“The highest point in the faith of the Latter Day Saints”

In summer 1844, shortly after Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered by a lynch mob, young Samuel Smith also died, probably from pneumonia unrelated to mob violence (contra the martyrology of many early LDS).[1] In eulogizing him for the church organ, the editorialist, likely John Taylor, had the following to say about the “highest point in the faith of the Latter Day Saints”

It is

that they know where they are going after death, and what they will do, and this gives a consolation more glorious than all the fame, honors and wealth, which the world has been able to heap upon her votaries or ever can.[2]

Was this true in 1844, or only emphasized because the two church presidents had been killed shortly beforehand? How true is it now?
—————————————-
[1] Essentially all the Smiths were convinced Samuel died as a result of pursuit by lynch-mobsters after his brothers’ death. Though this is a symbolically pregnant association, there is little evidence to suggest a direct connection on biomedical grounds. The evidence I have been able to accrue suggests bacterial pneumonia, a common infectious scourge for the day.
[2]“Died,” Times and Seasons 5, no. 14 (August 1, 1844): 606.

Comments

  1. It’s what I always identify as the single most distinctive, important (“highest point”) aspect of our faith – what we “will do” (may become). I think it is the “power of godliness” mentioned in the First Vision as what Christianity had denied and the core of the Good News of the Gospel.

    So, yes, I think it’s still true today.

  2. Does everybody know to which sphere they are going after death?

  3. Todd, these early LDS, on my reading, understood that all the faithful were headed for the celestial. Terrestrial was reserved for their nice neighbors, and telestial for criminals, with perdition for apostates. So, at least in 1844, I think they did believe they knew their eternal whither. Beyond harangues to pay into the building fund for the temple and the care of the poor, I just don’t detect much hand-wringing about “making the cut” in earliest Mormonism.

  4. For those who are going to go to the celestial kingdom, I don’t think that there is going to be much doubt. In D&C it says that no man can be saved in ignorance. BRM said that this means that in order to get celestialized you had to have your calling and election made sure, whether in this life or the next.

    We have a few examples in the scriptures of the Lord promising someone eternal life (Sons of Mosiah, Alma Younger, Nephi (son of Helaman), etc.), and that has always been my interpretation of those verses (i.e., they had proved themselves sufficiently and had arrived as it were.

    My first mission president was an institute teacher for 20 or so years prior to being called to server as MP. He said to me a time or two that Joseph Smith said one of the saddest moments of his life was a vision of the second coming/judgment when many saints were raised to a degree of glory far lower than they had supposed they would earn. I never got a reference on that, but I can believe it to be the case.

    The bottom line on all of this is that short of the Lord telling you that you’re in, there’s no guarantee that you’re on the strait and narrow so far as that you will hit exaltation. We aren’t the judge, Christ is, so it doesn’t really matter what we think about it.

  5. Hmmm . . .

  6. There were a couple of times in my life when the spirit communicated clearly to me that if I were to die at that moment, I would enter into the celestial kingdom. Both times I received that impression I was going through some very difficult personal trials and doubts, and I can definitely say that receiving that witness did more for me at the time than any temporal thing could have done.

    In another sense, just the idea that we know in general what lies after death is huge. It’s not just about knowing where you personally are going to go, it’s knowing about the different kingdoms, the resurrection and judgment, and how life and the atonement fit into that. Our knowledge about what happens after death provides a crucial framework for understanding the purpose of this life–what gives us our “eternal perspective.” For me personally, it fits into my beliefs and spirituality in a huge way.

  7. Gotta say that I totally disagree with #4. I think that it comes down to keeping covenants and receiving promised blessings.

    20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
    21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

    For that reason, I would submit the following very specific guidelines based on the laws that we have.

    Telestial – bad people
    Terrestrial – good people who either refuse to make baptismal covenants or don’t keep the baptismal covenants that they do make

    Celestial (ministering angel) – anyone who qualifies to live in the celestial kingdom for the reasons that I will subsequently mention, but does not qualify for exaltation.
    1. A child who passed away before their eighth birthday.
    2. Anyone who makes valid baptismal covenants and subsequently keeps them faithfully.

