Lesson 19: The Plan of Salvation
1935: The Application of Religion to Life
Lesson 6: The Plan of the Drama
“Wherefore the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.” (II Nephi 2:16.)
“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 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.” (II Nephi 2:27.)
We have briefly considered the stage, the actors and the purpose of the Drama of Salvation. We come now to examine the plan of the Drama itself. As we piece together the writings scattered through ancient and modern scripture we get this general picture:
The general plan was laid down during the Great Council in Heaven whereby the earth would be created, and mankind sent down to people it. If he (man) remained true to his trust and lived in obedience to the laws on which his salvation is predicated, he would not only be saved in the world to come, but he would be “added upon,” that is, exalted towards perfection. And as all dramas have a villain so does this one. He is Lucifer. The Hero, of course, is Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. The plan of the drama hinges on the rule of Jesus as the central fact. Breaking the plan down into minor subdivisions we get an outline like this:
Act I. Prologue.
a. The Council in Heaven –
3. Two opposing plans – the principle of free agency.
4. The open disagreement.
b. Victor and Vanished.
c. The Responsibility of the Victor and the curse of the vanquished.
Act II. Earth Life.
a. The Creation.
1. The physical universe.
2. Dawn of life.
3. Man and the miracle of mind.
b. Man Recognizes God.
1. Struggle for spiritual light.
2. The meaning of religion.
3. Demonstration of faith.
c. Man Recognizes Man.
1. Social life and institutions.
2. Social progress – how man moves towards his goal.
Act III. The Hereafter.
a. Man triumphant over evil.
b. The way to perfection.
Most of our lessons are going to be concerned with Act II, since we are to discuss the Application of Religion to Life, meaning life on this earth. For it is to be understood that this earth life is but an episode in eternal living, to which there was no beginning and for which there will be no end in the usual meaning of those terms. More detailed discussion of the First Act of the drama will be given in the next lesson. Our purpose here is to picture the entire sweep of this great pageant of salvation and to inspire respect for it as the noblest conception which has ever been revealed to mankind. The fact that human beings are loyal to this concept in that they try to live their lives by it, is one of the surest marks of divinity within them.
Two supreme principles are working themselves out through this drama. The principles are these:
1. The perfectibility of man.
2. The principle of individual responsibility.
Let us examine these a little more closely. The principle of perfectibility can be appreciated better by throwing it into contrast with its opposite philosophy of fatalism. This latter system of thought postulates that mankind lives his life in a world which exceeds his power to understand or control. He is, in other words, a victim of the relentless forces of the universe, and his hopes to gain “dominion” over them is futile. Candor forces us to admit that there is in human experience much evidence to justify this conclusion. Man finds his efforts frustrated by evil, by death, by disaster. Why is a young man taken from earth in the bloom of life? We often ask ourselves this question. To the fatalist, the answer is simply that it is the way of the universe. There is nothing we can do about it. Just as well cease fretting and let things take their course. Well, we all resign ourselves at times to the fates, so to speak, and do allow “things to take their course.”
However, as the poet Don Marquis well states, “There is a blind unrest, that seethes at the breast of all existing things.” Mankind has something within him that drives him ever forward to the conquest of the universe. As if in a sort of blind obedience to the commandment given our first parents, he continues his quest for control of the forces of the universe. In seeking and gaining that control he is actually perfecting himself; presumably according to our philosophy, as God himself has perfected himself throughout the countless ages. The doctrine of perfectibility of man holds that the individual has it within his power to increase his capacity to comprehend and to do. No man need say to himself, “I have come to the end of my power to grow.” too many people – even among Latter-day Saints – fail to live by this principle of the gospel Plan. Growth and perfectibility are synonymous. There is no good reason that science has ever found to conclude that people ever get “too old to learn.” In fact, Professor E.L. Thorndyke of Columbia University ha found by actual experiment that the learning rate of people slows down very little before fifty, and only slowly after that. This same idea is elaborated by Professor Walter Pitkin in his recent book, “Life Begins at Forty.”
The other great fundamental principle we hold dear in this drama is that the individual can and must work out his own role. Not that he is to do it entirely alone. He lives in a society, and has responsibility to others, as others have a responsibility for him. However, in the last analysis, it is “up to him.” As Nephi says: “and they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the mediation of all men, or to choose captivity and death.” (II Nephi 2:27.) That he can work out his salvation we have agreed in acceptance of the principle of individual perfection. The principle of free agency places the responsibility largely upon the individual’s own shoulders. Lucifer would have had it otherwise, but happily Jesus won out in the great battle “before the earth was.”
Our drama then, we find divided into three main episodes. We speak of these acts as “estates.” The First Estate for those of us on earth, has already been lived – or acted. The Second Estate, we are now enacting. The third is yet to come. But in it, we shall be “added upon,” provided we prove ourselves to be worthy actors of our roles. The purpose of the play is to ‘bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The great underlying principles of the play are that perfection is possible, and that each individual carries a major part of the responsibility for his own perfection. The drama is without time, since it is being enacted in eternity.
1. What help to you, if any, in your daily life do you derive from contemplating the Drama of Salvation?
2. What other purposes could life hold than those which have been discussed in this and the previous lessons? is the definition of purpose essential to the happiness of man? Why?
3. Are you fatalist or perfectionist in your philosophy? May you sometime be both or either? Fatalism usually grows out of primitive and inadequate understanding of things. Primitive peoples are nearly always found to possess a fatalism or deterministic philosophy of life. Could we reasonably say, therefore, that progress from fatalism to perfectionism, represents progress from ignorance to enlightenment? Do you feel that this idea gives added meaning to the statement, “man cannot be saved in ignorance”?
1935: The Application of Religion to Life
Lesson 7: The Prologue to Earth Life
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.
The Soul that rises with us, our life star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar. – Wordsworth.
The scriptural evidence of pre-existence is scattered through the bible and the other three standard works of the Church. However, the implication from these scriptural texts, is very clear that the spiritual counterpart of earth man – his intelligence – had an existence before coming to “tabernacle in the flesh.” Man, however, retains no memory of that existence. He is dependent upon the word of revelation for the testimony of his antemortal existence.
The widely scattered references in the Biblical scripture have been pieced together by Milton in his great epic poem, paradise Lost. Mormon writers, notably Whitney, Talmage, Roberts, Joseph F. Smith, Widtsoe and others, have given a far more elaborate analysis, because they have had the modern scriptures to further illuminate the subject. The late Elder Orson F. Whitney in his epic poem Elias, gives in poetic form in Canto Three, a stirring reconstruction of the council in Heaven. (The student is urged strongly to read Elder Whitney’s poem.)
Dr. James E. Talmage has reviewed the literature on the subject and has given an excellent summary in Chapter 2 of his Jesus the Christ. In this chapter Dr. Talmage reviews the evidence of the pre-existence and foreordination of the Christ, but in doing so, he also makes the case for the pre-existence and foreordination of all those who “kept their first estate.” Says he:
That the spirits of men existed as individual intelligences, of varying degrees of ability and power, prior to the inauguration of mortal state upon this earth and even prior to the creation of the world as a suitable abode for human beings, is shown in great plainness through divine revelation to Abraham: “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These will I make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” (P. of G.P., Abraham 3:22.23.) (Jesus the Christ, p. 14.)
That there was a great Council in heaven is further attested by scriptural evidence and implication. In the book of Genesis where it is recorded that God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” the implication of consultation is plain; and again after Adam had partaken of the forbidden fruit the Lord said, “Behold, the man has become as one of us.”
