The Mystery of Godliness
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 atÊBrigham Young University on 6 January 1985.
© Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
Complete volumes of Speeches are available wherever LDS books are
For further information contact:
Speeches, 218 University Press Building,
Provo, Utah 84602.
(801) 422-2299 / E-mail: email@example.com / Speeches Home Page
I rejoice in the privilege of presenting to the young and rising generation
some basic concepts about the deepest and most profound doctrine of the gospel.
It is the first principle of revealed religion, the great cornerstone upon
which all else rests, the foundation for all of the doctrines of salvation.
I shall speak of what the revealed word calls the mystery of godliness.
If our vision is blurred where this doctrine and these concepts are
concerned, or, if knowingly or unknowingly we have fallen prey to any of the
false sectarian notions that abound with reference to them, our progress toward
eternal life will be slow indeed.
Comprehending the Mystery of Godliness
A mystery, so the dictionary says, is "something beyond human comprehension."
Defining the word from a theological standpoint, it says a mystery is "an
article of faith beyond human comprehension, as the doctrine of the Trinity."
How apt this illustration is! If there was ever something beyond human
comprehension, it is the sectarian doctrine of the Trinity.
This doctrine defines God and the Godhead as a three-in-one spirit essence
that fills the immensity of space; it teaches that it and they are without body,
parts, or passions; it acclaims that it and they are unknown, unknowable, and
uncreated, and specifies, in the creeds, that unless we believe all these things
we cannot be saved.
It is true that finite man cannot comprehend his Infinite Maker in the full
sense of the word. We cannot tell how gods began to be or from whence existent
But we are duty-bound to learn all that God has revealed about himself and
his everlasting gospel. If we are to gain eternal life we must come to know the
Great God and his Only Begotten, whom he sent into the world. And this
probationary estate is the appointed time to begin to know God, and to learn his
laws, and thereby to start the process of becoming like him. If we do not so
begin we shall never receive the promised reward.
Because God stands revealed or remains forever unknown, and because the
things of God are known only by the power of the Spirit, perhaps we should
redefine a mystery. In the gospel sense, a mystery is something beyond carnal
The saints are in a position to comprehend all mysteries, to understand all
doctrine, and eventually to know all things. These high levels of intelligence
are reached only through faith and obedience and righteousness. A person who
relies on the intellect alone and who does not keep the commandments can never,
worlds without end, comprehend the mystery of godliness.
There is probably more ignorance and confusion as to the mystery of godliness
than there is about any other doctrine. As set forth in the three creeds of
Christendom--the Nicene, the Apostles', and the Athanasian, which God himself
said were an abomination in his sight--and as defined in the articles of
religion of the various denominations, this doctrine is a mass of confusion and
a mountain of falsity.
Even in the Church, thanks to a lack of knowledge and to intellectuality and
the worldly enticement to conform to the general beliefs of an apostate
Christendom, there are those who have fallen prey to many false delusions about
deity. By way of illustration let us note some of the problems.
Who and What Is God?
Is there a God? If so, who or what is he? Is he the laws and forces of
nature? Or an image of mud or gold? Or is he Baal, the resurrected son of El to
whom the Canaanites offered human sacrifices? Is he Allah or Buddha or the
confusing and contradictory nothingness described in the creeds of Christendom?
Is there such a thing as the Trinity in which the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
are three gods, and, yet one god, a god who neither hears, nor speaks, nor
appears, as did the one worshipped by the ancients?
Is God omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, or are these descriptive
designations part of the legends of sectarianism?
Are there three gods or one? Why does Jesus say his Father is greater than
he, and Paul say Jesus is equal with the Father? Why the great scriptural
emphasis on proclaiming that three gods are one, and that the Lord our God is
What of the mystery of our Lord's birth? Indeed, why should God even have a
son? Is Jesus the Son of Man, or the Son of God, or is there a difference? Was
it necessary to have a Savior and Redeemer, or is the Koran correct in teaching
that God had no need for a son because Allah has but to speak and a thing is
By what power could Jesus atone for the sins of the world, or rise from
death's dark tomb, or ascend physically into heaven? Is the atonement truly
infinite and eternal, applying to all worlds and all created things?
Why does an angel say to John, "I am Alpha and Omega," and when John falls at
his feet to worship him, say: "See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and
of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God" (Revelations 1:8,
Why does Jesus say: I am the Son of God, and I said such and such unto mine
Only Begotten, when in fact the Only Begotten is the offspring, not of the Son,
but of the Father?