    Celestial (exalted being) – Anyone who keeps the marriage covenants that they have made in the temple. The actual important step is having the marriage sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. However, I do not believe that the path to this sealing by the Spirit is a mystery. It involved a lot of faithful keeping of marriage covenants, period.

    Keeping valid baptismal covenants = celestial kingdom
    Sealed marriage covenants = exaltation

    I should make the point that work for the dead makes these covenants available to everyone, before we start talking about the exceptions. However, in answer to the question: can a person know their status when the end is near, the answer is Yes. If people do not know the status that they are at right know, they can easily find out through prayer.

  8. Todd: Yeah, all Mormons know that they are saved and are going to a kingdom of glory unless they have openly crucified Jesus to themselves. Which kingdom they are going to depends on what one does in this life; just as judgment is always by works in all scriptures without exception.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, it was true then and it remains true today.

  10. Sam Kitterman says:

    #8: “all Mormons know that they are saved and are going to a kingdom of glory unless they have openly crucified Jesus to themselves….judgment is always by works in all scriptures without exception”

    And the source for that comment?

    For myself and those I have dealt with over the years in the Church have led me to believe that 1) yes, there are members who emphasize works and forget grace, let along the fact works are to reflect our faith in Jesus Christ, not be an end-all in and of themselves, but “all Mormons” is just a bit much, isn’t it?; 2) my focus is trying to be more Christ-like, not earning a kingdom; and 3) I have had just as many “Christians” tell me how they have been “saved” and yet, their fruits reflect works and faith not of Christ.

    I would therefore suggest use of the phrase “all Mormons” be reconsidered….

    Sam K

  11. I agree in essence with #7 but would tweak it a little differently. The telestial kingdom is for those whose only claim to fame is they “deny not the holy spirit.” (D&C 76:83) That could include some rotten people, but some pretty nice people as well. They will receive as their reward the ministration of the spirit, which makes sense, because that is the only God they accepted, or at least didn’t deny.

    The terrestrial kingdom is reserved for those who receive Christ, but not the fullness of the gospel. And they receive as their reward the ministration of the God they accepted, Jesus Christ. Actually they get exactly what they expect to get, because they expect to see only one God. Their will be no muslims, hindus etc in the terrestrial kingdom unless they repent and accept Jesus Christ here or in the spirit world.

    The celestial kingdom is reserved for those who accept Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Father, IE the full gospel. And they will receive as their reward the presence of the Gods they accepted.

    Really it is a marvelous plan. Everybody will get what they expect. Muslims will live in a much better world than here, with no sign of Jesus Christ. Christians will be in a wonderful place with the one God they expect, and the Saints will get what they expect.

  12. I’ve never been to an LDS funeral where it was ever a question that the person celebrated was returning to his loved ones and destined for an eternal splendor in the presence of the Father.

  13. CW, your “unless” about Muslims and Hindus is a HUGE disclaimer, don’t you think – or do you believe seriously that there will be very few Muslims and Hindus in the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms? Also, do you really think that living a righteous life in the religion into which you are born is sin – something that requires “repentance”? Accepting Christ is one thing; “repentance” is quite another – at least as it is defined by 99% of Christians and Mormons.

  14. Ray, #13 everybody will have the chance to accept as much truth as they are able to accept. Hence if you get to the judgment bar and you are still a hindu, muslim or whatever, it is because you refused to accept Christ, at whatever point you had the opportunity. I think repent is the correct word to use, but if you prefer a different word to describe the process of somebody setting aside their (fill in the blank) faith and accepting some or all of the gospel, I am willing to use the word you prefer.

    And to make it clear, to answer your question, do I believe “there will be very few Muslims and Hindus in the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms?” I think there will be none.

    Just as an adulterer who repents is no longer an adulterer, so it is that somebody who is born a muslim, and accepts the gospel is no longer a muslim. Plenty of people who were born muslims, etc, will be in the celestial and terrestrial kingdom, but only if they accept Christ and the fullness of the gospel in the case of the celestial kingdom or the testimony of Christ, but not the fullness in the case of the terrestrial kingdom.