All that transpired in this council we do not know. We logically deduce certain conclusions. Says John Taylor (Mediation and Atonement, pp. 93-4, Quoted by talmage, Jesus the Christ, pp. 145-16):
It is consistent to believe that at this Council in the heavens the plan that should be adopted in relation to the sons of God who were then spirits, and had not yet obtained tabernacles, was duly considered. For, in view of the creation of the world and the placing of men upon it, whereby it would be possible for them to obtain tabernacles, and in those tabernacles obey laws of life, and with them again be exalted among the Gods, we are told that at that time, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” the question then arose, how, and upon what principle, should the salvation, exaltation and eternal glory of God’s sons be brought about? It is evident that at that Council certain plans had been proposed and discussed and that after a full discussion of those principles, and the declaration of the Father’s will pertaining to His design, Lucifer came before the Father with a plan of his own, saying, “Behold here am I; send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore, give me thine honor.” But Jesus on hearing this statement made by Lucifer, said, “Father thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” From these remarks made by the well-beloved Son, we should naturally infer that in the discussion of this subject the Father had made known His will and developed His plan and design pertaining to these matters, and all that His well-beloved Son wanted to do was to carry out the will of his Father, as it would appear had been before expressed. He also wished the glory to be given to His Father, who as God the Father, and the originator and designer of the plan, had a right to all the honor and glory. But Lucifer wanted to introduce a plan contrary to the will of his Father, and then wanted His honor, and said: “I will save every soul of man, wherefore give me thine honor.” He wanted to go contrary to the will of his Father and presumptuously sought to deprive man of his free agency, thus making him a serf, and placing him in a position in which it was impossible for him to obtain that exaltation which God designed should be man’s through obedience to the law which He had suggested; and again Lucifer wanted the honor and power of his Father, to enable him to carry out principles which were contrary to the Father’s wish.
It might well be concluded that God the Father was not so much concerned about the power and glory and honor, as he was about the calibre of the one who was to be the earthly advocate and embodiment of his great principle of free agency. President Taylor in the quotation says that with Lucifer at the helm, man would have been a spiritual “serf,” possessing no will of his own, subject always to the dictatorial direction of some super will.
This most significant pre-earth conflict between the “Son of the Morning” and the “Son of Man” has a world of meaning to us today. Why do we have written into our laws the right of free speech and free assembly, freedom of the press and other protections to the individual Because we consider the individual soul as very important; not a serf, but a potential god. How can the process of perfecting ourselves be worked out except through the principle of individual responsibility? Political dictatorships, as well as all other dictatorships, smack strongly of the Lucifer philosophy.
Latter-day Saints should be eternally grateful for this sublime doctrine of free agency. They should also recognize the responsibility which it entails.
1. Why are there so many dictatorships in Christian countries?
2. Discuss the Spanish inquisition in the light of the Council in Heaven.
1950: Principles of the Gospel: Advanced Senior Department Course of Study
Lesson 14: The Destiny of Man
“The spirit o f man is in the image of God, whose child it is, and every human body conforms, in the measure determined by its perfection or physical defects, to the spirit that tenants it. Furthermore, we know that the spirit existed in the antemortal state, that after death it lives as a disembodied individual, and that later it shall be reunited with the body of flesh and bones in an everlasting union through the resurrection inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ.
“If man be the spirit offspring of God, and if the possibilities of individual progression be endless, to both of which sublime truths the scripture bear definite testimony, then we have to admit that man may eventually attain to divine estate. However far away it be in the eternities future, what eons may elapse before any one now mortal may reach the sanctity and glory of godhood, man nevertheless has inherited from his Divine Father the possibilities of such attainment – even as the crawling caterpillar of the corpse-like chrysalis holds the latent possibility, nay, barring destruction the certainty, indeed, of the winged image in all the glory of maturity.
“Progression in mortality, that is true progression, advancement of the soul in developing the attributes of godliness, achievement in righteousness that shall endure beyond death and resurrection, is conditioned upon compliance with spiritual law, just as bodily health is dependent upon the observance of what we call natural law. Between the two there may be difference of degree, but not essentially of kind. Physical exercise is indispensable to the development of body, and quite as certainly is spiritual activity requisite to the healthful and normal development of the soul.
“Through valiant service, by unreserved obedience to the requirements embodied in the gospel of Jesus Christ, never-ending advancement is made possible to man. Thus, within the soul are the potentialities of godhood. Such high attainment is specifically the exaltation of the soul as distinguished from salvation. Not all whoa re saved in the hereafter shall be exalted. One may refrain in large measure from committing particular sins or sin in general, and so gain title to a degree of salvation far above the lot of the gross offender, nevertheless his goodness may be merely passive, and thus distinctly apart from the active, aggressive, positive godliness of him who is valiant in righteous service.
“The incident of the rich young Jew who came in question of instruction as to his duty is in point. (See Matt. 19:16-26.) ‘Good master,’ said he, ‘what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ The Lord answered, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,’ and in response to further inquiry cited the standard requirements of the Mosaic Law. In simplicity, and seemingly devoid of all sense of self-righteousness, the young man rejoined, ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?’ then Jesus replied, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.’ The young ruler, for as such he is designated, yearned to know what he should do beyond ordinary observance of ‘Thou shalt’ and ‘Thou shalt not’ of the decalog. He went away sorrowful in contemplation of the sacrifice required of him for the attainment of perfection. Love of worldly things was this man’s besetting ailment. The great Physician diagnosed his case and prescribed a suitable remedy.
“Through the latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, the Lord has specified the conditions of exaltation in the eternal worlds, by describing those who thus attain:
“‘They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believe on His name and were baptized after the manner of His burial, being buried in the water in His name, and this according to the commandment which He has given. That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power. … They are they who are Priests and Kings, who have received of His fulness, and of His glory, and are Priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are Gods, even the sons of God.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 76:51-58.)
“And further, of the supremely blessed we read:
“‘Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. Verily, verily I say unto you, except ye abide my law, ye cannot attain to this glory.’ (Doctrine and covenants 132:20, 21.)
“But all shall be subject to the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ, as thus attested:
“‘wherefore all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.’” (Doctrine and Covenants76:59.)
(Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, chapter 68, pp. 245-248.)
1950: Principles of the Gospel: Advanced Senior Department Course of Study
Lesson 15: The Plan of Salvation
“‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.’
“In earlier articles of this series it has been shown that mortality is divinely provided as a means of schooling and test, whereby the spirit offspring of God may develop their powers and demonstrate their characters. Every one of us has been advanced from the unembodied or pre-existent state to our present condition, in which the individual spirit is temporarily united with a body of flesh and bones. Yet this promotion in the mortal state is regarded by many as a degradation; and we are prone to bewail the fallen condition of the race as an unmitigated calamity. The scriptures make plain the glorious truth that man may rise afar above the plane upon which he existed before his birth in the flesh. We have stooped that we may conquer; we have been permitted to descend only that we may attain greater heights.
“The transgression of our parents in Eden was foreseen, and the Divine plan provided a means of redemption. The Eternal Father, who is verily the Father of our spirits, well understood the diverse natures and varied capacities of His unembodied children; and it was plain to Him, even from the beginning, that in the school of mortal life some would succeed while others would fail; some would be faithful and others false; some would choose the good, others the evil; some would seek the way of life while others would follow the road to destruction. He foresaw that His commandments would be disobeyed and His law violated; and that men, shut out from His presence and left to themselves, would sink rather than rise, would retrograde rather than advance, and would be lost to the heavens. It was plain to Him that death would enter the world, and that the possession of bodies by His children would be of brief individual duration.
“A redeemer was chosen, and that even before the foundation of the world. He, the first-born among all the spirit children of God, was to come to earth, clothed with the attributes of both Godhood and manhood, to teach men the saving principles of the eternal gospel and so establish on earth the terms and conditions of salvation. In consummation of His mission, Christ gave up His life as a voluntary and vicarious sacrifice for the race. Through the Atonement wrought by Him the power of death has been overcome; for while all men must die, their resurrection is assured. The effect of Christ’s Atonement upon the race is two-fold:
“1. The eventual resurrection of all men, whether righteous or wicked. This constitutes Redemption from the Fall, and since the Fall came through individual transgression, in all justice relief therefrom must be made universal and unconditional.
