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The Teacher, knowing better than any of us the nature of the Test, has not only invited us, but commanded us to be of good cheer.
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“And now, verily I say unto you, and what I say unto one I say unto all, be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst, and I have not forsaken you” (D&C 61:36).
“Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you . . .” (D&C 68:6).
“And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours” (D&C 78:18).
This recurrent emphasis comes to us from the Teacher because of the very circumstances that cause cheerfulness to be so difficult to obtain and maintain. How can we “be of good cheer” in a world gone mad with sin and degradation? An acquaintance wrote the following lines:
Into this arena of insanity
Come tragedies and complexities
And unhappiness and pain . . .
Cities crumble and children cry in the
Hunger and disease stalk the unwary and the
As life opens her
Suitcase of sorrows
To distribute uneven portions to every
Tyrants and idiots control buttons and bombs
The lives of billions
With a haze of bloody smoke.
Young widows and empty houses and abused children
Rebuke those who offer only
At the altar of innocence.
Nations tremble under the onslaught
Of armor and artillery
As lonely people cry for caring
And accept death in its place.
The feelings expressed in these lines represent the emotions that cause multitudes to forsake any hope of happiness in the Testing Center. And yet the Teacher said, “Be of good cheer.”
Elder McConkie offered this description of the last days:
“There will be earthquakes and floods and famines. The waves of the sea shall heave themselves beyond their bounds, the clouds shall withhold their rain, and the crops of the earth shall wither and die.
“There will be plagues and pestilence and disease and death. An overflowing scourge shall cover the earth and a desolating sickness shall sweep the land. Flies shall take hold of the inhabitants of the land and maggots shall come in upon them. (See D&C 29:14-20.) “Their flesh shall fall from off their bones, and their eyes from their sockets.” (D&C 29:19.)
“Bands of Gadianton robbers will infest every nation, and immorality and murder and crime will increase, and it will seem as though every man’s hand is against his brother” (Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, April, 1979, p. 131).
And yet the Teacher said, “Be of good cheer.”
Why? What is there about the Testing Center and the plan by which it operates that can inspire joy and good cheer even in a world brutalized by rampant misery and anguish? Quite simply, this: Christ overcame the world, and, in the process, the proponents of unhappiness. In the end, after the Test is over, the good guys win, the Teacher prevails, and joy reigns eternally in the lives of graduates.
In each of the four scriptures quoted at the beginning of this chapter, the Teacher accompanied the directive to “be of good cheer” with an indication of why such cheer is possible. He announced that we should be of good cheer because He has “overcome the world,” because He is “in [our] midst” and has “not forsaken” us, because He is “with [us] and will stand by [us],” and because He will “lead [us] along” and give us “the riches of eternity.”
It was because of the victory of Christ that the Teacher could say, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12.).
It was because of this triumph that Paul could say, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 7:4).
It was because of this conquest that James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions” (James 1:2, JST).
Understanding the nature of the Test and the Center, the Teacher declared, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful. But your sorrow shall be turned to joy” (John 16:20). And what of the rejoicing of the world? The Teacher said that “they have joy in their works for a season, but by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” (3 Nephi 27:11).
Encouraged by this knowledge of the conquest of Christ, early Christians were able to take “joyfully the spoiling of [their] goods . . . knowing that [they had] in heaven a better and an enduring substance” (Hebrews 10:34).
Lehi, and later Nephi, had extraordinary experiences with a tree and its fruit. Nowhere in scripture is anything described with as many superlatives as this tree and its fruit. Lehi said that the fruit was “desirable to make one happy” (1 Nephi 8:10); that the “fruit thereof . . . was most sweet” (1 Nephi 8:11); that the “fruit was white, to exceed all the whiteness that [he] had ever seen” (1 Nephi 8:11); that it was “desirable above all other fruit” and that partaking of it filled his soul with “exceeding great joy” (1 Nephi 8:12).
