Developing a Christlike Character (David O. McKay Lesson 23)

Even As I Am

With fresh affirmation of the commandment having been given in our time, striving to become like the Father and the Son is more than an optional objective. Focusing on the personality of Jesus is an intellectual and behavioral as well as a theological imperative.

Like His Father, Jesus is perfect in love, knowledge, power, justice, judgment, kindness, mercy, patience, and truth.

Reflecting upon those eternal attributes with which we are to be seriously and constantly concerned in our lives, we see that the capacity to love is at the very center of the two great commandments. Indeed, the other commandments that follow the two great commandments seem by comparison more like helpful and needed guardrails to keep us on the straight and narrow path! Surely the primacy of love is demonstrated by its recurring appearance in the cluster of commandments.

We note, too, that the attribute of mercy is mentioned many times. We read recurringly of humility and meekness. We encounter as well the stern requirement of submissiveness. We learn of the constant need for patience. We observe how kindness, graciousness, gentleness, and easiness to be entreated are cited. We see how justice is frequently mentioned. We note judgment's role, and wisdom's.

The need for these and their attending virtues (so much to be sought after as essential to our happiness here and in the world to come) has certainly not been kept hidden. Most of all, in the Master's personality we see these attributes resplendently in action, not just generalized goodness or abstract virtuousness.

To strive to be like Him means that we must be genuinely serious about developing these same specific qualities in our own lives: "The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master."

Joseph Smith noted how long the journey will be—even for those who in this life earnestly, seriously, and constantly seek to be like Jesus: "When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave."

Jesus, of course, is the only perfect Individual to have lived upon this earth. There are references to other individuals in the scriptures who were "perfect," but these are qualified references. Concerning such comparative perfection, the words of Elder James E. Talmage are an appropriate reminder:

"Our Lord's admonition to men to become perfect, even as the Father is perfect (Matt. 5:48) cannot rationally be construed otherwise than as implying the possibility of such achievement. Plainly, however, man cannot become perfect in mortality in the sense in which God is perfect as a supremely glorified Being. It is possible, though, for man to be perfect in his sphere and in a sense analogous to that in which superior intelligences are perfect in their several spheres; yet the relative perfection of the lower is infinitely inferior to that of the higher."

Just as we can move, step by step, from faith to knowledge, so in particular dimensions of living, such as in justice or honesty, some mortals have merited the accolades of prophets "in that thing." Significantly, when such spiritually advanced individuals were described as perfect, often their "justness" was the virtue cited. Little wonder justice is so stressed, in view of this verse: "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" It is clear too that being just not only consists of fair play with one's associates and neighbors, but also reflects largeness of soul. In this broadened sense, "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."

Jesus Himself did not receive "of the fullness at first," but continued "from grace to grace, until he received a fullness." His progress was incomprehensibly more rapid than ours, but the pathway is the same; so can be the pattern of "grace to grace": "For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom."

The perfect ability to be sought is not that which some in this world think can be achieved merely by altering mankind's social, political, and economic systems. Rather, the gospel sequence is the other way around. Any secular system without sufficient human goodness and righteousness will, sooner or later, fail. We must not mistake mere scaffolding for substance.

As in all of the things we learn of Jesus, the insights available to us, which pertain directly and constantly to our lives, are incredibly important. For it was He Himself who posed the question, "What manner of men ought ye to be?" Answering the question, and being perfect in His humility but also in truth, He said: "Even as I am." He did not give us these commands merely to taunt us!

Of His utterance in Matthew 5:48 in which, in humility and in truth, He did not include Himself as a model of perfection, it was (to use Paul's intriguing phrase) accurate "for the time then present." It was only after the triumph of the Atonement and His resurrection that Jesus was fully perfected: "And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected."

As we ponder having been commanded by Jesus to become like Him, we see that our present circumstance is one in which we are not necessarily wicked, but, rather, is one in which we are so half-hearted and so lacking in enthusiasm for His cause—which is our cause, too! We extol but seldom emulate Him. So much power to do good lies within our present circumstances that, alas, goes unused; so many opportunities go ignored that could bring to pass much—not a little—righteousness.