“2. The providing of a means whereby reparation may be made and forgiveness be obtained for individual sin. This constitutes Salvation, and is made available to all through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
“Between redemption for the power of death and salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven there is a vital difference. Man alone cannot save himself; Christ alone cannot save him. The plan of salvation is cooperative. The Atonement effected by the Lord Jesus Christ has opened the way: it is left to every m an to enter there4in and be saved or to turn aside and forfeit salvation. God will force no man either into heaven or into hell.
“Jacob, a Nephite prophet, has given us a masterly summary of the results of our Lord’s Atonement, both as to the universal redemption from death, and the conditions upon which individual salvation may be obtained.
“‘For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfill the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord; wherefore it must needs be an infinite Atonement; save it should be an infinite Atonement, this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. … and it shall come to pass, that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment eat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God. … And He suffereth this, that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before Him at the great and judgment day. And He commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in His name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the Kingdom of God. And if they will not repent and believe in His name, and be baptized in His name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it.’” (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, 9:6, 7, 15, 22-24.)
(Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, chapter 11, pp. 48-51.)
1950: Principles of the Gospel: Advanced Senior Department Course of Study
Lesson 17: The Resurrection
“‘Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?’ (Acts 26:8.)
“So asked Paul of King Agrippa when arraigned before him a prisoner in bonds approximately thirty years after our Lord’s resurrection. At that time the apostles and the saints generally suffered severe persecution because of their persistent testimony of the Christ, crucified and risen. The powerful Sadducees denied the actuality of a resurrection! Their opponents, the Pharisees, professed a belief in the resurrection, but all save those who had been converted to Christianity through faith and repentance denounced the solemn testimonies of Christ’s resurrection as fiction and falsehood.
“That the spirit of Jesus Christ returned from the abode of the disembodied and reentered the body till then reposing in the sepulchre is specifically affirmed in Holy Writ. In the early dawn of that most memorable Sunday in history He was seen by Mary Magdalene and then by others, some of whom were permitted to reverently touch His feet. In the evening He stood among the apostles and quieted their fears by the assuring demonstration: ‘Behold my hands and feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.’ (Luke 24:39.)
“That the body they beheld was the identical body in which the Lord had lived amongst them was evident from the presence of the wounds made by the crucifiers. To further assure the devoted company that He was no shadowy form, no immaterial being, but a living Personage with bodily organs, internal as well as outward, He asked: ‘Have ye here any meat?’ They brought broiled fish and other food, and He ‘did eat before them.’
“Christ was the first of all men to emerge from the tomb with spirit and body reunited, a resurrected immortalized soul. Therefore is He rightly called ‘the first fruits of them that slept,’ as also ‘the first born from the dead,’ and ‘the first begotten of the dead.’ (I Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5.) The victory over death thus achieved by the foreordained Redeemer of the race was positively and abundantly foretold. That a literal resurrection shall come to all who have or shall have lived and died on earth is quite as strongly attested in scripture.
“Two general resurrections are specified; these we may distinguish as the first and the final, or as the resurrection of the just and that of the unjust respectively. Hear the words of Christ Himself relating to the dead and their assured coming forth: ‘for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice. And shall come forth, they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ (John 5:28, 29.)
“The first resurrection began with that of Jesus Christ and was continued thereafter as we read: ‘and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.’ (Matthew 27:52, 53.) The resurrection of the just is to e made general at the time of the Lord’s approaching advent in glory; but a fixed gradation is established as Paul averred: ‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the first fruits; afterward they are Christ’s at His coming.’ (I Cor. 15:20-23.)
“The Millennium is to be inaugurated by a glorious redemption of the righteous from the power of death; and of them it is written: ‘Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.’ (Rev. 20:6.) Of the unworthy we read in thrilling contrast: ‘But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.’
“Of the imminence of His coming and in further specification of the distinction between the resurrection of the just and that of the unjust the Lord has said through revelation in the current age: ‘Hearken ye, for behold, the great day of the Lord is nigh at hand. For the day cometh that the Lord shall utter His voice out of heaven; the heavens shall shake and the earth shall tremble and the trump of God shall sound both long and loud, and shall say to the sleeping nations, Ye saints arise and live; ye sinners stay and sleep until I shall call again.’ (Doctrine and Covenants 43:17, 18.)
“The Book of Mormon is explicit in description of the literal and universal resurrection: ‘Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death; The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even ax we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt. Now this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but all things shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.’” (Alma 11:42-44.)
(Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism, chapter 82, pp. 288-291.)
1950: The Gospel Message, by William E. Berrett
Lessons 35-36: The Way of Salvation for All Men
The Meaning of Salvation
No other text has been so popular among Christian ministers as that of “salvation,” and perhaps upon no people has there been such a divergence of views. Salvation is also a doctrine of the Latter-day Saints. We read in the third Article of Faith:
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved, [not will be saved] by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Pearl of Great Price, Articles of Faith, No. 3.) We need to examine carefully the wording of the above statement. Many Christians contend that, because of the atonement of Christ, all who are pre-destined to be saved will be saved, without regard to their actions upon the earth. Among others, it is contended that men will be saved if they but believe in Jesus Christ. Still others require the administration of ordinances as well as works. The Latter-day Saints contend that mankind may be saved, not will be saved, according to their obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. For, only upon such as obey, will the atonement of Christ bring about salvation.
We might well ask the question, “From what does man hope or desire to be saved?” Surely all of us desire to be saved from undue pain; from the consequences of our sins, which, if they come upon us, will cause misery and shame. We desire to be saved from death, at least from a permanent death; and we desire to be saved from the power and influence of evil. Brigham Young, when asked what salvation was, said: “Salvation is putting oneself beyond the power of death, hell, and the devil.” this is perhaps the equivalent of the things we have mentioned. Certainly a salvation less than that could not be the salvation spoken of by Christ as bringing eternal joy to the recipient. And if this is what salvation means it surely cannot be obtained in fulness while in this life. Hence, salvation for mortal man is only in degree and in that degree in which he has accepted and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Two types of salvation are necessary to man’s future happiness: salvation from death which came upon all mankind because of the acts of Adam, and salvation from the consequences which will otherwise follow our own sins. The first salvation, the salvation from death, has been made possible by the death and resurrection of the Savior. It is a free gift to all mankind. It requires no activity on the part of man. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:22.)
By reason of the atonement this type of salvation will come to all men, both the good and the evil. We read in John:
“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son, to have life in himself.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice,
“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:26, 28, 29.)
By inspiration Joseph Smith revised the last two clauses to read:
“They who have done good in the resurrection of the just, and they who have done evil in the resurrection of the unjust.” (Doc. and Cov. 76:17.)
It is certain from these and numerous other passages, especially those found in the Book of Mormon, that the resurrection of the dead is universal, extending to all races and classes of men; hence, there is a universal salvation from the effects of the “Fall” of Adam. (Read also: Romans 5:18; Alma 11:40-44; 3 Nephi 27:13-15.)
Just how the salvation from death is brought about we are not far enough advanced to understand. The Latter-day Saints have many witnesses that for numerous individuals the resurrection is an accomplished fact; and, in the light of that knowledge, an understanding the process by which it was done becomes of secondary importance.
The phase of man’s salvation about which he should be concerned is individual salvation from the consequences of his own acts. Apart from the transgressions of our first parents, there is a vast amount of corruption and sin in the world. To quote the late B.H. Roberts:
“Selfishness is the starting point of the present system of industrialism; chicanery and fraud enter into all the avenues of trade; dishonesty stalks the streets without shame; licentiousness revels in its own wantonness; whoredoms are poisoning the life’s blood of nations; prostitution flaunts its shame upon the streets and takes up its abode in the very shadow of the churches, where men meet to worship God. Instead of beautifying the earth, man is but making many portions of it sinkholes of iniquity, where poverty, misery, degradation, drunkenness, crime and sin lie festering in their filthiness under the sunlight of heaven, until the very earth is defiled under the inhabitants thereof.
