Alma the Younger Covenants with the Fathers (Part 1)

M. Catherine Thomas

Alma's story, like yours and mine, begins in the premortal world; I am going to begin our discussion of the younger Alma in Alma 13 where he speaks of premortal events. Using chapter 13 as a base, and adding other scriptures and prophets to expand on Alma's teachings, I would like to explore some issues that Alma raises that pertain to the premortal life. Understanding Alma's teachings enlarges our understanding of how we can use this earthly probation to greater profit.

In Alma 13:3, Alma uses the phrases "from the foundation of the world" and "in the first place" to refer to premortal events. He speaks in particular of certain people receiving a calling into the holy order.1 To understand more about the holy order, we have to understand the house of Israel and its organization in the premortal world.

Out of all of Heavenly Father's spirit children, a smaller group distinguished itself by its exceeding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ during the conflicts that occurred incident to the war in heaven. Those who were valiant in these conflicts, and in other ways also, demonstrated both their abilities and their desires to become actively involved in the cosmic work of redemption through the great atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The thing that characterizes the Gods and those who aspire to godhood is the love of the work of redemption; that is, nurturing spirit children through the first estate of premortality, then leading them through a mortal probation, and finally raising them to the level of their parent Gods. If we could look into the heavens with the vision of the Holy Spirit, as Moses and Abraham and many others have, we would be stunned at the magnitude of the great work of redemption going on on numberless worlds throughout the cosmos. One of the points I want to emphasize is that the great work of the Gods is the work of redemption, and that work seems to be the major reason that worlds are created and inhabited (see 1 Nephi 17:36). More specifically, the great work of the Gods is family work—the raising and nurturing of children and the redemption of families to be sealed together for all eternity. We cannot comprehend the cosmic proportions of the love and the infinite investment of labor and grace that go into this magnificent work. You and I, as members of the literal house of Israel and of the Church of Jesus Christ, were called in the premortal world to participate in that work, everything else being trivial in comparison. Redemption is not just one of the things going on in the universe; it is the thing. That work of redemption is the work to which the premortal covenant people, the house of Israel, were called, and it was to take precedence over all other work and to subordinate all other work to itself.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

Israel is an eternal people. She came into being as a chosen and separate congregation before the foundations of the earth were laid; she was a distinct and a peculiar people in the preexistence, even as she is in this sphere. Her numbers were known before their mortal birth.2

All of those who entered into the premortal house of Israel to participate in the work of redemption were, as the apostle Paul teaches, foreordained to be conformed to the image of the Son of God (Romans 8:29); that is, those in the premortal world who elected to become Gods elected also to come to earth and learn the work of redemption in apprenticeship to the Lord Jesus Christ, a work that would qualify them to live with the Gods in the eternal worlds.

It seems that the holy order was a group within the house of Israel that advanced to a god-like status while yet in the premortal world, much as our Jesus had. They emerged as the leaders within the house of Israel and were prepared and ordained to the holy order, which was the order of the Son of God, to show the manner of "Christ-ness" to the people, they being types of Christ (Alma 13:16). In this manner the people would understand what they themselves had been foreordained to become and could ultimately also enter this holy order. These high priests of the holy order undoubtedly labored among the spirits in the premortal world and were ordained and prepared to descend to earth and be leaders in the Lord's redeeming work here. It would appear that all the house of Israel could ultimately be part of this holy order, or the order of Gods.

Of course, as people do in this world, the maturing spirits in the premortal world advanced at different rates and to different levels of spirituality, though Alma says that they were initially on the same standing with each other (Alma 13:5); that is, they had equal opportunity to advance, but some rejected the Spirit of God "on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds" (Alma 13:4) and did not make the progress that would have given them the privilege of entering the holy order.

Let's read Alma's words from Alma 13:1—3, 6, observing some of what we have just discussed:

I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.

And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place [premortal world] being left to choose good or evil [conflict in heaven]; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.

This holy order that Alma describes, with other members of the house of Israel foreordained to obtain that order, are likely the ones referred to in the book of Abraham as "the noble and great ones" (Abraham 3:22), whom the Gods would prove "to see if they [would] do all things whatsoever the Lord their God [should] command them" (3:25). They had kept their first premortal estate; if they kept their second estate, their earthly probation, they would "have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" (Abraham 3:26). These are the ones for whom the earth was created (Abraham 3:24) and for whom the scriptures were written (D&C 35:20). These are they of whom Jesus said, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; . . . And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day" (John 6:37, 39). These are they who could be characterized in the premortal existence by these words of Abraham as he expressed his primeval passion to progress to godliness:

I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.

