As the first principle of the gospel, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is also the initial ordinance in the plan of life and salvation. An ordinance is a religious rite or ceremony which, among other things, is a channel through which divine mercy and power are given to man. In this sense, faith in Jesus Christ qualifies as an ordinance First, it is a channel through which divine power is given to man. Second, it is the basis of the over-all program by which the full blessings of salvation are given to man.
That which is true of God will also be true of exalted man, when he [in his third estate] is crowned in the resurrection with glory and eternal lives. Of those who keep the law of God in their mortal probation, the Lord said: “They who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” There will be no end to the increase of their glory. Their dominion will be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it will flow unto them forever and ever.
When coupled with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the principle of repentance becomes the second ordinance of the gospel. As a ministering angel, John the Baptist conferred “the keys . . . of the gospel of repentance” upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, on May 15, 1829, 14 which gave them and those whom they commissioned authority to call men to repentance and to have their message binding upon the world. To repent is to turn, often with sorrow, contrition, regret, or remorse, from a past course of action to one that is based upon rectitude and truth. A revelation to Joseph Smith said of repentance: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.”
The angel Moroni had stated in 1823 that after the Prophet and others had been commissioned with authority to proclaim the gospel and baptize in water, they would receive “power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of their hands.” Power to perform this essential function is centered in the Melchizedek Priesthood which John the Baptist promised Joseph and Oliver would be given to them in due time. This higher priesthood was conferred upon them by Peter, James, and John, who received it from Jesus Christ …The Prophet wrote that Peter, James, and John came and restored the Melchizedek Priesthood “in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county [Pennsylvania], and Colesville, Broome county [New York], on the Susquehanna river.” Of the circumstances associated with the coming of these ancient apostles, Erastus Snow, an early convert and an intimate friend of the Prophet, later said: “It was at a period when they [i.e., Smith and Cowdery] were being pursued by their enemies and had to travel all night, and in the dawn of the coming day when they were weary and worn who should appear to them but Peter, James and John, for the purpose of conferring upon them the Apostleship, the keys of which they themselves had held while upon the earth, which had been bestowed upon them by the Savior.”
When the Prophet began to administer the program of the temple, he explained that he then “set forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days.” The Ancient of Days is the oldest man, Adam, and the order which pertains to the Ancient of Days is the divine patriarchal order over which Adam, or Michael, presides, “under the counsel and direction of the Holy One, who is without beginning of days or end of life.” By means of the temple, that eternal family order was again to be established on earth among those who accepted the gospel in the last days.
The divine plan of the gospel can be divided into two general divisions: (1) the preparatory gospel and (2) the fulness of the everlasting gospel. The preparatory gospel is the initial phase of the divine plan, and it is designed to “prepare the way for a greater revelation of God.” A revelation explained that the preparatory gospel as taught by John the Baptist in New Testament times consisted of “the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments.” The fulness of the everlasting gospel, on the other hand, is the higher program of salvation which is concerned with developing in man the divine truths, powers, gifts, and blessings of the Holy Spirit until he is able to partake of the divine nature, or glory, of God and make his calling and election sure to a fulness of glory in the resurrection.
Joseph Smith stated that “it is no more incredible that God should save the dead, than that he should raise the dead.” But in the work of saving the human family, much had to be done. The gospel had to be taught in the spirit world after mortal death, the ordinances of the plan of life and salvation had to be administered on earth vicariously for the dead, and those who became sons and daughters of Jesus Christ in all ages of time had to be organized into one great family under the Son of God, their celestial Father. The Prophet taught that by helping to accomplish this work the Saints would become “saviors on mount Zion.” They would do something for the dead which was important to their salvation and which the dead could not do for themselves.
In referring to the Grand Organizational Council, Joseph Smith said: “At the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.” This was not the Grand Council of the Gods, for we were not all present at that council; nor was the plan of salvation presented in that council to all the Father’s spirit children and “sanctioned” by them. Final ratification of the proposed program of life and salvation did not take place until after the War in Heaven and those who sanctioned it were those who kept their first estate.
