The Sealing Power and Wayward Children

By

Loyal to the Word

           

            It has been said by some that the sealing power of Elijah is so strong that it has the power to save those who have been duly sealed, regardless of whether they die worthily or not. Could this be true? Could the sealing power over-ride the principle of agency and God’s justice in such a way as to save a person in their sins? This teaching is based on a quote by Orson F. Whitney made in a 1929 Conference. Elder Whitney was an assistant historian in the Church Historian’s Office, and it is likely that he had reference to a statement made by Joseph Smith which is found in History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 530.

            This problem comes down to a question of interpretation. Do we understand Elder Whitney correctly? Did he understand the Prophet Joseph Smith correctly? These are questions which should be asked in this peculiar case.

 

The offending statement:

            The statement of the Prophet’s in question was given at the funeral service of his associate, Elias Higbee. There is more than one version.  Here is the statement as it appears in History of the Church, which Joseph Smith explains is “a synopsis of [my preaching] which was reported by my clerk, Dr. Willard Richards” (HC 5:529):

 

“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother”(History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 530).

 

The hasty interpretation:

            Elder Whitney made this statement in General Conference, likely with the above quote of Joseph Smith in mind:

 

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they 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; but if it 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. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God” (Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, April 1929).

 

           But is the only possible interpretation of Elder Whitney’s remarks the idea that rebellious children of Church members, children who have known better, may repent in the spirit world and still receive Celestial Glory? Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants tells us positively that those who reject the gospel in this life and later accept it in the spirit world can only go as high as the Terrestrial Kingdom (D&C 76:74; see also True to the Faith p. 94). We are also told that the Terrestrial Kingdom is for members of the Church who were not valiant (D&C 76:79; see also True to the Faith p. 94). So we have a clear contradiction.

            Could it be possible that people are misunderstanding Elder Whitney’s remarks? Or is it possible that people are not misunderstanding him, but that Elder Whitney misunderstood the Prophet Joseph Smith? 

Let’s consider the first. It could be that when Elder Whitney said, “Either in this life or the life to come, they will return,” he did not have reference necessarily to the Celestial Kingdom, but back into the gospel, in which case, if they did return in the life to come, they would receive Terrestrial Glory (D&C 76:74, 79).

            An interesting transition is made in the quote, when Elder Whitney says “the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service…would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them…” It could be that the “posterity” who he had reference to being saved are the faithful ones, and that when he said “though,” he was switching lines of thought over to those unfaithful ones who would not share the same glory. And at the end, when he said, “Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God,” he could have meant it in the general sense, such as in that Christ “saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition” (D&C 76:43), and not in the sense of exaltation.  

 

The logical conclusion:

            Let us consider the logical conclusion of a doctrine which allows for men to live a life of sin, but still be saved in the Celestial Kingdom simply because an ordinance has been performed. If the interpretation of the Whitney quote is that people may be rebellious Church members in this life, and yet, someway, somehow, repent in the spirit world and gain exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, then what is the conclusion from such a teaching? It is simply this: procrastinate the day of your repentance, don’t work so hard, because it will all come about eventually. It is interesting that the Book of Mormon exposes this kind of doctrine as falsehood (Alma 1:3-4; 13:27-30; 34:32-33; 2 Ne. 30:2). In fact, true doctrine entices people to do good works, not the other way around (Moro. 7:13-17).

 

The (more accurate?) parallel account made of the same sermon:

            There can be little doubt that Elder Whitney had reference to Joseph Smith’s Higbee funeral statement as recorded in History of the Church. It is interesting that there is an alternate account of the same funeral sermon, which includes utterances Willard Richards failed to synopsize, which failure has led to the present confusion. Pay particular attention to the alternate account: 

 

 

“Now I would ask who know the seal of the living God?

“. . . A measure of this sealing is to confirm upon their heads in common with Elijah the doctrine of Election or the covenant with Abraham—which when a father and mother of a family have entered into their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the parents have been sealed. And this is the oath of God unto our Father Abraham and this doctrine shall stand forever.”(Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 152).

 

More evidence of the proper interpretation:

In addition to the clarification given to us by matching the two separate accounts of the Higbee funeral sermon, there is abundant testimony from other noted scriptorians along this same vein. Below are a few which illustrate the point:

     

“If men would acquire salvation, they have got to be subject, before they leave this world, to certain rules and principles, which were fixed by an unalterable decree before the world was.

“The disappointment of hopes and expectations at the resurrection would be indescribably dreadful”(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 324-325).

 

 

“All children born under the covenant belong to their parents in eternity, but that does not mean that they, because of that birthright, will inherit celestial glory. The faith and faithfulness of fathers and mothers will not save disobedient children.

