I understand that the sentiment of the title is a play on words, but I chose it to make a point. In my searching through Conference talks I haven’t found any of the specifics I was hoping to find, so in this article I am applying the principle that as the Father is, so is the Son. To save the one, as in the one lost sheep or the one lost soul, is what the Father is all about. This same principle pervades everything Jesus did anciently, and what his servants do today as well. So let’s look at how the Atonement, which provides the path to redemption for all, is really focused on the individual, and not just the collective.
The universal nature of the Atonement
In 1 Corinthians 15:22 we read, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” This tells us that the atonement is universal in its scope. By choosing to have children through eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve brought death, both physical and spiritual, on themselves and on their posterity. Since we are all their posterity, that makes our separation from God and our physical death a universal condition that was imposed on us all the moment we entered mortality.
This is the very problem Jesus was sent to earth to remedy. His atonement that started in the garden of Gethsemane appeased the law of justice, which demanded an eternal penalty be paid for our violation of God’s laws. This payment made on our behalf makes it possible for us to repent so we can walk back into the presence of our Father in Heaven free of guilt. Christ’s resurrection opened the door for all of us to be able to be resurrected. This second part of His work was a gift, freely given to all of God’s children, despite any merit on our part. Even the most wicked and rebellious of God’s children in mortality will receive this blessing.
While it is true that we all have the door opened for us to be able to repent and be forgiven, this is something that has to be done on an individual basis. Your repentance will not save me, and my repentance will not save you. The Atonement is universal in that it makes the opportunity to repent equally available to all, but that repentance must be an individual’s own choice and done through his/her own efforts. Resurrection is a guarantee for all, but salvation is not.
The true focus of the Atonement
In Mosiah 15:10-14 Abinadi is nearing the end of his declarations to the wicked priests of Noah. (Sometimes I wonder if most of his speech wasn’t actually intended for Alma’s ears, since the other priests were a lost cause, but that is neither here nor there for this topic.) This is where Abinadi is teaching the purpose of the Atonement, as well as the scope of the Atonement.
10 And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed?
11 Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.
12 For these are they whose sins he has borne; these are they for whom he has died, to redeem them from their transgressions. And now, are they not his seed?
13 Yea, and are not the prophets, every one that has opened his mouth to prophesy, that has not fallen into transgression, I mean all the holy prophets ever since the world began? I say unto you that they are his seed.
14 And these are they who have published peace, who have brought good tidings of good, who have published salvation; and said unto Zion: Thy God reigneth!
Notice that anyone who wants to repent may repent and the Atonement of Christ will cover their sins. But Abinadi also says that “when [Christ’s] soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed.” He then defines who qualifies as the seed or posterity of Christ. In other words, who will spiritually become his sons and his daughters. Those whom God has “given” to Christ to be his are those who choose to repent and live their lives in hope for forgiveness of sins and who are willing to publish peace and declare the gospel or good tidings of good to all people. These are they who are willing to openly declare the truth about their God.
This group obviously does not include all of the human race. It only includes those who are willing to repent of their sins to follow Jesus. Those who are unwilling to do so will have to suffer in hell after this life. Why? Because they were unwilling to accept the payment Christ made in their behalf, so they have to suffer even as He suffered. In this aspect, the Atonement is completely about the individual and about our personal choices.
This is speculation on my part, but when I read the phrase, “he shall see his seed,” I wonder if, while in the process of suffering for our sins, he actually came to know each of us personally, and came to understand our individual sufferings and sorrows. If you know of any sermon by a prophet that says anything to this effect, I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment and let us all know where we can find it. If it isn’t available then it will remain my personal speculation. It certainly fits with the personality of Christ to do so.
The modern quest for the One
Just recently, from Elder David A. Bednar, I learned that the focus of the Apostleship, though it deals with declaring Christ to the world, is all about saving and serving the One. In a Facebook post dated 3/15/2016 he said:
Our world tends to be drawn to promises of big results that occur quickly and all at once. In contrast, the Lord typically ministers one by one. Part of the majesty and beauty of the gospel is that the Lord knows and sees each of His children as an individual, as a “one.”