After baptism in water, the major ordinance by which man is placed on the path which leads to eternal life is the laying on of authorized hands for the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost. This act, Joseph F. Smith explained, “confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost.” So vital and important is this gift to man and so far-reaching in its effects that the Prophet referred to it as "the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost.”
The priesthood not only has power to seal the faithful to specific blessings in the resurrection but “to seal both on earth and in heaven, the unbelieving and rebellious.” Concerning this expression of the sealing power, Joseph Smith said: “This spirit of Elijah was manifest in the days of the Apostles, in delivering certain ones to the buffetings of Satan, that they might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. They were sealed by the spirit of Elijah unto the damnation of hell until the day of the Lord, or revelation of Jesus Christ” … Those who are sealed to eternal life stand in a more responsible relationship with God than those who have not achieved this objective. Should man sin wilfully after being sealed to eternal life, it is not consistent with divine truth and mercy for the atonement of Christ to pay the debt of such transgressions, and man himself must be responsible for satisfying the demands of divine justice. The law of God therefore requires that such individuals be delivered to the buffetings of Satan until the day of their redemption. Such provisions also apply to those who make their calling and election sure to the relationship of eternal marriage.
Michael the Archangel led the forces of righteousness and of freedom in the War in Heaven for the spirits who were to come to this earth. When the Grand Organizational Council convened, he was chosen “to open the ways of the world.” That is, he was chosen to initiate the fall of the earth from the place it first occupied in the presence of God to a temporal state. In becoming the man Adam, he was also selected to be the great progenitor of physical life on earth … In performing these functions, he opened “the ways of the world.”
A revelation which sought to prepare the Saints for the more comprehensive law of Christ disclosed the underlying principle of that law. The Lord admonished: “Let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me.” He then stressed: “And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself.” Of the central idea of consecration, Joseph Smith said: “Now for a man to consecrate his property, wife and children, to the Lord, is nothing more nor less than to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the widow and fatherless, the sick and afflicted, and do all he can to administer to their relief and their afflictions, and for him and his house to serve the Lord.” On these principles social justice was to be established among the Saints.
Having been instructed by the Prophet, Joseph Smith’s associates stressed that each organized spirit was “born and begotten by our Father and our God”—the exalted Man of Holiness. To support their view of the literal fatherhood of God and the actual pre-earth brotherhood of man, Latter-day Saints cite the declarations of the Apostle Paul, that man is “the offspring of God” and that God is “our Father.” Again, sacred literature declares: “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” It is with this view of things that Latter-day Saints pray, “Our Father which art in heaven.”
According to Joseph Smith, the principles of rebirth are strict and exact, and unless man obeys them in the way which has been ordained of God he cannot acquire eternal life. He must first be born to see the kingdom of God. Then he must be born of water and of the Spirit to enter the kingdom. This process has been taught by prophets in all ages of time. It does not place total reliance upon either the action of the Spirit or the role of ordinances, but upon both. Being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances. In this way the power of God is manifested to make man a son of God.
After the War in Heaven was over, a third major assembly was held, in the form of a Grand Organizational Council. [The first major assembly was the “Grand Council of the Gods” wherein only the Noble and Great Spirits were in attendance; the second major assembly was the “General Conference” wherein the plan of salvation was put forth by God to all God’s sons and daughters along with the relevant decisions of the “Grand Council of the Gods”]. Those who then convened under the direction of the Father were His spirit children who had kept their first estate and were to receive the endowments of physical life on earth … In referring to the Grand Organizational Council, Joseph Smith said: “At the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it.” This was not the Grand Council of the Gods, for we were not all present at that council; nor was the plan of salvation presented in that council to all the Father’s spirit children and “sanctioned” by them. Final ratification of the proposed program of life and salvation did not take place until after the War in Heaven, and those who sanctioned it were those who kept their first estate.