Nephi longed to see and hear and know these things also, and when the Spirit asked him, “What desirest thou?” (1 Nephi 11:2), Nephi responded without hesitation, “I desire to behold the things which my father saw” (1 Nephi 11:3).
And he did see, but beforehand, he was asked an interesting question: “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” (1 Nephi 11:4). When Nephi gave assurances that he believed everything his father had said, the Spirit cried “Blessed art thou, Nephi, because thou believest in the Son of the most high God . . .” (1 Nephi 11:6).
The message seems clear enough: if you believe in the tree, you believe in the Son of God. Now the Spirit gives some preliminary counsel before the vision.
“And behold, this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7).
Nephi viewed the tree which his father saw, but as he witnessed it, he learned that it was a sign, a symbol for something else. The tree represented the “man descending out of heaven . . . the Son of God.”
Then Nephi saw and described the tree: “The beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow” (1 Nephi 11:8). He also declared that the tree was “precious above all” (1 Nephi 11:9).
Again the Spirit asked, “What desirest thou?” Nephi responded, “To know the interpretation thereof” (1 Nephi 11:10, 11), whereupon the Spirit, in order to ensure that Nephi knew the meaning of the tree, showed to him the mortal birth of Christ (2 Nephi 11:13-20). He then asked, “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree? . . .” and now Nephi knew. “Yea, it is the love of God which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men,” He said. Then, adding a final insight to his description of the tree and fruit, he said, “It is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22).
The fruit and the tree have been described already as the sweetest, the whitest, the most desirable, the most beautiful, and the most precious of all things. To all of this, the Spirit added, “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul” (1 Nephi 11:23). It is through this joy that comes as we partake of the love of God as manifest in the life and mission and atonement of Jesus Christ that we are ultimately and eternally empowered to be of good cheer.
Two other causes for joy and good cheer become apparent in a careful study of the revelations. One has to do with the requirements for exaltation, and the other with the desire of the Teacher to exalt all of His children.
It is not uncommon to meet people in the Testing Center who feel overwhelmed by the requirement to turn in a perfect paper at the end of the Exam (Matthew 5:48). There are so many problems, so many distractions, so many challenges. For those who have labored under the weight of such conclusions, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has given two declarations of great hope:
“It is a crowning event, a wondrous day, a glorious thing when a righteous person goes on to his eternal reward.
“Now I shall tell you why. And you can ponder upon this, and reason upon it, and search out the revelations, and find the substantiation and the justification for the doctrine. When a saint of God passes on, his death is a glorious thing because he is assured of eternal life. The great and eternal plan of the Father is one in which he ordained and established laws which enable us, as his spirit children, to advance and progress and become like him.
“If we die in the faith, that is the same thing as saying that our calling and election has been made sure and that we will go on to eternal reward hereafter. As far as faithful members of the Church are concerned, they have charted a course leading to eternal life. This life is the time that is appointed as a probationary estate for men to prepare to meet God, and as far as faithful people are concerned, if they are in line of their duty, if they are doing what they ought to do, although they may not have been perfect in this sphere their probation is ended. Now there will be some probation for some other people hereafter. But for the faithful saints of God, now is the time and the day, and their probation is ended with their death, and they will not thereafter depart from the path. It is true as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, that there are many things that have to be done “even beyond the grave” to work out our salvation, but we’ll stay in the course and we will not alter from it, if we have been true and faithful in this life” (Bruce R. McConkie, “Funeral Service for S. Dilworth Young,” July 13, 1981, p. 5).
On another occasion, Elder McConkie was even more candid:
“I’d like to append to them the fact–and this is a true gospel verity–that everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though he is far from perfect in this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to an eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom.
“We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don’t. There’s only been one perfect person, and that’s the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path–thus charting a course leading to eternal life–and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I’m not saying that you don’t have to keep the commandments. I’m saying you don’t have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved.
“The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on the path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity.
“Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life–though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do–you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to do what Jacob said, “Go beyond the mark.” You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have an excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing. What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church–keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes–because this is the time and the day appointed, this the probationary estate–you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure” (Bruce R. McConkie “The Probationary State of Mortality,” given at University of Utah Institute, January 10, 1982, p. 11).
These are marvelous promises. It is not just perfection but also perseverance that matters; not only achieving, but honestly trying. If we are not at the end of the path but are on it and headed in the right direction, we will after all find our way back home.
Another concept that imparts joy is the understanding that God not only wants to exalt all of His children, but that He will exalt more of them than many have supposed. Consider the following scriptures:
“After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
“And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).
“Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin, save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God” (Alma 13:12).
“And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality” (D&C 138:12).
Just how many will be saved in the celestial kingdom? Some answers to that question follow.
- All children who die before the age of accountability.
Joseph Smith, in January of 1836, had a vision of the celestial kingdom and reported this:
“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).
King Benjamin, in his masterful sermon on the atonement of Christ, taught this:
“And even if it were possible that little children could sin, they could not be saved, but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins” (Mosiah 3:16).
Mormon wrote this message to his son Moroni:
“Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came in to the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no repentance, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin . . .
“And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism . . .
“But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world (Moroni 8:8-12).
Bruce R. McConkie responded to the question “Are all little children saved automatically in the celestial kingdom?” He said,
“To this question the answer is a thunderous yes, which echoes and re-echoes from one end of heaven to the other. . . . There is no restriction as to race, kindred, or tongue. Little children are little children and they are all alive in Christ, and all are saved by him, through and because of the atonement” (Ensign, April 1977, p. 4).
This doctrine raises still other questions. Is it possible that multitudes of little children “will be enthroned in the presence of God and the Lamb . . .” and will there “enjoy the fullness of that light, glory, and intelligence” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 299) simply because they were fortunate enough to fall victim to the capricious nature of mortality and die before they arrived at the age of accountability? Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “We must assume that the Lord knows and arranges beforehand who shall be taken in infancy and who shall remain on the earth to undergo whatever tests are needed in their cases” (McConkie, “The Salvation of Little Children,” Ensign, April 1977, p. 6).
Brigham Young rejoiced in this doctrine:
“It gives me exceedingly great joy to understand, that every child that has been taken from this mortality to the spiritual world, from the day that mother Eve bore her first child to this time, is an heir to the celestial kingdom and glory of God” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 367).
The Teacher clarified His intent and His purposes when He said, “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost and to call sinners to repentance; but these little ones have no need of repentance, and I will save them” (Matthew 18:11, JST).
What portion of the world’s population would that be? President John Taylor gave his opinion on the matter:
“Through the atonement, [little children] are placed in a state of salvation without any act of their own. These would embrace, according to the opinion of statisticians, more than one half of the human family” (John Taylor, Gospel Kingdom, p. 119).
Tim Heaton, assistant professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, studied infant mortality rates and reported in 1984 that forty-seven percent of males and forty-four percent of females die before age eight, the age of accountability (Reported in The Daily Universe: Nov. 29, 1984).
- Those who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry.
Joseph Smith heard the Lord say:
“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;
“Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;
“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts” (D&C 137:7-9).
Again, there is no way to evaluate the numbers involved, nor to assess what percentage of the human family might be a part of this conversion activity. But Lorenzo Snow said:
“. . . when the gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable” (Lorenzo Snow, Millennial Star, vol. 56, p. 50).
- Nearly all those who live during the Millennium.
During the Millennium Satan will be bound. Nephi prophesied:
“And because of the righteousness of the people, Satan has no power; wherefore, he cannot be loosed for the space of many years; for he hath no power over the hearts of the people, for they dwell in righteousness, and the Holy One of Israel reigneth” (1 Nephi 22:26).
In such an environment, mortals will live lives free of iniquity.
“And in that day when I shall come in my glory . . . they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived–verily I say unto you they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.