  15. To all on BCC, this has got to be one of the most intriguing conversations that I have ever read on this blog.

  16. CW, I, the resident parser, am nodding with appreciation at your parsing. With that explanation, I can’t argue. I just don’t like the word “repent” in this case, simply because of the connotations that immediately will arise for way too many people – particularly outside of Mormonism but inside, as well. I think it is perfectly accurate in an important way; I just wouldn’t use it in this case.

  17. BTW, just to make it clear, I do NOT equate practicing a religion other than Mormonism – or, more broadly, Christianity – as being sin. At its very worst, I see it perhaps as a Fall-induced transgression – and our Articles of Faith say that we will not be punished for those. I don’t think that’s a disagreement with what you just wrote, CW; it’s just a clarification.

  18. Ray, repentance and sin are interesting words and are subject to so many different definitions. We know in the old testament that even God repents, but did He sin?

    If we define sin as being anything that holds us back from receiving the highest degree of glory that would lead to a certain point of view, about practicing other religions.

    On the other hand if we accept that our lot in life is to inherit the lowest degree of glory in the telestial kingdom, than the practice of any religion that lifts us to a higher level in that kingdom or to a higher kingdom would not be sin.

    That said, there was a time in my life when I was studying for the ministry, and I had to grapple with my growing knowledge of the restoration, and what that meant to my vocational aspirations. The thoughts I had, of wanting to resist the truth because of not wanting to give up my dream, were things I did need to repent of.

    So although I have great respect for catholic and protestant denominations and points of view, I do believe when they hear the full gospel, and they do not accept it, they ultimately will have to repent of that, or not receive the fullness of Heavenly Father’s blessings.

    However they will receive blessings so wonderful that we can’t even comprehend it. God really is great and loves all of us, even those who do not accept the full gospel.

    The only losers in this life will be son’s of perdition and even they will only lose what God gave them to begin with. IE their physical and spiritual body. So hence their entire punishment is only to lose what God gave them, as part of a plan that they knowingly rejected and fought against.

  19. I heard Elder Michelson say that he believes many members will be surprised in the end how many people receive a higher reward (including exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom) than those members imagine. He said that we tend to over-estimate our own worthiness and under-estimate the worthiness of others – and, in so doing, create divisions that simply won’t exist when our natural man minds see more fully the glory of God. He said that when we try to figure out which kingdom will be the most populous in the eternities, we are exhibiting our fallen tendency to judge others without knowing them well enough to do so.

    Due to my experience, that statement resonated with me when he said it – and it resonates still. I agree with what you have said, CW, from a theological / doctrinal standpoint, so I will leave it at that – with the explicit caveat that what you have said applies every bit as much to any Mormon as it does to any Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, Jew, atheist or any other individual child of God.

  20. #8: “all Mormons know that they are saved and are going to a kingdom of glory unless they have openly crucified Jesus to themselves….judgment is always by works in all scriptures without exception”

    That is a misleading statement. It is generally accepted that everyone (Mormons and non-Mormons alike) will eventually inherit a kingdom of glory unless they deny the Holy Ghost (or are exceptionally intransigent – see below).

    There are two more problems. First, skipping over spirit prison (aka hell) for the unrighteous between the time of death and the resurrection makes it sound like there are no serious consequences for even severe sins.

    Second, D&C 138 clarifies a first class ambiguity in D&C 76 about the nature of telestial glory:

    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. (D&C 137:57-58

    In short, contrary to popular belief, there is no free ride to salvation in the telestial kingdom. No repentance, no reward, no salvation. This is consistent with virtually every other scripture on the subject. The status of those who do not repent after death and hell is left unspecified.

    The further implication of D&C 138 is that telestial glory is a much better place, spiritually speaking, than is often claimed. There will be no unrepentant souls there.

  21. I’m going to say emphatically yes, but that doesn’t mean to me that we know exactly where we are going or exactly what we will be doing, but that we are going to rest in the peace of the Lord.

