In this marvelous book of scripture, the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn things that we can know from no other source, including in rich measure the doctrine of pre-mortality, that we lived with Heavenly Parents, before this world was. In this week’s lesson we will explore the purpose of mortality and this, one of the least known doctrines in the world of religion, the reality of a pre-mortal existence.
Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come Follow Me podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and we are truly delighted to be with you again this week, our dear listeners. Are you growing in your understanding of Church History? Do you feel like the Doctrine and Covenants is becoming more of a friend than a stranger to you? We hope so. We love the Doctrine and Covenants and today we’re going to jump into one of the most doctrinally rich revelations: Section 93.
Nearly ten years ago, I had an interesting invitation from the Spirit. I was studying my scriptures one day and happened to be in the 93rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Spirit posed a question to me in this form: “What would happen if you read and studied this section every day for one year?” I pondered that for about a minute and my spirit replied, “Well, let’s find out!” So, beginning January 1 that new year, which was only a few days away, I set a goal that in addition to my regular scripture studies I would read and study Section 93 every day. And it was leap year that year, so I did this 366 times in a row. At first it was a duty, a goal to keep. Then it became delightful, something I looked forward to. Later it became delicious, like a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. Finally, it became like an open door to a treasury of knowledge, like going into the ancient Abbey Library of St. Gallen in Switzerland or a special collections room in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. There are 53 verses in Section 93 and in my scriptures, I have every verse but 8 of them marked, cross-referenced, linked and/or with additional notes and study materials. This section is loaded!
It certainly is—beginning with the very first verse. We’ve quoted this verse before, but let’s quote it again and look at two witnesses of the veracity of this promise:
1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; (D&C 93:1)
Elder Melvin J. Ballard, grandfather to M. Russell Ballard, served for more than twenty years in the Quorum of the Twelve. He recorded this vision:
I was carried to this place—into this room…I was told there was another privilege that was to be mine; and I was led into a room where I was informed I was to meet someone. As I entered the room I saw, seated on a raised platform, the most glorious being I have ever conceived of, and was taken forward to be introduced to Him. As I approached, He smiled, called my name, and stretched out His hands towards me. If I live to be a million years old I shall never forget that smile. He put His arms around me and kissed me, as He took me into His bosom, and He blessed me until my whole being was thrilled. As He finished, I fell at His feet, and there saw the marks of the nails; and as I kissed them, with deep joy swelling through my whole being, I felt that I was in heaven indeed. The feeling that came to my heart then was: Oh! If I could live worthy, though it would require four-score years, so that in the end when I have finished, I could go into His presence and receive the feeling that I then had in His presence, I would give everything that I am or ever hope to be!” (Melvin J. Ballard—Crusader for Righteousness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 65–66.)
I have always loved the description of that experience from Elder Ballard, Maurine. And I love this one from Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served more than twenty-five years as a member of the Twelve Apostles. He shared this dream to an MIA Jubilee Conference, Sunday, June 7, 1925:
One night I dreamed—if dream it may be called—that I was in the Garden of Gethsemane, a witness of the Savior’s agony. I saw Him as plainly as I see this congregation. I stood behind a tree in the foreground, where I could see without being seen. Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, came through a little wicket gate at my right. Leaving the three Apostles there, after telling them to kneel and pray, He passed over to the other side, where He also knelt and prayed. It was the same prayer with which we are all familiar: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” ([see] Matthew 26:36–44; Mark 14:32–41; Luke 22:42).
As He prayed the tears streamed down His face, which was toward me. I was so moved at the sight that I wept also, out of pure sympathy with His great sorrow. My whole heart went out to Him. I loved Him with all my soul and longed to be with Him as I longed for nothing else.
Presently He arose and walked to where the Apostles were kneeling—fast asleep! He shook them gently, awoke them, and in a tone of tender reproach, untinctured by the least suggestion of anger or scolding, asked them if they could not watch with Him one hour. There He was, with the weight of the world’s sin upon His shoulders, with the pangs of every man, woman, and child shooting through His sensitive soul—and they could not watch with Him one poor hour!
Elder Whitney continued:
Returning to His place, He prayed again and then went back and found them again sleeping. Again, He awoke them, admonished them, and returned and prayed as before. Three times this happened, until I was perfectly familiar with His appearance—face, form, and movements. He was of noble stature and of majestic mien—not at all the weak, effeminate being that some painters have portrayed—a very God among men, yet as meek and lowly as a little child.