“Now who is responsible for all these evils, this seething mass of iniquity, which blights like a hell-sent plague this fair Creation of God’s – the earth? I answer that every man and every woman and every child, who has arrived at the years of accountability – who understands the difference between good and evil – is responsible for it, so far, and to that extent that his or her individual acts contribute to the grand aggregate of crime in this sin stained world.” (B.H. Roberts, The Gospel, pp. 29-30.)
The consequences of sin are only too self-evident, even in this mortal existence. But they extend, as well, into the eternities, where a “lively sense of guilt” may bring man into a condition or state of “hell.” In that “lively sense of guilt” man cannot be happy. In the Book of Mormon we read:
“… Ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell.” (Mormon 9:4.)
Being free agents, all of us in some degree violate the laws of God; and hence, none could return to Him, except we can remove or be saved from the normal consequences of our own evil acts. This salvation depends upon individual obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
We must recognize that there are those who will not be saved, that is, those who will not escape the consequences of the sins which they have committed, because they have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ, neither believed in Him nor repented of their sins, whereby they might be forgiven them.
Hence to them must come that lamentation spoken of by Jeremiah: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended and we are not saved.” (Jer. 8:20.) The essence of sin lies in the violation of the laws and commandments of the Lord. Every such violation is naturally followed by a penalty upon the transgressor. We live in a world of law, a world of cause and effect. The effects of disobedience to spiritual law will be misery, remorse, and spiritual pain. It follows as surely as the night follows the day, unless there be some way whereby man might be saved from the consequences of his own acts. But there s a plan of salvation provided, so that through compliance with the laws established for just such a purpose, a sinner may be given the merciful advantages of propitiation made possible through the atonement of Christ, and receive a forgiveness of his sins.
It is because Jesus of Nazareth has taught man a way by which he might be forgiven of sins and hence saved from the consequences of them that he has been called the Savior, as well as the Redeemer of men. In the final judgment of souls, those will receive mercy who have become eligible to receive it through obedience to the gospel.
In the gospels we read, “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.
“Then said one unto Him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
“Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
“When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know ye not, whence ye are:” (Luke 13:22-25.)
the answer of the Savior indicates that not all shall be saved, perhaps just a few; but he is not explicit in declaring who the saved and unsaved shall be. Among Christendom in general, there has been confusion on the doctrine of salvation of men, many Christians contending that those who die without having partaken of certain ordinances, principally the ordinance of baptism, are eternally damned. This doctrine would condemn to an endless hell all those billions of people who have died not having heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, not having had an opportunity to accept or to reject it. There has also grown up within Christian circles the concept that those who are saved shall be in one place, designated as a heaven, all equally enjoying themselves and all equal in status; while those who are not saved shall be in one place, designated as hell, equally in torment and misery. This concept has grown up despite some scriptural references that point to many gradations of salvation. We read in the gospel of John “in my father’s house are many mansions.” (John 14:2.) That statement of the Savior is incongruous with the thought that there is one heaven and one hell.
The subject is carried further by the apostle Paul when he says: “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (I Cor. 15:40-42.)
In the above quotation we have at least two distinct gradations named within that group referred to as being in the kingdom of heaven, namely, those inheriting celestial bodies and those inheriting terrestrial bodies. As Paul likens one glory to that of the sun and another to that of the moon, and still another to that of the stars, it would seem that he referred to still a third glory within that heavenly kingdom.
Contributions of Joseph Smith Upon This Subject
On the problem of salvation, the Prophet Joseph has enlightened the world. In the first place, the Prophet held out the possibility of salvation to all men, regardless of whether or not they had received the light of the gospel in this world, contending that a just God would give unto every man and woman, toe very son and daughter an opportunity to hear His gospel and to accept or to reject it, whether in this world or in the world of spirits, to which we go when we die. The Prophet Joseph extended the possibility of salvation to all mankind. His doctrine is clearly defined in these words:
“The Mussalman condemns the heathen, the jew and the Christian and the whole world of mankind that rejects his Koran as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised are gentile dogs and will be damned. The heathen is equally tenacious about his principles. And the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed and submit to his ipse dixit. But, while one portion of the human race is condemning the other without mercy, the great parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. He views them as His offspring without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. He holds the reins of judgment in his own hands. He is a wise lawgiver and would judge all men, not according to the narrow-contracted notions of men, but according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or evil or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, turkey or India. He will judge them, not according to what they have not, but according to what they have.
“Those who have lived without law will be judged without law and those who have a law will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the judgment and the wisdom of the great Jehovah. He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them in obtaining correct information and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall, all of us, eventually have to confess that the judge of all the earth has done right.” (Smith, History of the Church, Period I, Vol. III, pp. 595-596.)
Joseph taught that all men would have equal opportunity to hear and embrace the laws of God whether in this life or in the world to come. “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God, also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom, for I the Lord will judge all men according to their work and according to the desire in their hearts.” (Ibid., p. 380)
In two different ways, then, the Latter-day Saints have extended the doctrine of salvation. First, the doctrine holds out salvation to all men who, either in this life or in the spirit world, accept the gospel, and grants unto all who have died without hearing it here the opportunity of hearing it in the spirit world. Second, the gospel, as Joseph taught it, provides for many mansions or degrees of glory in the life to come, so that all are not saved to the same degree of salvation, as all do not merit the same reward nor the same punishment. Concerning this doctrine, the late James E. Talmage writes,
“Salvation is graded. Those who attain even the telestial state are saved from the depths of perdition. Those who find place in the terrestrial kingdom are saved from the inferior state of the telestial; those who enter the celestial kingdom of our God are both saved and exalted in a superlative sense. Thus it is decreed and provided that every soul shall find his place and mingle with his kind in a state of lesser, advanced or supreme salvation. On the other side of the veil we shall find many grades of society, but the standard of classification will be a just one. Here we are generally rated according to what we have in this world, there we shall take our place according to what we are.” (Talmage, Sunday Night Talks, page 93.)
One of the most glorious truths which the prophet taught was that there is a way whereby those who have died without a knowledge of the gospel may come to hear it, that they might partake of its blessings.
Salvation and Exaltation.
We need to draw a distinction between being saved from the consequences of death and sin and being exalted because of obedience to all the laws of God. We are taught in the book of Mormon that little children who die before reaching the age of accountability, “… and also all they that are without the law” (Moroni 8:22.) are saved in the kingdom of the Father – that for them the Atonement of Christ is sufficient. They are redeemed from the fall of Adam in which they had no part, and they have no sins of which to repent, for they have not been conscious of doing wrong. Hence, they may return unashamed to that God who gave them life.
Hence, heathen nations, who have died without the law, will have part in the first resurrection. (Doc. and Cov. 45:54.) But this salvation from death and sin does not place all who are thus resurrected on an even basis with those who knew and obeyed the gospel while upon the earth. On this matter, B.H. Roberts writes:
“Still, those who have died without law are placed at this disadvantage; that if they are not under the condemnation of the law, through not having had it delivered to them, neither are they sanctified by the law, and consequently their development in spiritual knowledge and experience is not such as may warrant us in expecting that they are prepared to inherit the same glory with those who have received the law of the gospel, faithfully observed all of its requirements, and through their obedience have become sanctified by it, and inherit the celestial glory, the highest of all. Therefore, it is written of those who die without the law:
“‘These are they who are of the terrestrial [world], whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn, who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament. Behold these are they who died without law.’” (Ibid., 76:71-72. B.H. Roberts, The Gospel, pp. 35-36.)
The Gospel Preached in the Spirit World
The Mormon religion holds out, as we have noticed, hope for the dead. In the gospel of John we read:
“… The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God; and they that hear shall live. …
“Marvel not at this; the hour is coming I which all that are in the grave shall hear his voice.” (John 5:25, 28.)
