Contributions of the Doctrine and Covenants to an Understanding of Jesus Christ
The goal of all faithful Latter-day Saints is to obtain eternal life and live in the presence of God. Since by Adam all people have fallen and become subject to sin and corruption, all people are dependent upon the Atonement of Christ and through the Savior alone are able to obtain eternal life, the greatest gift of God (see D&C 6:13 ; 14:7 ). The Doctrine and Covenants is a sustaining witness and helps in understanding the Savior. His role, His divine attributes, His mission, and His Second Coming in glory are all taught in a clear, concise way in this book. This sacred volume of scripture also teaches our relationship to Christ and our responsibility to gain eternal life.
(D-2) The Eternal Role of Jesus the Christ
The mighty Elohim is the Father of the spirits of all those who have ever lived or will yet live upon the earth. His spirit offspring are innumerable. Among this mighty throng in the pre-earth life stood one like unto God the Eternal Father (see Abraham 3:24 ) who was known by the name of Jehovah, or the Great I A M (see D&C 29:1 ; 39:1 ; 109:34, 42, 56 ; 110:3–4 ; 128:9 ; JST, Exodus 3:13–15 ; Exodus 6:3 ; Psalm 83:18 ; Isaiah 12:2 ; 26:4 ; John 8:58 ; Abraham 2:8 ). It was He who would come to earth as Jesus, the Savior of mankind. The Doctrine and Covenants gives a clear understanding of the eternal role of the Savior.
Because He merited it, Jehovah was the firstborn of the spirit offspring of Elohim (see D&C 93:21 ), and as such, He became the legal heir to all the Father owned. Thus, the responsibility fell upon Jehovah to carry out the plan of salvation ordained by the Father whereby the rest of His spirit children might have the opportunity, through obedience, to become joint heirs with the Firstborn (see Hugh B. Brown, in Conference Report, Oct. 1963, p. 92).
Concerning the Savior’s pre-earth role, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
“We believe, and I certify that Jesus Christ is the Firstborn Spirit Child of Elohim who is God, our Heavenly Father. We believe that while he lived in the pre-existent world, by virtue of his superior intelligence, progression, and obedience, he attained unto the station of a God . And he then became, under the Father, the Creator of this world and all things that are in it, as also the Creator of worlds without number.
“We believe that he was the Jehovah of the Old Testament; that it was through him that God the Father dealt with all the ancient prophets, revealing his mind and his will and the plan of salvation to them.
“Christ gave the gospel to the ancients beginning with Adam and going on down, dispensation after dispensation, until this present time. And everything that has been given in the gospel and everything that has been in any way connected with it has been designed for the express purpose of bearing record of Christ and certifying as to his divine mission.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1948, pp. 23–24.)
The Savior is the light of the world . Elder Bruce R. McConkie described “at least three ways, each intertwined with the others, in which our Lord is the Light of the World. These are:
“1. Through the Light of Christ he governs and controls the universe and gives life to all that therein is. [See D&C 88:6–10 .]
“2. By this same immensity-filling light—and also, to certain faithful ones, by the power of the Holy Ghost!—he enlightens the mind and quickens the understanding. [See D&C 88:11 .]
“3. By his own upright, sinless, and perfect course, in preexistence, in mortality, and in resurrected glory, he sets a perfect example and is able to say to all men: ‘Follow thou me.’ ( 2 Ne. 31:10 .) [See D&C 45:4 .]
“Our understanding of the Light of Christ is limited,” Elder McConkie continued. “Finite powers and capacities cannot comprehend that which is infinite. But we do know certain basic principles, among which are these:
“1. That it is the light which proceeds forth from the presence and person of Deity to fill immensity, and that it is therefore everywhere present [see D&C 88:12 ];
“2. That it is the agency of God’s power, the law by which all things are governed [see D&C 88:13 ];
“3. That it is the divine power which gives life to all things, and that if it were completely withdrawn life would cease [see D&C 88:13 ];
“4. That it enlightens the mind and quickens the understanding of every person born into the world [see D&C 84:46 ]; . . .