All at once the circumstance seemed to change, the scene remaining just the same. Instead of before, it was after the Crucifixion, and the Savior, with those three Apostles, now stood together in a group at my left. They were about to depart and ascend into heaven. I could endure it no longer. I ran out from behind the tree, fell at His feet, clasped Him around the knees, and begged Him to take me with Him.
I shall never forget the kind and gentle manner in which He stooped and raised me up and embraced me. It was so vivid, so real, that I felt the very warmth of His bosom against which I rested. Then He said: “No, my son; these have finished their work, and they may go with me, but you must stay and finish yours.” Still, I clung to Him. Gazing up into His face—for He was taller than I—I besought Him most earnestly: “Well, promise me that I will come to You at the last.” He smiled sweetly and tenderly and replied: “That will depend entirely upon yourself.” I awoke with a sob in my throat, and it was morning.
That is so moving.
These two accounts are often quoted, but I imagine there are hundreds of others that have either not been given over the pulpit or are in family and personal histories and journals. And I think, Maurine, we shy away from the bold promise in Section 93 verse 1, or Section 88 verse 68 or Section 67 verse 10 because we think this invitation, or these promises must be just for the apostles. They are not! They are for any who are faithful and follow the things that are outlined. Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught this in General Conference:
“The Lord wants all his children to gain light and truth and knowledge from on high. It is his will that we pierce the veil and rend the heavens and see the visions of eternity.
“By his own mouth he has given us this promise: “It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).
“Such is his promise to us here and now while we yet dwell as mortals in a world of sorrow and sin. It is our privilege even now…if we will strip ourselves from jealousies and fears and humble ourselves before him, as he has said, to have the veil rent and see him and know that he is. (See D&C 67:10.)
“To carnal men, and even to those among us whose souls are not attuned to the Infinite, these promises may seem as the gibberish of alien tongues, but to those whose souls are afire with the light of heaven they will be as a bush that burns and is not consumed. As Paul, our fellow apostle and witness of that same Lord whose servants we are, expressed it: “The things of God knoweth no man, except he has the Spirit of God” (JST, 1 Cor. 2:11). –Bruce R. McConkie, October 1978, p. 60.
This is such a humbling and powerful invitation from the Lord—to seek His face.
We have an interesting insert near the beginning of Section 93 and that is part of the record of John. Now, first of all, which John is this? John the beloved disciple, brother of James? Or is this John the Baptist. When you carefully study the language and the context, it could be either one. If you look in the Triple Combination index, under John the Baptist and then John the Beloved, you’ll see that the exact scripture references in Section 93 refer to both. In other words, the scripture committee did not make the historical determination of which one it was. I see that Elder Hyrum Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve had no question it was John the Beloved (Hyrum Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 1978, p. 592). Elder Boyd K. Packer said it was John the Beloved. (October 1983, General Conference, The Mystery of Life, p. 16)
Stephen Robinson and Dean Garrett write: “Many Latter-day Saint writers on Doctrine and Covenants 93, including President John Taylor, Elder Orson Pratt, and Brother Sidney B. Sperry, have concluded that the “John” mentioned here is John the Baptist. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “From latter-day revelation we learn that the material in the forepart of the gospel of John (the Apostle, Revelator, and Beloved Disciple) was written originally by John the Baptist. By revelation the Lord restored to Joseph Smith part of what John the Baptist had written and promised to reveal the balance when men became sufficiently faithful to warrant receiving it. Verse 15 of this passage is the key to the identity of the particular John spoken of. This verse should be compared with Matt. 3:16–17 to learn the identity of the writer.”
“So, it would appear that John the Beloved Apostle has incorporated into his account of the Savior’s ministry an account of events surrounding the baptism of Jesus which was somehow transmitted to him from the earlier John the Baptist. However, this makes it all the more mysterious as to why the actual baptism itself is not described in John’s Gospel.” End of quote. (Robinson and Garrett, Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol 3, Section 93)
If we do compare verse 15 of Section 93 with the Matthew Chapter 3 account about the Holy Ghost descending upon Jesus in the form of a dove and we see recorded that the voice of the Father was heard from out of heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son,” we do automatically correlate that with John the Baptist. But John the Beloved was a disciple of John the Baptist at this time and certainly could have had the same witness and experienced the same thing.
What were your feelings about this, Scot, after you read and studied Section 93 366 times in a row. Did you personally come to any conclusions?
