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Since it was first published in 2000, The Infinite Atonement, has become an instant classic for every student of the Atonement. This new illustrated edition—filled with stunning full-color illustrations by artist James C. Christensen, Simon Dewey, Greg Olsen, Walter Rane, and many others—adds visual beauty to spiritual inspiration.
Author Tad R. Callister offers what may be the most comprehensive and yet understandable treatment of the Atonement published in our day. He thoughtfully proves the infinite scope of the "great and last sacrifice," describing its power and breadth and explaining how it redeems us all.
Using the scriptures and the words of the prophets, Elder Callister explores the Savior's divinity and the depth of His love for mankind. He discusses the blessings that flow from the Atonement and provides insight into the resurrection, repentance, and the gifts of peace, motivation, freedom, grace, and exaltation. He explains the relationship of justice and mercy and the importance of ordinances. And through his examination of the effects of the fall of Adam and our individual sins, he reminds us powerfully of the incalculable debt of gratitude we owe our Savior, Jesus Christ, for His unparalleled offering.
"An attempt to master this doctrine requires an immersion of all our senses, all our feelings, and all our intellect," Elder Callister writes. "The Atonement is not a doctrine that lends itself to some singular approach, like a universal formula. It must be felt, not just 'figured'; internalized, not just analyzed. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most supernal, mind-expanding, passionate doctrine this world or universe will ever know."
With clarity, testimony, and understanding, The Infinite Atonement teaches us rich and wonderful truths about this "doctrine of doctrines" and elevates our spirits as we contemplate the perfect love of Him who gave all that we might receive all.
- Size: 8 x 10
- Pages: 384
About the Author
Tad R. Callister was sustained October 1, 2011, as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three years earlier he had been called to the Second Quorum of Seventy, having previously served as president of the Canada Toronto East Mission, as a member of the Fifth Quorum of the Seventy, and as a member of the Pacific Area Presidency. Before his call to full-time Church service, Elder Callister was a practicing attorney. He and his wife, Kathryn Saporiti Callister, are the parents of six children and grandparents of twenty-four.
What Is the Significance of the Atonement?
A Doctrine for All Seasons
A person studying the Atonement is somewhat like the man who retreats to his mountain cabin to enjoy the scenery. If he looks out the window to the east, he will see the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies; but if he fails to examine the view on the west, he will miss the crimson-streaked sunset on the horizon; if he neglects the scene to the north, he will never see the shimmering emerald lake; and if he bypasses the window on the south, he will fail to witness the wild flowers in all their brilliant glory, dancing in the gentle mountain breeze. Beauty besets him in every direction. So it is with the Atonement. Regardless of our vantage point, it is glorious to behold. Every principle underlying it, every consequence flowing from it rewards our intellect, animates our emotions, and enlivens our spirit. It is a doctrine for all seasons.
An attempt to master this doctrine requires an immersion of all our senses, all our feelings, and all our intellect. Given the opportunity, the Atonement will invade each of the human passions and faculties, and in so doing will invite an exhaustion of each in order to more fully grasp its meaning. Those who have refined their cultural sensitivities will approach the Atonement with a more heart-felt empathy for the tenderness and compassion it represents. Those who have sacrificed their lives in service will stand in even greater awe of him who sacrificed his all. Those who have perfected the powers of reason will probe with even deeper insight into the “whys” and “hows,” not just the consequences of this intensely sublime doctrine. And those whose spirits are pure and lives are clean will feel a closer kinship to him whose life they have but in small measure mirrored.
The Atonement is not a doctrine that lends itself to some singular approach, like a universal formula. It must be felt, not just “figured”; internalized, not just analyzed. The pursuit of this doctrine requires the total person, for the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most supernal, mind-expanding, passionate doctrine this world or universe will ever know.
The Most Important Event in History
The final week of the Savior’s mortal ministry had arrived. For four thousand years prophets had preached and prophesied of the events that would culminate in this particular week. All events in history, memorable as they had been or would yet be, paled in comparison to this moment. This was the focal point of all history.
He who had created worlds without number was about to enter a quiet, secluded garden, a humble plot of ground in his vast cosmic universe. There was no fanfare, no pressing throng to witness the most profound event his creations would ever know. This was a moment so sacred, so sublime, that no human eye could fully pierce, no human mind could fully comprehend its transcending importance. Only three other mortals—Peter, James and John—would be near, and even their witness would be tempered by the twilight and shrouded by sleep.
The appointed hour was at hand. The Son of God stood alone in all his majestic power against all the artillery of the Evil One. Here was divine love in its consummate expression battling diabolic evil in its cruelest proportions. This was the place and the time for the atonement of Jesus Christ.