It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me. (Abraham 1:2—3; emphasis added)

Abraham seems to make reference to fathers on both sides of the veil, a point we will enlarge on further on.

If these premortal Israelites were faithful to their premortal covenants during their mortal probations, they would have power and influence with God. When Abraham's grandson, Jacob, was visited by the Lord, the Lord said to him, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed" (Genesis 32:28). Abraham's wife was renamed Sarah by the Lord, which means "princess," suggesting that all these holy men had holy female counterparts; out of deference to their holiness, most of these women are not named.

What difference does it make to us to know about the premortal world? Why did Alma teach this material to the rebellious, hard-hearted inhabitants of Ammonihah? Because they too, as Nephites and members of the house of Israel, had been foreordained in the premortal world, and they had fallen very far from what they were foreordained to be and were in great spiritual danger. Elder David B. Haight explains the reason the Lord has revealed the doctrine of the premortal world:

Most of us have wondered about what occurred in the premortal world and how it relates to our existence here. We should be acquainted with the truth that knowledge of the premortal life was restored that we might fulfill our responsibilities as children of God. . . .

John A. Widtsoe provides insight to an earth-life responsibility made in that premortal world which is of great importance. He highlights a contractual agreement we made concerning the eternal welfare of all of the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father:

". . . Since the plan is intended for all men, we [the covenant people] became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan. We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but . . . saviors for the whole human family. We went into a partnership with the Lord. . . . The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation."3

Let's review additional quotes from the Brethren on premortal preparations and assignments to the house of Israel:

1. "During the ages in which we dwelt in the pre-mortal state we not only developed our various characteristics and showed our worthiness and ability, or the lack of it, but we were also where such progress could be observed. It is reasonable to believe that there was a Church organization there. The heavenly beings were living in a perfectly arranged society. Every person knew his place. Priesthood . . . had been conferred and the leaders were chosen to officiate. Ordinances pertaining to that pre-existence were required and the love of God prevailed."4

2. "Many there held important positions of leadership. From the tests of that existence they emerged triumphant. Because of their faithfulness they were accounted worthy to bear in life great responsibilities, and were reserved in training there until a day came in earth's history when the very staunchest and bravest would be needed, as Ôtried souls, 'mid untried spirits found, that captained these may be.' With the dawning of this last Gospel dispensation came their call to journey earthward, and perform the special mission for which they were qualified by character and experience."5

3. "Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles!"6

Joseph Smith wrote, "At the first organization in heaven we were all present, and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it."7 What was this first organization? Brigham Young quoted Joseph Smith: "Be sure to tell the people to keep the spirit of the Lord; and if they will, they will find themselves just as they were organized by our Father in Heaven before they came into the world. Our Father in Heaven organized the human family, but they are all disorganized and in great confusion."8 Brigham continued: "Joseph then showed me the pattern, how they were in the beginning. This I cannot describe, but I saw it, and saw where the Priesthood had been taken from the earth and how it must be joined together, so that there would be a perfect chain from Father Adam to his latest posterity."9

Since much of what we experience here on earth was spiritually created in the premortal world, we might see that, in the premortal world, those who would be earthly children and parents entered into covenants with other spirits in order to be saved and also to have a saving relationship with them. Joseph Smith said, "God is Good & all his acts are for the benefit of inferior intelligences."10 If the desire to bless other intelligences was true of God, it was also true of many in the house of Israel—the greater lights would bless the lesser lights so that all might be together in eternity (Abraham 3:18; D&C 88:44). It is likely that many of the premortal house of Israel, that is, that many of us, entered into covenants with those who would be our ancestors as well as with those who would be our posterity. We did this for the express purpose of having a saving influence in both directions—on our ancestors through work for the dead and on our posterity through nurturing work for the living, all under the continuing direction of the great Redeemer.

