As a young boy playing baseball with my friends, I hit the ball over the playground fence and broke the neighbor's large glass window. The last few times the ball had gone over the fence, we were told to be careful. But I was not careful. Frightened, we all ran away.
In the evening, I felt so bad that I told my mother what had happened. My mother was a widow, and we were very poor at the time. But she said that I must go to the neighbor and apologize. And she said, "Here is the money you must take."
I was afraid to go by myself, so my mother said, "I will come with you." She apologized to the neighbor and paid the money for me. During the next few months I earned small amounts every week and finally paid back what I owed my mother.
I learned a great lesson from my mother. The thing I did wrong must be apologized for and must be paid for. But at that time, I couldn't afford to pay. So my mother sacrificed to pay on my behalf. If my mother had not helped me and insisted that I apologize, my feelings of guilt and shame would have stayed with me for a long time. And I could never have faced my neighbor again.
A Loving Lesson
Years later, after I had learned about the Atonement of Christ, I thought again about what my mother had done for me. She taught me about justice and restitution, about love and sacrifice. At that time, we had not yet been introduced to the restored gospel. But I'm sure my mother was concerned about me and about the kind of man I would become. That is why she was so careful to teach me what was right as she understood it.
Imagine how Father Lehi must have felt as he taught his sons and their families one last time before he died. He was not just concerned about those he had brought to the promised land, but he was concerned about the generations who would follow. Lehi taught his children about the law and justice. He taught them about redemption, mercy, and grace. He taught them of the sacred mission of Jesus Christ, of His Resurrection, and of the true meaning of the Atonement.
Speaking to his son Jacob, Lehi taught that "men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil" (2 Ne. 2:5). Moroni tells us that "the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil" (Moro. 7:16). Even as a boy I knew that I had done something wrong when I broke the window and ran away.
I knew that I must respect the property of others. Now I know that it was because of "the Spirit of Christ" that I felt what I did was wrong. Lehi says, "The law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever" (2 Ne. 2:5).
"By the law no flesh is justified" (2 Ne. 2:5). This statement teaches me several things. One is that because "the law is given unto men" (2 Ne. 2:5), we know the standard we must live by. Paul told the Romans, "Where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15). But "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Even though I did not mean to break the neighbor's window, I really had no excuse. Because we are mortal and imperfect, we all break the law.
Another thing Lehi's statement teaches me is that the law alone does not have power to save us, whether it is the law of Moses or the gospel law. Paul taught, "A man is not justified by the works of the law, ... for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16). Abinadi warned that "salvation doth not come by the law alone" (Mosiah 13:28).
The Lord says that no unclean thing can dwell in His presence (see Moses 6:57). Sin causes estrangement from God our Father. Lehi explains, "By the law men are cut off. Yea, ... they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever" (2 Ne. 2:5).
When I broke the window, I was unable to pay for it at the time. And my poor mother was barely able to pay. If the damage had been greater, she too would have been unable to pay without borrowing the money. But she was able to pay, and I was even able to repay her over time.
The debt of sin is a very different matter. We are all in debt, unable to pay for our own sins, let alone pay for the sins of another. King Benjamin taught, "Ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father" (Mosiah 2:34). He also taught that "the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins" (Mosiah 3:16). We are truly "indebted unto him" (Mosiah 2:24).
While they were still on their journey from Jerusalem, Lehi had taught his family that "all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on [their] Redeemer" (1 Ne. 10:6). Now, just before his death, Lehi repeated his teaching and testimony of the Savior and His redemption:
"Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth.
"Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered" (2 Ne. 2:6-7).
Our Sacrifice in Return
Jesus Christ gave Himself as a sacrifice for us. But He paid the price of sin only for those who offer their own sacrifice in return: "Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (D&C 59:8).
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) defined a broken heart and a contrite spirit this way: "Godly sorrow ... is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having `a broken heart and a contrite spirit.' "
But even after all we can do--repenting, having a broken heart and a contrite spirit--Lehi reminds us "that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Ne. 2:8). As Nephi says later, "It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do" (2 Ne. 25:23).
Lehi also bears testimony of the wonderful doctrine of the Resurrection. After the Savior laid down His life for our sins, He "taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, [He] being the first that should rise" (2 Ne. 2:8).
"Wherefore, he ... shall make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved" (2 Ne. 2:9). The prophet Abinadi explains that Jesus Christ's intercession means "standing betwixt [the children of men] and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice" (Mosiah 15:9).
Compared to what the Savior has done for all of us, what my mother did for me is such a tiny thing. But in her wisdom, she planted in my heart the seed of an important understanding. When she paid for my "transgression," she took me with her. I had to meet the offended neighbor face to face. Lehi tells us that "because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him" (2 Ne. 2:10).
If I was ashamed to stand in front of my neighbor, how would it feel to stand in the presence of God if I have not repented and not repaid what I have done and truly come unto Christ and been redeemed?
I am so grateful for my Redeemer. And I am grateful for the law. Lehi tells us that punishment is "affixed" to the law (see 2 Ne. 2:10), but happiness is also affixed. Then he makes the well-known statement that "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things" (2 Ne. 2:11). Without the law there would be no sin and no punishment. But there would also be no goodness, no righteousness, and no happiness. And if there are none of those things, there is no God and no creation (see 2 Ne. 2:11-13). No small boys playing baseball. No loving mother. Nothing.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: "When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, nothing is so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace when the Son of the Almighty ... gave His life in ignominy and pain so that all of the sons and daughters of God of all generations of time, every one of whom must die, might walk again and live eternally. He did for us what none of us could do for ourselves."
"Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth" (2 Ne. 2:8). And how great the importance for each of us to obey the gospel law and to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. I know that the Savior's words to the Prophet Joseph Smith are true: "No man shall come unto the Father but by me" (D&C 132:12). "Justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true. ... Sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength" (D&C 20:30-31).