Christ's personality, however, is such that throughout His existence, we see His love vigorously and constantly at work as he gladly used the opportunities at hand. In His first estate, He, as the virtuous volunteer, generously proffered Himself as our Savior. He has responded in love to the opportunities at hand, with the same love, humility, and submissiveness in His second estate, as He actually became our ransom to the Father, paying the price at Gethsemane and Calvary.

Now, having marked and shown the path, He, as our risen and tutoring Lord, waits for us lovingly and personally with open arms to usher us into the third estate. Such is the constancy and kindness of Christ.

Though God's plan and purpose in which Jesus is our Savior is a vast plan, it is also incredibly intimate. The fullness of His gospel thus not only denies "conveniences", it raises searching and uncomfortable questions about so many other things that are amiss in our lives—and not just those things that are amiss, but also those that are absent and unaccomplished.

In short, though Christ's message clearly gets in the way of the easy flow of carnal life, as some mortals would like to live it, it opens the only way to a more abundant life here and eternal life hereafter. Being valiant in our testimony of Jesus actually means, therefore, striving to become like Him.

For instance, while the virtue of patience, which was fully developed in Him, is never out of season, patience in tribulation will surely be a premiere virtue in the last days. Healthy self-denial in which He is the exemplar has always been important, but it is obviously relevant in a time of suffocating selfishness as so many empty their lives of meaning in a wrong- headed search for self-fulfillment. Submissiveness, in which Jesus showed the way, has always involved tutorial suffering, but this attribute becomes even more important at a time when our individual tutoring will be overlain with the tutoring of a whole people—for purposes wise unto the Lord.

Likewise, as we examine Christ's capacity to love, we observe the fact that He loves us enough to condescend to train us, to help us become what we have the power to become, which is so very much more than we now are. True love is more than mild regard. True love includes a willingness to teach and to train as parents, for instance, are to do. Thus, as the love of many waxes cold in our time, one of the consequences is the failure to teach and train.

Unlike our love, Jesus' love consists of active restraint as well as pressing encouragement. His perfect love of each and all spares Him the need to accept us as we now are, for He knows perfectly what we have the possibility to become. Mercifully, He did not accept (and leave it at that) Enoch as an inarticulate lad or Moses as a privileged member of Pharaoh's court. There was a city to build and a desert to be crossed, with whole peoples waiting and needing to be led. Therefore, the Father and the Son's love of us is not a passive love that merely watches indulgently over us in our folly. In fact, their love is a pressing love that seeks to correct our folly; it is a determined love that can create an uncomfortable and godly sorrow in us. Remember, Jesus suffered for our sins; He knows perfectly what constructive sorrow we should be experiencing in order to be cleansed. His justice will insist on such needed and cleansing sorrow, for nothing less will do. Because His love of us is true charity, He will not spare us, since to exempt us would be to deny us. It is better that there be sorrow now so that later on there can be a fullness of joy.

Jesus taught us that life consists not in the abundance of the things we possess, but in how rich we are "toward God." Keeping the commandments is vital in our progress toward God—and so is working on each thing that is lacking—as in the case of the good, rich, and noble young man who inquired of Jesus. We too may shrink from such confronting moments, but they will come, and what we lack will be made plainly and painfully clear. We will not be able to say we were not shown and reminded repeatedly. Therefore, as we search the scriptures, our focus should be upon that which will tell us what we must do (to become as He is) and upon that which will stir us so to do. And the very word search means from the beginning to the latest unfolding of Holy Writ.

Even the first recorded words of Jesus Christ clearly indicate certain of His attributes. These constitute our earliest clues as to what we must become if we are to be like Him. The very special words appeared in response to the inquiry of the Eternal Father, who, speaking of the need for a Redeemer for us in our second estate, asked, "Whom shall I send?" Standing on that promontory of the unfolding plan of salvation, Jesus replied, "Here am I, send me," revealing Himself as qualified and desirous of submissively serving others. Unsurprisingly, Jesus' premortal characteristics and qualities were to be prominent in His mortal ministry, yet these attributes were part of His character ages before He walked the Holy Land.

