DC 137 Historical Background
"The historical setting of Joseph Smith's Vision of the Celestial Kingdom is both inspiring and informative. In 1833 the Lord reminded the Saints in Kirtland of his commandment to 'build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high.' (D&C 95:8.) After it was built, the Lord rewarded their sacrifices with a marvelous outpouring of light and truth. One Latter-day Saint historian has recently written concerning this eventful epoch in our history:
'During a fifteen-week period, extending from January 21 to May 1, 1836, probably more Latter-day Saints beheld visions and witnessed other unusual spiritual manifestations than during any other era in the history of the Church. There were reports of Saints' beholding heavenly beings at ten different meetings held during that time. At eight of these meetings, many reported seeing angels; and at five of the services, individuals testified that Jesus, the Savior, appeared. While the Saints were thus communing with heavenly hosts, many prophesied, some spoke in tongues, and others received the gift of interpretation of tongues.'
"On Thursday evening, 21 January 1836, the Prophet and a number of Church leaders from Kirtland and Missouri gathered in the temple. After anointings and after all the presidency had laid their hands upon the Prophet's head and pronounced many glorious blessings and prophecies, a mighty vision burst upon the assembled leadership. (See History of the Church, 2:379-80.)" (Robert L. Millet, "Beyond the Veil: Two Latter-day Revelations," Ensign, Oct. 1985, 9)
"According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, during this vision angels not only ministered to him but to others who had received their anointings. 'The power of the Highest rested upon us,' he said, and 'the house was filled with the glory of God.' His scribe, Warren Parrish, recorded his own experience at the Prophet's dictation: 'My scribe ... saw in a vision the armies of heaven protecting the Saints in their return to Zion, and many [of the same] things which I [Joseph Smith] saw.'
"Sometime after this particular vision ended, the high councilors of the Church in Kirtland and Missouri entered the west room. Prayers were offered, and the presidents of the two high councils anointed the heads of the members of their respective councils each in turn, beginning with the oldest.
"Following this ordinance, says the Prophet Joseph Smith, 'The visions of heaven were opened to them also. Some of them saw the face of the Savior, and others were ministered unto by holy angels.' He further testified that 'we all communed with the heavenly host. ... The spirit of prophecy and revelation,' he added, 'was poured out in mighty power.'
"In addition to the records left by Joseph Smith and his scribe, Warren Parrish, Edward Partridge wrote, 'A number saw visions. Others were blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.' Moreover, Oliver Cowdery added his testimony in his 1836 diary for January 21: 'The glorious scene' was 'too great to be described. ... I only say that the heavens were opened to many, and great and marvelous things were shown.'
"During this spiritual feast, the men on several occasions shouted, 'Hosannah to God and the Lamb.' The meeting ended with singing and prayer, Joseph Smith offering the final benediction. This solemn assembly must have continued until after midnight, for the Prophet recorded in his diary that he retired between one and two o'clock in the morning." (Milton V. Backman Jr., "Witnesses of the Glories of Heaven," Ensign, Mar. 1981, 60-61)
I [also] saw the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, who are now upon the earth, who hold the keys of this last ministry, in foreign lands, standing together in a circle, much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept.
I also beheld Elder M'Lellin in the south, standing upon a hill, surrounded by a vast multitude, preaching to them, and a lame man standing before him supported by his crutches; he threw them down at his word and leaped as a hart, by the mighty power of God. Also, I saw Elder Brigham Young standing in a strange land, in the far south and west, in a desert place, upon a rock in the midst of about a dozen men of color, who appeared hostile. He was preaching to them in their own tongue, and the angel of God standing above his head, with a drawn Sword in his hand, protecting him, but he did not see it. And I finally saw the Twelve in the celestial kingdom of God. I also beheld the redemption of Zion, and many things which the tongue of man cannot describe in full. (History of the Church, 2: 381)
"Even though this vision has been known and used by the Church since that day, it was not canonized and accepted as part of the standard works until 3 April 1976. Under the direction of the President Spencer W. Kimball, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve approved the addition of this revelation to the Pearl of Great Price. Those assembled in general conference sustained the proposal, and this vision was made part of the standard works. On 22 June 1979, the First Presidency announced that this revelation would be moved from the Pearl of Great Price to the Doctrine and Covenants, where it would be known as section 137. The reason given for this change was to accommodate the cross-referencing system that would be instituted in the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and covenants.