    A few years ago when we nearly lost our then 2-year-old son and I had reconciled myself to his death-it truly was a, “…consolation more glorious than all the fame, honors and wealth, which the world has been able to heap upon her votaries or ever can give,” simply to be reconciled to the will of the Lord and have a more sure understanding of the ressurection.

  22. Mark D. I was under the impression that those in the telestial kingdom, having not accepted the conditional half of the atonement of the Savior for their sins, would suffer the punishment for their sins themselves because they would not repent.
    D&C 19: 16-17 “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I”

  23. Jami,

    The short answer is that they may very well repent after (or as a consequence of) such suffering.

    I believe long answer is that Joseph Smith taught that the punishment of hell was to go with the sort of people that were there. God doesn’t really have to punish people for their sins – rather misery is a natural consequence of sin and being around other people who sin.

    D&C 19 implies that here on earth we are protected from the full consequence of sin through the grace of God (via the Atonement), but that if we do not repent we will learn what separation from God really means.

    I believe that would give all but the most intransigent ample motivation to repent, make any necessary restitution, etc. so they can be redeemed and saved in a kingdom of glory as D&C 138 specifies.

  24. #12, Jan, I have had the misfortune of attending a few of those types of funerals, where it wasn’t clear as to their status in the afterlife; a few involved suicide (a Bishop, a high school friend, etc. etc.) and a couple involved some relatives of mine who, to put it “tactfully” (I know it might not appear so, but I’m really trying to be tactful here), hadn’t been “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76).

    Now, before I open myself to flaming responses, I am NOT saying that I think these people are in hell or one of the lower kingdoms. I am awfully grateful that an omniscient Being will be the judge of that. I am simply saying that I have been to at least 4 LDS funerals where the general sentiment was not one as described by the comments in #12. Obviously these are the minority.

  25. Mateo (#6), I don’t know which particular part of my post you didn’t agree with, as you didn’t specify, but perhaps it was the end bit. Perhaps I was unclear in what I wanted to say and mixed my message.

    Let me try explaining things in a different way. I think that those getting exalted won’t be surprised. There are some very clear covenants and ordinances that we have to take part in, and then it’s enduring to the end. 2 Ne 31 has a pretty good run down on it. If we’ve done those things, then we should be in good shape. I don’t think I really care to spend much time dwelling on the telestial or terrestrial kingdoms, because I think that anything other than exaltation is an unworthy goal. I’m not trying to imply anything about what you or anyone else who has posted, but let’s all focus on the prize and shoot for that. As John Taylor said, “The celestial kingdom, or bust!” (might be slightly paraphrased…)

    However, based upon the vision of JS concerning the saints rising up and being disappointed, that leads me to believe that a great many people think that all is well in Zion (on a personal level) when that isn’t the case, else they wouldn’t have been disappointed come resurrection time. It’s human nature to slide and take things easy. I see no reason to suspect that Mormons are all free from that. Perhaps this was what BY had in mind when he said that we should let the solemnities of the eternities rest upon our minds.

    My concluding paragraph was trying to sum this up by saying that we can have good indication that we are doing what’s right. We can feel the love of the Savior, know that we are doing his will, but that doesn’t mean we can relax until we’re safely dead. I think that King David was clearly on the road to exaltation, but decided to sleep with Uriah’s wife, and then have him killed (among other things). Outside of the Lord popping up to say “Hi, you’re going to be exalted” I don’t know if we can say that we are 100% going to be exalted. However, we can know that we are on the path that the Lord would have us be on, no question. The end state of our souls? Who knows? Are we a David or a Gordon Hinckley? We’ll find out at judgment.

  26. peetie (#24) – my father’s funeral was not dissimilar, but not too similar either. He was never a member of our, or any other church that I know of. There was no mention at the funeral about his status, and I think it would have been vulgar to do so, given the circumstances.

    I asked him about his attitude towards religion when I was 16 or so (he died when I was 18) and he said that when he was younger, religion didn’t have a lot of time for him, so when he got older, he didn’t have a lot of time for religion. He was a good man, took care of his family, allowed my brother and I to serve missions (died while my brother had one month left), and even let my mom pay tithing. He was cordial to members of the church and although he wouldn’t stick around for home teachers, let them come over no question. I can think of maybe 5 times he went to church in my lifetime.

