Page images

in the firmament of heaven, or as the sand upon the sea shore."

Far below the lowest of these kingdoms of glory is the fate or state decreed for the souls who have sinned in the full light of knowledge and with conscious guilt, those who having received the testimony of Christ have ruthlessly and wantonly denied it in the interest of temporary gain or gratification, who have fallen so far in transgression as to be known by the awful name "sons of perdition," for whom no forgiveness is promised. (See Doctrine & Covenants,


Thus is it provided that every soul shall inherit according to his deserts under the inviolable laws of God. Salvation is relative. He who attains the Telestial state is saved from the fate of utter Perdition; he who wins a place in the Terrestrial is raised above the lesser glory; and those who merit exaltation in the Celestial kingdom are supremely blessed, for they shall dwell and serve with God and His Christ eternally.

[blocks in formation]


Paradise-What of the Spirits in Prison?

“WE may

E believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel."

No limitation is here expressed with respect to the living or the dead. Who are the living but the few just now tabernacled in mortal bodies destined sooner or later to die? Who are the dead but the uncounted myriads who once lived in the flesh and have already passed to the world of the

disembodied? If the Atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ be a means of salvation to the few only who constituted the living during some specific period, or even to all who have heard and accepted the Gospel while in the body, the sacrifice made by the Son of God becomes of limited and small effect. The sure word of Scripture declares otherwise.

Christ affirmed that His mission as the Redeemer and Savior of the race extended beyond the grave. Consider the profound significance of His words: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. . . . Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (John 5:25-29).

Jesus Christ died upon the cross in the literal sense in which all men die. While the corpse lay in the rock-hewn sepulchre the immortal Christ existed as a disembodied Spirit. Where was He, and what were His activities in the interval between His death on Calvary and His emergence from the tomb with spirit and body reunited—a resurrected Soul? The most natural assumption is that He went where the spirits of the dead ordinarily go; and that in the sense in which He had been while in the flesh a Man among men, He was during the period of disembodiment a Spirit among spirits. The Scriptures confirm this conception as true.

While in the bodiless state our Lord ministered among the departed, both in Paradise and in the prison realm where dwelt in a state of durance the spirits of the disobedient. To this effect testified Peter: "For Christ also hath

once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison." (1 Peter 3:18, 19).

And further: "For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 4:6).

One of the two condemned malefactors crucified by our Lord's side reviled Him; the other, who was penitent, supplicated the dying Christ saying: "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom"; and to this appeal the Lord replied with the blessed assurance: "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42, 43).

The spirit of Jesus and that of the repentant sinner left their crucified bodies and went to the same place in the spirit world. But neither of them at that time went to Heaven, the abode of the Eternal Father; for, on the third day following, Jesus, then a resurrected Being, positively stated to the weeping Magdalene: "I am not yet ascended to my Father," and added as to an event then future, "but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." (John 20:17).

Christ and the contrite thief went to Paradise; but Paradise is not the distinctive abode of God. To infer that the crucified transgressor was saved by his dying confession, and was granted a special passport to Heaven with sins unexpiated and without his compliance with "the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" is to disregard both letter and spirit of Scripture, and to ignore both reason and the sense of justice. We find here no warrant for belief in

the efficacy of death-bed confession as a means of grace. Only through individual faith, repentance, and works can remission of sins be obtained. The dying malefactor who won from the Christ the comforting promise of a place in Paradise had manifested both faith and repentance. The blessing promised him was to the effect that he should that day hear the Gospel preached in Paradise. In the acceptance or rejection of the message of salvation he would be left an agent unto himself. The requirement of obedience to "the laws and ordinances of the Gospel" was not waived, suspended, or superseded in his case, nor shall it be for any soul.

For the dead who have lived and died in ignorance of the requirements of salvation, as, in another sense, for the disobedient who later come to repentance, the plan of God provides for the vicarious administration of the essential ordinances to the living posterity in behalf of their dead progenitors. Of this saving labor Malachi prophesied in solemn plainness (Malachi 4:5, 6); and the glorious fulfilment has been witnessed in this modern age. The great Temples reared by the Latter-day Saints are maintained in large part for the service of the living in behalf of the dead.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


Elijah the Prophet on the American Continent


N one of his letters to the Corinthians, Paul the Apostle discusses the resurrection of the dead, which was a subject of contention at the time of his writing. Having shown that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind

shall be eventually redeemed from bodily death, the scholarly Apostle asks: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? Why are they then baptized for the dead?" (1 Cor. 15:29). As the question is put by way of finality and climax to the preceding argument and is without explanatory comment, we must conclude that the subject involved no new or strange doctrine; but to the contrary that the people both understood and practised the ordinance of vicarious baptism by the living in behalf of the dead.

To Nicodemus our Lord declared in such plainness as to preclude dispute: "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5). That this new birth comprises water baptism by immersion, as was at that time being administered by John the Baptist, and the higher baptism of the Spirit, which Christ Himself came to give, is evident from the scriptural context. Note the incisiveness of our Lord's affirmation that without baptism man cannot enter the kingdom of God. No distinction is made, no exceptions are implied. The indispensable condition is applicable to all men whether living or dead.

Nicodemus, though a scholar and a master in Israel, failed to understand the full import of our Lord's words, and in seeming bewilderment asked: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" (Verse 4).

With at least equal pertinency it may now be asked: How can a man who has died without baptism be baptized? Can he enter the second time into his body of flesh and be immersed in water? The answer is that the living may be baptized for the dead. No one who accepts as a reality the Atonement of Jesus Christ in behalf of all humankind

« PreviousContinue »