The apostle Peter throws further light upon this problem and indicates how this work of preaching to the spirits in the spirit world began. Thus we read, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
“By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
“Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (I Peter 3:18-20.)
Upon this problem, however, of preaching the gospel to the spirits in prison, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more to contribute. Consider these words of the prophet Joseph: “When speaking about the blessings pertaining to the gospel and the consequences connected with disobedience to the requirements, we are frequently asked the question, what has become of our fathers? Will they all be damned for not obeying the gospel when they never heard it? Certainly not, but they will possess the same privilege that we here enjoy, through the medium of the everlasting priesthood, which not only administers on earth, but also in heaven, and the wise dispensation of the great Jehovah.” (Smith, History of the Church, Vol. IV, 598.
President Joseph F. Smith, a short time before his death, while pondering the mission of Jesus to the spirits in prison, during the time His body lay in the tomb, saw in vision the redemption of the dead. In recording this vision, president Smith wrote:
“As I wondered, my eyes were opened and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them, but behold, from among the righteous He organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men. And thus was the gospel preached to the dead. And the chosen messengers went forth to declare the acceptable day of the Lord, and proclaimed liberty to the captives that were bound; even unto all who would repent of their sins, and receive the gospel. Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets. These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that the might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. Thus it was made known that our Redeemer spent His time during His sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who have testified of Him in the flesh, that they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead unto whom he could not go personally because of their rebellion and transgression, that they through the ministrations of his servants might also hear His words.” (Joseph F. Smith, “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead,” Gospel Doctrine, pp. 598 to 599.)
Laws of the Gospel Universal
We have come to see that the gospel of Jesus Christ was prepared before the earth was formed. It is a universal gospel, applicable unto men throughout eternity. God, our Father, commissioned His Son, Jesus Christ, to teach the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. He has also appointed His Beloved Son to judge the acts of His children and their worthiness to inherit His eternal glory. Whom will the Son recommend unto the Father? Jesus Christ has answered this question from the beginning.
Those Who Obey the Laws of the Gospel
The gospel teaches a definite way by which those who have sinned may come to a condition where the Lord will forgive them. The law in that regard is universal. Man must confess his faith in his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, show signs worthy of repentance, and be reborn of water, the son or daughter of the Savior, as a token of the solemn covenant with God to keep his commandments. Having conformed to this law, the individual is ready to receive the Holy ghost, by the laying on of hands. But the Holy Ghost cannot bring about in the individual a change of heart spoken of as the baptism by fire, until these conditions have been met. Those who have entered the spirit world without conforming to all of these requirements cannot hope to have the law changed in their behalf, neither could the law be changed, for it is an eternal one. To say that baptism by water is necessary for people in mortality, but should not be required of those who have entered the spirit world without it, would be put to a premium upon delaying the time of repentance. Such a variance would make God a changeable God, a partial God, a respecter of persons, and would set at naught the gospel plan for the redemption of men. Although a person in the spirit world might have faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and might be brought to repent of his sins, yet he cannot be born of water there, since water belongs to the physical world from which he has departed. Without the baptism in which he cannot participate, the Holy Ghost cannot be bestowed or the remission of his sins received. He must, therefore, remain forever in a consciousness of guilt, being unable to win the forgiveness of God. But God in His mercy prepared a way to satisfy the law and make joy possible for His wayward children. When the individual in the spirit world has done all that he can do to win the forgiveness of the Father, and has shown himself desirous of being baptized by water and of receiving the Holy Ghost, God is willing to accept the physical act of baptism performed by one upon the earth for and in behalf of the individual who is in the spirit world.
Temple Work for the Dead
It may seem peculiar, at first thought, that an act required of one person might be accepted when performed by another in his behalf, with his consent, but the practice of accepting work done by proxy is very prevalent in society. For example, stockholders frequently vote by proxy, taxes are paid to the state by proxy and automobile licenses may be thus obtained. Even marriage in some states can be performed by proxy, and also the casting of votes at an election. In none of these instances would anyone say that because the various acts could not be performed by the individual concerned, that no act would be required at all, that the stockholders at the meeting could consider that particular stock voted without being voted, that the state would consider the taxes paid without them actually being paid, or that the couple would be considered married without the ceremony, or that the vote would be counted without actually being cast. God requires the physical performance of certain ordinances and these can be done only in mortal life and should be done there, but when the person accepting the gospel is in the spirit world he will accept the performance of the ordinance when properly done by a proxy upon the earth.
When we consider how the physical act of being baptized in the temple for one who is dead may complete the requirements of God of the forgiveness of that individual in the spirit world, and release him from the bonds of sin which have prevented him from enjoying God’s presence, we begin to realize his joy over our act of sacrifice. We begin to appreciate something of the bond of love that has been developed, not only between us and the individual directly benefited, but between us and his kindred as well, and those who in the spirit world have taught him the gospel but have been unable to perform for him the necessary ordinances. We have further won the love of our Father in heaven because we have kept His great commandment, “… Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” (Luke 10:27.)
While all people who enter the spirit world may hear the gospel taught, those who have heard it upon the earth and rejected it may likewise reject it in that world to which they have gone. It must not be supposed that the nature of individuals changes upon death or that those who reject the gospel during earth life after having fully known it, do an about-face in the spirit world and accept it.
Concerning such individuals, the Nephite prophet, Jacob, said, “But woe 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.” (2 Nephi 9:27.)
The Prophet Alma adds further light upon this subject:
“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.
“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
“… For after this day of life which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
“Ye cannot say when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
“For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance, even until d4eath, behold ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil and he doth seal you his; “therefore the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you and hath no place in you and the devil hath all power over you and this is the final state of the wicked.” (Alma 34:31-35.)
Endowment Work for the Dead
Baptism for the dead, as for the living, prepares the way for release from the bondage of sin. It prepares the individual for entrance unashamed into God’s kingdom and for all such the Savior has won salvation from the consequences of sin. The eternal joy, however, which the Lord has prepared for those that love Him comes as a result of growth within the kingdom, and this growth follows obedience to the laws of the Lord. To bring an understanding of the gospel plan to his children and to help them keep His commandments, the Lord has established an ordinance in His holy temples called the endowment. The endowment ordinance exemplifies great gospel principles; it teaches the story of man and his relationship to God; it instructs the recipient concerning the order and symbols of the holy priesthood and makes known the great honor and glory which await those who faithfully keep their covenants. The endowment takes the individual through a symbolic growth into the celestial kingdom, binding him by covenant to keep the laws upon which such growth might be actually realized. To enter into these higher covenants with God, the man must hold the holy Melchizedek priesthood. These higher covenants may also be performed for the dead as well as the living, but will not be available to the dead until they have accepted the gospel and are ready for entrance into the higher ordinances. Like baptism, the endowment may be done in the temple by proxy. The ordinance must have been preceded by baptism and, if for a man, by ordination to the higher priesthood.
In entering the endowment on behalf of one who is dead, a man or woman assumes the name of the member of his or her own sex for whom the work is being done and a record of the work is kept. This ordinance, like baptism, pertains to mortality and must be performed upon the earth.
Sealings for the Dead
There remains one other important work which may be done in the temples for those who are dead. This is the work of sealing family groups together so that the family will be perpetuated in the resurrection. This consists of a marriage ceremony by proxy, of couples who, during earth life, were married under the civil law, and the sealing of their children to them by proxy. This opens the way for eternal increase and growth toward exaltation.
It must be remembered that the law of free agency prevails throughout eternity, and work done in temples for individuals in the spirit world does not deprive them of their free agency. The dead may, or may not, accept the work done on earth in their behalf. If the work is rejected, it is as if the work had not been done at all, except for the personal growth which comes to the proxy through his sacrificial effort and contact with the environment of the temple. It is the hope and the belief of the church that eventually the vast majority of mankind will desire to follow the principles and enter into the ordinances of the gospel.