In its revolutions as a great governing sphere, Kolob’s time is based upon celestial time. There is a system of celestial time; and below this there are other systems based upon the speed of rotation of the given planet or star. Joseph Smith therefore gave an affirmative reply to the question: “Is not the reckoning of God’s time, angel’s time, prophet’s time, and man’s time, according to the planet on which they reside?” God explained to Abraham “that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning.” In comparing the time schedule of Kolob to that of the earth, Joseph Smith wrote: “One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth.” The earth therefore revolves 365,250 times, counting its revolutions during leap years, while Kolob is rotating but once.
Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God to be a tangible witness of the new dispensation, containing “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also.” Because of the clarity of the gospel principles which it contains, the Prophet declared “that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
In the pure language of Adam, the Father is named “Man of Holiness,” a name which implies that He is an exalted man, and that by means of the divine plan of life and salvation man may eventually become like Him in eternity. A revelation to Joseph Smith also states that the name of the Father is Ahman—a name-title that seems to be closely identified with that of Man of Holiness. Having revealed Himself to the patriarch Enoch as God and having declared that His name was Man of Holiness, the Father stated further: “Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name” To Moses, He said: “I am the Lord God Almighty, and Endless is my name; for I am without beginning of days or end of years; and is not this endless.”
A true minister of Christ must be called of God in the proper way, and he must “work by the power and gifts of God.” These are the criteria by which a true minister may be identified. Is he called of God in the right way? Does he do the works of Christ? And are the powers, gifts, and fruits which Jesus possessed manifested in his labors.
The record kept of the divine patriarchal order in the early ages of the world was known as the Book of Remembrance … As a record of the divine patriarchal order in ancient times, the Book of Remembrance preserved important information concerning that system. Abraham noted that the “records of the fathers, even the patriarchs,” gave an account of “the right of Priesthood” within the eternal family order. It also contained a record of God’s revelations of gospel truth to Adam and the patriarchs after him. In a great gospel discourse, Enoch quoted the word of the Lord to Adam as it was recorded in the Book of Remembrance. The ancient record also preserved other important information. Abraham stated that that early record, which had been passed down to him, gave “a knowledge of the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers.” … Information in the scriptural records brought forth by Joseph Smith made it clear that each family of the Saints was to keep a book of remembrance containing the revelations of God to members of the family, genealogical data concerning the family members, and personal histories. If given the same respect and purpose as ancient family records, the book of remembrance in each home would rank next to the scriptures as the most valuable volume in their possession.
Joseph Smith taught that it is possible for mortal man to make his calling and election sure to celestial glory and power in the resurrection and thereby obtain the more sure word of prophecy by which he may know that he is sealed unto eternal life. This is one of the major objectives of the gospel, and it is open to every person who will embrace the gospel and apply the program of salvation in his life. The Prophet therefore exhorted the Saints “Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure; and if any man preach any other Gospel than that which I have preached, he shall be cursed.” There are two ways by which man may achieve this objective. One is to endure faithful in the gospel to the end of this mortal probation. The other is to persist in applying the principles and powers of the gospel to such an extent that the guarantee of eternal life is given before mortal death, qualified by the fact that man can break the seal by committing the unpardonable sin.
Possibly the greatest attribute of God which man may acquire through the influence of the Holy Spirit is charity, which the Book of Mormon defines as the pure love of Christ … Concerning the importance of charity to salvation, Moroni observed in a prayer to Christ: “Except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” Charity is a composite of several traits, attributes, and qualities of character. Mormon observed that “if a man be meek and lowly in heart, and confess by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ, he must needs have charity.” These things are essential components of charity …The pure love of Christ is the culmination of all the fruits, endowments, and blessings of the Spirit.
There is a resurrection of life and there is a resurrection of damnation. In both instances, the organized spirit of man is restored to the body and the individual is again physically alive. But in receiving the "resurrection of life," those who have done good will be endowed with the attributes and powers of celestial glory, which are attributes and powers of life, even of eternal life. Those who have done evil will be restricted in their access of these divine powers of life. Consequently, they will come forth to the "resurrection of damnation.