"The importance of canonizing this revelation, along with section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants, was commented on by Elder Boyd K. Packer: 'We live in a day of great events relating to the scriptures. It has been only a short time since two revelations were added to the standard works...
"'I was surprised, and I think all of the Brethren were surprised, at how casually that announcement of two additions to the standard works was received by the Church. But we will live to sense the significance of it; we will tell our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and we will record in our diaries, that we were on the earth and remember when that took place.'" (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 4:295-296)
DC 137:1 I beheld the celestial kingdom...whether in the body or out I cannot tell
"The experience of the Prophet and those who were with him when this revelation was received is similar to what Nephi experienced when, as he sat pondering the things taught by his father, he was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord to a high mountain or to what Paul observed when he-'whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell' (2 Corinthians 12:3)-was caught up to the third heaven. The Prophet Joseph explained the process of revelation this way: 'All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies.'" (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 4:296-297)
DC 137:2 the gate... was like unto circling flames of fire
Anything corruptible would be consumed by these circling flames of fire, should they attempt to enter. Therefore, only the pure, those who died in a state of purity or those purged like gold and silver in the fiery furnace of mortality can enter. John saw that there was more than one gate-twelve in fact, "and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel... And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there... And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Rev. 21:12, 25-27)
"If we could see our heavenly Father,' President Brigham Young observed, 'we should see a being similar to our earthly parent, with this difference, our Father in heaven is exalted and glorified. . . . While He was in the flesh, as we are, He was as we are. But it is now written of Him that our God is as a consuming fire, that He dwells in everlasting burnings, and this is why sin cannot be where He is.' President Young said further: 'There are principles that will endure through all eternity, and no fire can obliterate them from existence. They are those principles that are pure, and fire is made typical use of to show the glory and purity of the gods, and of all perfect beings' (in Journal of Discourses, 4:54). (Robert L. Millet, Alive in Christ: The Miracle of Spiritual Rebirth [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 101)
DC 137:3 the blazing throne of God
What would it look like to gaze upon the throne of God? Like Joseph Smith, Ezekiel and John the Revelator gave us a description. Joseph saw two Beings, Ezekiel and John just one. Ezekiel also described more color than we sometimes imagine: sapphire blue, fiery amber, and all the colors of the rainbow.
Above the firmament... was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man...
And I saw as the colour of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face... (Ezek. 1:26-28)
The Revelator described a similar scene:
I was in the spirit: and., behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper (dark green) and a sardine (i.e. Sardian-deep orange-red) stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald (yellow-green).
And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thundering and voices...
And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal... (Rev. 4:2-4)
DC 137:4 the beautiful streets... had the appearance of being paved with gold
Melvin J. Ballard
I was asked by one of my brethren recently, as he closed the vaults of one of the great banks, to lock up the treasures, whether I thought the day would ever come when treasures could be and would be preserved without fear of being stolen and it would not be necessary to lock them up. I remarked that surely that day will come, for all those who will enter into the celestial kingdom will be so honest that they could live and walk within hand's reach of that which is not theirs with nothing to prevent them from possessing it, following that high standard established in the gospel of Christ, and the rectitude of their own intentions being worked out in actual living. For they who enter that state will be so honest that God can pave the streets with gold and set the walls with jasper and diamonds, without any fear of their being stolen. Yes, there will come such a day. Now, however, we are being proven to see whether we are worthy to enter into these high and holy privileges. (Conference Report, October 1929, First Day-Morning Meeting 51 - 52)
DC 137:5 The Life, Death, and Impact of Alvin Smith
"Joseph... recalled that Alvin once witnessed a fight between two Irishmen but intervened to prevent one from gouging out the eyes of the other: 'Alvin took him by his collar and breeches and threw him over the ring which had been formed to witness the fight.'