1950: The Principles and Practice of Genealogy, by Joseph Sudweeks
Course of Study for the Sunday Schools
Lesson 40, 41: The Spirit World
What a dark valley and shadow it is that we call death! to pass from this state of existence as far as the mortal body is concerned into a state of inanition, how strange it is! … I would like to say to you, my friends and brethren, if we could see things as they are, and as we shall see and understand them, this dark shadow and valley is so trifling that we shall turn around and look upon it and think, when we have crossed it, why this is the greatest advantage of my whole existence, for I have passed from a state of sorrow, grief, mourning, woe, misery, pain, anguish, and disappointment into a state of existence where I can enjoy life to the fullest extent as far as that can be done without a body. My spirit is set free, I thirst no more, I want to sleep no more, I hunger no more, I tire no more; I run, walk, I labor, I go, I come, I do this, I do that, whatever is required of me, nothing like pain or weariness, I am full of life, full of vigor, and I enjoy the presence of my heavenly Father, by the power of His spirit. (Teachings of President Brigham Young (Salvation for the Dead, etc.), pp. 9-10.)
A. What is a Spirit?
In the discussion of spirits and the spirit world it will be helpful to refer at the beginning to the diagram in Chapter V, “Stages of Development in Man’s Eternal Life.” Note that the first of the three major divisions of life is known as pre-earth life; and that two stages are included – intelligences and spirit-children of God. After earth-life, comes a third major division – post-earth life; and the first sub-division here is a spirit existence – that of the disembodied spirit. Spirits in the two stages are to be considered in this chapter. We must admit at the beginning that we know but little of spirit-beings. What we know comes to us through revelation and from inference from revealed truths.
There was a spiritual creation of living things to inhabit this earth before their physical bodies were created. The following quotations are only samples of several that might be used to prove this point. After the account of the creation given in the first chapter of Genesis, Chapter two (verses 4 and 5) continues:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
And every herb of the field before it grew; for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. (Gen. 2:4, 5.)
The account given in the Pearl of Great Price is very similar to the one just quoted, but is more certain evidence that the first creation was only a spiritual creation. It follows:
And now, behold, I say unto you, that these are the generations of the heaven and of the earth, when they were created, in the day that I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth,
And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth. For I, the Lord God, had not caused it to rain upon the face of the earth. And I, the Lord God, had created all the children of men; and not yet a man to till the ground; for in heaven created I them; and there was not yet flesh upon the earth, neither in the water, neither in the air. (Moses 3:4-5.)
In both of these accounts of creation, the writer goes on with another account of a creation. Both accounts show that a physical creation followed the spiritual creation.
Spirit is organized intelligence. Before human beings were organized into spirits, they were intelligences. Speaking of those intelligences, God said to Moses:
I dwell in the midst of them all; … I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences … I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones. (Abraham 3:21-22.)
Apparently, beings known as “intelligences” bear about the same relationship to spirits as spirits bear to mortal man. Just as physical bodies were created for the spirit to dwell in, so spirit bodies were created to contain intelligences. The Mormon idea of creation is well expressed in the term organization. Mortal man, then, has a three-fold nature.
spirit is a form of matter. The teachings of Joseph Smith regarding the nature of spirit is clearly expressed in the following:
There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned b purer eyes;
We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified, we shall see that it is all matter. (Doc. and Cov. 131:7-8.)
We know matter in ver many forms. In some of its forms it does not affect the organs of sight; some of its forms do not affect the organ of hearing. The same statements might be made for the other special senses. It is not improbable that some of its forms do not furnish stimuli to any of the physical senses.
Christ demonstrated the difference between the effect on the senses of the physical body and the spirit. Here is St. Luke’s account of Christ’s appearance to the eleven apostles after His resurrection:
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.
But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit.
And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?
Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (Luke 24:3-39.)
Spiritual senses must be brought into action in order to communicate with God, as the following passage indicates. For many hours after God had spoken to Moses “and Moses was left unto himself,” he was very weak. The account says:
And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.
But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, and I was transfigured before him. (Moses 1:10, 11.)
The Book of Mormon tells in these words of the appearance of God to the brother of Jared, “… and the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; … (Ether 3:6, 13.) While under the same transformation “… the Lord showed himself unto him, …”
B. Who Inhabits the Spirit Realm?
apparently two kinds of spirits dwell in this realm (though not necessarily “together”) – those that have not yet passed through mortality (premortal) and those who have experienced mortality (postmortal). The latter group have laid aside their bodies until the resurrection; therefore, they are ahead, in the stage of development, of the other group who are awaiting the privilege of earth life. Their home is called paradise, – the place of departed spirits. We recall the promise of Christ to one of the two thieves who were crucified with Him, “… Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 309-11.)
What of heaven? In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read the following:
There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, whoa re resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones –
For instance, Jesus said: ”Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”
Secondly: The spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory. (Doc. and Cov. 129:1-3.)
We are justified, then, in believing that these people who are said to live in heaven are not inhabitants of paradise.
The inhabitants of paradise include those to whom Christ introduced the gospel while His body lay in the tomb awaiting resurrection. It is apparently more appropriate for a spirit than for a resurrected being to associate with and teach spirits. We are told further that those spirits in whose interest Christ’s sojourn to paradise was made had been “… disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, …” (I Peter 3:20.)
C. Conditions in the Spirit World
Is there a spiritual existence? All evidences of a pre-existent state are also evidences of a spiritual existence. Chapter V, section B, is a discussion of premortal life. If personality existed before the formation of the body in mortality, it must have existed as a spirit, which inhabited the body when it was prepared for its immortal tenant.
Where is the spirit world? Several writers have expressed the belief that the place of departed spirits is not far from the dwelling place of mortal beings. Read three verses of a beautiful poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:
It seemeth such a little way to me
Across to that strange country – the Beyond –
And yet not strange, for it has grown to be
The home of those of whom I am so fond.
They make it seem familiar and most dear,
As journeying friends bring distant regions near.
So close it lies – that when my sight is clear
I think I almost see the gleaming strand
And then I feel that those who’ve gone from here
Are sometimes near enough to touch my hand;
and often think that but for our veiled eyes
We should find heaven ever about us lies.
And so for me there is no sting of death,
And so the grave has lost its victory –
It is but crossing with abated breath
And white set face – a little strip of sea
To find the loved ones waiting on the shore
More beautiful, more precious than before.
(Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Poems of Passion.
Following are the words of President Brigham Young in regard to the location of the world of spirits:
When you lay down this tabernacle where are you going? Into the spirit world. … where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of this organized earth? No, they do not. They are brought forth upon this earth, for the express purpose of inhabiting it to all eternity. Where else are you going? Nowhere else, only as you are permitted. (Brigham Young, The Contributor, Vol. 10 (1889), p. 322; Discourses, (1941 edit.), p. 376.)
Two or three other statements just as positive may be found quoted in a discourse of President Young, given in the Bowery, Salt Lake City, June 22, 1856. (N.B. Lundwall, Temples of the Most High, pp. 302-304.)
This agrees with the teaching of Parley P. Pratt, a great Latter-day Saint theologian. He says:
The spirit world is not the heaven where Jesus Christ, His Father, and other beings dwell, who have, by resurrection or translation, ascended to eternal mansions, and been crowned and seated on thrones of power, but is an intermediate state, a place of preparation, improvement, instruction, or education, where spirits are chastened and improved, and where, if found worthy, they may be taught a knowledge of the gospel. … As to its location, it is here on the very planet where we were born; or, in other words, the earth and other planets of a like sphere, have their inward or spiritual spheres, as well as their outward, or temporal. The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal. (Parley P. Pratt, Key to Theology (1938 edit.), p. 125.)
Activity in the spirit world. What is the spiritual body like? Let us seek the answer to that question in the following quotations:
… that which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal is in the likeness of that which is spiritual; the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, … (Doc. and Cov. 77:2.)
