What We Know About the Degrees of Glory from Joseph Smith's Visions

Vision III: The Sons of Perdition

Joseph and Sidney were permitted to view those who receive light and truth and the revelations of heaven and who then choose knowingly to deny the light and defy God and his work. These are the sons of perdition, “vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity” (D&C 76:33). Truly, “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance” (Hebrews 6:4–6; compare 10:26–29).

“What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin?” Joseph the Seer asked in the King Follett sermon. “He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. . . . You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence.”

All of the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve will rise from the grave in the resurrection, including sons of perdition (D&C 88:32). The sons of perdition are guilty of the unpardonable sin (Alma 39:6), a sin not covered by the atonement of Christ, a sin for which no amount of personal suffering will right the wrongs done. There is no forgiveness for them, neither here nor hereafter, for, “having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame” (D&C 76:34–35), they are guilty of shedding innocent blood, meaning the innocent blood of Christ. “The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,” a later revelation attests, “which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God” (D&C 132:27; emphasis added). The sons of perdition are the only ones who will be subject to the second spiritual death, the final expulsion from the presence of God. They, after being resurrected and standing before God to be judged (2 Nephi 9:15), will be consigned to a kingdom of no glory.

In the midst of this gloomy scene the Lord provides one of the most beautiful definitions of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the “glad tidings” that “he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him; who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him” (D&C 76:40–43).

This third vision ends with a sobering reminder that the particulars of the fate of the sons of perdition have not been revealed (D&C 76:45–48). In 1833 the Prophet Joseph explained that “the Lord never authorized [certain individuals] to say that the devil, his angels, or the sons of perdition, should ever be restored; for their state of destiny was not revealed to man, is not revealed, nor shall be revealed, save to those who are made partakers thereof: consequently those who teach this doctrine have not received it of the Spirit of the Lord. Truly Brother Oliver declared it to be the doctrine of devils.”

Vision IV: The Celestial Glory

The Prophet and Sidney next studied and learned by contrast: Their attention shifted from those who will inherit no glory to those who inherit the highest. They beheld the glories of the celestial kingdom and provided broad descriptions of those who inhabit the same. They witnessed the inhabitants of the “resurrection of the just” (D&C 76:50), what we call the first resurrection (Mosiah 15:21–25), the resurrection of celestial and terrestrial persons. Celestial persons are those who receive the testimony of Jesus and accept the terms and conditions of the gospel covenant. They are “baptized after the manner of his burial” and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, thereby becoming “cleansed from all their sins” (D&C 76:51–52).

Those who inherit a celestial glory are they who “overcome by faith” (D&C 76:53), who have learned to “withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Alma 37:33). They overcome the world in forsaking worldliness and carnal attractions and give themselves to the Lord and his work. These are “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true” (D&C 76:53). The Holy Spirit of Promise is the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit promised to the Saints. Because “the Comforter knoweth all things” (D&C 42:17; Moses 6:61), the Holy Ghost is able to search the souls of individuals and to ascertain the degree to which they have truly yielded their hearts unto God, the degree to which they are “just and true” (D&C 76:53). Thus to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is to have the ratifying approval of the Holy Ghost upon our lives and upon the ordinances and covenants into which we have entered. It is to have passed the tests of mortality, to have qualified for celestial glory hereafter. The poem continues:

For these overcome, by their faith and their works, Being tried in their life-time, as purified gold, And seal’d by the spirit of promise, to life, By men called of God, as was Aaron of old.

Celestial men and women are “the Church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:54). The Church of the Firstborn is composed of faithful Saints who have proven true and faithful to their covenants. As the covenant of baptism is the gate to membership in the Church of Jesus Christ on earth, so the covenant of celestial marriage opens the door to membership in the heavenly church. The Church of the Firstborn is the Church beyond the veil, the organized body of Saints who inherit exaltation. It is made up of those who qualify for the blessings of the Firstborn. Jesus is the Firstborn of the Father and as such is entitled to the birthright. As an act of consummate mercy and grace, our blessed Savior makes it possible for us to inherit, receive, and possess the same blessings he receives, as though each of us were the Firstborn. Those who come into the Church and live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost are born again; they become the sons and daughters of Jesus Christ by adoption (Mosiah 5:1–7). If they continue faithful, receive thereafter the covenants and ordinances of the temple, including the endowment and celestial marriage, and are true to those higher covenants, they will eventually become the sons and daughters of God, meaning the Father. They become heirs of God and joint­heirs, or co­inheritors, with Jesus Christ to all that the Father has, including eternal life. “Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God” (D&C 76:58). President Brigham Young therefore stated that “the ordinances of the house of God are expressly for the Church of the Firstborn.”

“They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory” (D&C 76:56). That is, they are kings and queens, priests and priestesses, individuals who through their steadfastness and immovability in keeping their covenants have received what the prophets call the “fulness of the priesthood” (D&C 124:28). These are they who will accompany the Master when he returns in glory, those who, if they have already passed through the veil of death, will come forth from the grave in glorious immortality. The first resurrection, which began at the time of Christ’s resurrection, will thus resume. These are they whose names are written in heaven, in the Lamb’s book of life (D&C 88:2), “where God and Christ are the judge of all” (D&C 76:68).

And then, lest we should conclude that such persons have attained to this highest degree of glory on their own, through their own merits and moral accomplishments or without divine assistance, the holy word attests: “These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood” (D&C 76:69; emphasis added). They are made perfect—whole, complete, fully formed, spiritually mature—through their covenant union with the Redeemer.

Vision V: The Terrestrial Glory

The vision of the first resurrection or resurrection of the just continues. The Prophet and his scribe witnessed the final state of those who chose to abide by goodness and equity and decency in their second estate but also chose not to receive and incorporate the fulness of that light and power that derive from receiving the everlasting gospel. The terrestrial glory is made up of those who in this life did not receive the testimony of Jesus—the testimony that he is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind—but afterward received it; that is, they received that witness in the postmortal spirit world (D&C 76:73–74). The terrestrial world is also inhabited by those who knew in this life that Jesus was the Christ but who were not valiant enough in that witness to receive the fulness of the gospel when it was presented to them. Or, as the Prophet rendered it poetically:

Not valiant for truth, they obtain’d not the crown, But are of that glory that’s typ’d by the moon: They are they, that come into the presence of Christ, But not to the fulness of God, on his throne.

For that matter, those who received the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ—in our day, those who join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter­day Saints—and then do not prove valiant in their testimony. These are candidates for the terrestrial degree of glory hereafter.

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