And what were His last recorded words as on the cross He ended His mortal ministry? "It is finished." He had meekly and submissively done—perfectly and gloriously—that which He had been sent forth to do. This utterance also tells us of His obedience, His persistence, and His endurance, for in the Joseph Smith Translation we read, "Father, it is finished, thy will is done."

The Savior's supernal service gave Him true and full joy as He gladly attested when, following His resurrection, He visited the lost sheep in the Americas, taught and blessed them, and, weeping twice, said, "And now behold, my joy is full." 20 Therein we see a "finished" Soul who was perfected in His love and obedience, perfected in His capacity to render service.

Christ was completely free of any of the ego considerations we mortals have come to know altogether too well in ourselves and in others. Were our Lord a lesser man, He might have derived pleasure from succulent status instead of joy from service. Were He a lesser being, He might have made a truly exceptional showing in mortality but still not have endured well until all His work was genuinely finished.

There will be another time when He will once again use those same special three words: "It is finished; it is finished." Then in full spiritual celebration of the end of the world, the Lamb of God, who has overcome and who has trodden the winepress alone, will signify the finale of that remarkable achievement—at the center of which achievement is His marvelous love of all and His submissiveness, which brought about the atonement for all.

Meanwhile, as the mortal scene winds down, in His mercy Christ has offered to "stay [His] hand in judgment." We must never forget how He became perfect in His mercy. Meanwhile, though He might overwhelm us in His omnipotence, He has indicated that He lets His works bear witness of Him.

If our emulation of Him is to be serious, amid rampant egoism, we should ponder how, through "all of these things," He was so self-disciplined and how His self-discipline was aided by His meekness. Meekness can be a great help to us all in coping with the injustices of life and also in avoiding the abuse of authority and power, to which tendency most succumb—except the meek.

In that premortal council, when Jesus meekly volunteered, saying, "Here am I, send me," it was one of those significant moments when a few words are preferred to many. Never has one individual offered, in so few words, to do so much for so many as did Jesus when he meekly proffered Himself as ransom for all of us, billions and billions of us!

By contrast, in our unnecessary multiplication of words, there is not only a lack of clarity but often an abundance of vanity. Sometimes, too, our verbosity is a cover for insincerity or uncertainty. If there could be more subtraction of self, there would be less multiplication of words.

God's refusal to overwhelm and to conform mankind by His sheer power reflects not only His gentleness but also His justice; He desires to preserve our free agency. The Father and our Savior desire to lead us through love, for if we were merely driven where They wish us to go, we would not be worthy to be there, and surely we could not stay there. They are Shepherds, not sheepherders. If, however, we freely follow—coming, experience upon experience, to be more like Them, knowing the fellowship of Christ's sufferings, and standing our ground in holy places—then will come the resplendent reunion and the unending and ultimate belonging. Meanwhile, we can be sure that holy ground and holy places include the straight and narrow path.

We receive yet another revealing glimpse of divine constraint in the very nature of the voice our Father in heaven used in introducing His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Americas after Jesus' resurrection. Of that gentle voice we read:

"And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn."

We see this divine concern over preserving our agency in still other ways. Though Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him, yet He did not try to compel him otherwise. At the Last Supper, He did not publicly point an accusing finger at Judas, which would certainly have brought rebuke and scorn from Judas's apostolic peers. We know that Jesus' love was such that He, more than any mortal, would have rejoiced had Judas changed in his heart and forgone the self-chosen role of betrayer. Did not Jesus as Jehovah spare thousands in Nineveh? But Jesus knew Judas' heart and its intent; the rest is a matter of sad record.

Jeremiah described the Lord's justice well: "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doing."

