The King Follet sermon of Joseph Smith is his famous discourse on the destiny of the soul. It has been debated over and interpreted by generations of saints. Some have swept certain implications of his words aside, while others have amplified aspects of others. One of the most important contributions of this discourse to Mormon thought are Joseph’s teachings on the history of every human being.
Spirit birth, or the concept that God is the father of our spirits is a resolute principle in the modern church. My personal beliefs of what that means are highly influenced by this sermon preached by Joseph on the 7th of April, 1842.
Wilford Woodruff Diary
The soul the mind of man, whare did it come from? The learned says God made it in the beginning, but it is not so, I know better God has told me so. If you dont believe it, it wont make the truth without effect, God was a self exhisting being, man exhists upon the same principle. God made a tabernacle & put a spirit in it and it became a Human soul, man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself, you who mourn the loss of friends are ownly seperted for a moment, the spirit is seperated for a little time, they are now conversant with each other as we are on the earth. I am dwelling on the immutibility of the spirit of man, is it logic to say the spirit of man had a begining & yet had no end, it does not have a begining or end, my ring is like the Exhistanc of man it has no begining or end, if cut into their would be a begining & end, so with man if it had a begining it will have an end, if I am right I might say God never had power to create the spirit of man, God himself could not create himself. Intelligence is Eternal & it is self exhisting,
Some might say that Wilford recorded the discourse poorly. We have however a second witness who relates the sermon with surprising congruity:
Thomas Bullock Account
the soul the in[ne]r Spirit-all man says God created in the beging. the very idea lessens man in my idea-I don’t bel. the doct: hear it all ye Ends of the World for God has told me so I am going to tell of things more noble-we say that God himself is a selfexisting God, who told you so, how did it get it into your head who told you that man did not exist in like manner- how does it read in the Heb. that God made man & put into it Adams Spirit & so became a living Spirit-the mind of man-the mind of man is as immortal as God himself-hence while I talk to these mourners-they are only separated from their bodies for a short period-their Spirits coexisted with God & now converse one another same as we do-does not this give your satisfactn. I want to reason more on the Spirit of Man for I am dwelling on the body of man on the subjt. of the dead-
the SP of manI take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, the im[mor]t. Sp. bec. it has no beging. Suppose you cut it into but as the D[evil] lives there wod. be an end all the fools & wise men from the beging. of creation who say that man had begin-they must have an end & then the doc of annihilitn. wod. be true-but if I am right I mit. with boldness proclaim from the housetop that God never had power to create the Sp of Man at all- it is neGod himself cod. not create himself-intelligence is self existent it is a sp. from age to end & there is no creatn abt. It
This is Joseph at his boldest. “If you don’t believe it, it won’t make the truth without effect…God never had power to create the spirit of man.” Whoa…Whoa.
The pioneers, after Joseph’s death and in the relative prosperity of Deseret, worked through Joseph’s teaching. In many ways it was the wild west of doctrinal exposition. Spirit birth, as projected from the idea of Sealing was believed to be a mirror of this life. The two primary positions of record are those of Orson Pratt and Brigham Young who believed in a spirit element (or intelligence), but not in any eternal “mind.” The ultimate fate of their perspectives was that of the western boom town after the bust.
B. H. Roberts came along toward the dawn of the 20th century. He was a student of the King Follet discourse but was also a vangaurd of the post-Brigham doctrinal reconstruction. His synthesis: the three state existence. There is a mind, which is begotten as a spirit, which is then begotten in human form. This idea, while finding some support, never got traction in the Church hierarchy.
There are those today who reject that the spirit and mind of man is eternal. For this however, one does have to perform some significant and straining textual transformations if you are not willing forget the King Follet discourse all together.