ARTICLE 2-We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
Transgression and Its Results
Man’s Free Agency-The (Mormon) Church teaches as a strictly scriptural doctrine, that man has inherited among the inalienable rights conferred upon him by his divine Father, freedom to choose the good or the evil in life, to obey or disobey the Lord’s commandments, as he may elect. This right cannot be guarded with more jealous care than is bestowed upon it by God Himself; for in all His dealings with man He has left the mortal creature free to choose and to act, without compulsion or restraint beyond the influences of paternal counsel and direction. True, He has given commandments and has established statutes, with promises of blessings for compliance and penalties for infraction; but in the choice of these, men are untrammeled. In this respect, man is no less free than are the angels except as he has fettered himself with the bonds of sin and forfeited his power of will and force of soul. The individual has as full a measure of capability to violate the laws of health, the requirements of nature, and the commandments of God in matters both temporal and spiritual, as he has to obey all such; in the one case he brings upon himself the penalties that belong to the broken law; as in the other he inherits the specific blessings and the added freedom that attend a law-abiding life. Obedience to law is the habit of the free man; the transgressor fears the law, for he brings upon himself deprivation and restraint, not because of the law, which would have protected him in his freedom, but because of his antagonism to law.
The predominant attribute of justice, recognized as part of the divine nature, forbids the thought that man should receive promises of reward for righteousness, and threats of punishment for evil deeds, if he possessed no power of independent action. It is no more a part of God’s plan to compel men to work righteousness than it is His purpose to permit evil powers to force His children into sin. In the days of Eden, the first man had placed before him commandment and law with an explanation of the penalty to follow violation of that law. No law could have been given him in righteousness had he not been free to act for himself. “Nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but remember that I forbid it” said the Lord God to Adam. Concerning His dealings with the first patriarch of the race, God has declared in this day: “Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself.”
When the brothers Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices, the elder one became angry because his offering was rejected. Then the Lord reasoned with Cain, and endeavored to teach him that he must expect results of his actions to follow in kind, good or evil: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”
A knowledge of good and evil is essential to the advancement that God has made possible for His children to achieve; and this knowledge can be best gained by actual experience, with the contrasts of good and its opposite plainly discernible. Therefore has man been placed upon earth subject to the influence of good and wicked powers, with a knowledge of the conditions surrounding him, and the heaven-born right to choose for himself. The words of the prophet Lehi are explicit: “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other. Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”
Another of the Nephite prophets, in speaking of those who had died, said they had gone “that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one. For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey, and this according to the words of the spirit of prophecy.”
Samuel, a converted Lamanite upon whom the spirit of the prophets had fallen, admonished his fellows in this wise: “And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death.”
When the plans for creating and peopling the earth were under discussion in heaven, Lucifer sought to destroy the free agency of man by obtaining power to force the human family to do his will, promising the Father that by such means he would redeem all mankind so that not one of them should be lost. This proposition was rejected, while the original purpose of the Father-to use persuasive influences of wholesome precept and sacrificing example with the inhabitants of the earth, then to leave them free to choose for themselves-was agreed upon; and the one to be known as the Only Begotten Son was chosen as the chief instrument in carrying the purpose into effect.
Man’s Accountability for his individual acts is as complete as is his agency to elect for himself. The ultimate result of good deeds is happiness, the consequence of evil is misery; these follow in every man’s life by inviolable laws. There is a plan of judgment divinely foreordained, by which every man will be called to answer for his deeds; and not for deeds alone but for his words also and even for the thoughts of his heart. “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” These are the words of the Savior Himself. “And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor, and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.” John the Revelator was permitted to learn in vision something of the scenes connected with the last judgment; he wrote: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”
The execution of judgment is not always made to follow the acts of men immediately; good deeds may not be at once rewarded, nor evil be peremptorily punished; and this is according to divine wisdom, for were it otherwise the test of individual character and the trial of human faith, for which purposes this mortal probation was primarily ordained, would be greatly lessened; as the certainty of immediate pleasure or pain would largely determine human acts to secure the one and avoid the other. Judgment, therefore, is postponed, that every one may prove himself, the good man increasing in righteousness, and the evil-doer having opportunity for repentance and reparation. On rare occasions, speedy judgment of a temporal nature has been executed, the physical results of worldly blessing for good, and calamity for evil deeds following swiftly upon the acts. Whether such retribution entirely satisfies the claims of justice, or a further visitation of judgment is to take place beyond this life matters not. Such acts are exceptional in the divine administration.
