The Three Pillars of Eternity
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 devotional
was given at Brigham Young University on 17 February 1981.
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I know, as do we all, that the things of God can be understood only by the
power of the Holy Spirit. And I pray that we may receive a mighty outpouring of
that Spirit as we consider the three pillars of eternity--the three great
eternal verities upon which salvation rests.
My purpose is to take the three greatest events that have ever occurred in
all eternity and show how they are interwoven to form one grand plan of
If we can gain an understanding of them, then the whole eternal scheme of
things will fall into place, and we will be in a position to work out our
salvation. If we do not build our house of salvation on a true foundation, we
will never make the spiritual progress that will prepare us to enter the Eternal
Three Great Events
The three pillars of eternity, the three events, preeminent and transcendent
above all others, are the creation, the fall, and the atonement. These three are
the foundations upon which all things rest. Without any one of them all things
would lose their purpose and meaning, and the plans and designs of Deity would
come to naught.
If there had been no creation, we would not be, neither the earth, nor any
form of life upon its face. All things, all the primal elements, would be
without form and void. God would have no spirit children; there would be no
mortal probation; and none of us would be on the way to immortality and eternal
If there had been no fall of man, there would not be a mortal probation.
Mortal man would not be, nor would there be animals or fowls or fishes or life
of any sort upon the earth. And, we repeat, none of us would be on the way to
immortality and eternal life.
If there had been no atonement of Christ, all things would be lost. The
purposes of creation would vanish away. Lucifer would triumph over men and
become the captain of their souls. And, we say it again, none of us would be on
the way to immortality and eternal life.
And so I now say: Come and let us reason together; let us reason as did
righteous men of old that we may come to understanding.
Come and hear us declare sound doctrine; let us declare it plainly and in
power as do the angels of God in heaven.
Come and let us testify of those things which God has made known to us; let
us testify as do those whose souls are afire with the Spirit and who know by
revelation of the truth and verity of their spoken word.
Let us gaze first at a scene of sorrow and suffering in a garden called
Gethsemane, the garden of the oil press. There, outside Jerusalem's walls, on
the now sacred side of Olivet, we see eight of the Twelve huddled at the garden
gate. Inside the garden are Peter, James, and John. It is night, and the eyes of
all are heavy with sleep.
About a stone's cast removed from the three we see the Son of God in sorrow
and agony beyond compare. He has fallen on his face. We hear his pleading words:
"O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as
I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39).
We see great gouts of blood drop from every pore. An angel--surely it is
mighty Michael himself--comes down from heaven and strengthens him. He trembles
because of pain and suffers in both body and spirit. He comes off triumphant;
and in a way incomprehensible to us, he bears the sins of all men on conditions
Now let our gaze turn to Golgotha. There, at the place of a skull, we see him
again, crucified between two thieves. It is noon, and his mangled and scourged
body has already hung on that accursed tree for some three hours.
Again it is the hour of atonement. The sun is darkened; for three long hours
there is "darkness over all the earth" (Luke 23:44), as all the agonies and
sufferings of Gethsemane return. Then the victory is won; the ransom is paid;
the atonement is accomplished.
Some thirty-eight or forty hours later--after three days as the Jews counted
time--we see him by a garden tomb. He has risen in glorious immortality. Clothed
with immortality and eternal life, he gently restrains one of the beloved Marys
from embracing him with the same intimacy that had once prevailed.
Soon angelic choirs will fill the heavens as the redeemed sing, "Worthy is
the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honour, and glory, and blessing" (Revelation 5:12).
And thus it is that salvation is in Christ, that his atoning sacrifice is the
heart and core and center of revealed religion, and that he--in Gethsemane of
sorrowful memory and on the cross of Calvary--put into full operation all the
terms and conditions of his Father's plan.
He is the resurrection and the life. He is the Redeemer of the world and the
Savior of men. He "hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). It was his work and his glory to
bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. And his is the only name
given under heaven whereby man may be saved.
If there had been no atonement of Christ, there would be no resurrection, no
breaking of the bands of death, no coming forth from the grave.