If a survey were taken of history’s most significant events, common answers might include the harnessing of fire, the discovery of America, the splitting of the atom, landing on the moon, or the invention of the computer. Each is a wondrous event, but absent the backdrop of the Atonement each is of but transitory importance—no more than a shooting star illuminating the sky for a brief moment, and then vanishing into the night. The Atonement gives purpose and potency to every event in history. President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of its relationship to other events in world history: “When all is said and done, when all of history is examined, when the deepest depths of the human mind have been explored, there is nothing so wonderful, so majestic, so tremendous as this act of grace.”1 This was not just another great event in the chronicles of history. It was, as Hugh Nibley observed, “the one supreme reality of our life upon this earth!”2
The prophet Alma shared this belief. He had stepped down as chief judge so he might fully devote his time to the ministry. With prophetic vision he looked down the stream of time and saw “many things to come” (Alma 7:7), and then concluded, “there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people” (Alma 7:7). Elder Bruce R. McConkie added his testimony to that of Alma: “The most transcendent event in his entire eternal existence, the most glorious single happening from creation’s dawn to eternity’s endless continuance, the crowning work of his infinite goodness—such took place in a garden called Gethsemane.”3
All other events, doctrines, and principles are subservient to and appendages of that godly act. That is what the Prophet Joseph taught: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”4
Lehi knew of the Atonement’s preeminent status among gospel principles. Sensing the end was near at hand, he delivered his final sermon to his sons, and in so doing laid out in masterful simplicity the essence of the Fall and Atonement. He then concluded, “I have spoken these few words unto you all, my sons, in the last days of my probation; and I have chosen the good part” (2 Nephi 2:30).
The “good part” of the gospel and, indeed, of all history is the Savior and his atoning sacrifice. The Atonement of Jesus Christ outweighs, surpasses, and transcends every other mortal event, every new discovery, and every acquisition of knowledge, for without the Atonement all else in life is meaningless.
Elder McConkie pays fitting tribute to this noblest of all deeds: “Nothing in the entire plan of salvation compares in any way in importance with that most transcendent of all events, the atoning sacrifice of our Lord. It is the most important single thing that has ever occurred in the entire history of created things; it is the rock foundation upon which the gospel and all other things rest.”5 That being the case, one would think that all the world would anxiously turn to the Savior. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The Savior observed, “I . . . came unto mine own, and mine own received me not” (D&C 6:21). Nephi foresaw this deplorable state of affairs: “The world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught” (1 Nephi 19:9). What a tragic observation. It is serious indeed to reject the Savior, but to ignore him, to snub him, to consider him “a thing of naught” is most displeasing to the Lord. There is no mistake about his position on this subject: “I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm . . . I will spue thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).
In striking contrast to the room-temperature saints so abhorred by the Lord, Nephi spoke of his people’s passion to “talk of Christ . . . rejoice in Christ . . . preach of Christ . . . prophesy of Christ . . . that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:26). Such rejoicing was prompted by their absolute trust in Christ’s future Atonement. They knew it was the only event in history that could save them, and thus, for this reason—the redemption of man—the Savior would make his entry into mortality.
The Savior’s earthly experience can be conveniently divided into three categories, namely his message, his ministry, and his mission. Only the events associated with his mission, however, required his personal appearance, and thus, his mission, the atoning sacrifice, became the compelling reason for his condescension.
The Savior’s message, meaning the gospel of Jesus Christ, had been preached before the meridian of time and would yet be preached again. From the lips of Adam the pristine gospel truths had been declared millennia before the Savior’s ministry. The Lord made it clear that “the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning” (Moses 5:58). Enoch, Noah, and Abraham also preached the gospel in their dispensations. In post-meridian times the Prophet Joseph would restore the gospel in its fulness, for, as promised to him by the Lord, “This generation shall have my word through you” (D&C 5:10).
Certainly it was a great blessing to have the Savior personally preach his gospel message, but that was not the essential reason for which he came. Others have been his spokesmen, both before and after his mortal advent. Of these spokesmen the Lord declared, “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). The Savior’s message was essential to our salvation, but his personal exposition of it was not. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. gave this caution:
“Brethren, it is all right to speak of the Savior and the beauty of his doctrines, and the beauty of the truth. But remember, and this is the thing I wish you . . . [to] always carry with you, the Savior is to be looked at as the Messiah, the Redeemer of the world. His teachings were ancillary and auxiliary to that great fact.”6
The Savior’s ministry included the working of miracles, but Enoch, Moses, Elijah, and others had performed similar wonders before his birth. Peter, Paul, and others would perform like miracles after his ascension.
Among the miracles performed by the Savior was his mastery over the elements of nature. Who is not struck when he reads of the Savior’s confrontation with the tempest on the Sea of Galilee? The winds had whipped up in a frenzied fury. The waves thrashed against the small fishing vessel with reckless abandon. All hope seemed to be lost. “Master,” they said, “carest thou not that we perish?” Then Jesus arose, and with a voice that pierced the troubled elements, cried out, “Peace, be still.” In response, those inexorable forces of nature, those forces that seemingly know no restraint, calmed in humble submission. So overwhelming was this display of power that even his disciples cried out, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:38–39, 41).
The Savior’s mastery of nature and the elements was not unique to him, however. Acting with divine power, Joshua bid the sun to stand still and it was done. At Moses’ inspired command the Red Sea parted. Upon the spoken word of Enoch the mountains moved, the rivers changed their course, and the earth trembled. Did such power over the elements cease after the meridian of time? Mormon asked a similar question: “Have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven?” Then came the unequivocal response, “Behold I say unto you, Nay” (Moroni 7:27, 29). The Savior promised the believer of future generations, “greater works than these shall he do” (John 14:12).