Likely our own labors with many spirits commenced in the spirit world, our hearts being bound together in love from our associations through eons. There we received specific missions to perform a saving work for those with whom we covenanted in the premortal world. Genealogical chains of parents and children were formed, specifically arranged to promote a variety of the Lord's saving purposes. The plan seemed to be that each of the premortal house of Israel would, as part of their progress toward godhood, experience being redeemed by mortal and immortal beings and also learn the role of redeemer; each would be labored with until he or she could labor with others. The redeemed would become the redeemers. To each of us covenant people it would be said, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8).

We would, by our premortal covenants with loved ones and with the Lord, become extensions of God's power during our mortal probations and actually be able to exert a saving influence on an increasing number of people. Jesus himself is our model when he says, "For their sakes I sanctify myself" (John 17:19). This is a powerful principle and is one of the foundational principles of our admission to the house of Israel. The Lord teaches the house of Israel in this dispensation: "When men are called unto mine everlasting gospel, and covenant with an everlasting covenant, they are accounted as the salt of the earth and the savor of men." (D&C 101:39) "For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; And inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men" (D&C 103:9—10).

To continue with this idea of dependency of souls upon one another, Joseph F. Smith taught:

Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.11

This phrase, "saving all souls depending upon us that we might become saviors," is truly arresting.

Lorenzo Snow taught similarly about our continuing labors with our loved ones after this life:

God has fulfilled His promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time, for every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. . . . Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity.12

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: "When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother."13 Elder Boyd K. Packer quoted the Prophet Joseph and expanded on this principle: "We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of them. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them.14 Packer also quoted Orson F. Whitney concerning loved ones who stray:

Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father's heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.15

Our ancestor and patriarch Joseph who was sold into Egypt was the model for us as he sanctified himself to have a sanctifying influence on his very troubled family and, like his Savior, exercised a saving power on his brethren.

President Harold B. Lee taught: "You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state. You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world's history, as the Apostle Paul taught the men of Athens [Acts 17:26] and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created."16

We want to take care with such a quote as this not to think that if a person didn't come to a good family, it was because he or she was not good in the premortal world. That would be a mistaken conclusion. Carlfred Broderick teaches that the Lord may assign a valiant spirit to a troubled family in order to bring salvation to that family:

Children need not merely replicate the sins of their fathers, but that each generation is held accountable for its own choices [Ezekiel 18:2—4].

Indeed, my experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to "metabolize" the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children's children will call them blessed.

In suffering innocently that others might not suffer, such persons, in some degree, become as "saviors on Mount Zion" by helping to bring salvation to a lineage. . . .

Others of us may be, ourselves, the suffering messengers of light. Let us be true to our divine commission, forgoing bitterness and following in our Savior's footsteps.17

We see another variation as well, namely, that God may place spiritually challenging children in homes of spiritual and conscientious parents for their mutual benefit. President Spencer W. Kimball quoted these lines:

It is said that the very hairs of your head are all numbered; is it not to teach us that nothing, not the smallest things imaginable, happen to us by chance? But if the smallest things we can conceive of are declared to be under the divine direction, need we, or can we, be more plainly taught that the greatest things of life, such as the manner of our coming into the world, our parents, the time, and other circumstances of our birth and condition, are all according to the eternal purposes, direction, and appointment of divine Providence?18

It seems appropriate at this point, with respect to a discussion of fathers and children, to quote Moroni's version of Malachi and ask who the fathers might be in the statements on fathers and children: "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet. . . . And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming" (Joseph Smith—History 1:38—39). Why would it be wasted? Because the great premortal arrangements for the eternal sealing of loved ones to each other and to the Gods would not be realized if our hearts did not turn us to fulfill the premortal promises made among the fathers and children leading to the eternal sealing of these people. It was for this purpose that the earth was created, and without those sealings, the earth's purpose would be for nothing. Doctrine and Covenants 84:99 exclaims: "The Lord hath brought again Zion; The Lord hath redeemed his people, Israel / According to the election of grace / Which was brought to pass by the faith / And covenant of their fathers."

Joseph Smith, quoting the apostle Paul, after quoting Malachi, said: "The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children. . . . It is baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect" (D&C 128:18).