    I’d like to think that he isn’t going to the telestial or terrestrial kingdom. Assuming I get exalted I would love to have him with me. That said, I have ZERO idea what the status of his soul is. I have felt through personal experience that he has accepted the gospel on the other side, and the best baptism (spiritually speaking) I’ve ever been involved with was when I was baptized by proxy for him in the temple. But I just don’t know where he’ll end up. I pray to God it will be exaltation, but I have come to terms with the fact that His judgments will be just.

    Regardless of how it turns out, I thank God from the bottom of my heart that salvation for those that have departed is possible. One of the big turning points in accepting the gospel for my (now) wife was at the funeral, according to her faith, my father was damned to hell. God is love. I think that He will save as many of His children as He possibly can and provide the greatest blessing and the most lenient punishment possible.

  27. Mark D.-23- “God doesn’t really have to punish people for their sins – rather misery is a natural consequence of sin and being around other people who sin.”

    OK, change my phrasing to the “suffer the punishment that is the natural consequence of their sins because they would not repent.”

    If one won’t repent given all of the opportunities in this world and the spirit world, if one won’t accept the Savior’s atonement when all of the evidence is staring one in the face, I have a hard time buying that actually suffering for one’s own sins would do anything but make one miserable and mad. But the sins would be paid for and opportunities for sin would be at an end. I think that the telestial kingdom will, in fact, have a few still-unrepentant folk who, given the option, would sin again.

  28. I am shocked by some of the statements on this blog post.

    One of which is the claim that muslims cannot reach a higher kingdom due to non-belief in Jesus. On what basis is this made? I’ve read parts of the Koran and found that it declares that the New Testament and Old Testament are scripture. It even declares that Jesus is the Savior. Last year I spoke with a devoted Muslim on this misconception and he explained that yes, Islam does believe Jesus is the savior, but not in the same way that general Christianity does, since Islam does not believe in being purely saved by grace, but also works.

    To me, saying that someone from another faith cannot reach exaltation is an act of religious pride. The real test I believe is if someone is living a Christ like life, which doesn’t even require believing in Christ. I’ve met Buddhists who’ve exhibited more charity and spirituality than most church members I know. I’ve met Christians who devote their lives to serving others. And so on. I believe that such people will be welcomed with love by their Heavenly Father, who recognizes their humble service of his other children, as they exhibited the very qualities taught by the savior.

    Being prideful is not being Christ like, and it really saddens me how much religious pride I see in the church.

  29. Our church does not have a corner on the market of repentance. The framework of repentance can be found in other churchs, including non-Christain churches. For example, If you’ve ever been to a twelve step meeting (i.e. AA, DA, SA, GA, NA, etc, etc.) you would find that all of which follow a 12 step program tied directly with repenting with the help of God, which has brought the peace of repentance and health to innumberable people all around the world. These programs are not LDS, though the church has addopted its own 12 step program, called ARP, that follows the same pattern of repentance established by AA.

    The way I see it, our church has been charged with the responsibility of doing all the temple work of the world, making it possible so that any worthy person can reach exaltation. To deny anyone that opportunity due to their religious affiliation, and not on their personal worthiness, is an act of religious pride, and a barrier to our own exaltation.

  30. #27 Jami, we are told that “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” as found in D&C 76:110 and D&C 88:104. I take this to mean that those who receive a glory are those who have repented, whether by accepting the grace of Christ or paying the price for their own sins, in however you wish to interpret D&C 19.

    In D&C 88:22-24 it talks about the three degrees of glory and specifically says that if you can’t abide a celestial law, then you can’t inherit a celestial glory, same for terrestrial, and same for telestial. The short answer is that we just don’t know who merits what. The scriptures provide only vague guidelines and we are meant to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, not because we should literally fear the punishment if we don’t, but because we should be mortally concerned with our own salvation and not some other dude’s down the street. Once your own salvation is taken care of, you can start worrying about José or Cármen.

