3. The Atonement was a covenant Christ made.
This is an idea rarely discussed in Sunday School, but Elder Callister explains that Christ didn’t just agree to accomplish the Atonement—He made a covenant to do so:
“In the premortal council the Savior covenanted with the Father to perform the Atonement. . . Based on that pledge or covenant we had faith in him. Based on that covenant the Father could promise remission of sins prior to the atoning sacrifice because he “knew” his Son would not fail. The issue was not that he could not break his covenant, but rather, that he would not” (page 74).
He goes on to emphasize that:
“The Savior observed every spiritual law with undeviating exactness apparently because of his compliance with each one, he received power upon power until he acquired the attributes of God, even in premortal ties. Such progress was a natural consequence of his exacting compliance. His godhood thus seemed to result not from a creation of these laws, but rather from compliance with them” (page 301).
If Christ had not fulfilled this covenant, there would be no one who could comprehend our pain and trials. But because He has, there is always someone who does.
“What weight is thrown on the scales of pain when calculating the hurt of innumerable patients in countless hospitals? Now, add to that the loneliness of the elderly who are forgotten in the rest homes of society, desperately yearning for a card, a visit, a call—just some recognition from the outside world.
"Keep on adding the hurt of hungry children, the suffering caused by famine, drought, and pestilence. Pile on the heartache of parents who tearfully plead on a daily basis for a wayward son or daughter to come back home. Factor in the trauma of every divorce and the tragedy of every abortion.
"Add the remorse that comes with each child lost in the dawn of life, each spouse taken in the prime of marriage. Compound that with the misery of overflowing prisons, bulging halfway houses and institutions for the mentally disadvantaged. Multiply all this by century after century of history, and creation after creation without end. Such is but an awful glimpse of the Savior’s load.
"Who can bear such a burden or scale such a mountain as this? No one, absolutely no one, save Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of us all” (page 105).
4. Christ overcame temptation.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Christ being tempted by Satan, but how was His temptation different or similar to the temptation we ourselves face today? Elder Callister clarifies:
“Do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting here that Jesus in any way indulged in unclean thoughts, for that would be sin, and he indulged nothing sinful. I do not believe that he ‘struggled’ or ‘wrestled’ with temptations.
"My only point is that he was as vulnerable to suggestions and impulses coming into his mind from his mortal nature, a nature inherited from his mortal mother, as any of us. He simply paid no attention to those suggestions, and he immediately put them out of his mind. The ability of the flesh to suggest, to entice, was the same for him as it is for us, but unlike the rest of us, he never responded to it. He didn’t ponder, deliberate, or entertain the sinful options even as theoretical possibilities—‘he gave no heed unto them’” (page 107).
Later on, he describes again the Savior’s ability to comfort and empathize with each of us, because of the Atonement.
“The Savior was no ivory-tower observer, no behind-the-lines captain. He was no spectator, no ‘high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15). . . .
"The Savior was a participant, a player, who not only understood our plight intellectually, but who felt our wounds because they became his wounds. He had firsthand, ‘in the trenches,’ experience. He knew ‘according to the flesh, how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). He could comfort with empathy, not just sympathy, all ‘those that are cast down’ (2 Corinthians 7:6)’” (pg 208).
5. The Atonement was absolutely necessary.
In the course of this book, Elder Callister presents a few suggested reasons for why the Atonement might have been a requirement.
“Perhaps it was necessary to comply with some immutable law (i.e., one of those laws that has always existed and remains unchanged throughout eternity). Or perhaps it was necessary because it was dictated by God’s perfect attributes,” he says, then goes on to comment on a suggested reason given by Elder B.H. Roberts, explaining that “Elder Roberts suggests the improbability of God having put his Son through such excruciating pain if an easier means were available. Such a conclusion strongly suggests there was no equally viable alternative, or God would have chosen it and thus spared the Shepherd without sacrificing the sheep.”
And though a few other possibilities are discussed, Elder Callister concludes his work with a powerful testimony of this most sacred of events.
“One does not speak lightly of the Atonement or casually express his appreciation. It is the most sacred and sublime event in eternity. It deserves our most intense thoughts, our most profound feelings, and our noblest deeds. One speaks of it in reverential tones; one contemplates it in awe; one learns of it in solemnity. This event stands alone, now and throughout eternity. . . .
“I now add my testimony to the many who have preceded me that his sacrifice was indeed an infinite and eternal Atonement” (pages 334-335).
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With The Infinite Atonement, Brother Tad R. Callister offers us what may be the most comprehensive, yet understandable, treatment of the Atonement in our day. He thoughtfully probes the infinite scope of this "great and last sacrifice," describing its power and breadth and explaining how it redeems us all.