“5. That it strives with all men (the Holy Ghost testifies but does not strive) unless and until they rebel against light and truth, at which time the striving ceases, and in that sense the Spirit is withdrawn [see D&C 88:7 ; 93:9 ];
“6. That those who hearken to its voice come unto Christ, receive his gospel, are baptized, and gain the gift of the Holy Ghost. ( Moro. 7:12–18 ; D&C 84:43–53 ; 88:7–13 .)” ( Promised Messiah, pp. 208–9.)
He is just and will judge the world.
(D-3) The Eternal Attributes of Jesus Christ
The inherent characteristics of the Savior are referred to throughout the scriptures as attributes. These divine qualities are held in fulness and perfection by the Savior because of His total obedience to the mind and will of the Father (see D&C 93:11–17 ; see also Notes and Commentary for those verses for an explanation of how the Savior obtained a fulness of the attributes of the Father). It is important that we understand these attributes so that we can exercise faith in God. The Lectures on Faith, compiled under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, explain: “The real design which the God of heaven had in view in making the human family acquainted with his attributes, was, that they, through the idea of the existence of his attributes, might be enabled to exercise faith in him, and through the exercise of faith in him, might obtain eternal life; for without the idea of the existence of the attributes which belong to God, the minds of men could not have power to exercise faith in him so as to lay hold upon eternal life” (4:2).
Some of the attributes of the Lord are knowledge; faith, or power; justice; judgment; mercy; and truth (see Lectures on Faith 4:41–43). The Doctrine and Covenants testifies of these attributes and helps to increase one’s understanding of many of them.
The omniscience of the Savior . Some have taught that the Savior and even God the Father are ever learning. This teaching is not consistent with the teaching of the scriptures that God knows all things (see D&C 38:2 ; 88:6, 41 ; 2 Nephi 2:24 ; 9:20 ; Mormon 8:17 ; Moroni 7:22 ). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said:
“There are even those who champion the almost unbelievable theory that God is an eternal student enrolled in the University of the Universe, where he is busily engaged in learning new truths and amassing new and strange knowledge that he never knew before.
“How belittling it is—it borders on blasphemy—to demean the Lord God Omnipotent by saying he is an idol, or an image, or an animal, or a spirit essence, or that he is ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of all truth (see 2 Tim. 3:7 ).” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1980, p. 75; or Ensign, Nov. 1980, pp. 50–51 .)
The knowledge that God possesses includes an understanding of the past, present, and future (see D&C 130:7 ). The story of the loss of the 116-page manuscript by Martin Harris at the time the Prophet was translating the Book of Mormon is an example of the foreknowledge of God (see Words of Mormon 1:3–7 ; D&C 3 , 10 ).
Christ is omnipotent . By being perfectly obedient to the will of the Father, Jesus brought about the Atonement and retains “all power” ( D&C 19:3 ; see also 49:6 ; 61:1 ). The Doctrine and Covenants, like the other standard works, bears witness that in the Godhead resides all power. There is nothing in the universe with sufficient power to “stay my hand” ( D&C 38:33 ). The word power is used over two hundred times in the Doctrine and Covenants, and in most of those usages it bears witness of God’s power and His use of it for the benefit of His people.
Christ is the source of justice and judgment . One of the most comforting things derived from faith in the Savior is the knowledge that at some time everything will be made right, that justice will be done. There is something inherent in virtually every person that cries out for the righting of wrongs, the squaring of accounts, the giving of just dues, whether those dues be blessings for obedience or punishments for disobedience. In numerous instances in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord bears witness that He is a just God and that all people will be brought to judgment, receiving blessings for obedience and punishments for all transgressions not repented of (see, for example, D&C 3:4 ; 10:28 ; 39:16–18 ; 82:4 ; 84:102 ; 107:84 ; 109:77 ).
