. When he came in the flesh as Mary's son, the account says that he
"went about . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 9:35), meaning
that his message was a revelation to people in that day of the plan of
salvation, of the things that they had to do to overcome the world, to perfect
their lives, and to qualify to go back with him to the presence of the
So, first of all, we believe in Christ. And the test as to whether we believe
in him is whether we believe his words and whether we believe those whom he hath
sent--the apostles and prophets of all the ages. And then, having believed, we
have the obligation of conforming to the truths that we have thus learned. If we
do conform we begin to grow in spiritual graces. We add to our faith virtue, and
to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance and patience and godliness and
all of the other attributes and characteristics that are written in the
revelations (see 2 Peter 1:57). So step by step and degree by degree we begin
to become like God our Heavenly Father.
We do not work out our salvation in a moment; it doesn't come to us in an
instant, suddenly. Gaining salvation is a process. Paul says, "Work out your own
salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). To some members of the
Church who had been baptized and who were on the course leading to eternal life,
he said, "Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed" (Romans 13:11).
That is, "We have made some progress along the straight and narrow path. We are
going forward, and if we continue in that direction, eternal life will be our
We start out in the direction of eternal life when we join The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We enter in at a gate, and the name of the
gate is repentance and baptism. We thereby get on a path, and the name of the
path is the straight and narrow path. And then if we endure to the end, meaning
if we keep the commandments of God after baptism, we go up that straight and
narrow path, and at its end is a reward that is named eternal life. All of this
is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. If he had not come,
there would be no hope or no possibility under any circumstance for any man
either to be resurrected or to have eternal life. Salvation comes by the mercy
and the love and the condescension of God. In other words, it comes by the grace
of God, meaning that our Lord made it available. But he has done his work, and
we must now do ours; and we have the obligation to endure to the end, to keep
the commandments, to work out our salvation, and that is what we are in the
process of doing in the church and the kingdom of God on earth.
The Process of Achieving Eternal Life
We say that a man has to be born again, meaning that he has to die as
pertaining to the unrighteous things in the world. Paul said, "Crucify the old
man of sin and come forth in a newness of life" (see Romans 6:6). We are born
again when we die as pertaining to unrighteousness and when we live as
pertaining to the things of the Spirit. But that doesn't happen in an instant,
suddenly. That also is a process. Being born again is a gradual thing, except in
a few isolated instances that are so miraculous they get written up in the
scriptures. As far as the generality of the members of the Church are concerned,
we are born again by degrees, and we are born again to added light and added
knowledge and added desires for righteousness as we keep the commandments.
The same thing is true of being sanctified. Those who go to the celestial
kingdom of heaven have to be sanctified, meaning that they become clean and pure
and spotless. They've had evil and sin and iniquity burned out of their souls as
though by fire, and the figurative expression there is "the baptism of fire."
Here again it is a process. Nobody is sanctified in an instant, suddenly.
But if we keep the commandments and press forward with steadfastness after
baptism, then degree by degree and step by step we sanctify our souls until that
glorious day when we're qualified to go where God and angels are.
So it is with the plan of salvation. We have to become perfect to be saved in
the celestial kingdom. But nobody becomes perfect in this life. Only the Lord
Jesus attained that state, and he had an advantage that none of us has. He was
the Son of God, and he came into this life with a spiritual capacity and a
talent and an inheritance that exceeded beyond all comprehension what any of the
rest of us was born with. Our revelations say that he was like unto God in the
premortal life and he was, under the Father, the creator of worlds without
number. That Holy Being was the Holy One of Israel anciently and he was the
Sinless One in mortality. He lived a perfect life, and he set an ideal example.
This shows that we can strive and go forward toward that goal, but no other
mortal--not the greatest, prophets nor the mightiest apostles nor any of the
righteous saints of any of the ages--has ever been perfect, but we must become
perfect to gain a celestial inheritance. As it is with being born again, and as
it is with sanctifying our souls, so becoming perfect in Christ is a process.
