Section 131: Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom
On Tuesday, May 16, 1843, Joseph and his scribe William Clayton paid another visit to Ramus. The text of section 131, like that of section 130, was originally recorded in the personal diary of William Clayton. This section consists of the following selections:
verses 1-4: In the evening, Joseph taught Benjamin Johnson and his wife, Melissa, the principle of eternal marriage. Brother Johnson later recalled, “In the evening he called me and my wife to come and sit down, for he wished to marry us according to the Law of the Lord. I thought it was a joke, and said, I should not marry my wife again, unless she courted me, for I did it all the first time. He chided my levity. . . .” Joseph then sealed them for time and eternity. That evening, Joseph instructed the Johnsons and William Clayton further regarding the three degrees in the celestial kingdom and the necessity of participating in the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in order to gain entrance into the highest degree (D&C 131:1-4).
verses 5-6: The next morning, Wednesday, May 17, Joseph preached in a public meeting on the first chapter of 2 Peter. One subject he treated was the “more sure word of prophecy” (D&C 131:5-6).
verses 7-8: That evening the residents of Ramus had another interesting experience. In their evening meeting, a Methodist preacher, Samuel Prior, who was visiting Ramus, was called upon to speak. He was surprised, as he expected no such religious tolerance among the Mormons. After he spoke, Joseph politely asked if he might comment on Prior’s speech. Reverend Prior wrote of that experience: “Elder Smith, who had attended, arose and begged leave to differ from me in some few points of doctrine, and this he did mildly, politely, and affectingly; like one who was more desirous to disseminate truth and expose error, than to love the malicious triumph of debate over me. I was truly edified by his remarks, and felt less prejudiced against the Mormons than ever” (Times and Seasons 4 [15 May 1843]: 198). The text of D&C 131:7-8 was excerpted from the remarks Joseph made in responding to Mr. Prior.
The contents of section 131 were first published in the edition of the Deseret News dated September 24, 1856, and were included in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as edited by Orson Pratt at the direction of President Brigham Young. They were also included in Joseph Smith’s History of the Church (5:392-93), beginning in 1909.
D&C 131 Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom
D&C 131:1-4 In order to obtain the highest [degree in the celestial kingdom], a man must be sealed.
D&C 131:5-6 It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.
D&C 131:7-8 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter.
1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
verse 1 Eleven years earlier, the Lord had revealed to the Church in section 76, “The Vision,” that “heaven,” the dwelling place of the saved, consists of three broad degrees of glory (celestial, terrestrial, and telestial) and that of these three, the presence of the Father could only be enjoyed in the highest, or celestial, glory. Now the Lord reveals that the celestial glory itself is further divided into three degrees. Other than the information in verse 2, the Lord has revealed nothing about the conditions or requirements for those who are qualified to enter these three degrees.
2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
verse 2 The last part of verse 2 (in brackets) was added by Orson Pratt in the 1876 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
verses 2-3 “in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood” There is no mention in section 131 of plural marriage, and therefore no one can argue that verse 2 imposes an obligation upon the saints to live that principle.
Orson Pratt’s addition to verse 2, however (see the commentary for verse 2), does cause some potential confusion among some people. The term “new and everlasting covenant,” in its fullest sense, is the complete gospel of Jesus Christ (see D&C 66:2 and commentary) with all of its principles and ordinances. Hence, one might be inclined to include the term “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” to include not only eternal marriage, but also pleural marriage. However, there is no strong evidence to support this inclination. There is a strong feeling among scholarly scriptural students in the Church that Orson Pratt intended to refer to eternal marriage generally and not specifically plural marriage.
Within the gospel, “the new and everlasting covenant” consists of many covenants, one of which is the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. It is new because it is newly revealed to this dispensation. It is everlasting because it was ordained from the beginning and was part of the plan of salvation that was introduced in the premortal spirit world. It has been part of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the very first dispensation of Adam. Another example of a “new and everlasting covenant” is the covenant of baptism.