The mercy of Christ . Knowing of God’s awesome powers and of His continual promises to bring individuals to judgment would be a frightening and discouraging thing if one did not know that He also has a perfection and fulness of love and mercy. In addition to many promises of mercy and forgiveness for the repentant (see, for example, D&C 3:10 ; 29:1 ; 38:14 ; 54:6 ; 61:2 ; 76:5 ; 88:40 ), the Doctrine and Covenants contains some of the most tender and endearing expressions of the Savior to His servants and His people:
“Be faithful and diligent . . . and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love” ( D&C 6:20 ).
“Fear not to do good, my sons” ( D&C 6:33 ).
“Fear not, little flock” ( D&C 6:34 ).
“From henceforth I shall call you friends” ( D&C 84:77 ).
“I will call you friends, for you are my friends” ( D&C 93:45 ).
“Whom I love I also chasten . . . and I have loved you” ( D&C 95:1 ).
Christ is truth . Understanding of this attribute comes primarily from the Doctrine and Covenants, where it is revealed that truth is light (see D&C 84:45 ; 88:6–7 ); truth is eternal (see D&C 88:66 ); truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (see D&C 93:24 ). If the Savior is the Light of the World and the Light of Christ lights every person who comes into the world, and if truth is light, then it follows that not only is the Savior the source of truth but His very nature is truth.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “Christ is the Truth, meaning that he is the perfect embodiment of all truth. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ ( John 14:6 ; Ether 4:12 ); ‘I am the Spirit of truth.’ ( D&C 93:26 .) He is the champion of truth, the revealer of truth, the advocate of truth. His word is truth and all his works conform thereto.” ( Mormon Doctrine, p. 810; see also D&C 93:12–13, 16–20, 28, 36 .)
All scriptures bear witness and teach of the attributes of deity, and the Doctrine and Covenants joins the other standard works as a powerful voice in this testimony.
The Lectures on Faith teach that one of the things necessary for faith is a “correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections, and attributes. . . .
“An acquaintance with these attributes in the divine character, is essentially necessary, in order that the faith of any rational being can center in him for life and salvation. For if he did not, in the first instance, believe him to be God, that is, the Creator and upholder of all things, he could not center his faith in him for ‘life and salvation, for fear there should be greater than he who would thwart all his plans, and he like the gods of the heathen, would be unable to fulfill his promises; but seeing he is God over all, from everlasting to everlasting, the Creator and upholder of all things, no such fear can exist in the minds of those who put their trust in him, so that in this respect their faith can be without wavering.” (3:4, 19.)
The same principle holds true of all the Savior’s attributes. If we did not know that God knows all things, we could conceivably wonder if we might ask Him something He did not know. If we cannot believe He is longsuffering and merciful, we will quickly despair of any hope of salvation as we sense our unworthiness.
At first, having this correct understanding may seem like a simple thing, and many would assume they have met the requirement of having a correct idea of God’s attributes. But sometimes even active, committed Latter-day Saints fail to completely take into account God’s character and attributes. Consider the following examples, then see if you can identify which characteristic or attribute of God is being questioned.
A. Why did God give me a body that is fat and ugly? I’ll never get a date because I’m too homely.
B. John proposed to me and I accepted, even though he is not active in the Church and hasn’t been on a mission. I believe in the gospel and want to do what’s right, but I know lots of active sisters who have inactive husbands. John and I have talked about it, and we’re old enough to make up our own minds. The bishop said to pray for a confirmation that this is the right decision, but I’m afraid to. What if the answer is no? I so love John, and I may never have another chance to marry.
C. Before I knew I was pregnant, my doctor had me on a strong medication for a tumor. Now my obstetrician tells me that the chances I will have a retarded baby are increased significantly by the nature of the medication. He is not LDS and is strongly encouraging me to have an abortion. Everything in me revolts at the thought, but what if I do have a baby that is retarded?
D. I have not taken the sacrament for three years. I was guilty of a moral transgression, and even though I confessed to the bishop and did all he asked of me, and even though I have tried hard to repent, I still feel unclean and unworthy to take the sacrament. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to take it again.
E . I have a deep personal problem that I have not been able to resolve. I’ve prayed about this question for nearly a year now. I’ve pleaded with the Lord, begged Him for an answer. Nothing has happened. Why won’t He answer me?