We begin to keep the commandments today, and we keep more of them tomorrow,
and we go from grace to grace, up the steps of the ladder, and we thus improve
and perfect our souls. We can become perfect in some minor things. We can be
perfect in the payment of tithing. If we pay one-tenth of our interest annually
into the tithing funds of the Church, if we do it year in and year out, and
desire to do it, and have no intent to withhold, and if we would do it
regardless of what arose in our lives, then in that thing we are perfect. And in
that thing and to that extent we are living the law as well as Moroni or the
angels from heaven could live it. And so degree by degree and step by step we
start out on the course to perfection with the objective of becoming perfect as
God our Heavenly Father is perfect, in which eventuality we become inheritors of
eternal life in his kingdom.
As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we
begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction;
if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in
that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and, step by step
and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is
absolutely guaranteed--there is no question whatever about it--we shall gain
eternal life. Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection
ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course
and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of
this life we'll continue in exactly that same course. We'll no longer be subject
to the passions and the appetites of the flesh. We will have passed successfully
the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we'll get the fulness of
our Father's kingdom--and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.
The Prophet told us that there are many things that people have to do, even
after the grave, to work out their salvation. We're not going to be perfect the
minute we die. But if we've charted a course, if our desires are right, if our
appetites are curtailed and bridled, and if we believe in the Lord and are doing
to the very best of our abilities what we ought to do, we'll go on to
everlasting salvation, which is the fulness of eternal reward in our Father's
Hope and Rejoicing
I think we ought to have hope; I think we ought to have rejoicing. We can
talk about the principles of salvation and say how many there are and how people
have to meet these standards. And it may thereby seem hard and difficult and
beyond the capacity of mortals so to obtain. But we need not take that approach.
We ought to realize that we have the same appetites and passions that all of the
saints and righteous people had in the dispensations that have gone before. They
were no different than we are. They overcame the flesh. They gained the
knowledge of God. They understood about Christ and salvation. They had the
revelations of the Holy Spirit to their souls certifying of the divine sonship
and of the prophetic ministry of whatever prophets ministered among them. And as
a consequence they worked out their salvation.
Occasionally in the overall perspective someone came along who so lived that
he was translated, but that's not particularly for our day and generation. When
we die our obligation is to go into the spirit world and continue to preach the
gospel there. So, as far as people now living are concerned, our obligation is
to believe the truth, and live the truth, and chart a course to eternal life.
And if we do it, we get peace and joy and happiness in this life; and, when we
go into the eternal realms ahead, we continue there to work in the cause of
righteousness. And we will not fail! We will go on to eternal reward.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said that no man can commit the unpardonable sin
after he departs this life. Of course he can't; that's part of the testing of
this mortal probation. And on that same basis, anybody who is living uprightly
and has integrity and devotion, if he's doing all that he can here, then when he
leaves this sphere he's going to go into the paradise of God and have rest and
peace--that is, rest and peace as far as the troubles and turmoils and
vicissitudes and anxieties of this life are concerned. But he'll continue to
labor and work on the Lord's errand, and eventually he'll come up in the
Resurrection of the Just. He'll get an immortal body, meaning that body and
spirit will be inseparably connected. That soul will never again see corruption.
Never again will there be death, but what is equally as glorious, or more so,
that soul will go on to eternal life in the kingdom of God. And eternal life
means the continuation of the family unit. Eternal life means inheriting,
receiving, and possessing the fulness of the Father, the power and might and
creative ability and all that he has that enabled him to create worlds without
number and to be the progenitor of an infinite number of spirit progeny.
Now, we can't really conceive of how glorious and wondrous all these things
are. We can get some glimmering; we can get a little understanding. We know that
they are available because God the Creator established the plan of salvation. We
know that they are available because God the Redeemer put into force and gave
efficacy and validity to all of the terms and conditions of that eternal plan.
And we know that they can be revealed and known to us because God the Witness or
Testator bears witness, certifies, testifies to the spirit that is within us in
a way that cannot be controverted, that the things of which we speak are true.