… this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh. (Ether 3:16.)
The spirit of an consists of an organization of the elements of spiritual matter, in the likeness and after the pattern of the fleshy tabernacle. It possesses, in fact, all the organs and parts exactly corresponding to the outward tabernacle. (Key to Theology, p. 124.)
Let us again note the accounts of the spiritual creation given in the Bible and in the Pearl of Great Price. This time we are concerned with the resemblance between the spiritual and the physical bodies.
And God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: …
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:26-27.)
Practically the same words are used in the Pearl of Great Price in Moses’ account of the same creation, in which God himself is represented as speaking. (Moses 2:26-27; 6:8-9. See also The Vitality of Mormonism, James E. Talmage, pp. 242-245.) It is interesting to note that Moses is the author of both passages. We understand that the great law-giver is the author of the book of Genesis as well as the book named for him in the Pearl of Great Price.
These two passages indicate that man’s spiritual body is in the image of the spiritual body of God. At least the Savior must have had both a physical and a spiritual body. He ascended into heaven with his physical body, which we have good evidence for believing had received a literal resurrection.
We are justified, then, in concluding that the spiritual body is the exact image and likeness of the physical body in which it is tabernacled. If we mortal beings could sense spiritual beings or resurrected beings, we would be struck by the similarity between their bodies and ours. Spirits can be distinguished from each other just as physical bodies can be.
Something has been revealed concerning the activity in the world of spirits. Two of our modern prophets contribute the following on this point:
When the faithful elders, holding this priesthood, go into the spirit world, they carry with them the same power and priesthood that they had while here in the mortal tabernacle. … Spirits are just as familiar with spirits as bodies are with bodies, though spirits are composed of matter so refined as not to be tangible to this coarser organization. They walk, they converse, and have their meetings; and the spirits of good men like Joseph and the elders who have left this church on earth for a season to operate in another sphere, are rallying all their powers, and going from place to place preaching the gospel. (Brigham Young, The Contributor, Vol. 10 (1889): 322. Discourses, p. 379.
I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under bondage of sin in the great world of spirits of the dead. The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the House of God, and after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation. (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel doctrine, p. 601.
Besides the preaching of the gospel to the spirits who did not receive it during mortal life, there must be a great variety of work to be done.
D. Relationship Between Spirit World and Mortality
This earth and its inhabitants were created by God as part of his plans for the salvation and exaltation of the human family. As previously quoted, he said to Moses, “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) Surely God would not desert His children after He had started the human race on the earth, leaving them without direction and instruction for overcoming temptation and progressing towards the great goals of existence. He maintains communication with them indirectly through his written word and directly through His living oracles (while such representatives are upon the earth). This latter feature involves, when the necessity arises, inspiration, revelation, and visitations from spiritual beings and resurrected beings to worthy persons on the earth. Messages are delivered by visitors through manifestations known as visions. The Bible gives accounts of many visions as a means of communication between God and man. In this latter-day dispensation of the gospel, this means is used at times to deliver a ver important and impressive message.
Earlier in this chapter, attention was called to the appearance of God to Moses and to the brother of Jared. In explanation of these manifestations, this sentence was used: “Spiritual senses must be called into action in order to communicate with God.” The same thing is true of messages from any other than mortal beings. As previously quoted, “And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared”; as a result he saw God. He received instructions form the Lord both before and after this visual manifestation. Consider other accounts of such manifestations. The first to be considered is the introduction to “Visions manifested to Joseph, the seer, and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple, April 3, 1836.” (Doc. and Cov. 110:1-2.)
The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; …
Thus, supernatural power for seeing and understanding was granted the two men. Another great vision, that revealing information concerning the degrees of glory, was made possible through a similar transformation, as thus described:
We, Joseph Smith, jun., and Sidney Rigdon, being in the spirit on the sixteenth of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-two –
By the power of the spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God. (Ibid., 76:11-12.)
The following explanations are quoted, concerning the nature of visions:
Visions of our Lord are not perceived with the outward eye, or reflected in the natural mind, but with the spiritual eye. there is a spirit within, whose range of vision is limited by the capacity of physical organs, so that it can neither see nor hear that which lies beyond the boundaries of what we call “matter,” but when the veil is lifted, the spirit can perceive the spiritual world. … Such a temporary removal of the veil is only partial. Natural man cannot see God, or abide in His presence, nor in the presence of angels, unless he be “quickened” by the Spirit of God. (Hyrum M. Smith and J.M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 507.)
Speaking of the physical world and the world of spirits, Parley P. Pratt gives this explanation:
The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal. To discern beings or things in the spirit world, a person in the flesh must be quickened by spiritual element, the veil must be withdrawn, or the organs of sight, or of hearing, must be transformed, so as to be adapted to the spiritual sphere. This state is called vision, second sight, clairvoyance, etc. (Parley P. Pratt, Keys to Theology, pp. 125-126.)
President Heber J. Grant gives an account of a vision given to him. I quote a few sentences:
What I seemed to hear is one of the most vivid things of all my life. I seemed to see a council in heaven … I did not see anything with my natural eyes; I did not hear anything with my natural ears, but that eternal part of me that shall live when my body has mouldered in the grave, communicated and heard, and my ears heard and my eyes saw. (Heber J. Grant, “Dedication Ceremony, Sacred Grove, Palmyra, New York,” Deseret News, Church section, Aug. 24, 1935.)
Events yet to happen in the future can be revealed by visions, as the following indicates:
Our Lord saw from the mountaintop, “… all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” (Luke 4:5.) They were, of course, not actually present on the mountain. He saw them in a vision. … President Brigham Young saw the Salt lake Temple, in a vision, one day in July, 1847, over five years before the ground whereupon it stands was broken for the foundations on the fourteenth of February, 1853. (Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 68.)
Let us give careful consideration to these six quotations, and draw some conclusions regarding the relationship between the spirit world and mortality. The following statements seem to be justified:
A veil, that cannot be penetrated by the mind with its physical limitations, separates the spirit world from the physical world. Visions – communications to mortals by beings of another order – take place when bodies are quickened or transformed so that spiritual faculties operate. Faculties of the spirits do not have such limitations as those of mortal bodies. Visions can be granted of events yet to happen or of things yet to come into existence in the future. We can understand, then, how it is possible for both mortal and immortal beings to exist upon, or near, this planet, at the same time without being conscious of one another.
1956: An Introduction to the Gospel, by Lowell L. Bennion
Lesson 11: Man Is Capable of Eternal Progression
Jesus told several parables in which he taught forcefully and beautifully that men should receive the word of God and let it grow in their lives and bear fruit. Notable among them is the parable of the sower. Mark his words:
A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And others fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit a hundred fold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasure of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:5-15.)
When the word of God is received by those with an honest and good heart, they bring forth fruit with patience.
The religious life was not something static in the mind of Jesus, not something to become jellied and be preserved, not a talent to be buried lest it be lost. He wanted religion to bear fruit in life unto perfection. Humility, faith, repentance, and love are experiences in spiritual growth. Life was not to be static and repetitious but continually creative and self fulfilling.
Any thoughtful person knows that his life is not what it could and should be, so he searches for truth and strives to live more righteously. The religion of the Latter-day Saints is in harmony with man’s desire for spiritual growth and with the Savior’s stress upon it. We believe that man’s life on earth is purposeful, that he can grow toward the perfection of him who is our Creator and eternal Father. We call this belief eternal progression. Not only is progression a practical characteristic of man’s life on earth, it is, in Latter-day Saint faith, a fundamental principle of our religion rooted in our theology.
THE MEANING OF ETERNAL PROGRESSION
Progression means literally “the act of going forward.” The most important thing about progression is the goal toward which we are moving. Men go forward on the field of battle to their destruction. Weeds and tumors grow; crime and epidemics increase. We seek, therefore, movement forward toward a good goal. and the goal we seek gives direction and meaning to our progress.