Why does Christ say: I am the Father and the Son and I created man in mine
own image--when in fact Christ is the Son and not the Father, and when man was
created, not by the Son, but by the Father?
What relationship do we have with the Lord? Do we worship the Father and him
only, or do we also worship the Son? Should we seek for some special
relationship with Christ, or does the plan of salvation call for us to seek the
Spirit and thereby gain a oneness with both the Father and the Son?
All these are but sample questions, questions that raise some of the issues
relative to the mystery of godliness.
Understanding Through the Power of the Spirit
It is our friend Paul who tells us: "Without controversy great is the mystery
of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of
angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into
glory" (1 Timothy 3:16).
We agree. But all these things are beyond carnal comprehension. God dwelling
in the flesh! How can anyone understand such a pronouncement unless quickened by
the power of the Spirit?
The revealed word to Joseph Smith announces that endless torment does not
last forever, and that eternal damnation is of limited duration. In spite of the
plain meaning of words, the divine word is that eternal punishment and endless
punishment do in fact have an end.
"For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it," the Lord says, as
he gives to these words a special scriptural definition. As he says, this is
done so that the concepts involved "might work upon the hearts of the children
of men, altogether for my name's glory" (D&C 19:612).
As it is with such a mystery as God dwelling in the flesh, or as eternal
punishment having no reference to the duration, but rather to the kind of
punishment, so it is with all else embraced within the designation the mystery
The doctrine is what the doctrine is, and the concepts are what the concepts
are. It is of no moment whatever that they spread confusion among uninspired
worshippers at divers shrines, or among intellectuals whose interest in religion
is purely academic and who rely on the power of the mind rather than the power
of the Spirit for understanding.
Gospel truths are known and understood only by the power of the Spirit.
Eternal life--which is to know God--is such an infinitely great reward that men
must study, ponder, and pray, with all their hearts, to gain the needed
The Lord gives his truths line upon line and precept upon precept to those
who believe and obey. Saving truths come by revelation to prophets, not by
reason to false priests or doctors of debate, dissension, and divisiveness.
Let us, then, consider the mystery of godliness from the Lord's standpoint,
setting forth correct principles, which will enable all who are spiritually
enlightened to keep themselves on the proper path.
Let us do so with courage and without fear, but in reverence and with an open
mind. If we are contrite and receptive, if we truly desire truth, and if we are
guided by the Spirit in our search, we shall come off triumphant. We shall
embrace every true principle and shunt every false doctrine back into the
enveloping darkness from whence it came.
Search Deeper and Deeper
As we walk the razor's edge--the razor that divides truth from near truths,
which sometimes have a pleasing attraction--let us be mindful of these words of
the Prophet Joseph Smith: "The Savior has the words of eternal life. Nothing
else can profit us. . . . I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper
and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness" (Teachings, p. 364).
Let us ponder these basic concepts:
1. God is the Supreme Being. He is the only supreme and independent
being in whom all fulness and perfection dwells. He is the Creator, Preserver,
and Upholder of the universe and all that in it is. He is without beginning of
days or end of life, and by him all things are. He is the object of all proper
worship and from him all good gifts flow. He presides over and governs all
things and therefore has no equal. That there is and can be only one supreme
being is axiomatic. There can be three equal beings who possess the same
character, perfections, and attributes, but there is and can be only one who is
supreme, who is the head, and to whom all others are subject.
2. He is a holy man and has a body of flesh and bones. It is written:
"No unclean thing can dwell . . . in his presence; for, in the language of Adam,
Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of
Man, even Jesus Christ" (Moses 6:57). That is, he is Ahman, and the name of his
Only Begotten is Son Ahman.
And as it was with Jesus, the Son, who came forth in the resurrection with a
glorified, immortal, resurrected body of flesh and bones, so it was with his
Father before him. Joseph Smith said: "God himself was once as we are now, and
is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!" (Teachings, p.
345). Truly, truly, it is written: "The Father has a body of flesh and bones as
tangible as man's" (D&C 130:22).
3. He is the Eternal Father, the Father of Spirits. God lives in the
family unit and is the Father of Spirits, of spirit men and spirit women, hosts
of whom are now being born as mortal beings. He is, "Our Father which art in
heaven" (Matthew 6:9). We are his children, and we are governed by his laws and
are subject to his chastisement, all of which caused Paul to say: "We have had
fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we
not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?" (Hebrews
4. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Let there be no
mistake about this. God has all power; he is the Almighty. He knows all things,
and there is nothing in all eternity, in universe upon universe, that he does
not know. Joseph Smith so taught, and all our scriptures, ancient and modern,
bear a concordant testimony. He is not a student god, and he is not progressing
in knowledge or learning new truths. If he knows how to create and govern worlds
without number, and all that on them is, what is there left for him to learn?
