The atonement of Jesus Christ is the central doctrine of Christianity, and all other Christian doctrines come out of and are appendages to it.1 Not only can these other doctrines be connected back to the Savior and His Atoning Sacrifice, but if they are not, “there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them,” to use a phrase by President Boyd K. Packer, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.2 It is therefore not only important, but necessary, when studying any doctrine or teaching or appendage of the gospel of Jesus Christ, to connect it back to Jesus Christ and His eternal sacrifice.
When Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, they were commanded “that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5). Yet M. Russell Ballard, another apostle of the Church, has said that some have wondered, “How could the slaughtering of an animal upon an altar have anything to do with the gospel of love?”3
We can better understand the answer to [this] question when we understand the two major purposes for the law of sacrifice. These purposes applied to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and the New Testament Apostles, and they apply to us today as we accept and live the law of sacrifice. [The] two major purposes [of the law of sacrifice] are to test and prove us and to assist us in coming unto Christ.4
As we read more of Adam and Eve’s obedience to the law of sacrifice, take note of how these two major purposes—to test or prove, and “to assist us in coming unto Christ.”
“Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord” (Moses 5:5). He offered up the firstlings of his flocks. This was not easy, especially in an era when one lived off of their land and flocks. A firstling was a very valuable possession. And if that weren’t enough, Adam and Eve did not even know why they were offering sacrifices. The record says that “after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me (Moses 5:6).
Adam and Eve passed the test.
Like Adam and Eve, we are also asked to sacrifice. Most of us don’t have any firstlings or firstfruits to give up (though even if we did, the law was changed after Jesus Christ made the ultimate sacrifice anyway). We are, however, being tried and proved, and sometimes a person “must learn to walk a few steps ahead into the darkness, and then the light will turn on and go before [them],” as Boyd K. Packer has written.5 Adam and Eve took a few steps into the darkness. They did not know why they were asked to give sacrifices, but they did it anyway. Yet, notice, as the record continues, how Adam and Eve received a witness after the trial of their faith (see Ether 12:6) and were taught concerning the second of the two main purposes of the law of sacrifice—“to assist [God’s children] in coming unto Christ.”
The record reads,
And then the angel spake saying: This [sacrifice] is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth.
Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore. (Moses 5:7-8)
As Bruce R. McConkie, yet another apostle, has written, “For a pastoral people whose lives depended on their flocks and herds, there could have been no better similitude than this.”6
The righteous posterity of Adam continued to offer sacrifices, down to the children of Israel. However,
[b]ecause of the rebellious nature of the children of Israel in the days of Moses, the practice of the law of sacrifice was changed; it became a strict law requiring daily observance of performances and ordinances. During the time of Moses there was an expansion in the number and variety of offerings under the law of sacrifice. The Mosaic sacrifices consisted of five major offerings that fell into two primary categories—obligatory and voluntary. . .7
[o]ne thing remained the same in all of these offerings: everything about Mosaic sacrifice focused on Christ. Like Christ, the priest acted as the mediator between the people and their God. Like Christ, the priest had to have the right parentage to officiate in his office. Like Christ, the offerer through obedience willingly sacrificed what was required by the law.8
Hence, the purpose of the law of Moses was to persuade God’s children “to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was” (Jarom 1:11).
Alma, about 74 years before Christ, wrote that after the Savior’s ultimate sacrifice the law of Moses (not the law of sacrifice, for these two are not exactly the same thing) would be done away. He said,
It is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice, and then shall there be, or it is expedient there should be, a stop to the shedding of blood; then shall the law of Moses be fulfilled; yea, it shall be all fulfilled, every jot and tittle, and none shall have passed away.
And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” (Alma 34:13-15)
God loves us. He “doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24). He gives His children laws and commandments that point them to Christ. Giving up what we want for the sake of something better isn’t easy. Sacrifice never was easy. It tries our faith and, like all other doctrines of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, connects back and brings us closer to the Savior.
While the law of Moses was done away, the law of sacrifice was not. Those who lived before Christ looked forward to Him as though He had already come. Today, we look back with a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20).
Indeed, as Neal A. Maxwell, an apostle of the Church, has said, “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!”9
1 See Bruce R. McConkie. Mormon Doctrine 2nd ed. “Atonement of Christ.” Bookcraft: 1966. 60.; Joseph Smith. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Selected by Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. 1938. 121.
2 Boyd K. Packer, in Conference Report, Apr. 1977, 80; or Ensign, May 1977, 55-56.
3 M. Russell Ballard. “The Law of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Oct 1998, 7.
5 Boyd K. Packer. “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ—Plain and Precious Things,” Liahona, May 2005, 6–9.
6 Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, 114–15.
7 M. Russell Ballard, “The Law of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Oct 1998, 7.
9 Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Deny Yourselves of All Ungodliness,’” Ensign, May 1995, 68, emphasis added.