“Salvation is an individual matter, and if a person who has been born under the covenant rebels and denies the Lord, he will lose the blessings of exaltation. Every soul will be judged according to his works and the wicked cannot inherit eternal life. We cannot force salvation upon those who do not want it. Even our Father's children had their agency before this life, and one-third of them rebelled.

It is the duty of parents to teach their children so that they will walk uprightly and thus obtain the blessings of their birthright.

“But children born under the covenant, who drift away, are still the children of their parents; and the parents have a claim upon them; and if the children have not sinned away all their rights, the parents may be able to bring them through repentance, into the celestial kingdom, but not to receive the exaltation. Of course, if children sin too grievously, they will have to enter the telestial kingdom, or they may even become sons of perdition” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2: 91)

 

“No, the Lord has not prepared for favoritism. He has not placed exemption upon some because they have received marriage for time and for all eternity and had it sealed by the ‘Holy Spirit of promise.’ He has not given them the privilege of blaspheming his name, of committing any sin whatever, and then coming forth to receive an exaltation. We should all be grateful for the wonderful principle of repentance; we all need it. But we must not lose sight of the fact that the celestial kingdom is reserved for those who are sanctified and none others. Read Mormon 9:3-4.    

“Let it be remembered also that those who sin must repent in this life; if they die in their sins, unrepentant, then no matter what blessings they have received, they are not re-instated” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:98).

 

            Those who have the opportunity here, those unto whom the message of salvation is declared, who are taught and who have this truth presented to them in this life – yet deny it and refuse to receive it – shall not have a place in the kingdom of God.  They will not be with those who died without that knowledge and who yet accepted it in the spirit world” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:182-183, emphasis in original).

 

“There is no such thing as a second chance to gain salvation by accepting the gospel in the spirit world after spurning, declining, or refusing to accept it in this life. It is true that there may be a second chance to hear and accept the gospel, but those who have thus procrastinated their acceptance of the saving truths will not gain salvation in the celestial kingdom of God.

“…Thus the false and heretical doctrine that people who fail to live the law in this life (having had an opportunity so to do) will have a further chance of salvation in the life to come is a soul-destroying doctrine, a doctrine that lulls its adherents into carnal security and thereby denies them a hope of eternal salvation” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 685-687).

 

 

Scriptural support for the true interpretation:

 

“And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom's paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—

“I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

“Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

           “And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man” (Mosiah 2:36-39).

 

 

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon taught that when a person dies in their sins, having had a knowledge of the truth, mercy has no claim on that person's soul (see Mosiah 2:36-39). 

 

“But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.

“Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim” (Mosiah 15:26-27).

 

 

The prophet Abinidi in the Book of Mormon explicitly taught that those who have "wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God" could not be saved in their sins, but that justice would have claim on their soul (see Mosiah 15:26-27). 

 

“For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:24-25).

 

            “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. For strait is the gate, and narrow 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 132:21-23).  

 

The James E. Faust Exposition:

            The Orson F. Whitney quote has not gone unnoticed by modern Church leaders. It is helpful to consider what they have said on the matter. In the April 2003 Conference Report, President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, in his talk “Dear Are The Sheep That Have Wandered,” quoted the Orson F. Whitney quote, prefacing it with, “I believe and accept the comforting statement of Elder Orson F. Whitney.” Afterward, however, Pres. Faust gave this interesting clarification:

 

A principle in this statement that is often overlooked is that they must fully repent and “suffer for their sins” and “pay their debt to justice.” I recognize that now is the time “to prepare to meet God.” If the repentance of the wayward children does not happen in this life, is it still possible for the cords of the sealing to be strong enough for them yet to work out their repentance? In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told, “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.”

We remember that the prodigal son wasted his inheritance, and when it was all gone he came back to his father’s house. There he was welcomed back into the family, but his inheritance was spent. Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy. (James E. Faust, Dear Are The Sheep That Have Wandered, April 2003 General Conference Report, emphasis added).

           And so we seem to have Pres. Faust confirming that exaltation will not be the reward of wayward children who only choose to repent afterward in the spirit world, but that they will be saved in a lower kingdom of glory since “exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned” (ibid.)

 

Conclusion:

In light of the evidence at hand, which includes two accounts of the Higbee funeral sermon, and the testimony of Church leaders and the scriptures about doctrine relative to dying in a sinful state, it is apparent that the sealing power does not have the capability of saving a Church member who has spent their life in rebellion of the gospel principles. To allow for such a possibility destroys the justice of God, nullifies personal agency, and turns the plan of salvation itself upside-down.

 

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