Even so, the Lord's commitment to agency is more than gentleness, and it is not indulgent kindness either. It bespeaks a love that recognizes the reality of how true individual growth actually occurs. Everything depends, therefore, upon us and upon our continued openness to spiritual things. Our souls are constantly at risk and in movement. Jesus said we are either increasing or shrinking: "For whosoever receiveth, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever continueth not to receive, from him shall be taken away even that he hath."

Jesus' openness to joy and His humility and meekness are equally impressive at every turn. Of the Lord who directed the miracle of the loaves, John recorded, "There came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks." Christ, the fashioner of the miracle of the loaves, actually and genuinely thanked His Father for the bread! It was a real prayer of gratitude, not simply pedagogy to teach His disciples to pray. Christ, the Bread of Life, was thankful for some crusts of bread. Oh, how in attitude as well as in action those of us guilty of the sin of ingratitude must strive to be like Him!

Jesus' townspeople were among the first mortals to witness another dimension of His kindness; they are recorded as marveling, early in His ministry, at his "gracious words"—not alone the carpenter's son's fluency, but also His graciousness. Should it surprise us that it was so, since the Lord is gracious? So it should be with us in our associations and conversations. Graciousness is a dimension of love; it is also practical, for it provides among other things a helpful context for correcting candor when candor is needed.

Is there not deep humility in Him, the majestic Miracle Worker who, nevertheless, acknowledged, "I can of myself do nothing"? Must not Christ's qualities of humility and meekness in relation to our Father in heaven become ours too? Jesus never doubted His power, but He was never confused about its source, either.

Each truth He declared and each trait He displayed mark the way we are to follow. For example, in striving to be more submissive, we must ponder the reality that while Jesus perfected the attribute of obedience, the process involved exquisite suffering. In our day and in our tongue, the resurrected Jesus described His atoning sufferings as "how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not." Exquisite is defined as transcending—but also as flawless, finished, perfected. The tempering role of tribulation is thus described—but not only for Jesus.

Likewise, in the midst of our temptations we are reminded that Jesus achieved all that He did even as the adversary afflicted Him, departing, at best, only "for a season." Can we—dare we—ask for immunity from the shaping of righteous suffering when there was none for Him? Or exemption from temptations? He will give us His exceptional grace, but He will not make us exceptions to the required conditions of the second estate.

All such incidents and insights as are provided for us by our Exemplar should both enhance our esteem and love for Him and deepen our own determination amid our own sufferings and temptations. It is overwhelming to know, after what He passed through for us, that we who will have passed through so much less will still find that He waits for us "with open arms." Does not this promised posture signify the blending of His attributes of meekness, mercy, and love?

And when we are weary in well doing, it is reassuring to note that the Father and the Son are working as well as loving Gods. No doubt the latter attribute explains the former. Jesus said, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." The imagery, therefore, of working out our salvation is fitting. Besides, we soon learn that the straight and narrow path is neither a freeway nor an escalator. There can be no excellence without effort, and no true love without service. His works witness that it is everlastingly so.

Yet Jesus' meekness was balanced by His justice, as shown in His righteous indignation. In the synagogue, the elders of the establishment saw His look of fierce anger even as He performed a stunning service: "And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other."

We who live in a time of ethical relativism see much relative—rather than righteous—indignation. That is all the more cause to marvel at Jesus' unexcelled example.

In His perfected justice and knowledge, Jesus sees "things as they really are." "But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth: for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

Thus, though we may safely repose in God's mercy, yet He, as Jeremiah has said, is perfect in His execution of justice and judgment. It is best that we know what His standards are by which we shall be judged, for the apostle John has observed, His judgment is unvarying and true. Jesus has even said there will be no laws but His laws at His coming. Think upon those sociopolitical implications!

Has not the Lord with equal truth and relevance told us, concerning the resources of this planet, "For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare"? Should not this reality sober us in terms of what might be achieved as regards to poverty? Clearly, it is the attribute of love, not other resources, that is in short supply—a scarcity that inevitably means misery.