"Yet Alvin's strength was controlled. A New York neighbor was only twelve when Alvin died, but left this impression of the physical and moral abilities of the older Smiths: 'They were big, stout men, but never was quarrelsome-would put up with anything and everything rather than have a quarrel.'
"Alvin lived seven years after the family's move to New York... During these years, Alvin and Hyrum made special contributions to buying and improving the farm. Pomeroy Tucker, a Palmyra printer, related how the father 'and his eldest sons' hired out at jobs 'such as gardening, harvesting, well-digging, etc.' The family's goal was to pay their purchase contract for about one hundred unimproved acres. Mother Smith relates how the parents and the 'two oldest sons' worked for a year, paid 'nearly all' of their first payment, and were then authorized 'to build a log house on the land and commenced clearing.'
"But this project required Alvin's sustained work: 'It was not long till we had 30 acres ready for cultivation. But the second payment was now coming due and no means as yet of meeting it. Alvin accordingly proposed: ... `I will go abroad to see if I cannot make the second payment and the remainder of the first.' By my son's persevering industry he was able to return to us after much labor, suffering, and fatigue with the necessary amount of money for all except the last payment.'
"The Smiths now followed the pioneer pattern of replacing the cabin with a frame house, and again Alvin took the lead. We watch him through Lucy's eyes: 'My oldest son took principle charge of this, and when the month of November, 1822 arrived, the house was raised and all the materials procured for completing the building. Alvin was very much animated by the idea, as he said, of making father and mother so comfortable. He would say: `I am going to have a nice pleasant room for them to sit in and everything arranged for their comfort, and they shall not work as they have done any more.`'
"Alvin was then twenty-four, and Joseph, at seventeen, was deeply influenced by his older brother's example of constant loyalty to family and parents. Joseph later called Alvin 'the noblest of my father's family,' one who 'lived without spot from the time he was a child.' Then the Prophet added what he called some 'childish lines' that are telling in content: 'From the time of his birth/he never knew mirth/He was candid and sober/and never would play;/And minded his father and mother/in toiling all day.' Alvin was clearly Joseph's role model in labor and obedience, contributing much to Joseph's strong feelings of responsibility to God and to others. He was evidently also well adjusted socially, for his mother notes the person who 'felt our grief more deeply than the rest' at Alvin's passing-'a lovely young woman who was engaged to be married to my son shortly after the time in which he died.'
"By 1823, much of the farm land had been cleared, the new frame home was nearly ready for occupancy-and Joseph was ready for the visit of Moroni. Sometime after Joseph retired to his room the evening of September 21, the angel visited him three times and revealed the existence of the ancient record.
"The next morning, Joseph labored weakly in the field. Lucy Smith's history describes how Alvin noticed Joseph slackening, how Joseph was sent to the house by his father, how Joseph then received another vision commanding him to tell his father, and how Alvin obeyed Joseph's request to bring their father to hear of the revelation. Joseph next went to the hill, and that night Alvin saw that Joseph was too emotionally drained to talk further. So the oldest brother proposed that all should work hard enough to quit an hour early the next day in order to hear Joseph.
"Alvin immediately believed Joseph's story. As Lucy Smith emphasized: 'Alvin had ever manifested a greater zeal and anxiety, if it were possible, than any of the rest with regard to the record which had been showed to Joseph.' The Prophet and his mother consistently give Alvin a secondary role. The Prophet had first received the spiritual experiences, and Alvin was an eager listener.
"Two months later, these scenes of excitement were replaced by mourning for the departed eldest brother. Painfully attacked by stomach cramps, possibly caused by appendicitis, Alvin asked for a doctor. The family's regular physician could not be found, so a substitute gave Alvin calomel, a chalky substance later found in his blocked intestine along with gangrene. To the Smiths, the heavy dose of the purging agent was unforgivable medical malpractice, and their family physician agreed. Yet his regular doctor may not have been able to save him, either. Treating a ruptured appendix was beyond any medical skill of the time.
