“An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign, July 1984, 69
An Invitation to Exaltation
This is an edited version of the special satellite-broadcast fireside address given by Elder Monson 1 March 1984.
Everywhere, people are in a hurry. Jet-powered planes speed their precious human cargo across broad continents and vast oceans. Appointments must be kept, tourist attractions beckon, and friends and family await the arrival of a particular flight. Modern freeways with multiple lanes carry millions of automobiles, occupied by millions of people, in a seemingless endless stream from dawn to dusk, east to west, north to south.
Does this pulsating, mobile ribbon of humanity ever come to a halt? Is the helter-skelter pace of life at times punctuated with moments of meditation—even thoughts of timeless truths?
When compared to eternal verities, the questions of daily living are really rather trivial. What shall we have for dinner? Is there a good movie playing tonight? Have you seen the television log? Where shall we go on Saturday? These questions pale in their significance when times of crisis arise, when loved ones are wounded, when pain enters the house of good health, or when life’s candle dims and darkness threatens. Then, truth and trivia are soon separated. The soul of man reaches heavenward, seeking a divine response to life’s greatest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do go after we leave this life? Answers to these questions are not discovered within the covers of academia’s textbooks, by dialing information, in tossing a coin, or through random selection of multiple-choice responses. These questions transcend mortality. They embrace eternity.
“Before I Formed Thee …”
Where did we come from? This query is inevitably thought, if not spoken by every parent or grandparent when a tiny infant utters its first cry. One marvels at the perfectly formed child. The tiny toes, the delicate fingers, the beautiful head—to say nothing of the hidden but marvelous circulatory, digestive, and nervous systems—all testify of a divine Creator.
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet: “Before I formed thee … I knew thee; and before thou camest forth … I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jer. 1:5.) Such a direct statement to one of mankind is surely an example of what could be said to each of us.
The Apostle Paul told the Athenians on Mars’ Hill that we are “the offspring of God.” (Acts 17:29.) Since we know that our physical bodies are the offspring of our mortal parents, we must probe for the meaning of Paul’s statement. The Lord has declared that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” (D&C 88:15.) It is the spirit which is the offspring of God. The writer of Hebrews refers to Him as “the Father of spirits.” (Heb. 12:9.) God Himself is a soul, composed of a spirit and of a body of flesh and bones, as tangible as man’s. He is a resurrected, glorified, exalted, omniscient, omnipotent person and is omnipresent in spirit and power and influence, the ruler of the heavens and the earth and all things therein. The spirits of all men are literally His “begotten sons and daughters.” (D&C 76:24.)
The Apostle John, citing the Savior’s words, records a significant thought pertaining to pre-mortal life: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” (John 6:62.) And again, “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven.” (John 3:13.)
From the standpoint of appearance, Jesus resembled each of us. The inquiry was frequently made: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55.) Even at the close of His mortal ministry, Jesus had to be identified by the traitor Judas, since those who would do Him harm could not distinguish the Master from the group. Since we have been created in the image of God, is it so difficult to comprehend our premortal life when that of Jesus is so plainly taught?
Turning from the scriptures, we note that inspired poets have, for our contemplation of this subject, written moving messages and recorded transcendent thoughts.
William Wordsworth penned the truth:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
(“Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.”)
Another writer described a newborn infant as “a sweet, new blossom of humanity, fresh fallen from God’s own home to flower here on earth.”
Parents, gazing down at a tiny infant or taking the hand of a growing child, ponder their responsibility to teach, to inspire, and to provide guidance, direction, and example. While parents ponder, children and particularly youth ask the penetrating question, “Why are we here?” Usually, it is spoken silently to the soul and phrased, “Why am I here?”
“In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions”
How grateful we should be that a wise Creator fashioned an earth and placed us here, with a veil of forgetfulness over our previous existence, so that we might experience a time of testing, an opportunity to prove ourselves, and qualify for all that God has prepared for us to receive.
Clearly, the primary purposes of our existence upon the earth are to obtain a body of flesh and bones and to gain experience that could only come through separation from our heavenly parents. In a thousand ways, we are privileged to choose for ourselves. Here we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differentiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We learn that decisions determine destiny.
While Paul taught the Philippians that man is called upon to “work out [his] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philip. 2:12), the Master provided a guide we know as the Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” (Matt. 7:12.)
By obedience to God’s commandments, we can qualify for that “house” spoken of by Jesus when He declared: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. … I go to prepare a place for you. … that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2–3.)
Contemplating such far-reaching matters, we reflect upon the helplessness of a newborn child. No better example can be found for total dependency. Needed is nourishment for the body and love for the soul. Mother provides both. She who, with her hand in the hand of God, descended into “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4), that you and I might come forth to life, is not in her maternal mission abandoned by God. Precious children are welcomed by eager families.
“Unto Us Was the Gospel Preached”
Long ago, the prophet Mormon counseled his son Moroni to teach “repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children.
“And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins.
“But little children are alive in Christ.” (Moro. 8:10–12.)