The revelations and teachings of Joseph Smith indicate that the church of the Firstborn is the heavenly church of Christ and consists, essentially, of the sanctified saints in eternity who are endowed with the glory of the celestial kingdom. By being sealed to eternal life, the faithful on earth are also made members of the church of the Firstborn. A revelation therefore said of some brethren whose calling and election were made sure: “Ye are the church of the Firstborn, and he [Christ] will take you up in a cloud, and appoint every man his portion.” In the most inclusive sense, the membership of the church of the Firstborn is comprised of those who have made their calling and election sure to eternal life, whether they live on earth, in the spirit world, or in a resurrected state. Because the Saints on earth who are sealed to eternal life become members of that church, they have a right by faith (subject to the will of God) to commune with the church of the Firstborn beyond the veil.
In explaining “the extent or authority” of this last dispensation, David W. Patten said: “It means this, that the dispensation of the fullness of times is made up of all the dispensations that ever have been given since the world began, until this time.” The Dispensation of the Fulness of Times (that is, the Dispensation of the Fulness of Dispensations) is a composite dispensation, comprising all the keys, powers, authorities, and revelations that have been committed to man in all former ages of time. It is to be a dispensation of consummation and of fulfillment. The Prophet thus declared: “The dispensation of the fulness of times will bring to light the things that have been revealed in all former dispensations.”
In the pre-earth organizational council, various individuals were ordained to fulfil certain missions on earth. “Adam was made to open the way of the world, and for dressing the garden,” Joseph Smith explained. “Noah was born to save seed of everything, when the earth was washed of its wickedness by the flood; and the Son of God came into the world to redeem it from the fall.” Others also were chosen and ordained. According to the Prophet, “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand [Organizational] Council of heaven before this world was.”
Revelations to Joseph Smith make it clear that all things that were created in physical form were first organized from spirit. This included the earth and all life that was placed upon it. The Latter-day Saint view of the creation cannot be understood without seeing and appreciating this basic fact.
God has created innumerable worlds through the instrumentality of the Only Begotten Son of the Father, who is Jesus Christ. The Father declared “By the word of my power have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth.” Moses 1:32 This testimony has been corroborated in modern times by a voice out of heaven that declared to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon of the Only Begotten of the Father “That by him, and through him, and of him the worlds are and were created.”
Having explained that in the creation the earth was near the throne of God, Brigham Young declared “When man fell, the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light.” Again he declared that when Adam sinned, the earth “was hurled millions of miles away from its first position, and that is why it [i.e., the transgression of Adam] was called the Fall.” John Taylor also wrote that at the transgression Adam the earth fell “from where it was organized, near the planet Kolob” … Having resided initially amid the glory and power of God, Adam and all life upon the earth fell from that state of divine truth and light and life.
The scriptural accounts of the creation deal only with the organization of the earth in preparation for the time when Adam, Eve, and the lower forms of life were placed upon it. Prior to that time, the elements of which the earth was composed had an eternal existence. In a letter dated Christmas day, 1844, William W. Phelps wrote to William Smith, the Prophet’s brother, “that Jesus Christ, whose goings forth, as the prophets said, have been from of old, from eternity; and that eternity, agreeable to the records found in the catacombs of Egypt [i.e., an unpublished portion of the ancient records from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham], has been going on in this system (not this world), almost two thousand five hundred and fifty five millions of years.” The importance of this statement is that it seems to have its basis in something Joseph Smith may have translated but did not publish in the writings of Abraham or the patriarch Joseph. If eternity has been going on in the “system” with which the earth is now associated for 2,555,000,000 years, the materials from which the earth was created at a much more recent date may bear evidence of at least this degree of antiquity. But even then it should be remembered that the elements are eternal in their duration.
In 1823, the angel Moroni informed the young prophet [Joseph Smith] that “the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fullness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign.” The divine program was to be a new principle for regenerating man which was not then known in the modern world. “The great designs of God in relation to the salvation of the human family, are very little understood by the professedly wise and intelligent generation in which we live,” Joseph Smith explained. He was sent as a prophet of God to make clear its message and program. “I never design to communicate any ideas but what are simple,” the Prophet declared; “for to this end I am sent.”