"Alvin faced pain and death with courage and control, using his last moments to express love, to urge Hyrum to finish the house, to encourage Joseph. Lucy emphasized her oldest son's dying faith in the Prophet's mission: 'Alvin was never so happy as when he was contemplating the final success of his brother in obtaining the record. And now I fancied I could hear him with his parting breath conjuring his brother to continue faithful that he might obtain the prize which the Lord had promised him.'
"In Lucy Smith's history, Alvin began to be sick on November 15 and died late in the night of November 19. Mother Smith says that four additional physicians were called, and the account of one of them has an entry dated 19 November 1823: 'Joseph Smith visit, attend, $3.00.' The billing may be for the autopsy. This is also the date of the Palmyra gravestone: 'In memory of Alvin, son of Joseph & Lucy Smith, who died Nov. 19, 1823, in the 25 year of his age.'
"Alvin's death was a tragic blow for the family. Perhaps it was part of a divine plan. At least Joseph's vision of Alvin in the celestial kingdom confirms that Alvin 'would have received' the gospel had he 'been permitted to tarry.' (D&C 137:7.) As we have seen, Alvin heard his younger brother relate his first attempt to get the plates, and he died a devout believer in Joseph's mission."
"As the comments and histories of the Smith family have been brought together, it has become clear that the impact of Alvin's death was the 'great affliction' remembered by the Prophet. (See JS-H 1:56.) Joseph was nearly eighteen when his brother died, but he carried the shock of that night into his latest years: 'I remember well the pangs of sorrow that swelled my youthful bosom and almost burst my tender heart when he died.' Lucy Smith later pictured the family's feelings for the oldest son who would 'return no more in this life-we all with one accord wept over our irretrievable loss.'
"Mother Smith describes how the community shared the family's grief at the loss of this young adult 'of singular goodness of disposition,' possessed of 'kind and amiable manners.' Yet Calvinistic theology was not broad enough to allow such a person salvation, as younger brother William reports: 'Reverend Stockton had preached my brother's funeral sermon and intimated very strongly that he had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy, and my father did not like it.' The elder Joseph rightly recognized such doctrine as uninspired by a God extending love and opportunity to all. But real understanding would come to the Smith family only after work for the dead was taught by the Prophet at Nauvoo.
"Those doctrines did not come to Joseph immediately. For thirteen years the Smiths struggled to understand this earthly tragedy. At a Nauvoo funeral, Joseph reflected on the deaths of Alvin and his youngest brother Don Carlos: 'Yes, it has been hard to be reconciled to these things. ... Yet I know we ought to be still and know it is of God and be reconciled-all is right. It will be but a short time before we shall all in like manner be called.' Father Smith's remarks in 1834 blend grief and faith: 'My next son, Alvin, as you are all aware, was taken from us in the vigor of life, in the bloom of youth. My heart often mourns his loss, but I have no disposition to complain against the Lord.' These and other Smith statements show constant faith that their relationship would continue in eternity, but only further revelation would show them how.
"On 21 January 1836, the Smith family and others were gathered together, and the First Presidency 'laid our hands on our aged father Smith and invoked the blessings of heaven.' Then Father Smith blessed his son Joseph, after which the Prophet beheld the intense glory of the celestial kingdom, and in the midst of that glory he saw 'my father and mother [and] my brother Alvin that has long since slept.' As he marvelled that Alvin was rewarded with a celestial resurrection though unbaptized, the voice of assurance came that the faithful dead would be given the highest glory.
"The vision was clearly a picture of the future, for Joseph saw his parents in the celestial kingdom with their son. At the time of the vision, both parents still lived on earth-his father was standing in the same room after having given the Prophet a priesthood blessing, and the authority to perform vicarious work for the dead had yet to be restored.
"That authority came two months later, when Elijah delivered to the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery the keys of temple work for the living and the dead. (See D&C 110:15-16.) Four years later, in 1840, Joseph taught his ailing father the newly revealed doctrine of baptism for the dead, and Father Smith asked that 'Joseph should be baptized for Alvin immediately.' That work was done by Hyrum, and appears first in the 1840 Nauvoo records.