Also, he is omnipresent, meaning that by the power of his spirit he is in all
things, and through all things, and round about all things.
5. What is the nature of God's life? The name of the kind of life that
God lives is eternal life. One of his names, speaking in the noun sense, is
Eternal, and he simply uses that name to describe the kind of life he lives.
Eternal life consists of two things: (1) life in the family unit and (2) having
the fulness of the Father, which is all power in heaven and on earth. It is
because God has eternal life that he became the Father of Spirits as well as the
creator and governor of all things.
6. Whence came the plan of salvation? It is simply the laws and
ordinances by obedience to which men may gain eternal life and thus become as
God is and be gods in their own right. Joseph Smith 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. . . . He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker
intelligences, that they may be exalted with himself, so that they might have
one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence,
which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits"
(Teachings, p. 354).
7. Who are Elohim and Jehovah? They are the Father and the Son. The
Everlasting Elohim is the Great God by whom all things are; the Eternal Jehovah
is his Firstborn in the spirit and his Only Begotten in the flesh. Jehovah is
thus our Elder Brother, and as such was subject to the same plan of salvation,
the plan given of Elohim for the salvation of all his children.
While yet in the premortal existence, Jehovah advanced and progressed until
he became like unto God. Under the direction of the Father he became the Creator
of worlds without number, and thus was himself the Lord Omnipotent.
8. Christ was chosen in the premortal existence as the Savior and
Redeemer. After the Father had presented his plan of salvation to all his
spirit children, after it had been taught so that all understood that what
Elohim proposed would enable his spirit children to gain eternal life, after all
the hosts of heaven had been taught what they must do in connection with their
coming mortal probation--after all this the Father of us all called a Grand
Council. We were all present to hear his voice and to accept or reject the
proposal he then made.
In that council he said: "Whom shall I send to be my Son, to work out the
infinite and eternal atonement, to put into full operation all of the terms and
conditions of my plan to save my children." There were two volunteers--a
conforming and obedient Jehovah and a rebellious and disobedient Lucifer.
The choice was made and the decree sent forth. The Father named his Beloved
and Chosen One; he chose the Lord Jehovah who was the Creator of all things, and
who was then the Lord Omnipotent. He would be the one born as the Lord Jesus
Christ. And this Chosen One was then foreordained and acclaimed as the Lamb
slain from the foundation of the earth.
9. Man was created and commanded to serve the Father. It is written:
"He created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness,
created he them; And gave unto them commandments that they should love and serve
him, the only living and true God, and that he should be the only being whom
they should worship" (D&C 20:1819).
Please let these words of scripture sink into your heart and do not be
confused about them. In order to gain salvation, we worship the Father and him
only. He created us, he provided the plan of salvation, he called Christ to be
the Savior and Redeemer, and he is the one that we and Christ shall be like if
we are true and faithful in all things. We shall refer hereafter to the sense in
which we worship Christ.
10. Man fell, became mortal, and entered a probationary estate.
Created in a paradisiacal state in which there was no disease nor sorrow nor
death--a state of innocence in which he could have no joy for he knew no misery,
in which he could do no good, for he knew no sin--man, in conformity with the
divine purpose, fell.
Temporal and spiritual death entered the world. Man became mortal. For the
first time he could procreate and provide bodies for the spirits yet in the
premortal existence. Truly, "Adam fell that men might be" (2 Nephi 2:2225). We
entered a probationary estate in which we are tried and tested to see if we will
do all things whatsoever the Lord our God shall command us.
11. The Father provided a Savior and Redeemer. The eternal plan of
salvation consists of the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement. The Father
having created man in his own image, and Adam having fallen that mortal man
might enter his probationary estate, it but remained for the Father to provide a
Savior and Redeemer. This he did in the person of his Only Begotten.
Thus Christ came into the world to ransom men from the temporal and spiritual
death brought about by the fall of Adam. Thus all men are redeemed from the
temporal death through the resurrection. All became immortal. "As in Adam all
die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). And thus
all men may be redeemed from spiritual death if they believe and obey, if they
are true and faithful, if they keep the commandments.
12. Christ is the Mediator. Man in his fallen state is forever lost
unless he rises from the Fall and regains the spiritual life that once was his.