I did certainly lean to John the Beloved. And I think it’s worth noting something here. We are given a wonderful promise in verse 18 of Section 93:
18 And it shall come to pass, that if you are faithful you shall receive the fulness of the record of John.
So, what does that mean? Are we talking about the fulness of the record of John the Baptist or of John the Beloved? One nice thing is, they are both eyewitnesses of the Savior, both knew Him well in His earthly ministry. Both loved Him and served Him and declared that He was indeed the Son of God.
That’s right. And here’s an interesting fact:
We are given 273 words of John in the first part of this revelation (verses 7-17) and then 262 words in the second quote given in this revelation (verses 26-39). I believe that this latter section is a partial fulfillment of the promise that if they were faithful the fulness of the record of John would be revealed. We are given a total of 535 words of John in Section 93. If we add the words given from the parchment of John in Section 7, and we assume this is John the Beloved, we can add another 252 words, making a total of 787 words of John revealed to us in the Doctrine and Covenants. That may not sound like a lot, but it really is a lot. And, of course, there is much more to come, not only from John the Beloved and John the Baptist, but from all the early prophets and apostles.
That’s right. Just think what it will be like to have all the records of Enoch? Apocryphal sources say that Enoch’s vision and testimony is incorporated into many volumes. Imagine having the original writings of Adam and Eve, both eyewitnesses of the Father and the Son! Imagine having the full record of the apostle Peter! Imagine having the full record of Noah! So, here we are promised that we will have the full record of John, whichever John it is, and that will come to us as we are faithful.
Let’s look now at this tremendous doctrine John tells us here in Section 93, verse 7:
7 And he bore record, saying: I saw his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was;
So, we know that Jesus Christ lived and was glorious, long before this earth was created.
This is one of the most wonderful doctrines of the Restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that we lived and dwelt with our Heavenly Parents long before this world was.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
“Pre-existence is the term commonly used to describe the pre-mortal existence of the spirit children of God the Father. Speaking of this prior existence in a spirit sphere, the First Presidency of the Church (Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund) said: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity”; as spirits they were the “offspring of celestial parentage.” (Man: His Origin and Destiny, pp. 351, 355.) These spirit beings, the offspring of exalted parents, were men and women, appearing in all respects as mortal persons do, excepting only that their spirit bodies were made of a more pure and refined substance than the elements from which mortal bodies are made. (Ether 3:16; D. & C. 131:7-8.)
“To understand the doctrine of pre-existence two great truths must be accepted: 1. That God is a personal Being in whose image man is created, an exalted, perfected, and glorified Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57), and not a spirit essence that fills the immensity of space; and 2. That matter or element is self-existent and eternal in nature, creation being merely the organization and reorganization of that substance which “was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D. & C. 93:29.) Unless God the Father was a personal Being, he could not have begotten spirits in his image, and if there had been no self-existent spirit element, there would have been no substance from which those spirit bodies could have been organized. McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, Salt Lake City, 1966, p. 589)
Elder McConkie continued:
“The pre-existent life was thus a period — undoubtedly an infinitely long one — of probation, progression, and schooling. The spirit hosts were taught and given experiences in various administrative capacities. Some so exercised their agency and so conformed to law as to become “noble and great”; these were foreordained before their mortal births to perform great missions for the Lord in this life. (Abra. 3:22-28.) Christ, the Firstborn, was the mightiest of all the spirit children of the Father. (D. & C. 93:21-23.) Mortal progression and testing is a continuation of what began in pre-existence. (Ibid, p. 590)
I love that Elder Orson F. Whitney taught that we fully expect that the relationships we gender and develop here in this life will go with us to the next world and that, of course, we fully expected that the relationships we developed in the pre-mortal world would come with us to this mortal existence.
My mother, Martha Facer Proctor, had an amazing experience before she was married. She came into a very busy train station and as she came down the stairs towards the platform there were hundreds of people crowded together waiting for their trains. It was a cacophony of train sounds and steam and peoples’ voices. She looked across the crowd and there was a man who caught her eye and she his. She immediately knew him and raced through the crowd as he made his way towards her. They threw their arms around each other with the warmest greetings. They were so glad to see each other again. As they talked for a few moments, they realized they had never met in this life, they did not know each other by name and yet, they knew each other so well that this was a joyous reunion. He was a member of the Church and, of course, so was she, and they determined that they had known each other in the pre-mortal world and they must have had moments where the veil was drawn back so they could have this reunion. She never saw him again and yet, she always recollected this to me as one of the great joys of her life, meeting this pre-mortal friend.