The Lord has provided a privileged period between birth and eight years of age, when accountability is attained and baptism is required.
Dr. Glenn Doman, a noted author, has written: “The newborn child is almost an exact duplicate of an empty computer, although superior to such a computer in almost every way. … What is placed in the child’s brain during the first eight years of life is probably there to stay.” (How to Teach Your Baby to Read, Philadelphia: The Better Baby Press, 1979, pp. 43, 45.)
The early life of a child is a time for foundation building. Build a foundation for the eternities, and it will withstand the tempests and trials of mortality.
Well might parents ask: “What lessons shall we teach?” “What truths are of greatest consequence?” Faith is the first principle to be taught our precious children—an abiding faith in God our Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Hebrews: “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Heb. 4:2.)
Several years ago, the Salt Lake City newspapers published an obituary notice of a close friend of mine—a mother and wife taken by death in the prime of her life. I visited the mortuary and joined a host of persons gathered to express condolences to the distraught husband and motherless children. Suddenly the smallest child, Kelly, recognized me and took my hand in hers. “Come with me,” she said; and she led me to the casket in which rested the body of her beloved mother. “I’m not crying, Brother Monson, and neither must you. My mommy told me many times about death and life with Heavenly Father. I belong to my mommy and my daddy. We’ll all be together again.”
Through tear-moistened eyes, I recognized a beautiful and faith-filled smile. To my young friend, whose tiny hand clasped mine, there would never be a hopeless dawn. Sustained by her unfailing testimony, knowing that life continues beyond the grave, she, her father, her brothers, her sisters, and indeed all who share this knowledge of divine truth, can declare to the world: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Ps. 30:5.)
Beyond the teaching and learning of faith we emphasize the principle of repentance. “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezek. 18:30), declared Ezekiel of ancient time. His plea was for people everywhere and in all times to cease from doing wrong and turn to righteous living.
Next, we hearken to the counsel of the Lord to Nicodemus: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5.) We recognize the example of the Lord, Jesus Christ, in being baptized by John in the river Jordan. We follow the pathway He marked.
We know the necessity for the laying on of hands by those who have the authority, that we might receive the Holy Ghost. As Luke recorded of Philip’s missionary work in Samaria: “When the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John,” who “laid … their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 8:14–17.)
The organization best suited to teach these vital principles is the family, and the place where they can most effectively be learned is in the home.
What Is Home?
A roof to keep out the rain; four walls to keep out the wind;
Floors to keep out the cold. Yes, but home is more than that:
It is the laugh of a baby, the song of a mother, the strength of a father,
Warmth of loving hearts, light from happy eyes, kindness, loyalty, comradeship.
Home is the first school and the first church for young ones,
Where they learn what is right, what is good, and what is kind;
Where they go for comfort when they are hurt or sick;
Where joy is shared and sorrow eased;
Where fathers and mothers are respected and loved;
Where children are wanted;
Where money is not so important as loving kindness.
That is home. God bless it.
(Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink.)
“God Is a Father; Man Is a Brother”
Life moves on. Youth follows childhood, and maturity comes ever so imperceptibly. From experience we learn the need for heavenly assistance as we make our way along the pathway of mortality.
We treasure the inspired thought:
God is a Father;
Man is a brother.
Life is a mission
And not a career.
(Elder Stephen L Richards.)
God, our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as they are perfect. (Matt. 5:48; 3 Ne. 12:48.) We remember the inquiring lawyer who asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt. 22:36–39.)
“The Race Is Not to the Swift”
The Apostle Paul likened life to a race with a clearly defined goal. To the Saints at Corinth he urged: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Cor. 9:24.)
In our zeal, let us not overlook the sage counsel from Ecclesiastes: “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.” (Eccl. 9:11.) Actually, the prize belongs to him who endures to the end.
When I reflect on the race of life, I remember another type of race, even from childhood days. When I was about ten, my boyfriends and I would take pocketknives in hand and, from the soft wood of a willow tree, fashion small toy boats. With a triangular-shaped cotton sail in place, each would launch his crude craft in the race down the relatively turbulent waters of the Provo River. We would run along the river’s bank and watch the tiny vessels sometimes bobbing violently in the swift current and at other times sailing serenely as the water deepened.
During one such race, we noted that one boat led all the rest toward the appointed finish line. Suddenly, the current carried it too close to a large whirlpool, and the boat heaved to its side and capsized. Around and around it was carried, unable to make its way back into the main current. At last it came to an uneasy rest at the end of the pool, amid the flotsam and jetsam that surrounded it, held fast by the fingerlike tentacles of the grasping, green moss.
The toy boats of childhood had no keel for stability, no rudder to provide direction, and no source of power. Inevitably their destination was downstream—the path of least resistance.
Unlike toy boats, we have been provided divine attributes to guide our journey. We enter mortality not to float with the moving currents of life, but with the power to think, to reason, and to achieve. We left our heavenly home and came to earth in the purity and innocence of childhood.
Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal voyage without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him guidance to ensure our safe return. Yes, I speak of prayer. I speak, too, of the whisperings from that still, small voice within each of us; and I do not overlook the holy scriptures, written by mariners who successfully sailed the seas we too must cross.
“Come, Follow Me”
Individual effort will be required of us. What can we do to prepare? How can we ensure a safe sailing to our desired destination?
First, we must visualize our objective. What is our purpose? The Prophet Joseph Smith counseled: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 255–56.) In this one sentence we are provided not only a well-defined goal, but also the way in which we might achieve it.
Second, we must make continuous effort. Have you noticed that many of the most cherished of God’s dealings with His children have been when they were engaged in a proper activity: the visit of the Master to his disciples on the way to Emmaus, the good Samaritan on the road to Jericho, even Nephi on his return to Jerusalem.
Third, we must not detour from our determined course. In our journey we will encounter forks and turnings in the road. There will be the inevitable trials of our faith and the temptations of our times. We simply cannot afford the luxury of a detour, for certain detours lead to destruction and spiritual death. Let us avoid the moral quicksands that threaten on every side, the whirlpools of sin, and the crosscurrents of uninspired philosophies.
Fourth, to gain the prize, we must be willing to pay the price. Let us remember how Saul the persecutor became Paul the proselyter, how Peter the fisherman became the Apostle of spiritual power.
Our example in the race of life could well be our Elder Brother, even the Lord. As a small boy, He provided a watchword: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49.) As a grown man, He taught by example compassion, love, obedience, sacrifice, and devotion. To you and to me, His summons is still the same: “Come, follow me.”
“If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?”
At some period in our mortal mission, there appears the faltering step, the wan smile, the pain of sickness even the fading of summer, the approach of autumn, the chill of winter, and the experience we call death.
Every thoughtful person has asked himself the question best phrased by Job of old: “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14.) Try as we may to put the question out of our thoughts, it always returns. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and often it hushes the laughter of little children.
But what of an existence beyond death? Is death the end of all? Such a question was asked of me by a young husband and father who lay dying. I turned to the Book of Mormon and, from the book of Alma, read to him these words: “Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40:11–12.)
We are aware from recorded scripture that, while the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, Christ Himself preached to the spirits in prison. Peter declared: “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 Pet. 3:18–19.)
Just prior to His death, Jesus said to His Apostles: “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.” (John 5:25.) Again from Peter’s epistle: “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 Pet. 4:6.)
After the body of Jesus had lain in the tomb for three days, the spirit again entered. The stone was rolled away, and the resurrected Redeemer walked forth clothed with an immortal body of flesh and bones.
“He … Is Risen”
The answer to Job’s question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” came when Mary and others approached the tomb and saw two men in shining garments who spoke to them. Learning that they had come to care for the body of the Lord, the dutiful visitors were advised: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?
He is not here, but is risen.” (Luke 24:5–6.)
Many testimonies of the resurrected Lord provide comfort and understanding, including these three:
First, from the Apostle Paul: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; …
“He was buried, … he rose again the third day …
“He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve …
“He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. …
“He was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
“And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (1 Cor. 15:3–8.)
Second, from the combined testimony of twenty-five hundred of his other sheep, as recorded in the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ: The resurrected Lord “spake unto them saying:
“Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
“And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.
“And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying:
“Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him.” (3 Ne. 11:13–17.)
Third, from Joseph Smith: “After the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22—24.)
“In Christ Shall All Be Made Alive”
The Apostle Paul summarized: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22.) As the result of Christ’s victory over the grave, we shall all be resurrected. This is the redemption of the soul. Paul wrote: “There are … celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor. 15:40–42.)
It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings are earned. A high report card of mortality qualifies us to graduate with honors.
And for those who have died without a knowledge of the truth, a way has been provided. Sacred ordinances can be performed by the faithful living for the waiting dead. Houses of the Lord known as temples dot the land. As Elijah the prophet testified, the hearts of the fathers have been turned to the children, and the children to the fathers. (See D&C 110:14–15.) None shall be denied. All shall have opportunity for eternal blessings.
Where did we come from ? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life? No longer need these universal questions remain unanswered. From the depths of my soul, and in all humility, I testify to the truths which I have presented. Our Heavenly Father rejoices for those who keep His commandments. He is concerned also for the lost child, the tardy teenager, the wayward youth, the delinquent parent. Tenderly He speaks to these, and indeed to all: “Come back. Come up. Come in. Come home. Come unto me.” I pray all mankind may accept his divine invitation to exaltation.
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “An Invitation to Exaltation,” individually or as a family, you may want to discuss the following questions and ideas.
1. List the reasons given in the scriptures for our being here on earth.
2. Elder Monson says that “faith is the first principle to be taught our precious children.” List several ways to teach faith to your children.
3. Do you generally feel happy with your life? Would you like to be happier? Review the Prophet Joseph Smith’s statement about happiness and evaluate what you are or are not doing that prevents you from being as happy as you could be.
4. Do you understand what it means to have a resurrected, celestial body? Use the Topical Guide in the LDS edition of the King James Bible to discuss this topic.