He must return to that God from whose presence he departed when he left the
paradisiacal confines of Eden. Christ's mission is to bring to pass this
reunion. He mediates the cause of the children of men so they can once again be
in harmony with their Maker.
"God our Saviour," Paul tells us, "is willing to have all men to be saved."
In order to be saved, he says, they must "come unto the knowledge of the truth
which is in Christ Jesus, who is the Only Begotten Son of God." He is the one
who is "ordained to be a Mediator between God and man."
Then our ancient apostolic friend makes this great declaration: "For there is
one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave
himself a ransom for all" (JST, 1 Timothy 2:36).
Ponder this concept: There is one God, one Supreme Being, one above all who
dwells in heaven. He appointed a man--Christ Jesus, Paul calls him--to be a
mediator between the Father and his fallen children. And this mediator, though
serving as a man when he atoned for the sins of the world, has now become as his
Father and reigns with him in everlasting glory.
13. The gospel is the plan of reconciliation. Through the mediation of
Jesus Christ it is within the power of fallen man to be reconciled with the
Father. Christ's ministry is one of reconciliation; as he is a mediator, so he
is a reconciler. And we as his servants are appointed to labor in a like manner.
Paul tells us that God "hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and
hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." This doctrine is, he
continues, "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not
imputing their trespasses unto them," on conditions of faith and repentance. And
he "hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation," making us, thus,
"ambassadors for Christ," and enabling us to say to all men: "We pray you in
Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:1820).
14. Christ is our advocate. We have an advocate, eternal in the
heavens, one who knows our infirmities, our sufferings, and our sorrows, because
he too was subject to the flesh, and suffered beyond our comprehension while he
dwelt as a man. Indeed, he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,"
and he bore "our griefs, and carried our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:34).
These are his words as he now pleads our cause in the courts above: "Father,
behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well
pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou
gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my
brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have
everlasting life" (D&C 45:45).
15. Christ is the God of our Fathers. He is the God of Adam, and
Enoch, and all of the saints who were before the flood. He is the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and of all the holy prophets. As Jacob the Nephite
We knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years
before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also
all the holy prophets which were before us.
Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and
also we worship the Father in his name. [Jacob 4:45]
Thus all of the ancient saints--all those from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to
Abraham, and from Abraham to Moses, and from Moses to the coming of Jesus in the
flesh--all of the truly faithful ones of old had the gospel. They were baptized
and received the gift of the Holy Ghost; they were endowed with power from on
high; they received the blessings of celestial marriage. The gospel is
everlasting, and all men in all ages are saved by obedience to the same laws and
the same ordinances.
16. Christ is the Promised Messiah. For 4,000 years--from Adam to John
the son of Zacharias--all of the prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah,
the Deliverer, the Holy One who would deliver his people, redeem the faithful,
and ransom all men from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment. All of the
ancient saints testified of a Christ who would come to bring to pass the
immortality and eternal life of man, even as we testify of a Risen Lord who has
taken captivity captive and opened the gates of heaven to all who believe and
17. The mystery of the birth of our Lord. To those with spiritual
insight and understanding there is no mystery. The Lord Jehovah, the Firstborn
spirit, Son of the Father, was born as the Lord Jesus. God was his Father and
Mary was his mother. He was the Only Begotten in the flesh. From his Father, who
is a holy man, he inherited the power of immortality, which is the power to live
everlastingly; from his mother, a choice and chosen vessel of the lineage of
David, he inherited the power of mortality, which is the power to die.
Thus, being dual in nature, he was able to lay down his life and to take it
again. Thus he gave up the ghost at Golgotha, and three days later took up his
partially embalmed and anointed body as it lay lifeless in an Arimathean's tomb.
18. Christ ministered among mortals. Though our Blessed Lord came into
the world to die upon the cross for the sins of the world, though that was the
chief intent and purpose of his mortal ministry, though his assigned ministry
was to atone for the sins of the world--yet, while he was here, he restored the
fulness of the gospel to the earth and taught its doctrines through all Judea
and Galilee and beyond.
But, be it remembered, the gospel he taught originated with God his Father.
"My doctrine is not mine," he said, "but his that sent me. If any man will do
his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I
speak of myself" (John 7:1617).
19. Christ worked out his own salvation. This is something of which
uninspired men have no comprehension. Truly, he was the Lord Omnipotent before
the world was; truly, he was like unto the Father in the premortal life; truly,
he was the Son of God here on earth--and yet, with it all, as with all the
spirit children of the same Father, he too was subject to all of the terms and
conditions of the Father's plan.