"Father Smith himself died in the fall of 1840, surrounded by his family. It had been nearly seventeen years since Alvin's death, a time in which their loved one had never been far from their thoughts. In his quiet, last moments, Father Smith's eyes brightened with the surprise of clear vision, and before passing he simply said, 'I see Alvin.'" (Richard Lloyd Anderson, "The Alvin Smith Story: Fact and Fiction," Ensign, Aug. 1987, 68-70, bold lettering added)
DC 137:6 [I] marveled how it was that he had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom
The prevailing Christian doctrine at the time of Alvin's death condemned him to suffer an eternity in hell-for he had not been baptized. But Alvin was such a good and noble soul! Would that really be his fate? At the time of this vision, the doctrine of baptism for the dead was not yet revealed, and Elijah had not yet returned.
What the Prophet saw intrigued him; he saw his parents and brother in the celestial kingdom. Yet, he did not know how Alvin could be "born of water and of the Spirit" (John 3:5) to qualify for the kingdom of heaven. The temple concepts of vicarious ordinances had not yet blossomed in the Prophet's heart. The learning curve was gradual. Even the Kirtland temple was never used for any vicarious work, except that Elijah restored his keys there. Baptism for the dead was a Nauvoo doctrine.
"On 15 August 1840, some four and a half years after he received the Vision of the Celestial Kingdom, Joseph Smith delivered his first public discourse on baptism for the dead-at the funeral of Seymour Brunson, a member of the Nauvoo High Council. In that address, the Prophet quoted from 1 Corinthians. According to one account, he 'said the Apostle [Paul] was talking to a people who understood baptism for the dead, for it was practiced among them. He went on to say that people could now act for their friends who had departed this life, and that the plan of salvation was calculated to save all who were willing to obey the requirements of the law of God.'" (Robert L. Millet, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Aug. 1987, 20)
Joseph Fielding Smith
All who would have received the truth will enter into that kingdom, those who have lived in the ages past, when the gospel and the authority were not on the earth, as well as those who received it here. All, even down to the end of time, shall receive salvation who will repent of their sins and come unto the Lord with a desire to keep His commandments and serve Him and obey Him in all things. They are heirs of the celestial kingdom. Therefore, as we have heard this afternoon in the singing of the choir, the Lord has prepared the temples so that the Latter-day Saints can go to them, not only to receive ordinances in their own behalf, but that they might also perform these same ordinances in behalf of their dead, that they might be redeemed from their sins, for they cannot personally receive baptism and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost now, because those ordinances belong to this mortal life. They have passed into the life beyond, therefore it is necessary that some one perform this work for them by proxy. This is not strange. Some people scoff at the idea and say that it is impossible for one man to act in behalf of another, and yet they accept Christ as the Redeemer of the world and they say that He came into the world and took upon Him our sins, that we might be redeemed. He having power to do that for all of us, surely He has a right to say to us that we shall have power, in a lesser degree, to perform ordinances in behalf of others. And so He has done. (Conference Report, October 1911, Outdoor Meeting. 120)
DC 137:7-8 All... who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry
Part of being "judged according to men in the flesh" (1 Pet. 4:6) includes God judging receptivity to the gospel message. Certainly, only the Lord could possibly know "who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry."
