The Plan of Salvation
by John Morgan
Whence, Why, Whither?
In the midst of the Christian world there are many conflicting theories in relation to man's existence here and hereafter; also as to the duties he owes to himself, his fellow man and to his Creator. It is an undisputable question that some knowledge of
Where we came from,
Why we are here, and
Where we go after we leave this probation, is essential to the enjoyment and well being of the human family.
In the following pages we shall seek to set forth briefly the belief of the Latter-day Saints on these points. While they may differ widely from the accepted ideas of the Christian world, we may be allowed mildly to suggest that the difference is not so much between those sects of the day and the Latter-day Saints, as it is between those sects and the Bible, a fact for which we are in no sense responsible, and a fact we can in no wise alter or change, even were we so disposed.
It is deemed proper in the commencement of this investigation to refer to another point, so that we may clearly understand each other. It is this: Sincerity of belief does not, by any means, establish the correctness of a principle. Testimony of an unimpeachable character can alone do that. Man's belief does not affect a principle in the least. The whole world may believe it, and yet it be untrue; the whole world may refuse to believe it, and yet it be true.
The unbelief of the people of Noah's day did not stay the flood; the unbelief of the Jews did not prove Jesus an impostor; and the killing of the apostles did not prove their doctrines false. The assassination of Joseph Smith, by itself, does not prove the divine nature of his authority; neither will the rejection of the doctrines he taught prove them wrong. If they are true, though he was slain, his followers mobbed, driven and persecuted, yet in the end they will rise triumphant over every obstacle and grow stronger and stronger, as error shall grow weaker and weaker.
In presenting the principles of pre-existence, the first principles of the gospel and baptism for the dead, we shall simply quote scripture; and we state again that if there is any difference of opinion, it is between the reader and holy writ.
The Apostle Paul's injunction to the Thessalonians was: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good:"1 and the wise man, Solomon, asserted that to judge a matter before hearing it, is not wise.2
Let us then refer to the word of the Lord, which is the end of argument, and see what the teachings of the Great Creator of all are.
Speaking to Job, one of the most ancient writers of the Bible, he says: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?. . .When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.''3
Job certainly must have been somewhere when the "foundations of the earth were laid," or why the question?
There was doubtless more meaning to the words "When all the sons of God shouted for joy," than one at first supposes. The reader asks, "Who were these sons of God?" Luke, in giving the genealogy of the human family, gives the necessary information on the subject: "Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the SON OF GOD.''4
But let us turn to another text. One of the ancient writers says: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.''5
Let us ask ourselves how would it be possible to return to a place, point or locality which we had never visited. How could we return to God unless we had once been in his presence? The logical conclusion is unavoidable: that to enable us to return to him, we must have once enjoyed his association, which must have been in a pre-existent state before we became clothed upon with this body of flesh and bones.
Again, we find that the apostles must have had some conception of pre-existence, judging from their question to Jesus: "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?''6
It is evident that the question was not a doubtful one in the minds of the apostles as to whether a man could sin previous to his existence in the flesh, but as to whether this particular man had sinned or not.
Paul in his writing to the Hebrews, says: "Furthermore 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?''7
We here gain the information as to who the sons of God were who shouted for joy in the beginning. We also learn the reason why we address him as "Our Father, which art in heaven, ''8 is to distinguish him from the father of our earthly tabernacles. In other words, he is "the Father of Spirits" in the same sense that our earthly fathers are the fathers of our bodies of flesh and bones.
Nature of Spirits
When death occurs, we bury the earthly body, which decomposes and mingles with the elements surrounding its place of deposit. But what of the spirit which "returns unto God who gave it?"
When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, "They were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit." But he corrected them, saying "Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.''9
From these words we may gather the information that man, while existing as a spirit, was not clothed upon with flesh and bones. But nevertheless existed in the exact shape and form that he now possesses. He had eyes to see, ears to hear, and many other faculties with which man is here endowed. He was also doubtless in possession of intelligence and much that goes to ennoble man. He had the ability to pass from place to place, increase in knowledge and perform certain duties that devolved upon him in that sphere of action.