Little wonder, then, that His love and compassion are attributes that underlie the mercy-filled and moving statement: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" Do we not hear a longitudinal lamentation from Jehovah, now Jesus of Nazareth, reflecting centuries of insensitivity and unresponsiveness toward Him on the part of ancient Israel? Whoever constituted the immediate audience the day of that lamentation, they were, in a sense, stand-ins for earlier throngs.

As we think of Jesus' role as a shepherd for all on this planet (and who knows how many more), it is subduing to ponder His complete compassion and mercy during His mortal ministry. "But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd."

When Jesus told Peter three times to feed His sheep, what other words of counsel would we expect to come from Him who is the loving "great and true shepherd"? Not only does this Shepherd number His sheep, but He knows and loves them perfectly. He is the perfect Shepherd.

He not only watches over His sheep today, but prepares them for the morrow. When Jesus chided a sleepy and fatigued Peter, James, and John, saying, "Could ye not watch with me one hour?," surely the memories of that moment must, in later times, have spurred those three to sustain "unwearied diligence" in their unfolding apostleship.

Though Jesus now governs galaxies, yet of a night He stood by Paul when Paul was in jail. We do not fully understand how Jesus oversees His vast flock and also provides such individualization in His ministry, but we are counseled: "Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend."

It is one of the hallmarks of human vanity that we assume, because we cannot do something, that God cannot do it either. Is it not marvelous that the Father and the Son blend perfect love and perfect power? Moreover, in the above scripture we see not only that we are to believe in God, but also that we are to believe in what kind of God He is—including believing in the attribute cited in this scripture, His omniscience. Peter so understood when, in response to the thrice-put query, "Lovest thou me?," he said, "Lord, thou knowest all things."

We cannot possibly appreciate the majesty and the complexity of the ongoing duties of galactic governance that rest upon Jesus Christ; but as the Shepherd, He did not merely create other worlds and then abandon them. Even so, as the omniscient Creator, He does not rush to tell us things about these other worlds that we neither need to know nor could appreciate. Instead, what He tells us is what we need to know, including that which can reinforce us in our spiritual determination. As immensely important as the truths about the physical universe are, they are not now that which we most need to know. Nephi had the proper sense of proportion: "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."

Does not God even describe the immensity of the galaxies, the planets, and the stars, in lovable as well as understandable ways? Though He might do so in sweeping technical and astrophysical terms that we could not even understand, He asks us to think in a familial way about faithful Abraham's posterity one day being as numberless as the stars in heaven. What is presented is beckoning rather than overwhelming. Further, we are asked to view the cosmos as evidence of "God moving in his majesty and power," attesting that, in God's work, souls matter most!

God's work is unimaginably difficult work. It is very real, very relentless and repetitive. His course is one eternal round, He has said. But His work is also His glory. And we, His children everywhere, are His work. We are at the center of His purposes and concerns. "We are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."

Moreover, in the Pearl of Great Price, we read that "millions of earths" would be just a beginning to the number of the Lord's creations. However, as Enoch beheld them "stretched out" into space, his awe did not spring from the numerical or spatial dimensions of God's creations but, rather, from the implications underlying those numbers. Enoch responded movingly and with awe—but it was over God's attributes, not His "acreage": "Thou art there [actuality], . . . thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever [personality]"!

Once we get ourselves straight about our relationship with our Father in heaven and His eternal purposes for us, then perhaps we can know something more about the relationships of the planets and the stars. But these are not of comparatively useful significance for us at the moment.

We need to make constant allowance for the fact that Jesus Christ, in His omniscience, will operate beyond our ken: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." Our mortal ways are lower ways.

In affirming Paul's counsel that "our sufficiency is of God," we are, perhaps without knowing it, acknowledging the grand reality that the Father has made known to us that Jesus Christ is the most intelligent being ever to grace this planet. Indeed, He is not only more intelligent than all other humans combined—He is perfect in knowledge.

As we ponder intelligence, a summational strength and attribute of Jesus, it is vital that we understand that intelligence includes more than raw IQ; it includes judgment—and not only in the judicial sense. He who has intelligence, or the light of truth, will forsake completely "that evil one." To forsake the evil one, as Jesus did, is an act of high intelligence and superlative wisdom.