"Those who did not have the opportunity in life to know the Lord and his Church will be given every opportunity to hear the saving message and accept it in the world of spirits after death. The Lord's missionaries there are the spirits of departed Saints. They are teaching the gospel in the spirit world as other missionaries are here. On earth, faithful Saints have the privilege of officiating vicariously for departed persons by receiving for them the ordinances, including baptism and the ordinances of the temple. A tremendous power that accompanied the restoration of Elijah's keys turns the hearts of the children to identify their departed ancestors and provide the ordinances in their behalf (D&C 27:9). Conversion takes place in the spirit world, but the ordinances are performed vicariously on earth among mortals. The sealing power of Elijah's keys makes those ordinances binding both on earth and in heaven." (Kent P. Jackson, From Apostasy to Restoration [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 230)
George Q. Cannon
There are thousands of noble spirits in the heathen world who, if they had had the opportunity, would have believed everything that came from God. But they died without the opportunity. God will not damn them because of this; for His plan of salvation is not confined to this life; it extends throughout eternity; and there are millions of people who have lived and have died in ignorance of the name of Jesus and the plan of salvation, who doubtless would have received it had they lived at a time when they could have heard it. Therefore, God will judge them by their good desires and their feelings, and that which they would have done had they had the opportunity. (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], vol. 2, May 10th, 1891)
Neal A. Maxwell
This soaring promise, fulfilled in part by vicarious ordinances in holy temples, applies to many millions of souls, such as those who lived in the Middle Ages out of reach of the Restoration. In God's mercy there is a plan for all and a place for each. This particular doctrine removes a major stumbling block for those who view the sweep of the centuries as evidence of God's injustice. As a church we do not fully appreciate the emancipatory, as well as the revelatory, significance of the above verses. (A Wonderful Flood of Light [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990], 84)
DC 137:9 I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts
Neal A. Maxwell
Desire denotes a real longing or craving. Hence righteous desires are much more than passive preferences or fleeting feelings. Of course our genes, circumstances, and environments matter very much, and they shape us significantly. Yet there remains an inner zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability.
Therefore, what we insistently desire, over time, is what we will eventually become and what we will receive in eternity... "For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts" (D&C 137:8-9).
God thus takes into merciful account not only our desires and our performance, but also the degrees of difficulty which our varied circumstances impose upon us. No wonder we will not complain at the final judgment. ("According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts," Ensign, Nov. 1996, 21)
Marvin J. Ashton
If our works and the desires of our hearts are the ultimate criteria of our character, how do we measure up? What kind of heart should we seek? For what kind of heart should we pray? How should we measure the worth of other people? ("The Measure of Our Hearts," Ensign, Nov. 1988, 15)
Robert D. Hales
In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told, "I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts" (D&C 137:9). Those who live faithful lives and who do not have the opportunity of marrying in this life will have every opportunity for blessings, exaltation, and glory that will come to those who enter into and honor the covenant of eternal marriage. The real question each of us must ask ourselves is, what are the desires and intents of our hearts? ("Belonging to a Ward Family," Ensign, Mar. 1996, 17)
Boyd K. Packer
Any soul who by nature or circumstance is not afforded the blessing of marriage and parenthood, or who innocently must act alone in rearing children, working to support them, will not be denied in the eternities any blessing-provided they keep the commandments. As President Lorenzo Snow promised: "That is sure and positive." ("For Time and All Eternity," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 23)
DC 137:10 all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom
The Lord takes many away even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 196-97)
Thomas S. Monson
There is only one source of true peace. I am certain that the Lord, who notes the fall of a sparrow, looks with compassion upon those who have been called upon to part-even temporarily-from their precious children. The gifts of healing and of peace are desperately needed, and Jesus, through His Atonement, has provided them for one and all.
The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke inspired words of revelation and comfort:
"All children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven."
"The mother [and father] who laid down [their] little child[ren], being deprived of the privilege, the joy, and the satisfaction of bringing [them] up to manhood or womanhood in this world, would, after the resurrection, have all the joy, satisfaction and pleasure, and even more than it would have been possible to have had in mortality, in seeing [their] child[ren] grow to the full measure of the stature of [their] spirit[s]." This is as the balm of Gilead to those who grieve, to those who have loved and lost precious children. ("Think to Thank," Ensign, Nov. 1998, 20)
Bruce R. McConkie
Are all little children saved automatically in the celestial kingdom?
To this question the answer is a thunderous yes, which echoes and re-echoes from one end of heaven to the other. Jesus taught it to his disciples. Mormon said it over and over again. Many of the prophets have spoken about it, and it is implicit in the whole plan of salvation. If it were not so the redemption would not be infinite in its application. And so, as we would expect, Joseph Smith's Vision of the Celestial Kingdom contains this statement: "And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven." (D&C 137:10) ("The Salvation of Little Children," Ensign, Apr. 1977, 4)
DC 137:10 Are little children exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom?