Don’t you feel that sometimes you either meet someone or you get to know someone and they seem more and more familiar to you? Way more than the brief time you have been together in this life? There surely are many pre-mortal friendships that we had that were reunited in this life. It is in fact one of the joys of this life. And knowing the doctrine of pre-mortality is one of the most wonderful truths of the Restoration.
William Wordsworth penned this truth and you have heard this many times:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home…
(“Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.”)
Section 93 teaches:
23 Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth;
24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
We were there with the Father and with the Son.
56 Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men. (D&C 138:56)
In April 1844, the Prophet taught: “I have another subject to dwell upon, which is calculated to exalt man. … It is associated with the subject of the resurrection of the dead,—namely, the soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don’t believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. … (Teachings of President, Joseph Smith, Chapter 17, The Great Plan of Salvation, p. 209-10)
“The gospel teaches us that we are the spirit children of heavenly parents. Before our mortal birth we had “a pre-existent, spiritual personality, as the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father” (statement of the First Presidency, Improvement Era, Mar. 1912, p. 417; also see Jer. 1:5–Dallin H. Oaks, General Conference, October 1993).
And now hundreds of thousands of young women in the Church recite their theme:
“I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.”
I have to say that when I was growing up in Rolla, Missouri, a small town which at that time had 54 Christian denominations, I never had a problem telling my fellow Christian friends about the doctrine of the pre-mortal world. Most every friend I talked to, no matter what their Church believed, would say, “Oh, I’ve always believed that. I know that I once was with God, and I want to go back to be with Him some day.
Our spirits resonate with this truth. It is so comforting. It helps us understand the purpose of life. It takes us back to the Grand Council in the pre-mortal world where the Savior and others said:
We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; (Abraham 3:24,25)
President John Taylor taught:
“… What is [man]? He had his being in the eternal worlds; he existed before he came here. He is not only the son of man, but he is the son of God also. He is a God in embryo, and possesses within him a spark of that eternal flame which was struck from the blaze of God’s eternal fire in the eternal world, and is placed here upon the earth that he may possess true intelligence, true light, true knowledge,—that he may know himself—that he may know God—that he may know something about what he was before he came here—that he may know something about what he is destined to enjoy in the eternal worlds.” End of quote. (Teachings of Presidents, John Taylor, The Origin and Destiny of Mankind)
We have come here to earth with great purpose. Yes, we have come here to obtain a body. Yes, we are to organize in families. Yes, we are to live the gospel. Yes, we are to make and keep holy covenants with our God. Yes, we have an eternal destiny and goal to return to our Heavenly Parents. And yes, we have specific personal ministries and missions to perform. We haven’t come here to just relax and live on easy street. We came here with purpose and power.
President Spencer W. Kimball painted this scene for us:
“We understood well before we came to this vale of tears that there would be sorrows, disappointments, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears; but in spite of all, we looked down and saw this earth being made ready for us, and we said in effect, “Yes, Father, in spite of all those things I can see great blessings that could come to me as one of thy sons or daughters; in taking a body I can see that I will eventually become immortal like thee, that I might overcome the effects of sin and be perfected, and so I am anxious to go to the earth at the first opportunity.” And so we came. (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of the Presidents, Chapter 1, To Live With Him Someday)
My dear friend, Robert J. Matthews, taught this:
“We also believe that in pre-mortal life, “the sons [and daughters] of God shouted for joy” at the prospect of eternal life (Job 38:7), and that some of those spirits were foreordained to perform certain work in mortality (see Abr. 3:22–23; Alma 13:3–7; D&C 138:53–56). We also read that a third part of the spirits were cast out with Lucifer because they would not accept the plan of salvation (see D&C 29:36–37; Moses 4:1–4). We are informed in D&C 132:5–11 that all of the promises and covenants of the gospel were instituted by the Father “before the foundation of the world.” Therefore we must conclude that gospel covenants have existed from the beginning and that anyone who has accepted the gospel at any time has had a covenant relationship with God.” End of quote. (Robert J. Matthews, Our Covenant with the Lord, Ensign, December 1980)
Isn’t it just so staggering that we have this knowledge of why we are here, where we came from and where we are going? And much of the doctrine of the pre-mortal world is revealed in your readings this week in Section 93.