If there had been no atonement, there would be no remission of sins; no
return to the presence of God; no salvation of any sort, kind, or nature; no
eternal life; no exaltation; no continuation of the family unit in eternity.
If there were no atonement of Christ, all men would be subject to "that awful
monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone,
which is endless torment" (2 Nephi 9:19).
If there were no atonement of Christ, "our spirits" would have become "like
unto" Lucifer's, "and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from
the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies, in misery, like
unto himself" (2 Nephi 9:9).
If there were no atonement of Christ, all men would be damned everlastingly,
all would be sons of perdition, and the whole purpose of God and his eternal
plan of salvation would utterly fail.
All things center in, revolve around, are anchored to, and are built upon the
atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no language given to men or
angels to proclaim these truths with the power and verity and dignity that
should attend them. Let it be blazoned in burning fire through all the sidereal
heavens that salvation is in Christ and comes because of his atoning sacrifice.
Now this atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ--grand and infinite,
glorious and eternal as it is--does not stand alone. It is not simply a sudden
blaze of light in a universe of darkness and despair. It is not by itself alone
a great sun rising in celestial splendor to dispel the gloom of endless night.
It is not merely a manifestation of the grace of an infinite God toward his
However much the atonement may be and is all these things--and more!--yet it
does not stand alone. It is not a child born without parents. It has roots; it
has a reason for being; it came because other events called it forth.
The atonement is part of the eternal plan of the Father. It came at the
appointed time, according to the will of the Father, to do for man that which
could not have been done in any other way. The atonement is the child of the
fall, and the fall is the father of the atonement. Neither of them, without the
other, could have brought to pass the eternal purposes of the Father.
The fall of Adam and the atonement of Christ are linked
together--inseparably, everlastingly, never to be parted. They are as much a
part of the same body as are the head and the heart, and each plays its part in
the eternal scheme of things.
The fall of Adam brought temporal and spiritual death into the world, and the
atonement of Christ ransomed men from these two deaths by bringing to pass the
immortality and eternal life of man. This makes the fall as essential a part of
the plan of salvation as the very atonement itself.
There are, in fact, five things that came into being and continue to exist
because of the fall. None of these things would have existed if there had been
no fall, and all of them are essential parts of the divine plan of salvation.
1. Temporal death. This is the natural death; it occurs when body and
spirit separate; it results in corruption and decay. Because of the atonement of
Christ all men will be raised from corruption to incorruption, from mortality to
immortality, thence to live everlastingly in a resurrected state.
2. Spiritual death. This is death as pertaining to the things of the
Spirit. It is death
as pertaining to things of righteousness. It is to be cast out of the
presence of the Lord. It is a way of life which is in opposition to that of the
Father of us all. Because of the atonement, because the Lord Jesus bore our sins
on conditions of repentance, we have power to gain eternal life, which is
spiritual life, which is a life of righteousness, which is life in the presence
of our God.
3. Mortality. Mortal life comes because of the fall. If there had been
no fall, there would be no mortal life of any sort on earth. Mortal life is life
where there is death. Death must enter the world to bring mortality into being.
4. Procreation. Before the fall there was no procreation. I repeat,
for thus saith the Holy Word, before the fall there was no procreation. Adam and
Eve, in their Edenic state, could not have children, nor, as we shall see, could
any form of life when first placed on the newly created paradisiacal earth.
5. A probationary estate. We are here to be tried and tested, to see
if we will believe the truths of salvation and keep the commandments while we
walk by faith. After the fall men became carnal, sensual, and devilish by
nature, and the plan of salvation calls upon them to put off these worldly
snares and to put on Christ.
Now, lest there be any sliver of misunderstanding about any of this, let us
reason together on all these things as did they of old. Indeed, let us use the
very words they used as they are found in the holy scriptures.
"Now is Christ risen from the dead," Paul said as he testified of the
atonement. "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of
the dead." Adam brought death, and if he had not fallen there would be no death;
and Christ brought the resurrection, and, if there had been no atonement, there
would be no resurrection. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all
be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:20–22).
