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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull recently passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
Once in a while we have a Family Home Evening in which the kids ask questions of Mom and Dad. On one these occasions, my daughter launched a question that caused me to pause and consider: To get to heaven, why is being good not good enough?
My daughter has friends who believe that organized religion is an old fashioned idea. They were challenging her with questions for which she didn’t have answers. Their philosophy is being good is enough to get to heaven. Suddenly, I realized that I had just been handed me an opportunity to teach an important lesson.
I began by posing her another question: “If a man is a really good man, does that qualify him to practice medicine?”
After some discussion, my daughter and our other children decided that while being good is a wonderful trait, goodness alone is not enough to be a physician. A qualified doctor would be someone who had followed a specific path of educating and acquiring specialized skills. The children concluded that if being good were enough to earn a diploma, the world would be filled with a lot of good-intentioned, unqualified people who pretended to be skilled. Such irresponsible people would not deserve our trust.
I asked another question: “So if we expect the highest standards of those who achieve prominent positions in this life, why should we expect less of those who desire to become like God? Clearly, if exaltation is our goal, we must learn and follow the specific path that leads to that objective. The quality of goodness is an essential step along that path, but it is not the only one.”
The Golden City on a Hill
Some people see the path to exaltation as restrictive and difficult, but Alma taught his son, Helaman, that the path is actually quite easy.[ii] In an Ensign article, Grald Causs wrote, “All the knowledge of the gospel which is meaningful for our salvation can be summarized in a few points of doctrine, principles, and essential commandments.”[iii]
So, what is this easy way? What are these few points of doctrine?
Imagine standing at the beginning of a long, narrow path as you gaze off into the distance at a magnificent golden city on a hill. The Guide approaches you and describes the resplendent beauty and blessings of that city. You express your desire to go there, and the Guide explains that you can do so by simply following the path that lies before you.
As you survey the path and gaze longingly at the golden city, you contemplate both the difficulties and the possibilities. Feeling inadequate, you wonder out loud if you are capable of making such a trek or if you might even get lost along the way. The Guide comforts and encourages you. “The path is clearly marked,” he says, “and I will walk with you.” His offer causes your confidence to rise. Then placing a hand on your shoulder, the Guide adds, “But I am just one who is willing to help you. The King of the city, your Father, and His Son, your Elder Brother, will also come and walk with you.”
“Guaranteed?” you ask hopefully.
The Guide nods and says, “All three of us will enter into a covenant right now at the beginning of your journey that we will never leave you and that we will always remain at your side to help you-even carry you, if necessary-to the golden city.
The Path is Marked by the New and Everlasting Covenant
At the outset, we know some things about the journey to the golden city. We know that the path is “easy,” in other words the path is clearly marked and easily understood. We also know that we do not possess the strength or skill to make the trek without help. We need divine assistance. Gratefully, we have received the Guide’s guarantee of assistance. Before we begin the journey, our Father, our Elder Brother and our Guide, the Holy Ghost, covenant to help us every step of the way.
The Guide informs us that this covenant has a name: the new and everlasting covenant. It is new, because it is new to each person who receives the covenant; it is everlasting, because its effects and benefits are eternal.[iv] The Guide explains that this covenant is the umbrella covenant that encompasses all other saving and exalting covenants. Combined, these covenants and their accompanying ordinances are the markers that define the path leading to the golden city.
Our objective in making this trek is not merely to arrive but to become like the King of the city. To do that, we must come to know the King and his Son: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”[v] In the ultimate sense, to know them is to become exactly like them: to live where and how they live, to know what they know, to possess their knowledge, authority and power. The new and everlasting covenant guarantees that we will come to fully know them.
These are the markers (covenants and ordinances) that lie along the path:
Baptism and Confirmation
The first covenant and ordinance within the new and everlasting covenant is baptism, which is followed immediately by the ordinance of confirmation.
Baptism is called the covenant of salvation,[vi] meaning that it has the power to save (not exalt) us in the celestial kingdom, the golden city. It has the power to help us arrive and gain a place to live in that city. To ascend and rule and reign in that city requires other covenants.
The covenant of baptism places upon us the first of several royal names: Jesus Christ. Baptism signals our adoption into the family of Jesus Christ, in which he becomes the father of our salvation and we become his sons and daughters.
The covenant of baptism initiates us into the new and everlasting covenant,[vii] wherein all three members of the Godhead enter into that covenant with us.[viii] By so doing, they promise that they will travel with us. Each of them will take a specific assignment to prepare us, teach us, protect us, clear the obstacles before us, and ensure (assuming that we keep our part of the covenant) that we will safely arrive at the golden city.
We indicate our agreement to the terms of the new and everlasting covenant by being baptized by immersion by an authorized priesthood holder, who has the authority of God to perform this ordinance. He does this in a remarkable way: He invokes the names of all three members of the Godhead.