After the War in Heaven, the Father called together those spirits who kept their first estate and organized them in preparation for earth life. Many were appointed to fulfill mission on earth, and the doctrine of election and ordination has its basis in the actions of this Grand Organizational Council. Only after the work of this council was complete were those who kept their first estate ready to come to earth and receive the physical endowments of life.
When King Benjamin taught his people concerning their fallen mortal condition, they “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.” With like understanding, Mormon exclaimed: “O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.” These statements do not indicate that the Nephites considered man to be of little value, but they reflect the understanding of their prophets that without Christ man is nothing. For without mercy and power of the great Redeemer, no truth, light, life, or goodness could be given to man in his fallen state. King Benjamin thus observed that “the knowledge of the goodness of God” had awakened in his people a sense of their “nothingness” and of their “worthless and fallen state.”
It was the will of the Father that His spirit children should obtain bodies of flesh and bones in a fallen spiritual state and under conditions of opposition in which they might be proved in their new endowments of life. Such a probationary state would allow them to determine for themselves how they would use their new physical endowments, and it would permit them to demonstrate their ability to walk by faith in obedience to the will of God. Being away from the direct influence of God’s glory and power, they could be proved under conditions where they would not be as strictly accountable for their actions as they would be in the full presence of God. Yet they could still determine for themselves the degree to which they would develop in acquiring the divine nature of God, or they could disobey the laws of life and thereby turn away from God.
Abraham, like other great patriarchs in the ancient world, had possession of the Urim and Thummim. He wrote “I, Abraham, had the Urim and Thummim, which the Lord my God had given unto me, in Ur of the Chaldees.” By means of this divine instrument, he saw the great cosmic system that exists under the government of Kolob, the mighty orb that controls all the spheres—the stars, the sun, and its planetary system—belonging to the same order in the universe as our earth.
In the new dispensation, important clarifications were made concerning Christ and His relationship to God and man. As stated … Jesus was the First-born of the Father’s spirit children. He was also selected to be the central figure in the divine plan of life and salvation which the Man of Holiness proposed for His spirit children.
Joseph Smith once stated that an unpublished portion of Abraham’s record designates the Man of Holiness as “God the first, the Creator.” This declaration does not contradict Moses’s report that the Father, Elohim, organized many spheres, including this earth, through the instrumentality of the Only Begotten Son. But in these actions, Christ was the agent of the Father and used the name of the Father, the intelligence of the Father, and the power of the Father to organize countless worlds. The Father is the great creator.
There is a difference between being consigned to hell in the spirit world and being sent to spirit prison … Their fathers were consigned to hell, but those who perished in the flood were placed in spirit prison—a place of lesser condemnation in hell. Of the willfully perverse the scriptures say: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” Concerning this class of men, the Lord said in modern revelation: “These are they who are thrust down to hell.”
The fact that Jehovah was the Firstborn of the Father’s many spirit children can hardly be said to be a coincidence. Out of all the spirit children which were born to the Man of Holiness in the pre-earth state, why should Jesus be the Firstborn if not be merit and by design? … There is great importance placed upon the role of the firstborn son in the divine patriarchal order of society which prevails in the presence of God. The fact that Christ was the Firstborn therefore seems to indicate, first, that a gradation of intelligence prevailed before the time of sprit birth, and second, that Jesus merited the distinction that went with being the Firstborn.
Within this divine plan there are three basic stages of life: (1) spirit life, [first estate], (2) physical life, [second estate], and (3) eternal life, [third or final estate]. For the central primal intelligence of a given individual to achieve full glory and power in eternity it must receive the organizations and endowments that pertain to each of these basic stages of life. Spirit life is the kind of life an organized spirit possesses. Physical life is the kind of life a being possesses who has a body of flesh and bones. Eternal life consists of the divine powers and attributes of life which a person attains by being endowed with celestial glory in the resurrection.
The atonement of Jesus Christ is the central event in the whole plan of life and salvation pertaining to this earth. To this event the ancient prophets looked in faith, believing that thereby they would be redeemed from the fall of Adam and from the effects of their personal sins.