An unembodied spirit is one that has not yet taken upon itself a body. An embodied spirit is one dwelling in the flesh. A disembodied spirit is one that has passed through this stage of existence and laid his body down in the grave, to be finally taken up and again united, spirit and body, never more to be separated.
The word of the Lord to Jeremiah was: "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations."10 Here we have the sure word of the Lord relating to one of the children of men who was but a type of the rest, only that in this particular case we have the fact made known that, for good and sufficient reasons, our common Father in the heavens saw proper to ordain one of his children to a certain office prior to sending him down upon the earth.
Having so gained the confidence of his Father while in his first or pre-existent state, he was ordained to a high and holy calling previous to his advent upon the earth, and we learn from holy writ that this confidence was not misplaced, but that he in honor filled his mission and proved himself true to the trust reposed in him, not veering or turning a hair's breadth from the line of duty, though met by obstacles that would have appalled the stoutest heart.
The reader will please be cautious not to confound the principle of foreordination with that of predestination, in the case of Jeremiah, for there is a broad distinction between the two. A man may be foreordained, set apart or commanded to do a certain work, yet he retains his agency in the matter, and it is optional with him whether he performs the duty assigned him or not. If predestined to do certain work, there could be no choice but to do that work. Not having any choice, he would not incur the responsibility of his own actions, or control them, but would be controlled by the power which predestined him. While Jeremiah was foreordained to be a prophet to the nations, we do not read that he was predestinated to fill the office of a prophet by any means.
Pre-Existence of Christ
The principle of pre-existence is illustrated plainly in the life of our Savior, who thus spoke to the people: "What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?''11 Again, "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven."12
To all human appearances Jesus resembled very much the rest of the children of our common Father. So close was the resemblance that those by whom he was surrounded failed to see any contrast between him and any ordinary man. They inquired of each other, "Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?''13
Let us ask ourselves the question: "Is it so difficult to comprehend our own pre-existence when that of Jesus is so plainly taught, and also that of many of the Biblical characters of whom we read?"
Paul, the great apostle, speaking of himself, says: "In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began."14 Here was a promise made to Paul of eternal life, "before the world began," conditioned upon obedience, as was said to Cain aforetime. "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?"15
Yet notwithstanding this promise, Paul was under the necessity of performing certain duties to enable him to claim the promise made. After being stricken with blindness on the way to Damascus, and hearing the voice of a risen Redeemer, he was told to "Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.''16
After fasting and prayer, he was visited at the end of three days by one Ananias, who had been commanded of the Lord, in a vision, to visit Paul, and was furthermore told that he was a "chosen vessel," or, in other words, one whom the Lord had made promises to before the "world began," and who had a mission to perform before "Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel." The question of Ananias was: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.''17
We have presented for the consideration of the reader but a few Biblical proofs of man's pre-existence out of the many that can be selected, yet consider that sufficient has been advanced to show conclusively that the claim of the Latter-day Saints to a belief in this principle is rounded upon holy writ. Their ideas only coincide with the prophets and servants of God in all ages of the world who have alluded to this subject.
Having answered this question: "Where did we come from," let us consider—
Why We Are Here
A wise Creator must have had some great object in view in the creation of the earth, and placing upon it his children to pass through what they are called upon to do, while in this probation. A knowledge of this object is necessary to enable the human family to act well their part. Let us then examine what he had in view.
One object of man's existence upon the earth is to obtain a body of flesh and bones, for without this it is impossible to advance in the grand scale of being in which he is to move, in the eternal worlds.
It is necessary also for him to learn, by actual experience, the difference between good and evil. As was said of our first parents, "And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."18
It is necessary that man should taste the bitter to enable him to appreciate the sweet. No proper appreciation of the value of eternal life could be arrived at, without having experienced its opposition.