“And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. (D&C 45:56-58, emphasis added).
Bruce R. McConkie tried to envision the numbers involved in a thousand years of uninterrupted righteousness and child-bearing. He wrote:
“Billions of spirits will come to the earth during the Millennium, when Satan is bound, when there is peace on the earth, when there is no sorrow because there is no death; when they will not be confronted with the evil and carnality that face us. They will grow up without sin unto salvation. Thus saith the holy word.
“Knowing this, we are obliged to conclude that a millennial inheritance is the kind and type of mortal life that billions of spirits are entitled to receive. Whatever the Lord does is right whether we understand his purposes or not” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, pp. 661-662).
- Accountable persons who receive the gospel of Christ and are valiant in the testimony of Jesus.
In the Sermon on the Mount the Savior declared, “. . . strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:14.) As He preached to the Nephites, He reiterated this precept:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it; but wide is the gate, and broad is the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work” (3 Nephi 27:33).
From these and other similar pronouncements, it is clear that only a few of the total number of accountable mortals who inhabit the earth during the six thousand years of its temporal existence will gain exaltation. The majority of them will go to the other kingdoms and receive other blessings and glories.
This principle, when understood in conjunction with the other three groups discussed above, may suddenly seem disturbing. Most of us want to cry out, “What am I doing here? Why wasn’t I saved for the Millennium?” Or we might echo Job: “Why died I not from the womb?” (Job 3:11.) We may be wondering what we did wrong that caused us to be here going through a Test that billions of our brothers and sisters will not have to take, a Test which most participants will fail.
Let us quickly, therefore, consider the statements of four prophets with regard to this matter.
- Wilford Woodruff:
“The Lord has chosen a small number of choice spirits of Sons and Daughters out of all the creations of God, who are to inherit this earth, and the company of choice spirits have been kept in the Spirit world for 6,000 years, to come forth in the last days, to stand in the flesh in the last dispensation of the fullness of times, to organize the Kingdom of God upon the earth, to build it up and to defend it . . . and to receive the eternal and everlasting Priesthood” (Cited in “Our Lineage,” Topical Outline to the Way to Perfection, Sunday School Manual, 1932, p. 4, emphasis added).
- Harold B. Lee:
“You our youth of today are among the most illustrious spirits to be born into mortality in any age of the world” (Youth and the Church, p.169, emphasis added).
- Joseph Fielding Smith:
“Our young people are among the most blessed and favored of our Father’s children. They are the nobility of heaven, a choice and chosen generation who have a divine destiny, Their spirits have been reserved to come forth in this day when the Gospel is on the earth, and when the Lord needs valiant servants to carry on His great latter-day work” (Church News, July 10, 1971, emphasis added).
- Ezra Taft Benson:
“You have been born at this time for a sacred and glorious purpose. It is not by chance that you have been reserved to come to earth in this last dispensation of the fullness of times. Your birth at this particular time was foreordained in the eternities.
“You are to be the royal army of the Lord in the last days” (“To the Young Men of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 1986, p. 43, emphasis added).
The last three of these statements refer to youths. But those that were youths in 1970 and 1971 when Presidents Lee and Smith spoke, no longer are. And there can be no misunderstanding of the message of President Woodruff. In the truest possible sense, these men are speaking to a generation, a dispensation, and declaring a mission, foreordained and exceptionally significant.
“Without question there are many valiant souls now living who are worthy to receive a millennial birth, but who were sent to earth in this day of wickedness to be lights and guides to other men and to lead many of our Father’s children to eternal life. But nonetheless, there will be billions of millennial mortals who will never be tested, as fully as we are, and who will go on to eternal life, as do little children, because an Almighty God in his infinite wisdom arranges that kind of a life for them” (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah, pp. 661-662).