Among those who were present in the Grand Council of Gods was an influential spirit named Lucifer. Scripturally, he is said to have been a ‘Son of the Morning,” a powerful spirit who held “authority in the presence of God.” Yet Joseph Smith also characterized him as being “selfish, ambitious and striving to excel.
Joseph Smith declared that before the earth was organized Jesus Christ, the great Redeemer, entered into an everlasting covenant with God the Father, the Creator, and the Holy Ghost, the Testator, relating “to their dispensation of things to men on the earth.” The plan of life and salvation for man on earth had its basis in this covenant, and thereby Christ became the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.
In the work of deception, Lucifer is a master artist. His power, Joseph Smith contended, “has been and still is much underrated.” He said: “The devil has great power to deceive; he will so transform things as to make one gape [in abhorrence] at those who are doing the will of God.” The Prophet referred to Lucifer as a skillful orator and as “a being of great power,” who currently manifests a “smooth, sophisticated influence’ among men. Exclaimed the latter-day seer: “Think of a spirit who was sufficiently courageous to measure strength with his Father and Elder Brother, defying their authority, and when cast from heaven for his rebellion could have a retinue of one-third of it innumerable hosts to follow him.” So great is Satan’s power that “his influence can only be rebuked by the great Jehovah, who restrains his power only when attempting a greater destruction than was allowed his majesty.
Evidence in modern scripture indicates that spirits were unequal at the time of spirit birth and afterward, although each organized spirit as the offspring of deity had the potential of becoming like God. The assumption that spirits were unequal at the time of spirit birth is deduced, essentially, from two major points of evidence, the first of which is that the central primal intelligence of man was independent in the sphere of action before it was organized in union with other elements of spirit to become a spirit personage. Such a state of independence implies that there was a variation of development prior to the time of spirit birth. To be independent in a given sphere is to have agency; and where agency exists, variety develops, resulting in differences and gradations of being … The second point of evidence is found in a statement the Lord made to Abraham. “These two facts do exist,” Jehovah the pre-earth Christ explained, “that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other, there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am more intelligent than they all.” This gradation extended back to a time without beginning.
Challenge of Enduring to the End—In referring to the first and more general way by which the Saints can acquire a guarantee of eternal life in the resurrection, a revelation said: “If you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life.” This is the standard scriptural promise which is given to all who receive the gospel.
Birth is more than an organization. It is the passing on of traits and characteristics from one organized being to the subordinate being who is formed in the process of conception. For this reason it may be that as the human spirit was formed, it had forged into it the divine traits and characteristics of deity. John Taylor wrote that the fundamental principle of life within man was “a spark of Deity, struck from the fire of his eternal blaze, and brought forth in the midst of eternal burnings.” Being conceived and born of heavenly parents, the newly organized spirit was a child of God—the offspring of Deity, with the rudimentary characteristics of Deity and the potential of becoming eventually like its eternal parents.
As a result of Adam’s transgression and in consequence of personal sins, man in mortality is in a fallen state under the bondage of broken laws; and except for the atonement, he would be consigned to a condition of spiritual and physical death without hope of redemption … Such would be the consequences of eternal justice upon man if justice were to remain unmitigated by a divine plan of mercy and of life.
Joseph Smith divided the pre-earth existence of the life within man into two general periods of time: (1) the period immediately prior to physical birth, during which man’s spirit existed as an organized personage composed of a pure and fine substance called spirit, and (2) an earlier period antedating the time of the spirit’s organization and continuing back in eternity without beginning. Little is known of the nature of life in the earliest of these two periods of existence.
Joseph Smith taught that the physical endowments man receives in mortality are given to him to bless and enhance his life. They are designed to elevate man in the divine scheme of life, by increasing his power and his scope of activity in eternity … to this end the physical body is necessary … As stated in a previous chapter, the work of clothing the Father’s spirit children in bodies of flesh and bone was expected to be a part of a divine program to elevate the faithful to eternal glory and power.