Moroni linked the fall and the atonement together in this way. God, he said,
"created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man
came Jesus Christ." It is just that simple; the fall is the source and cause and
reason for the atonement. "And because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of
man" (Mormon 9:12). Salvation is in Christ!
"And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ," men "are
brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are
redeemed, because the death of Christ bringeth to pass the resurrection, which
bringeth to pass a redemption from an endless sleep" (Mormon 9:13).
What did the angel say to King Benjamin? He said, Christ's "blood atoneth for
the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam" (Mosiah 3:11).
We are descendants of Adam; we all have a common father.
He said, "As in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ
atoneth for their sins" (Mosiah 3:16). The blessings of the fall have passed
upon all men; all can be redeemed because Adam fell and Christ came.
He said, "Salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning
blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent" (Mosiah 3:18). There is no other source of
salvation from the fall than that which comes through Christ.
He said, "The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of
Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the
Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the
atonement of Christ the Lord" (Mosiah 3:19).
Thus the natural man, which is Adam, is conquered by the perfect man, which
is Christ; and thus "all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and
ordinances of the gospel" (Third Article of Faith). And now, what saith our
great and good friend Lehi about all these things?
He saith that the Redeemer "cometh to bring salvation unto men. . . . And the
way is prepared [for him] from the fall of man, and salvation is free" (2 Nephi
2:3–4). The fall is the foundation upon which the atonement rests.
He saith that "after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they
were driven out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth" (2 Nephi 2:19). Their
mortal probation and the trials and tests of mortality began after the fall.
And they have brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the
earth. [2 Nephi 2:20]
Every living soul on earth is a descendant of Adam and Eve. God hath made of
one blood all the nations of men.
If Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have
remained in the garden of Eden. [2 Nephi 2:22]
If Adam had not fallen, he would be there today, six thousand years later, in
all the glory and beauty of his immortal nature. Such is the word of holy writ.
And next--marvel of marvels and wonder of wonders--Lehi saith, "And all
things which were created"--all things means all things; it includes
animals and fishes and fowls and creeping things and plants; it includes
dinosaurs and whales and ants; it means all things--
All things which were created must have remained in the same state in
which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever,
and had no end. [2 Nephi 2:22]
There was, we repeat, no death in the world until after Adam fell. And there
was, we repeat, no procreation until after the fall. And there was, we repeat,
no mortality until after the fall.
And so Lehi continues, "And they"--Adam and Eve--"would have had no children"
(2 Nephi 2:23).
And then, on the foundation so laid, while filled with light and guided by
the Spirit, Lehi acclaimed:
Adam fell that men might be; and men are that they might have joy.
And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the
children of men from the fall. [2 Nephi 2:25–26]
Truly, as Enoch said:
Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are
made partakers of misery and woe. . . .
And men have become carnal, sensual, and devilish, and are shut out from
the presence of God. [Moses 6:48, 49]
Truly, as Mother Eve said:
Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed and never
should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal
life which God giveth to all the obedient. [Moses 5:11]
Truly, salvation comes because of the fall, and it is just as important to
believe in the fall as it is to believe in the atonement, and, indeed, it is not
possible to believe in the atonement without believing in the fall.
Now, even as the atonement grows out of the fall, so the fall grows out of
the creation. If all things had not been created in the very way in which they
were created, there could have been no fall. If created things were to fall,
they must be created in a higher state than the state they would be in after the
fall. To fall is to go downward or forward, not upward.
And so it is that the revealed accounts of the creation of this earth and all
things on the face thereof are accounts of the paradisiacal creation. They speak
of the immortal state in which all things were first made; they are telling of
created things in the day before death entered the world.
Our Tenth Article of Faith says: "We believe . . . that the earth will be
renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory." When the Lord comes and the
millennial era commences, there will be new heavens and a new earth; the earth
will be renewed; it will become new again; and it will return to its
paradisiacal state; it will become as it was in the Edenic day. And once again
death as we know it will cease.
