On perseverance

In a recent conversation about the perseverance extended through the Mormon temple liturgy, I thought it would be helpful to broaden the discussion. In doing so I’m going to quote from my article on adoption, and you will find all the footnotes there. I also recognize that these are issues that have been wrestled with in the 170 years or so since the Saints left Nauvoo, and Church leaders from different generations have interpreted the material differently. I’d like to step back to Joseph Smith, however, and those who built the foundational liturgy.

When children were sealed to their parents in the Nauvoo temple, they “were ‘sealed unto eternal life’ and ‘sealed against all sins and blasphemies,’ except the sin against the Holy Ghost.” (73) This is not typically how we think of temple sealings today. That sort of language is typically reserved for more esoteric ideas surrounding one’s calling and election being made sure. The thing is that in Nauvoo that sort of language applied to all temple sealings:

While Smith taught that perseverance was a blessing of various discrete temple rituals, he did not intend to create discrete liturgies. Instead, Smith revealed a single unified liturgy. Mormon sealing, whether for marriage, for children, or for the fullness of the priesthood, sealed in the traditional sense (i.e., guaranteed salvation) inasmuch as it formalized eternal bonds in the interconnected network of the cosmological priesthood. (60-61)

The question then arises, as the vorpal blade of reality goes snicker-snack, what happens to someone who has participated in a temple sealing and then “apostatizes”? As mentioned, different folks throughout time have dealt with this variously. Lately, there has been a resurgence of quoting Orson F. Whitney’s description of Joseph Smith’s teachings. Elders and Presidents Packer, Eyring, Hinckley, Faust and more have repeated his words:

…sooner or later they [errant children] will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. (see 60n17 for text and quoting authorities’ citations)

Words such as these offer comfort to the anxious parent, but they only summarize a part of Joseph Smith’s teachings (I’m fairly certain that the tentacles were of later descriptive vintage, for the record). All sealings construct heaven and according to Smith and his revelations, they all persevered, even if one was necessarily “destroyed in the flesh” to make it happen.

And it is a mess. Beyond the sin, disbelief, or the formal exit of errant children, we have divorce, and abuse and a host of other problems that rupture the cosmology. It is particularly-crisis inducing for those with fundamentalist leanings. Score one more for not have such leanings.

Sam Brown has talked about aspects of this, and I think that he is right on. There is a power in the outward focus of such assurances. Go read his book.


  1. Sealing language and its aether disturbance is fascinating. Especially when cosmological purposes evolve. One correlated narrative just doesn’t work. Thanks J.

  2. WVS said “Sealing language and its aether disturbance”

    Wow, if you weren’t being figurative but are suggesting sealings somehow effected some real aether, quantum fields filling space, etc… that *is* a fascinating thought.

  3. I guess I had always viewed perseverance as primarily a Calvinistic concept that we did not subscribe to, but in this context, I can see the paradox involved with what we are taught. Good food for thought. I need to go read your adoption article again.

  4. So, does this mean Lehi and Sariah were not sealed to Laman and Lemuel?

  5. If “errant children” turn away from God to something else, I wonder if they would be happy living with Him eternally or with a family that chose to give their hearts to God. Surely, the sealing power allows parents some comfort in knowing that priesthood power with unite their families eternally in some manner, but perhaps it may mean that they can visit their children in another kingdom where they are happier and better suited..

  6. J Stapley using “the vorpal blade of reality goes snicker-snack” makes me love him just a tiny bit more each time I re-read it. What a great post.

  7. It is particularly-crisis inducing for those with fundamentalist leanings. Score one more for not have such leanings.

    Indeed. Great post, J.

  8. Sharee Hughes says:

    I read somewhere, and I don’t know where it was–maybe some of you really smart people on this blog will know–that Joseph Smith envisioned the entirety of humanity sealed together in one enormous chain. Since we know everyone is not going to be exalted, that is a curious idea–unless we realize that perhaps, as Katie88 said, it means that those who are exalted “can visit their children in another kingdom where they are happier and better suited.” We have been told that those in the celestial kingdom may visit those in the lower kingdoms. If those family ties (sealings) did not still exist, why would we even want to?

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Sharee, there is some difficulty in these sorts of conversations because we try to systematize things that may not be systematizable. For example, the Vision (D&C 76) was received in 1832, 12 years before JS’s most expansive elaborations of the his temple cosmology, and he doesn’t seem to have been interested in maintaining absolute consistency. You might try the article I linked to in the initial post. Sam Brown’s book In Heaven as it is on Earth is also good.

  10. Neal Kramer says:

    Jonathan’s point should not be easily passed over. We have a very meager history of interpreting the power of priesthood and the consequences of priesthood authorized blessings and promises. The newest language suggests that priesthood ordinances are simply prayers or pleas to God–He will determine what blessings are received or given regardless of what priesthood holders promise. As Jonathan explains, early Mormonism was filled with power and promise.

    Orson F. Whitney was one of the few LDS members of his generation who had access to everything in the Church archives. He became a conduit through his poetry, his histories, and his doctrinal explanations back to Joseph Smith. He saw in Joseph a man to whom God gave extraordinary power to seal, which in turn was the genius of Mormonism. All other churches claimed to have some power that reached forward into the eternities, but Joseph Smith was the real deal.

    I think we know little of the true power of Joseph’s calling and what he delegated to those who followed. In the early days the Saints seem to have been encouraged to reach for the eternities to find all the promises God held out for mankind. Joseph had seen many of his most faithful followers seem to lapse under unbearable suffering and pain. Sealing held out the promise, i.e., actually promised, that those who suffered like Emma, and Parley, and Sidney, and Orson, and W.W. Phelps and so many more would be with Joseph forever. Just as they had been sealed up to be.

  11. J Stapley, I came across your name on another cc thread. I’m trying to hunt down an electronic copy of “The Words of Joseph Smith.” Did anyone download the pdf a few years back from the Religious Studies Center before they killed the link?? My email is the number two followed by robsmith@gmail.com

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