“this order of the priesthood” Some confusion may be caused by the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” being referred to here as “this order of the priesthood.” This reference can be understood with a bit of background. Joseph Smith delivered a sermon on Hebrews 7 (HC, 5:554-56) in which he spoke of three orders of the priesthood. These three orders were (1) the Aaronic Priesthood, (2) the Patriarchal Priesthood, and (3) the Melchizedek Priesthood (the fulness of the priesthood). The Patriarchal Priesthood is generally thought to be that priesthood that gives a man the right to preside over his family and which is passed on by blood lineage. That is, the eldest son of the patriarch is entitled to this priesthood. This “order” of the priesthood is usually identified with the prophet Abraham, who was entitled to this priesthood because of his lineage, and included the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” Thus a couple sealed by this order of the priesthood—in the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage”—has the right to preside over their family. In his sermon, the prophet Joseph is reported to have said: “Paul is here treating of three different priesthoods, namely, the priesthood of Aaron, Abraham, and Melchizedek. Abraham’s priesthood was of greater power than Levi’s [Aaron’s], and Melchizedek’s was of greater power than that of Abraham. Thus the Melchizedek Priesthood is the highest order and includes the other two orders of the priesthood.
It would thus seem that this verse, then, refers to the Patriarchal Order of the priesthood and teaches that that order is necessary for a man (actually a couple) to inherit the highest level in the celestial kingdom. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder already holds the Patriarchal Priesthood and more.
4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
verse 4 “He may enter into the other” This verse teaches that in the eternities, there will be some individuals who are content to be exalted but do not wish to continue on to godhood. They choose to remain single in the eternities, and certainly this choice is within the prerogatives of all who are exalted. He or she, then, may enter one of the lesser two degrees of the celestial kingdom but may not be exalted in the highest degree. One consequence of this choice would be an inability to have increase, or spirit children. Without the ability to become heavenly parents ourselves, we cannot continue following in the path of our own Heavenly Parents.
Joseph Smith taught on another occasion: “Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation, by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection” (HC, 5:391; see also D&C 132:16-17, 19-21). It would be illogical assume that the term “this probation” refers to this earth life alone, as certainly there are those among us that are worthy of exaltation and never married during this life because they did not have the opportunity. They would have married if they had had the chance. Surely these will have the opportunity to be sealed to a companion following this life, if they so choose. No one will be excluded from celestial resurrection and eventual exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial heaven merely because they failed to marry in their sojourn here on earth.
5 (May 17th, 1843.) The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood.
verse 5 “May 17th, 1843” This date applies to verses 5 and 6 and is the date on William Clayton’s journal when he recorded the material regarding the more sure word of prophecy.
“The more sure word of prophecy” This term is found in 2 Peter and means the same as “having one’s calling and election made sure,” “being sealed up unto eternal life,” “to receiving the other (or second) Comforter,” and having one’s life “hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).
It would seem that there are four ways in which an individual might receive “the more sure word of prophecy.” The first is that they can be notified by a living prophet of God. The second is that they can receive word by personal revelation. The third is by a personal visit from the Lord Jesus Christ (the Second Comforter). The fourth is at death when one is granted, in the partial judgment, the blessing of being in a state of paradise. For further discussion of having ones calling and election made sure, see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 16, Calling and Election Made Sure.
6 It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.
verse 6 This verse, when taken in context, has reference to the “more sure word of prophecy,” and not simply to the acquisition of any intellectual knowledge. In other words, no man will be exalted in ignorance of prior confirmatory knowledge that he has made it into the celestial kingdom.
verse 6, however, is commonly used alone and taken out of context and applied to all knowledge, including secular knowledge. This is probably defensible in the context of referring to knowledge of the things of God, as the Prophet Joseph taught, “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth” (HC, 4:588).
7 There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes;
8 We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.
verses 7-8 These verses teach the simple truth that spirit matter is real material matter, though it is matter that cannot be perceived by the mortal senses. About a year after this revelation was received, Joseph taught in Nauvoo: “The body is supposed to be organized matter, and the spirit, by many is thought to be immaterial, without substance. With this latter statement we should beg leave to differ, and state that spirit is a substance; that it is material, but that it is more pure, elastic, and refined matter than the [mortal] body; that it existed before the body, can exist in the body; and will exist separate from the body, when the body will be mouldering in the dust; and will in the resurrection, be again united with it” (Times and Seasons, 3 [1 April 1842]: 745; see also Dahl and Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 415).