The ordinance of confirmation follows. To confirm means to ratify or to make more sure. When we are confirmed members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the baptismal covenant, our adoption into the family of Jesus Christ (the Church), our new royal name (Jesus Christ) and other blessings associated with that covenant are now ratified and made more sure
Through the ordinance of confirmation, we are commanded to receive the Father’s gift: the Holy Ghost. In addition to being our Guide, Instructor and Protector, the Holy Ghost infuses us with light, truth, testimony and power, and, for the asking, he blesses us with spiritual gifts that help us to become like the Father and the Son. It is his assignment to purify (remove impurities) and sanctify (transform) us, offer us the totality of the new and everlasting covenant, and convey us to the golden city and its King and his Son.
The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
The second marker along the path is initially for men, but eventually it becomes important for women. This marker is called the oath and covenant of the priesthood.[x] The priesthood covenant is the first of two covenants that are called the covenant of exaltation,[xi] the second being eternal marriage.
While the Aaronic Priesthood has power to prepare a man to receive the blessings of eternal life, it does not have power to deliver those blessings or exalt him. Only the higher Melchizedek Priesthood has power to do that. A worthy man receives this higher priesthood by making a covenant with God, and in return, the man receives the Father’s oath that the man will obtain exaltation.
If a man follows the covenant of the priesthood through to its perfect conclusion, which is eternal marriage, he is assured, by his subsequent righteousness, that he will be exalted to rule and reign forever in the golden city under his Father and Elder Brother.
From this point forward, every marker along the path to the golden city is associated with the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Temple Covenants and Ordinances
The next markers along the path lead us into the holy temple, which is the gateway to the golden city, the house belonging to the Father and the Son, where we are prepared to become like them then ascend to and meet. In the temple, both worthy men and women make covenants and receive ordinances that further prepare them for exaltation.
Temple rites, covenants and ordinances purify us, remove us from the world, and sanctify us so that our eternal purpose changes; they change our identity to one of a royal order; they bestow blessings associated with that order and they provide us divine protection. They place within our reach the keys of the knowledge and power of God so that we might eventually know what God knows, do what he does, inherit what he has, live as he lives, and rule and reign under him in the celestial golden city.[xii]
Now that we are fully prepared, we are conveyed by our Guide to a place where we are declared worthy to enter the presence of the Father and the Son. To do so, we employ all those things with which we have been prepared then the Father welcomes us into his golden city.
But our journey is not yet complete. The Father has blessings for us. He wishes to bestow upon us a new eternal kingdom within his Kingdom. We cannot receive that blessing alone. Therefore, in a most holy setting, we come to the altar of the temple with our sweetheart and kneel before the Father, who is represented his authorized servant, a sealer. This servant rehearses to us the terms of the marriage covenant. When we pledge our acceptance of the terms of this covenant, the sealer declares us forever one, never to be separated, and he pronounces upon us an inheritance: a new eternal kingdom.
Then, in a sweeping finale, the Father’s servant confirms the entirety of the new and everlasting covenant, each and every part of it from baptism to the marriage covenant. He does this by invoking the names of all three members of the Godhead, exactly like we started this journey. It is as though the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are saying, “When we started this covenant journey with you at baptism, we signed our names to the new and everlasting covenant, and now at the end of the covenant journey, we sign our names to complete it. We have kept our part of the covenant. We confirm it. Upon the condition of your abiding in the covenant, we hereby make it more sure.”
The marriage covenant is the final marker along the path and the culminating covenant of the new and everlasting covenant. In fact, it is called the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.[xiii] Like the oath and covenant of the priesthood, the marriage covenant is called the covenant of exaltation.[xiv] And for good reason. All of the blessings that were first promised to the man when he received the oath and covenant of the priesthood are renewed when the man and woman are sealed together; that is, the promises once pronounced upon the man are now pronounced both the man and the woman.[xv]
Kneeling with our sweetheart before the servant who represents the Father, having expressed our willingness to enter into the covenant of eternal marriage, the Father begins to bestow upon us supernal blessings that exceed our ability to comprehend.
These blessings include the promises of a glorious resurrection, “thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths,” achieving the exalted station of gods, “because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” Furthermore, we are promised the blessings of an eternal family. If we are faithful, we will become like our Father and enjoy the ability to have “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.”[xvi]
The only criterion for obtaining these glorious blessings is to endure worthily in the new and everlasting covenant to the end.
The End of Our Journey and the Beginning of Eternal Life
Now we have completed our journey, and yet the greater journey lies before us. Our place in eternity is set, assuming that we live our covenant obligations faithfully. The Father’s oath guarantees that we will live eternally with our eternal sweetheart and our children. We will rule and reign in the celestial kingdom of God forevermore.
My final questions to my children were these: “Can you see why being good is not good enough to obtain these marvelous blessings? Can you see why we must follow the path that Heavenly Father defined to achieve the golden city on the hill? Is the price worth the effort?”