    Yes, yes, we should stand beside others and bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, but we should not sit back and judge other people’s worthiness to be saved in any degree of glory. (I’m not arguing that anyone here is, just saying)

  31. divaqs,

    Nowhere does LDS doctrine imply that being Muslim in this life disqualifies one from eventual celestial glory, short of a knowing rejection. It does imply that eventual (post-mortal) acceptance of baptism is required, of course.

  32. divaqs #28 & 29, I am not sure I understand your point.

    Are you suggesting that a life long muslim, who does NOT accept the gospel in this life or in the spirit world will enter the celestial kingdom because of “living a Christ like life, which doesn’t even require believing in Christ.”?

    The words “Jesus saith unto him, I am the away, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” come to mind.

    I would agree with Mark D. but add the clarification that acceptance of baptism, means first having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second repentance and than being baptized in this life or accepting it being done by somebody else. IE you become a member of the Church by proxy.

    What you are before God calls on you is not important, but accepting God’s call and embracing His full gospel, whether in this life or the spirit world is essential.

    Baptism by authority, (for somebody who has accepted Christ and has repented) is the only gateway into the celestial kingdom. There is no other way. Entering into the Abrahamic covenant, which we do in the sealing room of the temple is essential for exaltation in the celestial kingdom.

  33. Only a tiny fraction of all the people in the history of the Earth have had access to the Latter-day gospel and its ancient precursors. Under our doctrine of work for the dead, close to 100% of God’s children will “get their chance” at salvation in the spirit world.

    I have to believe that the Lord will give everyone the same chance he gives me (and I hope that he will give me the same chance he gives everyone else). I think the non-Mormons have as good a chance as the Mormons of “making the cut,” and the Mormons as good a chance as the non-Mormons of blowing it.

  34. Stated differently:
    Members of the church indeed have a “high point of faith” about where they are going after death. It would seem very charitable to assume that everyone else has the same chance at salvation that we do.

  35. BTW, I personally don’t like talking about baptisms for the dead in terms of “becoming members of the Church”. Baptism in this life leads to membership in a church; I just don’t see it as having the same connotations in the hereafter. When someone accepts a proxy baptism, I don’t see them as joining a church; I see them as giving evidence of their acceptance of their Savior and His redemption.

    Perhaps that’s just me, but I believe that churches are mortal organizations. I just don’t see churches in Heaven.

  36. Ray, #34, that is an interesting point you make, and one that I agree with. The Church doesn’t save you. Jesus Christ saves you. He is our intermediary. There is no other intermediary, no other name, by which we can be saved.

    And when people get baptized in this life, it is equally true, as you say, that they are, “giving evidence of their acceptance of their Savior and His redemption.”

    There is only one way, and that way is accepting Christ. The only caveat that I would add is, the statement Jesus made to His apostles, Mathew 10:40 He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

    We can’t really receive Christ as our savior in this world or in the spirit world with out accepting those whom Jesus has chosen and sent.

  37. Ray, I very much agree with # 34:

    When someone accepts a proxy baptism, I don’t see them as joining a church; I see them as giving evidence of their acceptance of their Savior and His redemption.

    Thanks for articulating that — it needed to be said.

    Divaqs, I understand your frustration in # 28 and 29 but would like to emphasize Mark D.’s response in # 30:

    Nowhere does LDS doctrine imply that being Muslim in this life disqualifies one from eventual celestial glory, short of a knowing rejection. It does imply that eventual (post-mortal) acceptance of baptism is required, of course.

    At any rate, I counsel a Muslim convert in my ward to embrace and support his family’s practice of Islam and to try to recognize what he can of the Restored Gospel in his former religion.

  38. As to the question of the main post, Sam, I believe that it still is the highest point in the faith of Latter-day Saints. These days people refer to it as having “an eternal perspective” about life.

  39. #34

    I agree, however, we do explicitly confirm those we have done baptisms for as being part of our church when we bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost on them by proxy. So I think it is hard to say it has no significance in the hereafter.

  40. So, really, we should claim to be, at least, the second largest Christian denomination – depending on the rate of acceptance in the hereafter. *grin*

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