And how laden with meaning are the words chosen by a Jesus perfect in His brilliance as He describes His experiences! For instance, how agonizing it must have been for Christ, who was innocent, to trod the winepress alone. In order to satisfy divine justice, He had to endure "the fierceness of the wrath of almighty God." He had to endure such "fierceness" because, in fact, He had taken upon Him all our transgressions, sins that clearly, grossly, and repeatedly violated the commandments of God; the price had to be paid, a price that we ourselves could not even begin to pay. When, therefore, Christ uses words like fierceness and exquisite to describe His sufferings, we are left to tremble over that which we cannot fully fathom.

We cannot know, we cannot tell, we cannot appreciate, what those moments must have been like. We do know that it caused Him to bleed at every pore. If His Father required such of Him, His Beloved and Only Begotten, we should not be surprised with the seeming fierceness encapsulated in the wintry doctrines as these are applied to our own life experiences.

Throughout the scriptures we find evidence upon evidence of His striking and marvelous personality. We learn of how the Lord of lords and King of kings rules over His creations, which are so vast as to be numberless to us, but not to Him. Yet He says that He will stand in our midst, for we are His people. His governance of galaxies does not prevent His giving us collective and individual attention, just as He watched over nomadic, ancient Israel by day and gave them light by night.

He is not a passive God who merely watches lights on a cosmic computer and presses buttons to implement previously laid plans; He is a personal God who is just, merciful, and kind. His great desire is not to count His creations like so many coins, but to bind up the broken hearts of the inhabitants of each world: sanctification, not quantification, is His work. Has Christ not even promised us that, sooner or later, every soul that forsakes sin shall see His face? Further, that He will appear unto His servants? His desire is to reassure us as directly as we are prepared to receive. Though He is just, He is not exclusionary; His invitations to us are far more numerous than the conditions attached thereto.

Who but merciful and discerning Jesus could be betrayed, arrested, and forsaken, and yet extend to a one-time persecutor, Saul, the great apostolic calling? Later on, the same Creator of this and other worlds stood by a jailed and persecuted Paul in the night.

What other ruler has taken (or would even think of taking) upon Him all the sicknesses and infirmities of His subjects? Who else could say, as did He, "for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they might also be sanctified through the truth"?

His atonement was made feasible because it flowed from His attributes, for He was, as Paul wrote, "obedient unto death." As a part of becoming perfect, however, He "learned obedience by the things which he suffered." Can we, being infinitely less prepared and able, expect to learn obedience in some shortcut way without some suffering?

This remarkable Being describes us lovingly as "the people of his pasture." This Shepherd has surely watched over us—but at so great a cost to Himself! Are we not gladdened and reassured that the Father of our Shepherd "knoweth all things from the beginning," and has prepared "a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power to the fulfilling of all his words"?

Yes, even His perfection in knowledge is part of His holiness: "O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it." How merciful is God in His omniscience, which qualities we must not misread. Just as we can ask questions even God cannot answer (How much does love weigh?), so too we can ask God questions for which there are ready answers—but answers for which we are not ready. Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?" But the Lord of truth did not deem Pilate ready for or worthy of the answer.

Each of Christ's roles and titles are a "designation with an implication": Redeemer, Messiah, Lord of lords, King of kings, the Author and Finisher of Salvation, Wonderful, Counselor, the Great and True Shepherd, and so on. There is an immense truth contained in each role and title. The designations, such as the Lord God Omnipotent, are worthy of contemplation. Did not King Benjamin urge us to "believe in God . . . believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth"? Even with His omnipotence, however, the Lord God, in His perfect justice, can seal us to Him only if we are "always abounding in good works." And the works we are to do are those things which He did—and of which he told us to go and "do likewise."