Many people inside and outside of the Church see the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and associate us with speaking in general conference or presiding in large meetings, and certainly we do that. But the ministry of an Apostle is to minister one by one—to find the one.
I was again reminded of this principle while on assignment in South America recently. Whether meeting with youth, young single adults, missionaries, stake and ward leaders, or members, I found myself asking, “Who am I supposed to find and influence appropriately and righteously—or to provide comfort or counsel—or to help them do something that is hard?” My love and admiration for these faithful people grew as I was guided to many “ones.”
Prior to this posting, in a talk he gave to the Saints in England, he said:
“The ministry of a member of the Twelve is always to find individuals,” he said, “following the principle from the Book of Mormon, ‘one by one.’ An Apostle is always searching for the ones the Lord sent him to find . . . to lift, to bless, to do something to help an individual or a family. When meeting with a group of members, of youth, or of young single adults, it is not that there is an audience of fifteen hundred; there are fifteen hundred ‘ones.’”
Even in the parable of the Good Shepherd, the shepherd, who is in charge of all the sheep, focuses all his care and concern on saving any individual sheep who strays. It is always the one who needs the help that gets the attention from the Lord. We learn the same principle when we are told that if we labor all our days and save only one soul, how great shall be our joy. The Lord values us as individuals, not as a collective. I will venture to say that If Christ had to pay the same price for one that he has paid for all, he would still do it. We are that precious to our Father and His Son.
The lesson we need to learn
The value of the One is the lesson we each need to come to appreciate for ourselves. Elder M. Russell Ballard gave a talk entitled, “The Atonement and the Value of One Soul.” Here are some quotes from his talk.
We are part of [God’s] family. He is not a father in some allegorical or poetic sense. He is literally the Father of our spirits. He cares for each one of us. Though this world has a way of diminishing and demeaning men and women, the reality is we are all of royal, divine lineage. In that unprecedented appearance of the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove, the very first word spoken by the Father of us all was the personal name of Joseph. Such is our Father’s personal relationship with each of us. He knows our names and yearns for us to become worthy to return to live with Him.
Here are some individual thoughts from the rest of his talk:
- Brothers and sisters, I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God. I believe our Heavenly Father’s everlasting purpose for His children is generally achieved by the small and simple things we do for one another. At the heart of the English word atonement is the word one. If all mankind understood this, there would never be anyone with whom we would not be concerned, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or social or economic standing.
- Surely, if the Atonement of Christ was foremost in the minds of ward and branch leaders, no new or reactivated member would ever be neglected. Because every soul is so precious, leaders will counsel together to see that each one is taught the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Sadly, in today’s world, a person’s importance is often judged by the size of the audience before which he or she performs. That is how media and sports programs are rated, how corporate prominence is sometimes determined, and often how governmental rank is obtained. That may be why roles such as father, mother, and missionary seldom receive standing ovations. Fathers, mothers, and missionaries “play” before very small audiences. Yet, in the eyes of the Lord, there may be only one size of audience that is of lasting importance—and that is just one, each one, you and me, and each one of the children of God. The irony of the Atonement is that it is infinite and eternal, yet it is applied individually, one person at a time.
This last paragraph, I am sure, was written for me. Sometimes I worry about the number of people I reach when I write something and post it online. I figure that the more people I can reach the more good I can do. (That may or may not be true.) What I forget is that it is the individual that is most important. If what I write is able to help even one person strengthen their testimony then haven’t I been successful in my endeavor? It is, after all, about the one. It is today’s society that stresses that if we don’t have immense audiences then we are not successful.
As we think about the vast reach of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, I hope we will remember that even though it is meant for all, it can only be applied one soul at a time. Each person must choose to accept this gift and apply it in their life by being obedient and faithful to Christ’s commandments. It is our responsibility to help each other desire to accept this gift. It is our responsibility to serve and sacrifice as much in our own way as He did for us, so that as many people as possible will want to accept His offer of salvation and exaltation. To the degree we accept this responsibility, we also personally accept His sacrifice for us. We really are in this effort to save all of God’s children together. As the three musketeers of literary fame put it, “All for one, and one for all.”