Every case cited here illustrates a wavering of faith in one of the attributes of God. Though each of these persons might be surprised to think of it in that way, each is in some way doubting the nature of God. They are questioning His power to make a difference in their lives, His wisdom in allowing things to happen as they do, His love, His longsuffering, His forgiveness, His concern for them. But these people could react to their problems in other ways if they had faith in the attributes of the Savior.
A. I realize that I have been placed in a body that is not thought of as physically beautiful. But my study of the Savior convinces me that what really matters to Him is inner beauty. If the kind of body I have to live with is important to my salvation, then He would have given me a different body. I will try to make myself outwardly as attractive as possible, but my real desire is to become spiritually beautiful.
B. I love John and want to marry him, in spite of the dangers. I believe we’re mature enough to work it out. But I have to find out what God’s will is for me. I trust in Him. If the answer is no, I know things will work out one way or another. I will pray and ask if I’ve made the right decision.
C. The will of the Lord on abortion is clear and unmistakable. I will not terminate this precious life in me. My husband and I will petition the Lord in fasting and prayer for the remainder of the pregnancy that all will be well. I’ll receive a blessing from the priesthood that my husband holds. And if it is the Lord’s will that this baby be born retarded, then it will be my faith that it is for the best—the best for me, the best for my family, the best for this child.
D. Christ suffered an infinite agony, both in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, so that the price of sin could be met and paid. The conditions for having that price paid for serious transgressions such as my own are demanding, but if I meet those conditions, as I have been sincerely striving to do, do I not deny the gifts offered me if I refuse to forgive myself? If Christ says that His mercy is sufficient to make me clean, how can I deny His word?
E. I have prayed and sought earnestly and sincerely for an answer to my problem. The fact that I have not received an answer could mean several things. I know that God has all knowledge of me and of all the circumstances involved in this problem. I know that God has all power. He can do whatever is required. I know that His love for me is perfect. So I know the reason nothing has happened is not because He doesn’t care. It is not because He doesn’t know what to do or can’t do it. There must be a good reason why He hasn’t answered me. Maybe I need more faith, more repentance. Or perhaps it is a way of teaching me something more important. I will not despair, but will persevere, trusting in His judgment of when is the best time for my answer.
(D-4) The Eternal Mission of Jesus Christ
Only through Christ is salvation possible. Because He was God, even in mortality, Jesus Christ possessed inherent powers and abilities that no other person ever had. He was God’s Only Begotten Son and thus possessed the powers and intelligence of God Himself. He was perfect in nature, so He was able to assume the sins of all other beings, to suffer for them so that, on condition of their repentance, they would not have to suffer.
Not only was Jesus able to bear the sins of His brothers and sisters, He was also willing to do so. He thereby demonstrated His great love. He accomplished this redemption by a voluntary act called the Atonement in which He took upon Himself the sins of all mankind. The intense suffering of the Savior commenced in the Garden of Gethsemane and terminated at Calvary. Luke described the suffering in the Garden as being so intense that Christ’s “sweat was as it were great drops of blood” ( Luke 22:44 .) Some scholars have tried to explain this passage as metaphorical and not literal; that is, they say that Jesus perspired heavily but did not actually bleed from His pores. The Doctrine and Covenants shows this was literal, describing in some detail the incredible suffering He underwent (see D&C 19:15–19 ; 76:69 ).
Christ suffered as only a God could suffer, both in body and in spirit. Willingly He took the cup. In that solitary Garden, made sacred by His presence, He “suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” ( D&C 18:11 ). The extent of His suffering is stated by Elder Marion G. Romney in these words: “Jesus then went into the Garden of Gethsemane. There he suffered most. He suffered greatly on the cross, of course, but other men had died by crucifixion; in fact, a man hung on either side of him as he died on the cross. But no man, nor set of men, nor all men put together, ever suffered what the Redeemer suffered in the Garden.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1953, p. 35.)
Elder Romney also stated, “The suffering he undertook to endure, and which he did endure, equaled the combined suffering of all men” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1969, p. 57).