The accounts of the creation in Genesis 1 and Moses 2 are accounts of the
paradisiacal or Edenic creation. They are descriptive of a creation that
antedated death and mortality and the fall. They speak of a creation in
which--again these are Lehi's words--
All things which were created must have remained in the same state in
which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever,
and had no end. [2 Nephi 2:22]
That is, they would have so remained if there had been no fall.
Now, we are speaking of the three pillars of heaven, of the three greatest
events ever to occur in all eternity, of the three doctrines that are woven
inseparably together to form the plan of salvation. We are speaking of the
creation, the fall, and the atonement. And these things are one. And, be it
noted, all things were created; all things fell; and all things are subject to
the redeeming power of the Son of God.
I am not conscious of expressing a single thought or concept that has not
already been said by the Brethren who have gone before. Almost every sentence I
have uttered is a quotation or a paraphrase of something said by Joseph Smith,
Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Orson Pratt,
or some other of the great theologians of our dispensation.
Many among us have no difficulty envisioning that the atonement is infinite
and eternal and applies to all forms of life. They know that the revelations say
in so many words that all forms of life both lived as spirit entities and will
be resurrected--animals, fowls, fishes--all things are eternal in nature.
But some among us have not yet had it dawn upon them that all things fell and
became mortal so they could be resurrected.
The early Brethren of our dispensation wrote these words:
The word atonement signifies deliverance, through the offering of a
ransom, from the penalty of a broken law. . . . As effected by Jesus Christ, it
signifies the deliverance, through his death and resurrection, of the earth and
everything pertaining to it, from the power which death has obtained over them
through the transgression of Adam. . . . Redemption from death, through the
sufferings of Christ, is for all men, both the righteous and the wicked; for
this earth, and for all things created upon it. [Compendium, pp. 8–9,
cited in Mormon Doctrine, B. R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
1966), pp. 64–65.]
Three Glorious Beings
When we speak of the creation, the fall, and the atonement, we are speaking
of the works of Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael. We are talking of the doctrines
which are stated or are implicit in our first three Articles of Faith. We need
to come to a unity of faith as to the labors of each of these glorious beings.
Who is Elohim? He is God the Eternal Father. He is a glorified and
exalted personage. He has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's. In the
language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and
omnipresent. He knows all things and has all power--not simply as pertaining to
us or in some prescribed sphere or realm--but in the absolute, eternal, and
unlimited sense. In the ultimate sense, he is the Creator. And anything you may
have heard to the contrary, whether in the creeds of Christendom or the
mouthings of intellectuals who, in their own eyes, know more than the Lord, is
Who is Michael? He is a spirit son of the great Elohim. Under Christ
he led the armies of righteousness when there was war in heaven. Our revelations
say that he "was the son of God" (Moses 6:22), that he was "the first flesh [the
first mortal flesh] upon earth, the first man also" (Moses 3:7), and that he was
"the first man of all men" (Moses 1:34). He is Adam our father; he is the
presiding high priest over all the earth. Under Christ, who is "the Holy One,"
he holds "the keys of salvation" (D&C 78:16). He is the only one by whom the
fall came. And anything you may have heard to the contrary, from whatever
source, is false.
Who is Jehovah? He is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of the
Father, the Savior and Redeemer. He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the
world. He is the Only Begotten in the flesh, the only person ever born with a
mortal mother and an immortal Father. He worked out the infinite and eternal
atonement, ransomed men and all forms of life from the fall, and made the
purposes of creation operative. Salvation is in him and comes to those who
believe and obey. And anything you may have heard to the contrary is false.
The truths relative to Elohim, Jehovah, and Michael are the greatest of all
eternal verities. They wrap the creation, the fall, and the atonement into one
grand plan of salvation. They are the gospel of God who is the Father. And of
their truth the Holy Ghost bears witness.
God grant that we may all believe and know and understand the great eternal
verities by which salvation comes and that, believing and knowing and
understanding, we may so live as to gain eternal life. In the name of Jesus