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The Scriptures aver that all things existing upon earth, including man, were created spiritually prior to their embodiment in earthly tabernacles; and furthermore, that mortal man is fashioned after the image of God. In short, all earthly existences are material expressions of preexistent entities. The human body, so far as it is normal, undeformed and unimpaired, is a presentment of the spirit itself.
One of the essential and distinguishing characteristics of life is the power to select and utilize in its own tabernacle, whether plant, animal, or human, the material elements within its reach, so far as such are necessary to its growth and development. This is true alike of the unborn embryo and of the mature being.
Man's spirit, therefore, is in the likeness of its Divine and Eternal Father, and in the operations of the functions of life it shapes the body to conform with itself. How could the spirit be otherwise than in the image of God if it be divinely begotten and born?
The conformation of the body to the likeness of the preexistent spirit is attested in a revelation to an ancient prophet and seer, wherein the Lord Jesus Christ, then in the unembodied state, showed Himself to His mortal servant, saying: "Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning, after mine own image. Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit, will I appear unto my people in the flesh." (Book of Mormon, Ether, 3:15, 16).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the spirit of man being the offspring of Deity, and the human body though of earthly composition yet being, in
its perfect condition, the very image of God, man, even in his present and so-called fallen condition, possesses inherited traits, tendencies, and powers that tell of his Divine descent; and that these attributes may be developed as to make him, even while mortal, in a measure Godlike. If this be not true we have to explain a vital exception to what we regard as an inviolable law of organic nature that like begets like, and that perpetuation of species is in compliance with the condition "each after his kind.”
The actuality of the spiritual procreation, with which mortal birth is analogous, is expressed in the inspired hymn by a latter-day poetess, Eliza R. Snow:
O my Father, Thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
Did my spirit once reside!
For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth,
Of my former friends and birth;
Whispered, "You're a stranger here";
From a more exalted sphere.
I had learned to call thee Father,
Was restored, I knew not why.
Tells me I've a Mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
Infinite Possibilities of Man's Estate
HE spirit of man is in the image of God, whose child it is, and every human body conforms, in the measure determined by its perfection or physical defects, to the spirit that tenants it. Furthermore, we know that the spirit existed in the ante-mortal state, that after death it lives as a disembodied individual, and that later it shall be reunited with the body of flesh and bones in an everlasting union through the resurrection inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ.
If man be the spirit offspring of God, and if the possibilities of individual progression be endless, to both of which sublime truths the Scriptures bear definite testimony, then we have to admit that man may eventually attain to Divine estate. However far away it be in the eternities future, what eons may elapse before any one now mortal may reach the sanctity and glory of godhood, man nevertheless has inherited from his Divine Father the possibilities of such attainment-even as the crawling caterpillar or the corpse-like chrysalis holds the latent possibility, nay, barring destruction, the certainty, indeed, of the winged imago in all the glory of maturity.
Progression in mortality, that is true progression, advancement of the soul in developing the attributes of godliness, achievement in righteousness that shall endure beyond death and resurrection, is conditioned upon compliance with spiritual law, just as bodily health is dependent upon the observance of what we call natural law. Between the two there may be difference of degree, but not essentially of kind. Physical exercise is indispensable to the development of body, and quite as certainly is spiritual activity requisite to the healthful and normal development of the soul.
Through valiant service, by unreserved obedience to the requirements embodied in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, neverending advancement is made possible to man. Thus, within the soul are the potentialities of godhood. Such high attainment is specifically the exaltation of the soul as distinguished from salvation. Not all who are saved in the hereafter shall be exalted. One may refrain in large measure from committing particular sins or sin in general, and so gain title to a degree of salvation far above the lot of the gross offender, nevertheless his goodness may be merely passive, and thus distinctly apart from the active, aggressive, positive godliness of him who is valiant in righteous service.
The incident of the rich young Jew who came in quest of instruction as to his duty is in point. See Matt. 19:1626. "Good Master," said he, "what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" The Lord answered "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" and in response to further inquiry cited the standard requirements of the Mosaic Law. In simplicity, and seemingly devoid of all sense of self-righteousness, the young man rejoined:
"All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" Then Jesus replied "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me." The young ruler, for as such he is designated, yearned to know what he should do beyond ordinary observance of "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" of the decalog. He went away sorrowful in contemplation of the sacrifice required of him for the attainment of perfection. Love of worldly things was this man's besetting ailment. The Great Physician diagnosed his case and prescribed a suitable remedy.
Through the latter-day prophet, Joseph Smith, the Lord has specified the conditions of exaltation in the eternal worlds, by describing those who thus attain:
"They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on His name and were baptized after the manner of His burial, being buried in the water in His name, and this according to the commandment which He has given. That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power. . . . They are they who are Priests and Kings, who have received of His fulness, and of His glory, and are Priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son. Wherefore, as it is written, they are Gods, even the sons of God." (Doctrine & Covenants 76:51-58.)
And further, of the supremely blessed we read:
"Then shall they be Gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because