In the plan of life and salvation, baptism is the first fruits of repentance. Thereby men enter into a sacred covenant with Christ that they will bear one another’s burdens, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and stand as witnesses of God before the world. Being administered by immersion by one who has authority from God, baptism is symbolic of physical birth and of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God. Without baptism there can be no salvation, for only in this way can man take upon himself the name of Christ and enter the path which leads to eternal life. By complying with this requirement, man receives a remission of sins and prepares himself to enter the Church of Jesus Christ and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The Prophet was inspired to correct a biblical passage which dealt with man’s relationship to his fellow beings in a true Christian society. It concluded: “Therefore, let every man stand for himself, and not another; or not trusting another.” Joseph Smith taught these principles repeatedly to the Saints and his associates. “Every man lives for himself,” the Prophet declared. “No man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom unless he be independent,” Brigham Young therefore concluded. “Every mortal being must stand up in an intelligent, organized capacity, and choose or refuse the good, and thus act for himself. All must have that opportunity, no matter if all go into the depths of wickedness.”
“We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which thou beholdest in the midst of the garden, God hath said—Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” Observe that the tempting fruit was placed in the midst of the garden, not in some secluded corner. It was not God’s plan to exclude the forbidden fruit from man’s view. The plan of life requires that man meet temptation and overcome it, though he should avoid even the very appearance of evil.
As the time approached for the Father’s spirit children to receive the endowments of physical life, the Man of Holiness called a council, known as the Grand Council of the Gods, to consider the preparations that would have to be made. Those in attendance included the leading spirits in the pre-earth spirit world—the noble and great ones. Having shown these great intelligences to Abraham, the Lord said unto him: “Abraham, thou art one of them.”
The Prophet made it clear that for man to develop in the divine truth, power, gifts, and blessings of the Holy Spirit after entering the path which leads to life and salvation, he must obey the law of the gospel. The classic statement of this law is in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. The Nephite record, in particular, places this great statement in its proper gospel context. Having taught His disciples on the Western hemisphere the basic program of the gospel upon which man must establish his life in order to receive celestial salvation, Jesus gave them the beatitudes as eight subordinate statements which specify the ways by which those who accept the gospel and apply its divine truth and power in their lives may expect to be blessed, or may become blessed. Christ then contrasted the law of the gospel with the law of Moses and indicated that by receiving the manifestations of the Holy Ghost and continuing in this path, man can eventually become perfect in all the divine attributes and powers of the Father and the Son … Only by hearing those sayings and actually doing them can man build his life upon the rock of Christ and acquire salvation.
All men will be brought back into the presence of God regardless of their personal faith or actions. As with physical or temporal death, so it is with the first spiritual death: no man but Adam is responsible for the earth’s fall from its state of paradisiacal glory … The spirit of man will be reunited with his body and he will be brought back into the presence of God from whence Adam fell. This is the redemption, or restoration, that is spoken of in the scriptures concerning man … The redemption of all men from the grave and from the power of the first spiritual death will consummate the plan of life and salvation so far as man’s mortal probation is concerned, except for the final judgment which will then follow.
It is not known whether Lucifer was permitted to lay his proposal before the General Conference of all Spirits [held sometime after the Grand Council]. But it is known that he promoted his views in the spirit realm and they became general knowledge and were favorably accepted by many. In the great conflict of opinion that followed, the Son of the Morning and his supporters employed insinuations, accusations, and half-truths to obscure and oppose the eternal verities upon which the Father’s proposal was founded. The War in Heaven was a struggle for power. Apparently it was an ideological conflict, in which the work of the opposition tended to destroy the principles of life or glory with themselves and others. Instead of building upon the powers of truth and of life and strengthening them in others, Lucifer became the great “accuser of the brethren.”
The Father’s proposal and Lucifer’s counter-proposal differed, first, regarding the issue of man’s free agency in mortality. Lucifer suggested a plan of false security that would have suspended man’s freedom on earth. Not one soul would be lost as a result of the mortal experience, for without their agency there would be no risks involved, and all would return to the presence of God. On this point, Joseph Smith explained: “The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved [if man was given his free agency on earth]; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before [the members of] the Grand Council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ.”