A man must first feel the effects of sickness to enable him fully to appreciate the great boon of health. He must feel the effects of pain before he can enjoy immunity therefrom. He must feel the influence and power of death before he can appreciate eternal life. He must comprehend the effects of sin before he can enjoy "the rest promised to the faithful."
There are many experiences that he can gain in the flesh that cannot be obtained elsewhere. There are ordinances to be performed and eternal unions to be perfected, that in the wise economy of the great Creator must be effected here on the earth. Baptism for the remission of sins, and marriage for eternity are prominent features of duty that devolve upon man in his second state, or during his existence upon the earth. It is not all of man's duty to care for himself alone, selfishly to neglect his fellow man, and seek aggrandizement of himself at their expense. "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you,''19 is called the Golden Rule, by which men should be governed in this life.
In brief, man has a work to do to prepare himself for a future exaltation in the eternities to come. He is called upon to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling,"20 for the work done in this life will have its influence in that to come. By obedience to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ he prepares himself for the grand and glorious exaltation held in reserve for those who worship God in "spirit and truth." As Jesus said to his apostles, "I go to prepare a place for you," "in my Father's house are many mansions."21
Having learned why we are here, let us next examine what is the nature of the duties devolving upon us.
To enable a man to perform any work whatever requires that he have faith in the ultimate result of his work. No farmer would plant unless he expected to reap; no builder build, unless he expected to inhabit; no speculator invest, unless he expected to increase his means; no journey would be attempted unless there existed the hope of reaching the destination. So, likewise, no commandment of God would be obeyed unless there existed faith that certain blessings would follow obedience.
With this idea plainly before us we can comprehend the assertion of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews: "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.''22
We find the active workings of the principle of faith in the many cases of healing performed by our Savior. "Thy faith hath made thee whole,''23 was often the remark he made to those he healed; and we find him speaking to the apostles in the strongest terms about their lack of this great principle. Upon one occasion they came to him with the question, "Why could not we cast him out?" And Jesus said unto them, "Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.''24
And again we read, "And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief,''25 or in other words, they had no faith in the claim he made of being the Messiah; consequently, they were deprived of the blessings that fell to those that had faith, as mankind today are depriving themselves of many great and glorious blessings, through their unbelief in the divine calling of Joseph Smith, the prophet and seer. Faith and Signs
We often hear the same cry today that greeted the ears of Jesus, "Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, an evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign."26
What was true of the generation was true of the individual, and what was true then is true now, which places sign seekers in a most unenviable position, but doubtless where they justly belong. Faith is not produced by sign seeking, but in the words of Paul, "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."27
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, he left this grand test of faith upon record, to serve as a guide for all future generations: "And these signs shall follow them that believe" (that is, have faith); "In my name shall they cast out devils: they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.''28
"But," says one, "was it not intended that these gifts and blessings should be limited to the days of the apostles, and to the apostles themselves?" Read again, "shall follow them that believe," and again the preceding verse reads, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved."
If you limit the signs following the believer to the days of the apostles, you must also limit salvation to that day. But it is today as it was in the day Paul wrote to the Hebrews: "For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it."29
The cultivation of this principle of faith is the first step in our duties in this life. The second step is that of—
"Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.''30 "Let the wicked forsake his way."31 "Repent. . .every one of you,''32 "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."33
We understand that repentance does not consist in mourning over sins committed, and then repeating the same sin or one equally heinous, but that Ezekiel meant for the people to cease from doing wrong, to quit their evil practices, and walk in the path of rectitude, virtue and true holiness. "For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be
repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death."34 "We believe that the "sorrow of the world" here alluded to is the too prevalent practice of crying, groaning and moaning over our wrongdoings, and then continuing the same practices.
The third step for man to take in this life to secure salvation in the eternal world is to be—
"He that believeth that is, he that hath faith] and is baptized shall be saved''35 was the emphatic assertion of our Savior. Again, we find that man came under condemnation by refusing obedience to this commandment: "But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.''36 So the world of today will in the end find themselves under condemnation for refusing to obey this principle of the gospel.
"Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.''37
Paul, writing to the Hebrews, says: "Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms and of laying on of hands."38
Here are four principles all classed together, all equally important, all equally necessary, and all required at our hands by those fixed and eternal laws of truth and justice, by which the worlds are governed and by which we may return back into the presence of God, and dwell with the just and true and pure of all ages.
The fourth step necessary for man to take while in this state of probation is to receive—
The Laying On of Hands
for the reception of the Holy Ghost. This is a principle, to a great extent ignored by the Christian world, yet plainly taught in the scriptures.
Peter, and his brethren of the twelve, had doubtless all been baptized, and endeavored to lead holy lives during their association with Jesus, yet we find him, just previous to his ascension on high, telling them, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them."39
And we find a still further explanation of the manner of obtaining this gift and blessing in the Acts of the Apostles, where he commanded them "that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water: but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence."40
Turning to the account of the ministry of Philip in Samaria, we learn that after the Samaritans had exercised faith sufficient to cause them to repent, they had been baptized under the hands of Philip. "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. ) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.''41
We also call the attention of the reader to the account of Paul's visit to the baptized saints of Ephesus, and his inquiry of them, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost . . . they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied."42
Sufficient has doubtless been said clearly to establish the fact that the gift of the Holy Ghost was formerly obtained by the laying on of hands of those who held the authority to do so. Nowhere do we find that the order here laid down has been supplanted or annulled. On the contrary, the apostles spoke in the strongest terms, against any innovation upon the established forms that Jesus taught them.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, speaks of those who were "perverting" the gospel; doubtless teaching such things as that the laying on of hands was not necessary, or else that it was done away with, and says, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed."43
The reader has now examined tim fourth step for man's advancement in the probation in which he is now living; and in the words of our Savior, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.''44
We have traced man from a pre-existent state, before the world began, when he dwelt in the presence of the Father and of our elder brother, Jesus, and mingled with the spirits who have or shall come into this sphere of action.
As it is beautifully expressed in one of the songs of Zion:
O My Father
"O my Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain Thy presence,
And again behold Thy face?
In Thy holy habitation,
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood
Was I nurtured near Thy side?
"For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth,
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth:
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered 'You're a stranger here';
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere."
This is certainly a grander and nobler conception of man's origin than that of some of the would-be philosophers of today, who advocate the idea of evolution from a lower scale.
Having described the nature of the duties (to have faith in God and His promises, to repent of his sins, to be baptized for their remission, and to receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost) that he must perform in this life to lay a foundation of future exaltation, we now turn to the consideration of man's—
Upon this subject there is a great diversity of opinion among men and almost every possible conjecture has, from time to time, held the attention of the human family. If we are to judge by the accepted creeds of the Christian world, we find that an almost universal belief exists in future punishment.
We also find that the fear of future punishment is used as a mighty power to influence the minds of the people in a religious sense. The fearful horrors of the never ending punishment of the guilty are portrayed in the liveliest colors from the Christian pulpits of the land. They are so clearly defined that in many instances we find that the love and justice of God are lost sight of in the description of the fearful character of the punishment he inflicts, not so much upon believers as upon those who reject the creeds, articles of faith and discipline whereby men seek to "know God."
Let the reader lay aside preconceived notions, tradition and prejudice, and examine this subject with a desire to know the truth.
We shall refer again to holy writ, and ask the candid attention of the reader to the proofs we place before him.
If we had the history of two persons, the one good and the other bad, after they left the earth, or laid down their bodies in death, it would serve as a guide to decide upon the future destiny of the whole human family. Fortunately there is left upon record such information, and by it we can determine this all important question.
No one will dispute the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth was appropriately termed the "Just One," a person of pure and holy life.