The Doctrine and Covenants testifies that Jesus, in making the Atonement, descended below all things—meaning that He suffered the pains of hell for all people if they would repent (see D&C 88:6 ; 122:8 ). Because He suffered to this extent, there is no sin, no pain, no suffering that He cannot comprehend. He knows each individual’s every weakness. He understands each of us better than we understand ourself, and thus the Savior knows “how to succor them who are tempted” ( D&C 62:1 ).
The Burial of Christ by Carl Bloch. Original at King’s Prayer Chair, Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark. Used by permission of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg.
(D-5) Our Relationship to Christ
Through the Atonement of Christ, salvation is extended to every child of God. The responsibility rests upon each individual to repent, to believe in Christ, and then to endure faithfully to the end (see D&C 20:29 ). The Savior’s Atonement, combined with a willing obedience to His gospel, qualifies one to become His son or daughter (see D&C 39:4–6 ; 11:30 ; 25:1 ).
Thus, by keeping all commandments pertaining to His gospel, we may receive the power and attributes of Christ in ourself and become His children. Eventually, through the grace of God, we may receive the fulness of godly power and attributes, “ made perfect through Jesus . . . who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” ( D&C 76:69 ; italics added).
The Doctrine and Covenants commands all people to take upon themselves His name, for in His name only is there salvation: “Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness. And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved. Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby men can be saved; . . . Wherefore, if they know not the name by which they are called, they cannot have place in the kingdom of my Father.” ( D&C 18:21–25 .) Those who believe in His name and keep His commandments shall find rest (see D&C 38:4 ), which is everlasting life in His presence (see D&C 45:3–5 ).
(D-6) Christ’s Coming in Glory
On 3 April 1836 Elijah appeared in the Kirtland Temple to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in fulfillment of the prophecy made by Malachi (see Malachi 4:5–6 ; D&C 110:13–16 ). The prophet Elijah testified that he had come so that members of the Church might “know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” ( D&C 110:16 ). The coming of Christ in glory (see D&C 34:7–8 ) to reign with the righteous for a thousand years (see D&C 29:11, 17 ) is an event longed for by all Saints in all dispensations. This dispensation has the privilege to make final preparation for His coming and to see that the kingdom of God is prepared to meet Him (see D&C 65:6 ). Prior to His coming, however, there will be some who are members of His Church who will say that Christ delays His coming, and as a result, they will not be prepared (see D&C 45:26 ). It behooves all to live as though the Savior will come tomorrow (see D&C 64:23 ), for those who are prepared need not fear.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a handbook on the Second Coming. It is replete with prophecies, promises, clarifications, and new revelations on the judgments that precede this coming in glory, on the Second Coming itself, and on the conditions that will prevail during the Savior’s millennial reign. Enrichment H discusses this subject in detail.
The Doctrine and Covenants bears testimony of Christ. Just as the Book of Mormon is called a second witness for Christ, so, and with equal validity, could the Doctrine and Covenants be described as a witness for the Savior. It affirms that He was the Firstborn of Heavenly Father; that by Him the worlds were created; that He came to earth as God’s Only Begotten Son in the flesh; that He suffered temptations, wrought miracles, proclaimed His gospel, and invited all to come to Him, repent, and receive the saving ordinances of the gospel. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Savior witnesses that He suffered the pains of all and accomplished the perfect Atonement; that He was crucified, buried, and went into the world of spirits, where He declared His everlasting gospel and the doctrine of Resurrection to an innumerable company of righteous spirits; and appointed and commissioned messengers to go to the wicked and disobedient spirits and teach them.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord says that on the third day after His death He rose again and that He appeared to many, including the Nephites on the American continent and the ten tribes, that He ascended into heaven where He sits in glory on the right hand of His Father, and that He has promised to come to earth again to reign with the righteous Saints for one thousand years.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a source of great strength in increasing one’s knowledge of the Savior in every aspect. It contributes many new insights to an understanding of the Holy One of Israel. It is a book of scripture that must be read and studied diligently by the Latter-day Saints.