It is the prerogative of Jesus Christ to judge mankind, and He will do it as His own purposes, which are the purposes of His Father, may be best served. John records the words of Christ: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” And Peter, while expounding the Gospel to the devout Gentile, Cornelius, declared concerning Jesus Christ, that “it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.” Of the fate of the wicked reserved for the judgment-day many prophets have borne record; and the presiding Judge of that awful tribunal has given in His own words descriptions so vivid and forceful as to leave no shadow of doubt that every living soul shall be called to acknowledge his record, and to accept the results of his acts. The Lord’s words and those of His prophets are unequivocal-that He is no respecter of persons, and that any species of favor foreign to justice is unknown to Him. This judgment none but the unrepentant wicked need fear; to the righteous it is to be a time of triumph.
Sin-What is the nature of sin? To this question the Apostle John replies: “Sin is the transgression of the law.” In the original language of the Biblical records, many words occur for which our single term sin is used, all, however, conveying the common idea of opposition to the divine will. As God is the embodiment of perfection, such opposition is rebellion against the principles of advancement and adherence to the practises that lead to degradation. Sin is any condition, whether omission of things required or in commission of acts forbidden, that tends to prevent or hinder the development of the human soul. As a righteous course leads to eternal life, so sin tends toward the darkness of the second death. Sin was introduced to the world by Satan; yet it is by divine permission that mankind are brought in contact with sin, the contrast between evil and good thus being learned by experience.
According to the technical definition of sin it consists in the violation of law, and in this strict sense sin may be committed inadvertently or in ignorance. It is plain, however, from the scriptural doctrine of human responsibility and the unerring justice of God, that in his transgressions as in his righteous deeds man will be judged according to his ability to comprehend and obey law. To him who has never been made acquainted with a higher law the requirements of that law do not apply in their fulness. For sins committed without knowledge-that is, for laws violated in ignorance-a propitiation has been provided in the atonement wrought through the sacrifice of the Savior; and sinners of this class do not stand condemned, but shall be given opportunity yet to learn and to accept or reject the principles of the Gospel.
Jacob taught this doctrine: “Where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him. For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.” And then, in contrast, the prophet adds: “But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!” This is in strict agreement with the teachings of Paul to the Romans, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” And the word of modern scripture is to the same effect, for we are told, through recent revelation to the Church, that among those who are to receive the blessings of redemption are “they who died without law.” These will include the heathen nations, whose redemption is promised with the added declaration that “they that knew no law shall have part in the first resurrection.”
Punishment for Sin-As rewards for righteous deeds are proportionate to deserving acts, so the punishment prescribed for sin is made adequate to the offense. But, be it remembered, both rewards and punishments are natural consequences. Punishment is inflicted upon the sinner for disciplinary and reformatory purposes and in accordance with justice. There is nothing of vindictiveness or of desire to cause suffering manifest in the divine nature; on the contrary, our Father is cognizant of every pang, and permits such to afflict for beneficent purposes only. God’s mercy is declared in the retributive pains that He allows, as in the blessings of peace that issue from Him. It is scarcely profitable to speculate as to the exact nature of the spiritual suffering imposed as punishment for sin. Comparison with physical pain, such as the tortures of fire in a sulphurous lake, serve to show that the human mind is incapable of comprehending the extent of these penalties. The sufferings entailed by the fate of condemnation are more to be feared than are any possible inflictions of physical torture; the mind, the spirit, the whole soul is doomed to suffer, and the torment is known by none in the flesh.
Consider the word of the Lord regarding those whose sin is the unpardonable one, whose transgression has carried them beyond the present horizon of possible redemption; those who have sunk so low in their wickedness as to have lost the power and even the desire to attempt reformation. Sons of Perdition they are called. These are they who, having learned the power of God afterward renounce it; those who sin wilfully in the light of knowledge; those who open their hearts to the Holy Spirit and then put the Lord to a mockery and a shame by denying it; and those who commit murder wherein they shed innocent blood; these are they of whom the Savior has declared that it would be better for them had they never been born. These are to share the punishment of the devil and his angels-punishment so terrible that the knowledge is withheld from all except those who are consigned to this doom, though a temporary view of the picture is permitted to some. These sinners are the only ones over whom the second death hath power: “Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord.”