Organizationally, Zion was like a tent, with a Center Place and supporting “stakes, for the curtains or the strength of Zion.” The Center Place—designated by revelation to be built at Independence, Jackson County, Missouri—was also called the City of Zion and the City of the New Jerusalem. Cities of Zion, or stakes, were to be built up throughout North and South America, which the Prophet designated as the land of Zion. But ultimately, Zion would extend throughout the earth.
The work of creating, redeeming, and glorifying man is also designed to fulfill a major purpose as it concerns God and the benefits that accrue to Him as a result of His work. It is not only God’s work but also His glory to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. By His work, God attains glory; and as He continues to work, He continues to increase in glory. To make this fact more apparent, the above declaration of God to Moses is given as it appeared when it was initially published in this dispensation. It then read: “Behold this is my work to my glory, to the immortality and eternal life of man.” God works to increase and enhance His glory, which He then shares with those who become heirs within His kingdom.
The principle of consent was an integral part of the program of the Church from the beginning … The procedure was theocratic for placing prospective officers and teachers before the Saints for their vote. Divine direction and human consent were combined in the new system. It was the Church of Jesus Christ, which gave the Lord the right to direct its affairs. But it was also the Church of the Latter-day Saints. Both God and man were to have their rights and prerogatives preserved and given proper expression within the organization. John Taylor explained: The proper mode of government is this—God first speaks, and then the people have their action. It is for them to say whether they will have his dictation or not. They are free: they are independent under God. The government of God is not a species of priestcraft . . . where one man dictates and everybody obeys without having a voice in it. We have our voice and agency, and act with the most perfect freedom; still we believe there is a correct order—some wisdom and knowledge somewhere that is superior to ours: that wisdom and knowledge proceeds from God through the medium of the holy Priesthood. We believe that no man or set of men, of their own wisdom and by their own talents, are capable of governing the human family aright.”
The great object in the creation was not to organize the earth as a temporal sphere subject to the law that now governs it, but to create a physical-spiritual sphere capable of abiding forever in the midst of glory and power of the Father, filled with various forms of life that were also spiritual in the nature of their physical organizations. A physical–spiritual sphere is organized from gross elements, but it is enveloped in the powers of truth, light, and life that exist in the presence of God, and it is quickened and sustained by these divine powers. Such a sphere, therefore, is both physical and spiritual in the nature of its organization.
Spiritual death came upon man and the earth as a significant and far-reaching consequence of Adam’s transgression. To die a spiritual death is to be severed from the presence of God—to be cut off from the influence of God’s glory so that one is no longer benefited significantly by that divine substance of intelligence and power. A revelation to Joseph Smith states that spiritual death is the kind of death sons of perdition undergo, who are not redeemed in the resurrection to a state of glory but are consigned to outer darkness, to a state of life that is without glory. As a result of his transgression, Adam experienced a spiritual death that, in kind but not in degree, is like the “second death.”
Social Union—As a system which espoused the ideal of ardent individualism, Zion’s covenant society was based upon the principle of social union. A revelation said of the principle of union in its economic expression in Zion “If ye are not one ye are not mine.” John Taylor explained: “We are seeking to establish a oneness, and that oneness under the guidance and direction of the Almighty.” Because such union, based upon true freedom and individualism, was a vital element within Zion’s covenant society, Brigham Young asserted that those who were opposed to it were “opposed to God.”
Since mortality is a probationary state, physical death must come to all men “to fulfil the merciful plan of the great creator,” that man’s corrupt physical body may later be raised in incorruption and power to be made a spiritual body in the resurrection. The physical bodies of those who are made spiritual and given power to reside in the presence of God will be perfected in all the attributes of the physical being and endowed with the glory of God. The importance of the physical body in the overall plan of life is shown in a revelation that declares: “The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected [that is, connected in resurrected form], receive a fulness of joy; and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” (D&C 93:33- 34).