The confession of guilt by one of the men crucified beside Jesus is testimony enough to convict him of being a bad man.
"We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss''45 were the words of the malefactor, thus confessing that death was the proper penalty for the many crimes that he was guilty of.
Now, here are two persons that were born upon the earth, lived out a certain number of years, and then laid down their lives, their bodies becoming cold and inanimate in death, while their spirits, freed from their earthly tenements, passed into another stage of existence, leaving their remains to be cared for in the ordinary rites of sepulture.
While suffering the agonies of crucifixion, a conversation was carried on between them, which will serve our purpose in opening up an investigation:
"And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy Kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."46
The request of the thief was so favorably looked upon that Christ made the promise that he should accompany him to a place which he designated as paradise. He could not have consistently granted him the privilege of entering into his kingdom, when he replied to Nicodemus: "Except a man be born of water [baptized] and of the Spirit [receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost], he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.''47 The thief, not having attended to these ordinances, could lay no claim to that privilege; but says Jesus, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise."
We are aware that the maiority of the Bible believing world are of the opinion that the thief was permitted to enter heaven and enjoy the presence of God; but is this idea a correct one? Let us candidly examine it and see; for on it hangs a great principle of truth.
Christ Visits Spirits in Prison
After the body of Jesus had lain three days in the tomb, the spirit again entered into it. The angels rolled the stone away from the mouth of the sepulchre, and the resurrected Redeemer of the world walked forth, clothed upon with an immortal body of flesh and bones.
Mary, who seemed to have some special interest in the Savior, came early to the tomb, and weeping, discovered that the body of the Master was not there. A voice spake to her saying, "Mary." "She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.48
Here we have the assertion of Jesus himself, that during the three days immediately subsequent to his crucifixion, while his body lay in the tomb, his spirit did not go into heaven or the presence of his Father. Logically, it must follow, neither did that of the thief. The generally accepted idea, therefore, of the thief's being saved, must inevitably fall to the ground. Jesus asserted that "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise," and upon his return to earth he informed Mary that he had not ascended to his Father.
The question naturally arises, Where had he been during these three days? We are not left in doubt upon this point, but scripture plainly points out the character of the duties he was called upon to perform while his body rested in peace in the newly made tomb of Joseph.
He to whom Jesus transferred the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and who stood at the head of the twelve apostles, would certainly be accepted as a competent witness in this matter; and by turning to his epistles we gain this information: "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.''49
Here we have an account of what he was doing during the three days' absence from the body: preaching unto the spirits in prison; also a very clear explanation as to where the thief went. It was to a prison world where he would have an opportunity to hear the Savior preach the gospel of deliverance to the captive spirits, "which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.''50
We now understand what Isaiah, the prophet, meant when, speaking of Jesus he says, "That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth;''51 and again, "He hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound';52 and again, "To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.''53
How appropriately do these passages coincide with and support the assertion of Peter relative to Jesus preaching to the "spirits in prison." Men who, in the days of the flood, failed to obey the commandments of God, and for two thousand long, weary years had suffered the penalty of their wrong doing, had been fulfilling the principle so clearly enunciated by our Savior when he said, "Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing."54
"And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.''55
Gospel Preached to the Dead
With what joy must these long-suffering spirits, held in confinement, have greeted the Redeemer, when he appeared and preached to them the glad tidings of great joy, and presented for their acceptance the everlasting gospel. Through its means they could have their prison doors opened and themselves delivered from the grasp of Lucifer, the son of the morning, who is appropriately described as one who "made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners."56
How grand and glorious is the plan of salvation that the Creator has ordained for his children, reaching from eternity to eternity, covering in its details every possible emergency; controlling, guiding and directing their footsteps while in a pre-existing state, teaching them while sojourners upon the earth, and extending beyond the grave into the spirit world, there to cause their hearts to rejoice and gladden under his benign influence, growing and increasing in might and majesty, power and glory, as the ages roll by, until the inspired words of our divine Master shall be fuIfilled: "Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.''57
Well might Jesus say to the apostles just previous to his death: "Verily, verily, I say unto you. 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: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice."58
Turning again to the epistle of Peter, we find this assertion: "Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead. For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit."59
Forgiveness of Sins
Jesus, upon one occasion, when explaining the gospel to the apostles, said, "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."60
This, in perfect plainness, explains itself to mean that there is a class of sins that can be forgiven in this world, and a class that cannot; also that there is a class of sins that can be forgiven in the world to come, and a class that cannot.