The other indicators of the Master's personality are many. Yes, He is boundlessly merciful—but He does require our heart! Yes, He forgives sins—but in His perfect justice He determines whom and how He will forgive. This is not caprice; it is but a reminder to us in our finite perceptions not to second- guess Him who has all the facts and is perfect in mercy and justice. Significantly for us, He forgives those who forgive. Unsurprisingly, these are those who are themselves becoming forgiving—like Him!

So it is that in studying and writing about Jesus, one realizes that in the Savior we are confronted with a real personality—not a person of vague virtues nor of abstract attributes, but a genuine and real personality. This latter dimension of His divinity is often subordinated, however unintentionally, to His roles and missions.

Even His wintry doctrines tell us much, not only about His truths enunciated therein, but also about Jesus. One such wintry doctrine with seemingly icy implications is this: "And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, . . . if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good."

There clearly are certain things to be learned by experience "according to the flesh," and our Tutor will not hesitate to immerse us in the needed experiences. Are not all of these, His attributes in action, part of what is called "the testimony of Jesus Christ"?

Jesus' divinity is not only a reality; it is a very directing and drawing reality. We are to "feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell [us] all"—all, not some—of the things we should do. And, so often, "what" we are to do is to be learned from the "what" of the Lord we worship. So the truly Christ-centered life is one in which—without being incantational—"we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ.

At the gate to heaven, Christ, the King of kings, waits for us with open arms. He awaits not only to certify us, but also to bestow a Shepherd's divine affection upon His sheep as we come Home. The reality that, if we are worthy, we should one day be so warmly received by the Lord of lords and King of kings is marvelous beyond comprehension!

Yet He cannot fully receive us until we fully follow Him. His love for us is unconditional and perfect, but ours for Him is clearly not. Being just, He cannot deviate from His standards by giving us blessings without our obedience to the laws upon which such blessings are predicated. His devotion to truth is such that even in His mercy, He cannot lie, including to Himself, about our readiness. He knows our weaknesses, but, mercifully, He also knows how to succor us as we seek to cope with them. And whatever weaknesses remain in us, He will tutor us and train us to exculpate these, if we will but let Him.

Let others, if they choose, advocate lesser lords or causes for mankind. Only Jesus, truly and fully, advocates the basic and central cause of mankind. Christ's advocacy is advocacy with perfect empathy and mercy. Being sinless Himself, the wounds and scars He bears are actually ours. After all, He was "wounded for our transgressions." He loved us so dearly that He voluntarily laid down His life for us. Furthermore, even though He gives us demanding commandments and stern tasks, He has mercifully promised to prepare a way for us to keep and to fulfill all of them.

Oh, how glorious and wonderful is "this Jesus Christ"!

If contemplating the doing all of these things—to become more and more like Him—makes us feel discouraged, intimidated, and overwhelmed, we need to remember that He never said it all had to be done in a day. Rather, if we could not travel fast, we could at least be steadfast and press forward, doing things in wisdom and order and in a pattern of paced progress, first achieving correct direction and then added momentum. It is the labor of a lifetime and more.

The conditions upon which true joy are based (joy such as He has) are fixed and cannot be altered. It is merely a question of whether or not we wish to come to terms with those conditions—now or later. It is a decision in which, in the justness of God, we are the sole determinants. When we do so decide, we are really in no position to dictate the terms of our own surrender—especially to Him who suffered for our sins, which suffering caused Him to "bleed at every pore."

As we ponder the attributes to be developed and eventually to be perfected, it is helpful to contemplate what happens when we not only lack the desired attributes but, instead, display their very opposites: "And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood."

The Lord's indignation is kindled when we refuse to keep the two great commandments, which tell us to follow Him and to love one another. His indignation is truly aflame when we live without affection for our fellows and hate our own blood. Why? Is it merely because we miss two points on an abstract checklist? Rather, it is because in lacking those attributes, we inflict so much misery upon others and upon ourselves. Furthermore, we thereby follow Satan, the father of misery. We chose not to follow Lucifer once: let us not go back on that decision now!