Now I should like to speak of Jesus Christ and him crucified, of the
atonement of the Lord. The Atonement was worked out in a garden outside
Jerusalem's walls, a garden called Gethsemane. It was worked out in a way that
is totally beyond our comprehension. We do not understand how. We know some of
the why. We know that it did occur. We know that, in a way incomprehensible to a
finite intellect, the Son of God took upon himself the sins of all men on
conditions of repentance. That is, he paid the penalty. He satisfied the demands
of justice. He made mercy available to us. Mercy cometh because of the
Atonement. Mercy is for the penitent. Mercy is for the repentant. Everyone else
has to suffer for his own sins and pay to the full extent the demands of
justice. But our eternal Redeemer, and blessed be his name, has done for us what
no one else could, and he did it because he was God's Son and because he
possessed the power of immortality. He has taken our sins upon him on conditions
of repentance. Repentance means that we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,
that we forsake our sins, that we come into the church and kingdom of God on
earth and receive the Holy Ghost. Repentance is far more than reformation.
Repentance is a gift of God, and it comes to faithful members of the Church. We
get it by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The cleansing process that occurs in our lives comes because we receive the
cleansing power of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a revelator, and the Holy
Ghost is a sanctifier. The Holy Ghost reveals truth to every human soul that
obeys the law. Obedience qualifies us to know the truth. And then the Holy Ghost
sanctifies the human soul, so that we become clean and spotless and eventually
are qualified to go where God and Christ are.
Gratitude and Thanksgiving
Now I say, as we turn our attentions and our thoughts to these infinitely
great and wondrous and glorious eternal truths, that we ought to have in our
souls gratitude and adoration and thanksgiving, beyond any measure of
comprehension, to God our Father, who created us, to Christ our Lord, who
redeemed us, and to the Holy Spirit of God, by whose instrumentality we come to
know of the truth and verity of these eternal principles upon which salvation
I've recited these principles, or at least I have talked about them. I
haven't taken occasion to read any revelations. We could do that, but it doesn't
seem needed or appropriate under the circumstances. Let me just suggest to you
that the doctrine I have taught and the explanations I have made are scriptural
and they are true.
I can bear witness of their truth and verity because I know by the power of
the Holy Spirit what is involved. And if the Spirit has been poured out on you,
as I think it has upon many of you, then you also know by the power of that
Spirit of the truth and verity of the things about which we are now speaking.
And since you know them, then light and truth and knowledge have come into your
soul and you have an obligation not only to believe, but also to conform your
life to the things that you believe and thereby to chart the glorious and
wondrous course leading to eternal life.
I bear record and testimony that what we have been teaching here is true; we
are obligated to bear testimony whenever we speak by the power of the Spirit. I
say in plain, simple, unambiguous words that the Lord Jesus is the Son of the
living God; that he came into the world to be lifted up upon the cross, and to
be crucified for the sins of the world; that he was born with the power of
immortality on the one hand and the power of mortality on the other; and that
thereby he voluntarily laid down his life and then took it up again, and in some
way (incomprehensible to us) worked out the infinite and eternal atoning
sacrifice. These things are true!
What a wondrous thing it is to be members of a church and kingdom established
by God himself, where these truths are known and understood and taught. I came
in here tonight and looked at this wonderful student body, some twenty-four
thousand of you assembled for this devotional service, and I thought to myself
about what the voice of God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. He said,
"Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is
holy ground" (Exodus 3:5).
We just happen to be members of God's true Church, and we have apostles and
prophets and living oracles to teach and bear record of the truth. We also have
elders and witnesses almost without number to reveal and explain these things to
us. We are walking where the prophets of God have walked. We go to school at an
institution that is guided by the spirit of inspiration, where the hand of the
Lord is involved. And if we might paraphrase what his voice said to Moses, we
might well say for all of us, with reference to our labors and works at this
great institution, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon
thou walkest is holy ground."
The Lord's hand is in this work. He wants us to be saved. He is pleading with
us to keep the commandments. We are in an environment and a climate and living
under circumstances where we have every opportunity so to do. And the most
glorious, wondrous thing about this whole system of revealed religion is that it
is true. You ponder that in your heart. There is nothing connected with our
whole system of revealed religion to compare with the simple, pure,
unadulterated fact that it's true. And because it's true, it will save a human
soul. Because it's true, it will prevail. In due course the knowledge of God
will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. God grant us the insight to
live in harmony with the truth. God grant us the revelations of his Holy Spirit
so that with one voice we may testify of the truth and renew our determinations
to live in harmony with it. And I testify of this truth in the name of the Lord
Jesus Christ. Amen.