Elder McConkie said, with respect to the fathers:

He shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers." That immediately raises the questions: Who are the children, who are the fathers, and what are the promises? If we can catch a vision from the doctrinal standpoint that answers those questions—who the fathers are, who the children are, and what the promises were—we can have our understanding of the gospel and our comprehension of the plan of salvation expanded infinitely. We shall then catch a vision of what the whole system of salvation is all about. Until we do that, really, we never catch that vision.19

Elder McConkie identifies 'the fathers' as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the fathers of the house of Israel on the earth. The promises have to do with the Abrahamic Covenant, which is the premortal covenant of godhood, named after Abraham because he would be one of the fathers of that great lineage. But perhaps the term fathers also refers to those fathers who reach far back into the premortal past where they were prepared to come forth, saying in effect to their Heavenly Father, "I will go down and keep thy commandments and bring these others with me into thy rest."

D&C 138 describes further the great scope of this salvation work. After naming some of the noble and great ones of this dispensation—Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits reserved for the latter-day work—President Smith's vision continues with these words:

I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God.

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.

I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption, through the sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God, among those who are in darkness and under the bondage of sin in the great world of the spirits of the dead. (D&C 138:55—57)

An earlier passage teaches that after the righteous are resurrected and enter into the Father's kingdom, they "continue thenceforth their labor as had been promised by the Lord, and [are] partakers of all blessings which were held in reserve for them that love him" (D&C 138:52). It appears that our work will continue for the salvation of men after our resurrection and, with our own spirit posterity, will grow infinitely greater.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this about great priesthood holders who have gone on into the spirit world and, in connection with these fathers, gives an interesting interpretation of the parable of the mustard seed:

These men are in heaven, but their children are on the earth. Their bowels yearn over us. God sends down men for this reason. 'And the Son of Man shall send forth His angels. . . .' All these authoritative characters will come down and join hand in hand in bringing about this work.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed. The mustard seed is small, but brings forth a large tree, and the fowls lodge in the branches. The fowls are the angels. Thus angels come down, combine together to gather their children, and gather them. We cannot be made perfect without them, nor they without us.20

In another place, the Prophet Joseph taught, "The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith."21

President Joseph F. Smith, himself a man of deep family feeling, also taught on the feelings of the departed spirits and their nearness to us:

Sometimes the Lord expands our vision from this point of view and this side of the veil, that we feel and seem to realize that we can look beyond the thin veil which separates us from that other sphere. If we can see, by the enlightening influence of the Spirit of God and through the words that have been spoken by the holy prophets of God, beyond the veil that separates us from the spirit world, surely those who have passed beyond, can see more clearly through the veil back here to us than it is possible for us to see them from our sphere of action. I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separated from them. We begin to realize more and more fully, as we become acquainted with the principles of the gospel, as they have been revealed anew in this dispensation, that we are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors, to our friends and associates and co-laborers who have preceded us into the spirit world. We cannot forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties we cannot break. . . . [They] can see us better than we can see them— . . . they know us better than we know them. They have advanced; we are advancing; we are growing as they have grown; we are reaching the goal that they have attained unto; and therefore, I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever.22

Who were others of the fathers prepared in the premortal world to this holy order who have descended to earth, performed their labors faithfully here, and returned to the world beyond where they continue to labor in our behalf? The scriptures mention Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek (whom Alma mentions in Alma 13), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nephi (several of them), Jacob, Alma the Elder, and Alma the Younger, and many others whom, if we had all the records, we could name right down to the present day. These men sanctified themselves to have power to lead others to sanctification. Alma describes the nature of sanctification:

Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

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 13:10—12)

But turning attention once again to the younger Alma before his redemption, we see this same principle of the parents' personal sanctification exerting a saving influence on the son. The younger Alma had spent many years in this middle world in spiritual darkness before he knew who he was. The account of his redemption from spiritual death may really begin with an incident in his father's life. The elder Alma received from King Mosiah the responsibility of judging the rising generation of unbelievers, among whom were his own son and the sons of the king. After pouring out his whole soul to God, fearing that he should do wrong in the sight of God, the Lord's voice came to Alma the Elder (Mosiah 26:19—20) revealing this magnificent principle and promise: "Because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed. Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep." With this promise of eternal life, Alma the Elder's power to draw down appropriate grace from his Heavenly Father became very great. His prayers and those of King Mosiah bring an angel to these rebellious sons, and you know the rest of that story. Later, this redeemed younger Alma will exert this same saving influence over his erring missionary son, Corianton.