Peter, speaking of the patriarch David, says, "For David is not ascended into the heavens,"61 But David himself, knowing full well that the mercy of the Lord endureth forever, says, "For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell"62
If the present generation desires to know what will be the result of their disobedience, to the proclamation of the principles of the gospel, and their contending against the servants of God who proclaim them, let them read what Isaiah says: "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage. . . .And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth. And they shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison, and after many days shall they be visited"63
In accordance with divine law, men are judged "according to their works,''64 not indiscriminately consigning all grades and classes of sinners to tim same punishment, and that to continue forever, but meting out judgment according to their works, some with many stripes and some with but few.
Would it not be libel upon justice if a judge, presiding over one of our ordinary courts, should award to every criminal brought before him the same punishment? "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things unto them that ask him?''65 Certainly the law of poor, weak, mortal man is not superior to that of the Judge of all.
Paul beautifully and aptly expressed the principle in writing to the Corinthians: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable,''66 but knowing that the gospel would be preached to the spirits in prison, and that untold millions of those who failed to accept the gospel here would do so there, he felt to rejoice in his heart instead of being the most miserable of men.
He was fully aware that there was but one way to be saved, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism"67 that it was positively necessary for man to pass through the door to enter into the sheepfold; that the many devices whereby men sought to save themselves must of necessity fail, for "God's house is a house of order." He knew there was only one name under heaven whereby men might be saved; that obedience to this law was a prime necessity to salvation, for "in vain do ye say, Lord, Lord, and do not the things I command you."68
Salvation Offered to All
Knowing these facts, the life of every good and true man, as was Paul, would be rendered miserable at the thought that so many millions of the human family must irretrievably perish and be subject to torture throughout all the eternities to come; but understanding the great principle of the mission of our Savior to the prison world, they can rejoice in the fact that the plan of salvation is a complete one. They have hope that not only in this life, but in the life to come, the gospel will be preached and men be taught its precepts.
God being no respecter of persons, it would be manifestly unjust for one portion of the human family to have the privilege of hearing the sound of the gospel in this life, while so great a proportion never heard it, and lie under condemnation for the fact. No: the plan of salvation is complete, and reaching from our pre-existent state, applies to our present condition, and will extend to the future state, until every son and daughter of Father Adam has had ample opportunity to embrace its tenets and live in accordance with its spirit.
We have now examined the gospel proof of pre-existence and quoted the testimony of Jesus and many of the servants of the Most High. We have gone over the ground of the duties that pertain to this life, connected with faith, repentance, baptism for the remission
of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and examined the scriptures relative to preaching to spirits in prison.
We now take one more step in our investigation and shall endeavor to learn if there is a way wrought out for the deliverance of the prisoners bound and captive in the grasp of Satan.
The fact of their being preached to is one evidence that something could be done to mitigate their condition, for it would be cruelly intensified if, after being taught the gospel, it would be necessary to inform them that there was no deliverance.
Salvation for the Dead
The word of the Lord through the Prophet Malachi was, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."69 Here was a work for the translated prophet of Israel to perform at some future period of time with the fearful consequence of non-compliance placed before us, that the Lord would smite the earth with a curse. The nature of that work is briefly set forth as turning the heart of the fathers to the children and that of the children to the fathers.
The apostle Paul asserts that they without us could "not be made perfect,"70 or, in other words, that their salvation was necessary to our happiness or perfection.
Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, said. "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.''71
"But," asks the reader, "how can a spirit be born of water, or be baptized in the water?"
Very many of those who have gone into the spirit world have never submitted to the ordinance of baptism, while vast numbers of those who had been baptized had the ordinance administered by one who held no rightful authority whatever and whose acts God will not by any means recognize.
They stand in the same position to the "kingdom of God" that a man does, who, as an alien to the government of the United States, has received his papers of citizenship from a man who held no office under the government, and as a consequence, had no authority to confer these rights upon anyone.
Paul, writing to the Hebrews, speaks of baptism in the plural: "Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms."72
Many have supposed this passage to sanction the idea of different modes of baptism, but, by turning to another of Paul's epistles, we learn clearly his meaning. We gain also the information how we may be instruments in the hands of a wise Creator in doing a work for the dead. "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"73
We have here an explanation as to how their prison doors may be opened and they set free: by the ordinance of the gospel through the baptism for the dead. Those that are in the flesh do vicarious work for their dead and become "saviors upon Mount Zion."
We here insert an account of the visit of Elijah to the earth, in fulfillment of the promise of the Lord through Malachi.
The Coming of Elijah
On the third day of April, 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, while in the Temple at Kirtland, had the vision of heaven opened and Elijah, the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before them and said: "Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors." 74
Elijah the prophet having come and conferred the authority to baptize for the dead, the Latter-day Saints are assiduously engaged in erecting temples wherein this ordinance may be performed. The object of Elijah's visit having been partially accomplished in causing the hearts of the fathers, dead and gone, to turn to the children here on earth, the children are feeling after the fathers and seeking to open their prison doors, and bring them through the door of baptism into the sheep-fold.
Not only are the eiders of Israel traveling, preaching the gospel, and baptizing the people by the thousands, but the saints are flocking to the temples of the Lord and redeeming their dead from the grasp of Satan. They are performing a great and mighty work for the human family who have lived upon the earth in the different ages of the world's history, and who, in some instances, by revelation, make manifest to their children or friends the fact that they have accepted the gospel in the spirit world.
The patriarchs and prophets of former days, with Peter, James and the apostles who lived in the meridian of time, with Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other prophets of the "dispensation of the fulness of times" in the latter days, are earnestly engaged in the work of giving information and directing the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world.
Associated with our Father in the heavens, with the angels and the good and true of the earth, we can afford to smile at the puny efforts of man to overthrow the works of God. What! can man strive against the bucklers of Jehovah?
Can the designs that have been in process of fulfillment since the world began now be stayed in their onward progress because they did not happen to meet the approval of the people of today?
What Is Eternal Punishment
In conclusion, let us examine one more question that has doubtless presented itself to the mind of the reader, and that is the question of future punishment. If, by preaching to the spirits in prison, bringing them to a knowledge of the truth and being baptized for them, releases them from their prison house, it logically follows that time must be an end to future punishment.
We hear the question asked, "Do not the scriptures say that it is 'eternal punishment' and 'everlasting punishment'?" We answer, "Yes." But let us not put any private interpretation on these terms, but correctly understand their meaning.
Eternal punishment is God's punishment; everlasting punishment is God's punishment; or in other words, it is the name of the punishment God inflicts, he being eternal in his nature.
Whosoever, therefore, receives God's punishment receives eternal punishment, whether it is endured one hour, one day, one week, one year, or an age. "And they were judged every man according to their works.''75 Some shall be beaten with few and some with many stripes.76 Here we have plainly set forth the fact that all men are not punished alike, that some receive a greater punishment than others.
That, as their works are, so shall be the punishment awarded them: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them."77
These were the words of John upon the Isle of Patmos, and most impressively he adds: "And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.''78
We consider that enough has been said to establish the principles we have advanced, and we will call upon all to whom these words shall come to exercise faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to repent of their sins, to be baptized for the remission of them, to receive the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then to serve the God of Israel with all their might, mind and strength.