One important point must be made about the quality of the eternal attributes: In acknowledging His patience or mercy, even when we do it worshipfully, we are only acknowledging mercy and patience as we now know them. His perfection of these two attributes places His mercy and patience (and this is true also with all the other virtues) almost beyond our reach or understanding. The most clear-cut and laudatory act of mercy we have known or the most superlative display of patience within our experience does not even approach His mercy and patience. At best, our degree of development is only "a type and shadow of things which are to come."

True, our experiences tell us what these attributes are, but only as a sample of beautiful carpet tells us what a whole room will be like when so furnished. It is not simply that Jesus has developed all the attributes, but also that He has developed them so completely and perfectly.

If His patience or mercy were like ours, it would not have been sufficient to give Aaron another chance to redeem himself after his errors. If His submissiveness were like ours, then after a few skirmishes with Jewish authorities that tested His obedience to the Father, Jesus would have sought a reasonable settlement instead of marching courageously onto Gethsemane and Golgotha.

To make such allowances for His unique personality, at least as best we can, marks the difference between the mere admiration of Him and the greater adoration of Him, between verbal veneration and genuine emulation. Verbal veneration is like tipping one's hat and nodding with a smile—instead of falling upon one's knees. In like manner, if we are only mildly responsive to Him, we will stop short of the serious pursuit of His challenge to become like Him.

Only when what He is begins to dawn more fully upon us—and to fill us with awe instead of respect—will we really follow Him. Only when what we are ponders the many-splendored "I Am" can we truly begin to respond to His invitation to follow Him: "And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?"

Those who say there is danger in regarding Him as so far out of reach as to make following Him an intimidation must recall that the invitation to follow comes from Him. The offer of help for that long journey also comes from Him. So will the tutoring come from Him—for we cannot bear all things yet. All He asks, initially, is that we leave our entangling nets. He will lead us along, line upon line and precept upon precept.

Indeed, when we say that Jesus will "never leave us alone," we intend to say that He will not desert us. But His determination consists of much more than that: He will insistently press upon us the promptings and thoughts and experiences that will be for our good. He will not let us alone when pressing on, instead of pausing, is needed. Or a reminder instead of repose. Or a lesson instead of luxury. Or deprivation instead of accumulation. Or submissiveness instead of selfishness.

In such moments, we will know the Shepherd, not alone in reassuring and comforting mental imagery of holy scripture, but also in the relentless application of His attributes to our lives. There can be no discounting of His personality then, no waving off of the immense and tugging truth that each of His traits represents, and no relegating of Him to a more relaxed role in our lives. He will not have it. Mercifully for us, He will not have it!

How privileged we are, therefore, when we have "come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men.

We do not know with any precision exactly what we "brought with us" from being intelligences as, later on, we become spirit sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. But we can scarcely blame God for our untoward propensities, for it is clear that God did not fashion us ex nihilo. Our intrinsic makeup is not His responsibility; there is no such "easy out" in the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the input from our intelligence state was a "given" within which God Himself had to work—in which case it would help to explain why this proving estate is so vital and why our obedience to God is so important.

We cannot presume to understand Jesus' relationship with the Father unless we first take account of the fact that Jesus Christ Himself was the great and perfect Emulator, for He "can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do; . . . for the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth." With Jesus Himself such a careful and observing follower and student of His Father, it is not surprising to read of His paying such careful attention to His followers and His students.

The Father so schooled His Only Begotten Son that through suffering He learned obedience. He was meek and submissive, though egregiously abused: "They have done unto the Son of Man even as they listed." No wonder He made His marvelous petition to the Father: "Glorify thou me with thine own glory which I had with thee before the world was," which gives us an inkling about how it must have been before—when Jesus served His apprenticeship by observing all things that the Father Himself had done before Him.

At a divinely determined developmental point, the Father gave all power unto Jesus because of the latter's perfectness and proven righteousness; so all things have been given into Christ's hands. Now He hath "all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth." Even so, He reigns with power according to the will of the Father.

This perfect Student became the perfect Teacher. And we are His students! The invitation is as real as it is imploring:

"Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in no wise deny the power of God."

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com