But besides this universal application of the atonement, whereby all men are redeemed from the effects of Adam’s transgression both with respect to the death of the body and inherited sin, there is application of the same great sacrifice as a means of propitiation for individual sins through the faith and good works of the sinner. This twofold effect of the atonement is implied in the article of our faith now under consideration. The first effect is to secure to all mankind alike, exemption from the penalty of the fall, thus providing a plan of General Salvation. The second effect is to open a way for Individual Salvation whereby mankind may secure remission of personal sins. As these sins are the result of individual acts it is just that forgiveness for them should be conditioned on individual compliance with prescribed requirements-“obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
The General Effect of the Atonement, so far as it applies to all who have arrived at years of accountability and judgment, has been demonstrated by the scriptures already quoted. Its application to children may properly receive attention. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches as a doctrine founded on reason, justice, and scripture, that all children are innocent in the sight of God, and that, until they reach an age of personal responsibility, baptism is neither requisite nor proper in their behalf; that, in short, they are saved through the atonement of Christ. To a degree, children are born heirs to the good or evil natures of their parents; the effects of heredity are admitted. Good and evil tendencies, blessings and curses, are transmitted from generation to generation. Through this divinely-appointed order, the justice of which is plain in the revealed light of knowledge concerning the antemortal state of the spirits of mankind, the children of Adam are natural heirs to the ills of mortality; but through Christ’s atonement they are all redeemed from the curse of this fallen state. The debt, which comes to them as a legacy, is paid for them and thus are they left free. Children who die before reaching the state of accountability for their acts are innocent in the eyes of God, even though they be the offspring of transgressors. We read in the Book of Mormon: “Little children cannot repent; wherefore, it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto them, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy. * * * For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law.”
The prophet Mormon, writing to his son Moroni, expressed in the following manner his conviction of the innocence of children: “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them. * * * Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach-repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world.”
In a revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith in this dispensation, the Lord has said: “But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” President John Taylor, after citing instances of Christ’s affection for little children, and proofs of the innocent condition in which they are regarded in heaven, says: “Without Adam’s trangression those children could not have existed; through the atonement they are placed in a state of salvation without any act of their own. These would embrace, according to the opinion of statisticians, more than one-half of the human family who can attribute their salvation only to the mediation and atonement of the Savior.”
The Individual Effect of the Atonement makes it possible for any and every soul to obtain absolution from the effect of personal sins, through the mediation of Christ; but such saving intercession is to be invoked by individual effort as manifested through faith, repentance, and continued works of righteousness. The laws under which individual salvation is obtainable have been prescribed by Christ, whose right it is to say how the blessings made possible by His own sacrifice shall be administered. All men are in need of the Savior’s mediation, for all are transgressors. So taught the apostles of old: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And again: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That the blessing of redemption from individual sins, while open for all to attain, is nevertheless conditioned on individual effort, is as plainly declared as is the truth of unconditional redemption from death as an effect of the fall. There is a judgment ordained for all, and all will be judged “according to their works.” The free agency of man enables him to choose or reject, to follow the path of life or the road that leads to destruction; therefore it is but just that he be held to answer for the exercise of his power of choice and that he meet the results of his acts.
Hence the justice of the scriptural doctrine that salvation comes to the individual only through obedience. “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” is said of the Christ. And further: God “will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God.” To these may be added the words of the risen Lord, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Consider further the prophecy that King Benjamin proclaimed to the Nephite multitude: Christ’s blood “atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But why multiply scriptural citations when the whole tenor of sacred writ supports the doctrine? Without Christ no man can be saved, and the salvation provided at the cost of Christ’s sufferings and bodily death is offered upon certain clearly defined conditions only; and these are summarized under “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.”
Salvation and Exaltation-Some degree of salvation will come to all who have not forfeited their right to it; exaltation is given to those only who by righteous effort have won a claim to God’s merciful liberality by which it is bestowed. Of the saved, not all will be exalted to the higher glories; rewards will not be bestowed in violation of justice; punishments will not be meted out to the ignoring of mercy. No one can be admitted to any order of glory, in short, no soul can be saved until justice has been satisfied for violated law. Our belief in the universal application of the atonement implies no supposition that all mankind will be saved with like endowments of glory and power. In the kingdom of God there are numerous degrees or gradations provided for those who are worthy of them; in the house of our Father there are many mansions, into which only those who are prepared are admitted. The false assumption, based upon sectarian dogma, that in the hereafter there shall be but two places, states, or conditions for the souls of mankind-heaven and hell, with the same glory in all parts of the one and the same terrors throughout the other-is untenable in the light of divine revelation. Through the direct word of the Lord we learn of varied kingdoms or glories.
Degrees of Glory-The revelations of God have defined the following principal kingdoms or degrees of glory, as prepared through Christ for the children of men.
1. The Celestial Glory -There are some who have striven to obey all the divine commandments, who have accepted the testimony of Christ, obeyed “the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,” and received the Holy Spirit; these are they who have overcome evil by godly works and who are therefore entitled to the highest glory; these belong to the Church of the Firstborn, unto whom the Father has given all things; they are made kings and priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek; they possess celestial bodies, “whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical”; they are admitted to the glorified company, crowned with exaltation in the celestial kingdom.
2. The Terrestrial Glory-We read of others who receive glory of a secondary order, differing from the highest as “the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.” These are they who, though honorable, failed to comply with the requirements for exaltation, were blinded by the craftiness of men and unable to receive and obey the higher laws of God. They proved “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus,” and therefore are not entitled to the fulness of glory.
3. The Telestial Glory-There is another grade, differing from the higher orders as the stars differ from the brighter orbs of the firmament; this is for those who received not the testimony of Christ, but who nevertheless, did not deny the Holy Spirit; who have led lives exempting them from the heaviest punishment, yet whose redemption will be delayed until the last resurrection. In the telestial world there are innumerable degrees comparable to the varying light of the stars. Yet all who receive of any one of these orders of glory are at last saved, and upon them Satan will finally have no claim. Even the telestial glory “surpasses all understanding; And no man knows it except him to whom God has revealed it.” Then there are those who have lost all claim upon the immediate mercy of God, whose deeds have numbered them with Perdition and his angels.