He also was born on earth to undergo a mortal probation, to die, to rise
again in immortal glory, to be judged according to his works, and to receive his
place of infinite glory in the eternal kingdom of his Everlasting Father. How
well Paul said:
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he
And being made perfect, he became the author [that is, the cause]
of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him. [Hebrews 5: 89]
20. Christ worshipped the Father. This also is something that is
seemingly unknown in the sectarian world. Of course our Blessed Lord, the Lord
Jesus himself, the one who is our Savior and Redeemer, of course he worshipped
the Father. How else could he (not having received the fulness at the first, as
John tells us) go from grace to grace until he received the fulness of the glory
of the Father?
Why else would he say to Mary Magdalene as she bowed before him on the
resurrection morning: "Go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my
Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17)? Note it and
note it well--Elohim is the God of Jehovah as truly and as fully as he is our
God. And as Christ worshipped the Father, so must it be with us if we are to go
where Christ is and be like him, according to the promises.
21. Christ--the Atoning One and the Crucified One. That which happened
in Gethsemane and at Golgotha constitutes a mystery we cannot comprehend. We do
not know how a God could bear the sins of all men on conditions of repentance.
We cannot fathom the agony involved when Jesus, suffering both body and spirit,
sweat great drops of blood from every pore. We only know that it was part of the
plan of the Father and that our Lord drank to the full the cup that was his.
In Gethsemane, perhaps for three hours or more, and then again during the
final three hours on the cross of Calvary, in agony beyond comprehension or
compare, Jesus worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. For our purposes
it suffices to know that this ordeal, plus his rising in glorious immortality,
has brought to pass the immortality of all men and made eternal life available
to all the obedient.
22. Christ--the Resurrected One and the Ascended One. As the sun
crowns the day and banishes the darkness of the night, so the resurrection
crowns the Atonement and forever abolishes the death that otherwise would have
been eternal. Out of the agonies of the one came the glory of the other.
Christ our Lord rose in glorious immortality, the firstfruits of them that
sleep, and then, ascending to his Father, he received all power in heaven and on
earth. And in a way incomprehensible to us, the effects of his resurrection
shall pass upon us all, and we too shall have power, if true and faithful in all
things, to ascend to heights beyond the stars.
Now, if time and circumstances permitted, we might continue our presentation
and add another score or a hundred headings to those so far named--all shedding
light upon that which is mysterious to the carnal mind.
Perhaps you should continue the inquiry, resolving such mysteries as the
How the Holy Ghost can be a personage of spirit and yet convey his gifts to
millions of mortals at one and the same time.
What eternal covenant was made relative to man--by God the First, and God the
Second, and God the Third--before the foundations of the earth.
How and in what manner we worship Christ when the revealed word decrees that
we should worship and pray to the Father and to him only and to none other.
How and in what manner the Lord Jesus both worships the Father and is an
equal to him.
What is meant by the numerous scriptures that say Christ is the Father as
well as the Son.
Why angels sometimes speak in the first person as though they were Christ,
and why Christ himself often speaks in the first person as though he were the
Why our great goal in life should be to gain the Spirit of the Lord as our
companion, and what results will flow from such an attained eventuality.
And so on and so on and so on.
The scriptures are in our hands. The door to investigation and research and
learning is never closed. We are all expected to learn the same truths, live the
same laws, and open the same door to the same mysteries.
For thus saith the Lord--I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those
who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in
truth unto the end.
Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of
my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them
the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom.
Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will
I show them, even the things of many generations.
And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven;
and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of
the prudent shall come to naught.
For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known
unto them the secrets of my will--yea, even those things which eye has not seen,
nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man. [D&C 76:510]
Now this work in which we are engaged is true. And the doctrines which we
proclaim are God's eternal truth. And as the Lord lives, they will endure in
time and in eternity. He has placed us here in a mortal circumstance and
commanded us to seek him and to strive to be like him. He has given us an
abundant amount of revealed truth in the holy scriptures. They are before us;
they are available to each of us on the same basis. The prophet said that God
has not revealed anything to Joseph that he will not reveal to the Twelve and to
the least and last Saint as soon as he is able to bear it.
My prayer is that we, the rising and young generation in whose hands the
future and destiny of the Church lies for the decades and ages that are ahead
before the second coming of the Son of Man, will take the challenge and search
deeply and learn the mysteries of godliness and let them be the standard around
which we rally and be the guide that directs our lives in all that we do. If
this be our course, we will surely have peace and joy and happiness in this
life, and be inheritors of eternal life in the world to come, which may God
grant for all of us, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.