Eternal progression has two meanings, one quantitative and the other qualitative, and both are exciting to contemplate. Eternal in a quantitative sense means without beginning or end. We believe that man, in his pre-earth existence, by the use of free agency in association with Deity and his fellow associates, had opportunity to learn and to better himself. His coming to earth was planned by Deity to prove man, to let him walk by faith, knowing good and evil, and to have the privilege and responsibility to choose between them.
As we look beyond this life to that which is to come, the principle of progression continues to be operative. The gains we make in this life of a moral, intellectual, or spiritual nature, are part of our eternal nature. Our earthly possessions, houses, lands, automobiles, and bank accounts remain behind; our bodies go back to the element of the earth, whence they came; but our eternal spirits live on, retaining all the spiritual gains of mortality. This fact is clearly stated in a revelation to Joseph Smith:
Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come. (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18, 19)
Jesus expressed the same thought in his Sermon on the Mount:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through to steal. (Matthew 6:19, 20.)
At death we go to the spirit world. There we shall remember our labors on the earth. For our vain, shallow, and evil living we shall suffer remorse even as we do here. For any progress we may have made in Christian living, we shall rejoice and enjoy peace of mind. No matter what our condition in the spirit world our conscious existence continues and we shall have opportunity to progress further. Those who did not have adequate opportunity to hear and understand the gospel of Christ on earth will hear it there and may exercise faith and repent. The more righteous, who understand and believe it, will follow in the footsteps of the Savior and help teach it to those who understand it less or not at all. (Review Chapter 8.)
In the final state of life, when men will be resurrected and have a full capacity for joy, life will not be static nor come to a spiritual completeness. Heaven is not a dead-end street to a Latter-day Saint, glorious though it might be. Heaven means simply a new and great opportunity to experience joy through self-realization. Man’s quest for a fullness of life, as far as we know, will go on forever and may be rewarding and fulfilling all the way. There need be no end to man’s progression. Eternal progression means to move forward with gradual improvement forever.
Eternal means not only everlastingly, but also God-like. this is clearly evident in the words of Jesus: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3.) That which gives such rich meaning to the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal progression is not only that it may continue forever, but also that it is progression toward such a wonderful goal, the character and life of God.
God, the Father, is our ideal. He knows the goodness, the richness, and the fullness of life. Our own joy will come as we progress in the realization of God-like qualities which exist in our own minds and hearts. Our need is to grow in justice and impartiality, mercy and love, knowledge and wisdom, and in our ability to help others attain these same divine attributes. As we grow in these attributes and share in our Father’s service to man, we shall grow in his likeness and share in his life and word.
Our eternal goal is not to enjoy a vision of God in a passive, spectator sense, nor to come to a place of heavenly bliss and peace. Our idea of heaven is not radically different from our experience with life here in its spiritual aspects. Our Eternal Father wishes us to know the richness of life that is his. He wants us to become more intelligent, creative, and loving, even as he, that we might know the meaning of life which is his.
Jesus came to earth, among other reasons, to reveal to man the character and will of the Father. He himself “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52.) And “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;” (Hebrews 5:8-10.) In a revelation to Joseph Smith we read of the Savior’s own progress toward a fulness of the glory of God.
And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us. And I, John, saw that he received not the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son. And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt I him. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-17.)
The promise is also made to us that we too may enjoy a fulness of the glory of God if we are faithful and walk in the steps of the Savior, living as he would have us live.
And it shall come to pas, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John. I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:18-20.)
Man’s potential, glorious, God-like future is further elaborated in another passage in the Doctrine and Covenants. From a vision of life hereafter, received by Joseph Smith and his associate, Sydney Rigdon, we read:
And again we bear record – for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just – They are they who receive the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given – That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power; And who overcame by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. They are they who are the church of the Firstborn. They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things – They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory; And are priests of the Most high, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God – Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people. These are they who shall have part in their first resurrection. These are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just. These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly place, the holiest of all. These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the firstborn. These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical. (Doctrine and Covenants 76:50-70.)
THE WAY OF PROGRESSION
We have, in this chapter, declared our faith in the principle of eternal progression. We have shown how it is in harmony with Jesus’ emphasis on growth in the spiritual life and also man’s need for growth. And we have tried to show the meaning of eternal progression, how it signifies going forward forever, realizing gradually and increasingly a more God-like and Christ-like life. There remains another important question pertaining to the subject: How does one progress eternally?
This question cannot be answered in a paragraph or a chapter. The entire gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan which will lead man from where he is toward the eternal goal of becoming in very deed a true Son of God, sharing in the work of his Father. The reader and student will have to be patient and give us time to introduce the plan as the course develops and as we study the work of Jesus Christ. Here we can only outline three general steps, not the specific principles, of the plan.
As indicated earlier (Chapters 2 and 3), religion rests on faith, on such great postulates of faith as the existence of God, that man’s life is a meaningful and immortal part of his divine creation, and that the Christian life will bring us the greatest joy here and eternally.
The first step in eternal progression is faith. We must believe in our goal enough to act upon it – to incline our hearts and minds toward God and to begin to live more as he would have us live. We must believe enough to experiment with his word.
Faith is a feeling, lying between hope and full assurance – depending on its strength – which enables us to live as though something is true which we have not yet seen nor realized. None of us has seen God, so we walk by faith. None of us has known the joy of full Christian living, so we walk by faith, seeking to realize more of it in our lives.
Faith is a gift of God. All men, unless they resist his influence, come under the influence of the Father and the Son, who are persuading them to believe, to do right, and to aspire to the good life. Faith, like our talents, must be cultivated to increase and become truly vital. A Book of Mormon prophet spoke convincingly about the cultivation of faith, the first vital step in our progression. (Read quotation on pages 18 & 19.)
A well-grounded faith leads to knowledge. Knowledge is a prerequisite to progress in religion even as it is in science, industry or school. We live in a world of law and order, both in nature and in the moral and spiritual life of man. Jesus said: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32.)
to a Latter-day Saint, the religious life includes knowledge as well as faith. The very purpose of faith is to lead us to a knowledge of God and his laws that we may understand and live in harmony therewith. Great and interesting is the stress in Latter-day Saint scripture on knowledge as part of the plan of man’s eternal program:
The glory of God is intelligence … (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.)
It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance. (Doctrine and Covenants 131:6.)
The third basic step in eternal progression is obedience to law. We begin with faith, which leads to knowledge; and, through acceptance and obedience, this knowledge is translated into our very lives. Knowledge in itself does not bring progress, but only knowledge applied to good ends. Belief alone does not bring man to God. James is emphatic and graphic on this point:
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:19, 20.)
Neither is knowledge alone a sufficient basis of salvation, of eternal progression toward a God-like, joy-bringing life. Jesus knew this as he stressed the importance of living by our knowledge:
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock; And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at this doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:16-29.)
To Latter-day Saints, religion is faith that is leading to a knowledge of God and Christ translated into the feeling and behavior of men in everyday life. We live in a world of law. As we come to learn the laws of life or the laws of God, and conform our lives to them out of genuine conviction, freely and gladly, we are on the highway of progression leading to eternal life. Our point of view is rather well summarized in the following scripture:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved b law and perfected and sanctified by the same. That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still. All kingdoms have a law given; And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space I which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified. For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33-40.)
This principle of eternal progression toward the character of God is a cornerstone of Latter-day Saint teaching. It is wholly consistent with our doctrines of man, his free and eternal nature, and with our conception of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. It promises that any man’s life, under the guidance of Deity and in co-operation with fellow men, may hold forever increasing meaning and satisfaction. This principle is part of the positive, optimistic, and idealistic view we hold of human life. Yet the doctrine is not unrealistic, not a mere fanciful dream, but is ground in faith, knowledge, and obedience. Eternal progression is growth, and growth in the spiritual life of man, as in nature, comes about gradually and in accordance with law.