We want to bring this, at the last, to a personal level. This principle of the premortal house of Israel being arranged in saving relationships helps us to look at all our relationships and ask, What are my covenants with respect to the redemption of these people, and how can I fulfill them? What do I need to do now? The question asked with an honest heart will bring not only answers, but power, from the great Redeemer himself. Answers will extend not only to family members, but to the Laurels in one's Young Women's class, to those one home teaches, to a business associate, and so on. We know enough to know that no one in our lives is there by accident.

With respect to troubled family members, we can imagine that both King Mosiah and Alma the Elder suffered over the prolonged rebellion of their sons. When we face similar situations, consolation may come when we remember that life does not end with physical death. When our efforts in this life do not yield the redemption of a loved one, often the only labor that a person can engage in on behalf of his or her loved one is to persist in the personal sanctifying process. Sometimes the most miraculous things happen in relationships as that personal sanctification process goes forward.

But it is also important to remember that at times our own worthiness is not the immediate issue. In all these matters of saving souls, we are dependent on the timetable and the will and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, who does all things well. Nevertheless, consider what Mormon counsels his son Moroni in this holy order work: "And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God" (Moroni 9:6).

Some closing words from the younger Alma reveal the true spirit behind this holy order:

I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God.

Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Yea, and now behold, O my son, the Lord doth give me exceedingly great joy in the fruit of my labors;

For because of the word which he has imparted unto me, behold, many have been born of God, and have tasted as I have tasted, and have seen eye to eye as I have seen; therefore they do know of these things of which I have spoken, as I do know; and the knowledge which I have is of God. (Alma 36:23—26)

The First Presidency's proclamation on the family makes this statement: "The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children."23 Once we know what we're up to here on earth, we can focus on what is really important. All the activities of men are designed, not as ends in themselves, but as means of getting people together so that they can have a saving influence on each other. When we know that that work is more important than any other, we'll know what it is we are to pay attention to during the minutes and hours of our telestial lives, and at the same time, we'll know what we can patiently hope for.

It is helpful to remember that the earth and the very lives we live upon the earth were created for entirely spiritual purposes. It may be that, among the most enlightened beings, the power to bless is the most coveted power. May we take a long-range view, both with our erring loved ones and with ourselves as we fall so short of all that we wish to be, keeping in our hearts this quote from Elder Orson F. Whitney:

They have strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.24

May we seek to enlarge on and to extend this power in all our associations.

Notes

1. Robert L. Millet gave a helpful presentation, entitled "The Holy Order of God," on this subject. See also President Ezra Taft Benson, "What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple," Ensign (August 1985): 6—10, where he says, "To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord. Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, ÔThou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity' (Moses 6:67)" (p. 8).

2. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 510—11.

3. David B. Haight, "Temples and Work Therein," Ensign (November 1990): 59; emphasis added).

4. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 12th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 50—51.

5. Wilford Woodruff, Our Lineage (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, n.d.), 4; emphasis in original.

6. Spencer W. Kimball, "The Role of Righteous Women," Ensign (November 1979): 102.

7. Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1976), 181.

8. Journal History (23 February 1847).

9. Ibid.; see also Moses 5:10.

10. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., The Words of Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book, 1991), 68.

11. Boyd K. Packer, "The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness," Ensign (November 1995): 20—21, quoting Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939), 442; emphasis added)

12. Brian H. Stuy, comp. and ed., Collected Discourses (Burbank, Calif.: B. H. S. Publishing, 1989), 3:364; emphasis added.

13. Teachings of the Prophet, 321; Words of Joseph Smith, 242.

14. Conference Report (April 1992): 94—95.

15. Boyd K. Packer, "Our Moral Environment," Ensign (May 1992): 68, quoting Whitney, Conference Report (April 1929): 110; see also Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:215.

16. Harold B. Lee, Conference Report (5 October 1973): 7.

17. Carlfred Broderick, "I Have a Question," Ensign (August 1986): 38—9.

18. "Small Acts of Service," Ensign (December 1974): 5, quoting William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Sovereign Grace, 1971).

19. Bruce R. McConkie, "Promises Made to the Fathers," in Genesis to 2 Samuel, vol. 3 of Studies in Scripture, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 3:51—52.

20. Teachings of the Prophet, 159.

21. Ibid., 326.

22. Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 430—31.

23. "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Ensign (November 1995): 102; emphasis added; see also Church News (24 September 1995).

24. Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report (April 1929): 110—11.