In addressing this subject, the reader is given a word of caution. There are times when discussions of doctrine are limited by meager mortal understanding, when the revealed word of God is inadequate. This doctrine may be one of them. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "Beyond the wonderful and descriptive words found in sections 76 and 137 we know relatively little concerning the celestial kingdom and those who will be there. At least some of the rules of eligibility for acceptance into that kingdom are clearly set forth, but other than that, we are given little understanding." ("Daughters of God," Ensign, Nov. 1991, 98)
With that word of caution, let's examine the teachings of the prophets. Exaltation means the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie clearly taught that little children would be exalted. Elder McConkie said, "We have quoted scriptures saying that children will be saved in the celestial kingdom, but now face the further query as to whether this includes the greatest of all the gifts of God-the gift of eternal life. And in the providences of Him who is infinitely wise, the answer is in the affirmative." ("The Salvation of Little Children," Ensign, Apr. 1977, 5) Joseph Fielding Smith declared, "The Lord will grant unto these children the privilege of all the sealing blessings which pertain to the exaltation... It would be manifestly unfair to deprive a little child of the privilege of receiving all the blessings of exaltation in the world to come simply because it died in infancy." (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:54)
The doctrine that children are alive in Christ and therefore saved in the celestial kingdom is scriptural and rock solid. The doctrine that they are exalted is bothersome on many points. If those souls are exalted, then why was the Fall necessary? We could all have died in our infancy and then inherit the greatest of all the gifts of God. What is the purpose of mortality? If "it would be manifestly unfair to deprive a little child the privilege of receiving all the blessings of exaltation in the world to come simply because it died in infancy," wouldn't it be equally unfair to give that child the same blessing as one who had suffered in mortality, kept the covenant, and met all the criteria set forth by the Lord?
How can those who knew no evil be made Gods? The Fall meant man, became "as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Having never arrived at the age of accountability, little children could not know "good and evil" in the same way as the rest of us. How could they then become gods?
In performing temple work for children who have died before the age of eight, children are sealed to their parents but receive neither baptism for the dead nor their endowments. If they need neither baptism (Moro. 8:20-22), nor their endowments (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:55), how is it that they can skip these two ordinances and be sealed to a spouse?
Infant mortality rates since 1982 have been between 5 and 8 million infants/year. The cumulative infant mortality from 1982 to 2009 is a whopping 185 million. If the population of planet earth from Adam to now is estimated at 25 billion, then as many as 3 or 4 billion souls have died before arriving at the age of accountability (based on conservative child mortality rates around 15%). That is a lot of children! Will they all be exalted? What about Agency? Is it irrelevant to them? Can we imagine that all these souls automatically receive the greatest of all the gifts of God-bypassing the Fall, receiving that which others struggled, suffered, toiled, and labored to receive?
In the article previously referenced, Elder McConkie quotes Mosiah 15:25 which states, "And little children also have eternal life." The preceding verses define this "eternal life" as those who "are raised to dwell with God" and those that "have a part in the first resurrection" (Mosiah 15:23-24). Since all those who inherit the celestial kingdom, take part in the first resurrection and dwell with God, the scripture is clear. Elsewhere, the Lord said, "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also." (D&C 132:22-23) Receiving Christ "in the world" seems to be a requirement for exaltation. It would seem that those who die in the purity of childhood never experience the wickedness of "the world" and could not meet the requirement. One thing the exalted have proven is that they have overcome the world (Rev. 2-3).
The justice of God cannot be questioned. The judgments of God have not been completely revealed. If a portion of his children qualified for and agreed to the terms of celestial salvation in the pre-mortal sphere, knowing that exaltation was not possible for them, then God's justice is perfect. Alternatively, if there are those children who die in their infancy and then are exalted, it can only be because they "would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry." (v. 7) Otherwise the justice of God is imperfect.
Melvin J. Ballard
You mothers worry about your little children. We do not perform sealings for them. I lost a son six years of age, and I saw him a man in the spirit world after his death, and I saw how he had exercised his own freedom of choice and would obtain of his own will and volition a companionship, and in due time to him, and all those who are worthy of it, shall come all of the blessings and sealing privileges of the house of the Lord. Do not worry over it. They are safe; they are all right. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day Prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 2: 458)