The Savior raised the dead on multiple occasions, but he was not alone in this extraordinary feat. The scriptures record that Elijah raised the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:20–22). Peter and Paul restored the dead to life (Acts 9:39–41; 20:9–13). Joseph Smith spoke to Elijah Fordham on his deathbed, “Brother Fordham, in the name of Jesus Christ, arise and walk.” History recounts that Brother Fordham then leaped from his bed in instantaneous recovery.7 Certainly the powers over death were not restricted to the mortal ministry of the Savior alone.
The Savior had the power to supersede the laws of gravity—he walked upon the water; but this was not a first. Had not Elisha, centuries before, caused an iron axe-head to float so it might be retrieved for the grieved borrower (2 Kings 6:5–6)?
Have not the healing of the blind, the lame, the leper all occurred in other dispensations? The power underlying every miracle performed by the Savior has been present in every dispensation of the gospel, and rightfully so. One of the signs of the true church is to have the same power, gifts, and miracles as existed in the primitive church.
The Savior’s ministry included the performance of sacred ordinances (JST, John 4:1–4), as well as miracles, but did not his apostles also baptize, give the gift of the Holy Ghost, and perform every other essential gospel ordinance? The Lord’s mortal ministry left us with a wonderful legacy of compassionate deeds, miracles, and priesthood ordinances, but such acts were not confined to his ministry alone.
While others could preach the Savior’s message and even perform a ministry of miracles and priesthood ordinances, only he could accomplish that divinely appointed mission, namely the redemption of the world. No proxies, no substitutes, no surrogates, not even heaven-sent angels or prophets would or could do. The Atonement required the life and power of a perfect being. He was the sole candidate, the only “name under heaven . . . whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This is the prime reason he came to the earth: “Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin” (3 Nephi 9:21; see also D&C 49:5; 76:40–42).8 Matthew, quoting the mortal Messiah, recorded the same truth, “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11; see also Mormon 7:6–7). As important as were his personal message and ministry, they were secondary to his mission—the atoning sacrifice.
The Heart of the Gospel
The Atonement is not just a prime teaching of the gospel; it is the heart of the gospel. It infuses life into every doctrine, every principle, and every ordinance, transforming what might otherwise be a lofty but nonetheless lifeless ideal, to a vibrant spiritual truth. So essential is the Atonement to a purposeful life that on occasion it is referred to as “the gospel.” While expounding to the Nephites the Savior confirmed this: “This is the gospel . . . that I came into the world to do the will of my Father. . . . And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross” (3 Nephi 27:13–14). This same doctrine was audibly declared from the heavens to the Prophet Joseph: “This is the gospel, the glad tidings . . . that he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world” (D&C 76:40–41). The LDS Bible Dictionary 9 defines the gospel as “good news” and then adds, “The good news is that Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement.”10
In a more expansive sense, the gospel is referred to as all those principles and ordinances that comprise the plan of salvation (see D&C 39:6). Even when used in this latter sense, however, we must remember that those principles and ordinances have life and efficacy only because of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. That is exactly what Enoch taught: “This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten” (Moses 6:62). The Atonement is the lifeblood that quickens every gospel precept. It is, as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “the keystone in the arch of the great plan.”11 Without it all else collapses.
No doctrine supersedes or even approaches the Atonement in importance. It is the grandest miracle to have ever occurred. C. S. Lewis observed that if one takes away the miracles attributed to Buddhism, there would be “no loss” to the religion. If all miracles were eliminated from Islam, he adds, “nothing essential would be altered.” Then this striking observation: “But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion” that Christ came “into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.”12
The Atonement is, as Elder McConkie observed, “the center and core and heart of revealed religion.”13 It is indeed the keystone of Christianity and the foundation of a spiritual life. It is the beacon light for a benighted world. It is the fountain from which all hopes spring. Any theology, any philosophy, any doctrine that teaches contrary to the Atonement is built on sand. Brigham Young taught: “The moment the atonement of the Savior is done away, that moment, at one sweep, the hopes of salvation entertained by the Christian world are destroyed, the foundation of their faith is taken away, and there is nothing left for them to stand upon.”14 The Atonement is our singular hope for a meaningful life.
. President Joseph F. Smith spoke of another reason Christ came to earth: “Christ came not only to atone for the sins of the world, but to set an example before all men and to establish the standard of God’s perfection, of God’s law, and of obedience to the Father.” (Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 270). This is consistent with the observation of Peter: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
BEAUTIFUL and POWERFUL
by Shauna - reviewed on March 18, 2013
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister is one of the most referenced books about the atonement. It tells the how, what, and why of the atonement along with the blessings that come from the atonement. The atonement is far more reaching than most people understand, not only is it a way for the sinner to repent, but it is a power for the lonely, the depressed, the abused, the one seeking solace. Through "that suffering endured, that power displayed, and that love manifested by the Savior" we can be exalted to be like your Father in Heaven...without it we are nothing. The beautiful full-page illustrations add "visual beauty to spiritual inspiration." This book is definitely one you will want in your library.