It is also important to remember that the unseen world is greater than that which we can now behold. The time will come when our spiritual eyes will be opened, and then a whole new aspect of our universe will become a reality to us.
It is interesting to note that for thousands of years, and certainly as early as the time of Plato in the West and Buddha in the East, religious teachers have divided the universe into two parts—the material world and the spiritual world. Virtually all of these teachers agreed that the material world had a beginning (due to wickedness) and would have an end, and that eternally there is an unbridgeable gulf between the realms of spirit and matter. Spirit, these secularists taught, is eternal and righteous and material is wicked and corrupt.
In the last months of his life, Joseph, possibly sensing that his days on the earth were limited, literally poured out his knowledge upon the saints. He had such a vast knowledge of spiritual matters, but apparently was allowed to give us but a part of that knowledge. What he stated about himself and his knowledge has intrigued us to this day: “I can only tell you a hundredth part of what I know. If I told you what I know, you would accuse me of blasphemy, and some would want to take my life” (Life of Heber C. Kimball, Orson F. Whitney, 322). And finally, he tantalized us even more with: “No man knows my history” (TPJS, 36).
Brief Historical Setting
In June of 1843, charges against the Prophet were revived and the harassment began anew, largely as a result of the malicious writings and speeches of John C. Bennett. An extradition order was sought by the state of Missouri and granted by the now-Governor Ford of Illinois. Joseph was arrested by officers of Missouri, but won the right to be tried in Nauvoo and was promptly acquitted of all charges.
In the summer of 1843, the population of Nauvoo was about fifteen thousand and was growing rapidly. Nauvoo was divided into ten wards, and a bishop was appointed to preside over each. The work of building the temple and the Nauvoo House were proceeding. The prospects for Nauvoo’s becoming the major center of commerce in Illinois looked promising. Indeed, Nauvoo was approaching the height of its elegance and industry. However, the next several months would bring a total reversal of this hopeful trend. The problems for the saints in Nauvoo arose on several fronts:
- First, just as had occurred in 1838 in Missouri, there arose resentment over the potential political clout of the saints. The Whig and Democratic parties were so divided in Illinois that the citizens of Nauvoo potentially held the balance of political power in Hancock County and perhaps even in the entire state. As a political aside, it should be noted that when none of the presidential candidates in the election of 1844 seemed sympathetic to the saints’ cause, Joseph allowed his name to be placed on the ballot as a token candidate for President of the United States.
- A second cause of persecution resulted from the liberal city charter granted by the Illinois legislature. It guaranteed a good deal of independence for the new city and its rapidly growing military body, the Nauvoo Legion. The Legion excited fear that the Mormons, if they wished, could control by force the remainder of the state. There even arose the fear that Mormonism might engulf broad areas of the nation. This fear was further aggravated by Joseph’s organizing the Council of Fifty in March of 1844. This council was composed of a select group of the Prophet’s most trusted friends, including the Twelve. This semi-secret organization included high church officials, civic leaders, and prominent businessmen who met together to regulate the temporal affairs of the kingdom. This group was decried as an example of the Church’s temporal ambitions which were repugnant to many outside the Church. This was particularly so since it was generally known that Mormon doctrine included the concept that eventually the temporal or political kingdom of God would govern the earth from the center stake of Zion. Some feared that Joseph aspired to take over the earth beginning in 1844!
- Another contributing factor in the growing feeling against the Church was the fact that a Masonic Lodge was established in Nauvoo, and Joseph and several of the brethren became active in Masonry. This resulted in a rather wide spread prejudice, that existed against the Masons, being transferred to the Mormons. Ironically, the Mormon Masons, because of their rapid growth and the success of their lodge, produced jealousy even among their fellow Masons, and some Masons were further angered by Joseph’s purported use of parts of the Masonic ceremony in the temple ordinances.
- An additional element contributing to the saints’ problems in Illinois was the rumor of plural marriage that began to circulate in Nauvoo. By 1843, a controlled form of plural marriage was practiced among a tightly closed circle of high church officials. The revelation on celestial and plural marriage, which was originally received in 1831, was finally recorded in July of 1843 [D&C 132 -Celestial Marriage] and circulated to only a very few of the brethren. The rumors of the practice became a scandal to non-Mormons in the state and was horrifying even to some of the saints in Nauvoo.
- Michael J. Preece