Now let’s explore another powerful doctrine from Section 93, that of the independence of truth. Let’s read together from verses 28-30:
28 He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
Let’s stop right there for a moment. Here is the path to knowing all things—it sounds like being a know-it-all, after all, is a good thing. The key is that we keep the commandments—and as we do, we receive truth and light.
Now look at verses 29 and 30:
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
There is absolute truth. God our Heavenly Father lives. That is an absolute truth. Many question that truth. Many try to belittle that truth. Many may say, “There is no God,” but saying or believing otherwise does not obliterate or negate the truth. It does not change the existence of God. The whole world could say, “There is no God” and He could gently say back, “And yet, I am here.”
One of our favorite places to visit when we’re in Oxford is the Bodleian Library Gift Shop. I have a kitchen apron from there with a Shakespeare quote on it: “He Hath an Excellent Stomach.” But to the point, I have a beautiful bronze plaque that I keep in my office from that store that says: Bidden or Not Bidden God is Present. He is in our lives. He will never leave us alone. Now, we can drive Him away, but we cannot snuff out His existence because He lives! That is an absolute truth. And we could go through hundreds of other truths that are independent in that sphere is which God has placed them. If there were no absolute truths, independent truths in that sphere God has placed them—We would cease to exist.
And moral relativism is the antithesis of absolute truth.
Elder Marion D. Hanks once spoke of the many voices that compete for our allegiance. He said,
“What are the voices to which our young people are listening? What do they hear in their homes, in the streets of their towns and communities? What do they hear over television and radio? What is communicated to them in books and magazines and photographs? What do they hear when they mingle with groups of their associates?
“…There are pagan voices, iconoclastic voices attacking old traditions and fundamentals, arrogantly assuring that the old ideals, the old standards, the old viewpoints of nobility and honest effort, all of these are outmoded, no longer applicable, and may be abandoned with old faith, old ways, old accepted patterns of moral behavior.
“Cynical voices that propound moral relativism, saying that there are no virtues or principles that you can really count on anymore, none that are always applicable everywhere. You make your own rules in this time and generation.
“Sophisticated voices that skirt the edge of truth, telling youth, ‘It’s your life, you live it. Never mind what parents, honest teachers, earnest adults, persons who care, have to say about it or how they feel about it. You decide; it’s your life.’”
(Marion D. Hanks, Conference Report, Oct. 1965)
Or what we say today, “You do you.” There is no truth but your own will. What is remarkable about Elder Hanks’ quote to me is that he said this in 1965! What would he say about today’s many uncertain voices, ideas that will endanger and imperil our eternal lives. The idea that there is a moral truth has all but been abandoned. God is disdained and religion marginalized. In a world where we are bombarded with social media, 24-hour news cycles, enhanced peer pressure as people like or unlike our ideas, too often our imagination, understanding and very perception of existence is formed by others, who themselves may be blind guides.
Thank goodness that we have the knowledge we do from Section 93 that truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it. We can absolutely count on that. Eternal truths will stand the test of time.
And just briefly, in the last 13 verses of Section 93, each member of the First Presidency, Frederick G. Williams, Sidney Rigdon and Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Presiding Bishop, Newel K. Whitney, are commanded to repent and to see to their families and to bring them up in light and truth. Now, Frederick and Rebecca Williams had four children at the time, ages 17, 14, 12 and 10. Sidney and Phoebe Rigdon had nine children by then, ages 10 months to 12 years old. Newel and Elizabeth Ann Whitney had 7 children, ages 10, 8, 6, 5, 3 and 9 months.
Joseph and Emma had lost four children to death by this time and had one son, age 7 months old. But Joseph’s Smith’s whole extended family was certainly under this command of the Lord.
To Frederick G. Williams He said:
42 You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.
43 And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house.
And to the Prophet Joseph He said:
48 Your family must needs repent and forsake some things, and give more earnest heed unto your sayings, or be removed out of their place.
49 What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you…(D&C 93:48-49)
The Lord is talking to each of us here—and how timely for all: Set in order our own house and repent and give more earnest heed unto the teachings and the sayings of the Prophets of God. That we may do so is our humble prayer.
That’s all for today. We’ve loved being with you. There’s always so much more we’d love to say. Next week’s lesson will cover Sections 94 through 97 and is entitled “For the Salvation of Zion.” Thanks to Paul Cardall for the music that accompanies this podcast and to Michaela Proctor Hutchins, our daughter, who produces it. Have a wonderful week and see you next time.