The world is filled with contractors and politicians and undertakers. We have a more compelling assignment. We are to be “lights and guides,” commissioned to bear off the Kingdom of God triumphantly, holding or honoring the priesthood, carrying the message of salvation to all of God’s children in all the world. We are to provide the message of repentance and the ordinances of the gospel and the words of Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
A young man at the Missionary Training Center came to see me as his branch president one day. He was discouraged. Portuguese was like a sealed book to him. He had studied and fasted and prayed and studied some more. His district had joined their faith with his. But he was struggling. He had other challenges. His girlfriend at home was not happy with his decision to serve, and he loved her too much to simply ignore her. His apparent failure at learning his mission language gave added incentive to his inclination to put an end to his discomfort and go home and marry.
We talked for a time and then he asked for a blessing. What happened in the next few moments was most sacred to both of us, but the message was not for him alone. With his permission I shared it with many young men and women who struggled and suffered as they prepared for their fields and languages of labor.
The instant I laid my hands on his head, I felt an overpowering sense of darkness. I knew that I was seeing the world, and that there were in the scope of my awareness, albeit nearly invisible, billions of beings. They were buying and selling, marrying and giving in marriage, living and dying and loving and hating, and all in a darkness of such intensity that I wondered how they could function at all.
The blackness reminded me more than anything else of dropping and shattering my flashlight while I was half a mile back in Logan Cave. But I understood at once that the darkness was not physical. I was perceiving the world wrapped in suffocating, impenetrable spiritual darkness.
Two things happened as I began to speak the blessing that came into my heart. I was suddenly aware of an almost magnificent, tender, yearning love: the love of the Teacher for His children who are trapped in the darkness. And I suddenly perceived in all the immensity of the world I was watching, pockets, shafts, rays of blazing light. These lights were so uncommon, so distant one from another in the vastness, as to be almost unnoticed. But I did notice them as I felt the love and I understood. They were the messengers. They were the sons and daughters of God, born into the family of Christ and sent forth into the darkness to tell God’s children that their Father loved them. And I saw people gathering to the lights, and I saw that many of them kindled lights of their own and moved off back into the darkness to repeat the process.
But there were so few, so very few. The message of the blessing to this young elder was this: “You are needed. Heavenly Father loves His children. Someone must tell them of that love. He wants them to come home to Him. Share the light. There is no end to the good you can do. Share the light.” The young man stayed. He learned some Portuguese. I think he must have been a great missionary.
The Teacher did not reserve the “nobility of heaven” to come into the Testing Center to empty the wastebaskets and sweep the floors. Their mission is to help others pass the Test, and to prepare the Testing Center for the arrival of the Teacher.
So be of good cheer! The victory is assured. Christ overcame the world and won the crown. Exaltation is not an impossible goal. The path to passing is narrow, “but it lieth in a strait course . . .” (2 Nephi 9:41). And the Teacher will save “a great multitude which no man could number” (Revelation 7:9).
One day all the Tests will be graded. Some of the preliminary responsibilities in measuring results may be given to aides, but the final evaluation, the final grade, the notice of Graduation and the opportunities for post-graduate work, will be announced by the Teacher Himself and no one else, for “he employeth no servant there” (2 Nephi 9:41).
Joseph Smith taught:
“Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 255).
It will one day be our privilege to meet the Teacher face to face, our Test answers written in our souls, and to hear His pronouncement regarding us. If we have lived our lives and taken our Test in such a way that we have become partakers of the victory of Christ, the power of the atonement, and the possibilities of our own potential, then we will hear the voice of majesty promising, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). Then, in an everlasting way with our spirits and bodies inseparably connected, we will receive a fullness of joy (D&C 93:33), and we will know what it really means to “be of good cheer.”
The preceding is Rule #16 of Ted Gibbons’ series on how to pass the Test of Life. It comes from his book, ‘This Life is a Test.’ If you would like to get your own e-copy of the entire book, send $5.00 to the PayPal account of [email protected] Please choose the PayPal option “Friends and Family.” We will email you an e-copy of the book.