“Chapter 51: Doctrine and Covenants 131; 132:1–33,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (2017)
“Chapter 51,” Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
On May 16–17, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith stayed with Benjamin and Melissa Johnson in Ramus, Illinois. While there, the Prophet taught the Johnsons the Lord’s law of marriage and sealed them for eternity. The next morning the Prophet preached a sermon on 2 Peter 1 in Ramus and explained the meaning of the phrase “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19). Later that day, after a Protestant minister gave a sermon to the Saints in Ramus, the Prophet taught that “all spirit is matter” (D&C 131:7). Portions of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings on these occasions are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131.
On July 12, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, in which the Lord taught about “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2). Historical evidence suggests that the Prophet had received some of the principles found in this revelation as early as 1831. This chapter of the student manual covers Doctrine and Covenants 132:1–33, in which the Lord taught principles concerning eternal marriage and the importance of abiding by His law. Chapter 52 of this manual covers Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–66, which includes the Lord’s teachings about plural marriage.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught Parley P. Pratt about eternal marriage.
Joseph Smith began privately teaching the doctrine of plural marriage in Nauvoo, Illinois.
May 16–17, 1843
The teachings recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131 were given.
May 28, 1843
Joseph and Emma Smith were sealed in marriage for eternity.
Emma Smith consented to several of Joseph Smith’s plural marriages but struggled to accept the practice.
July 12, 1843
Doctrine and Covenants 132 was dictated.
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s understanding of the vital role of marriage in Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation developed gradually. In March 1831, in response to doctrine being taught by a religious group called the Shakers, who “rejected marriage and believed in a life of total celibacy” (D&C 49, section heading), the Lord declared that “marriage is ordained of God unto man” (see D&C 49:15). In the same revelation the Lord explained that “it is lawful that [a man] should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation” (D&C 49:16). On November 24, 1835, while performing a marriage ceremony, the Prophet taught that marriage is “an institution of heaven first solemnized in the garden of Eden by God himself, by the authority of the everlasting priesthood” (“History, 1834–1836,” page 136, josephsmithpapers.org). On April 3, 1836, the Prophet Elijah appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and restored the priesthood keys that make it possible for families to be sealed together for eternity (see D&C 110:13–16). Records indicate that as early as 1840, the Prophet Joseph Smith privately taught the principle of eternal marriage (see Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. , 297–98).
On May 16, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his scribe William Clayton traveled to Ramus, Illinois, and stayed in the home of Benjamin and Melissa Johnson. “The Johnsons had been married since Christmas Day 1841, but Joseph told them he intended to marry them according to the law of the Lord. … He taught that men and women needed to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in order to obtain God’s highest blessings. He then sealed Benjamin and Melissa for eternity” (Matthew McBride, “Our Hearts Rejoiced to Hear Him Speak,” in Revelations in Context, ed. Matthew McBride and James Goldberg , 279–80; see also Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review , 96). William Clayton recorded the Prophet’s teachings on this occasion, and some of these teachings are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4.
The next morning, May 17, the Prophet Joseph Smith preached a sermon based on 2 Peter 1 to a gathering of Church members in Ramus. During his sermon the Prophet expounded on the phrase “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19). William Clayton recorded the Prophet’s teachings during that sermon. (See “Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 131,” in Dennis L. Largey and Larry E. Dahl, eds., Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion , 848.) A portion of these teachings is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131:5–6.
A Methodist minister by the name of Samuel A. Prior also attended the Prophet Joseph Smith’s sermon in Ramus on May 17, 1843, and “later that night (17 May) arrangements were made for Reverend Prior to address the Saints.” After the sermon, the Prophet “asked if he could share his thoughts on a few points in which they differed.” As the Prophet delivered his remarks, William Clayton recorded his teachings. (See “Historical context and overview of Doctrine and Covenants 131,” 848.) Some of these teachings are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131:7–8.
The Prophet Joseph Smith and the Saints learned about the requirements for receiving exaltation in the celestial kingdom gradually as the Restoration unfolded. Examples of these truths came as part of revelations beginning in 1829: Those who “keep [God’s] commandments and endure to the end … shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7). Those who “hearken unto [the Lord’s] voice, and believe, and repent … and [are] baptized, even in water. … shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost,” and they will be worthy to “inherit the kingdom of God” (Moses 6:52, 57). Those who “doeth the works of righteousness shall receive … eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). And those who do all these things and “overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, … are they who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just. … These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all” (D&C 76:53, 65, 70).
On May 16, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught additional doctrine about receiving eternal life when he explained that “in the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees” (D&C 131:1). Exaltation, or eternal life, is “the highest state of happiness and glory in the celestial kingdom” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Exaltation,” scriptures.lds.org). The Prophet taught that “in order to obtain the highest [degree of the celestial kingdom], a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]” (D&C 131:2). President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency summarized this doctrine when he said, “The new and everlasting covenant of celestial marriage is the gate to exaltation in the celestial kingdom” (in Conference Report, April 1962, 17).
Sister Julie B. Beck, who served as Relief Society General President, explained that the blessings obtained through “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2) are equally shared by husband and wife: “A man and a woman who enter into the full partnership of a covenant temple marriage share equally in the blessings of that covenant if they are faithful [see D&C 131:1–2]. The Lord has said that their covenant will be in force after this life, and together they are promised power and exaltation [see D&C 132:19–20]” (“An Outpouring of Blessings,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 11).
Soon after teaching about the doctrine of eternal marriage in Ramus, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, were sealed by the power of the priesthood on May 28, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the upper room of Joseph’s Red Brick Store. Through their participation in this marriage ordinance, they entered into “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2). This covenant is described as “new” because it was revealed once again through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is called “everlasting” because it will endure through eternity for those who enter into it and are faithful to its terms and conditions.
President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) emphasized the importance of entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage:
“There is no ordinance connected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ of greater importance, of more solemn and sacred nature, and more necessary to [our] eternal joy … than marriage.
“The fullness and blessings of the Priesthood and Gospel grow out of Celestial marriage. This is the crowning ordinance of the Gospel and crowning ordinance of the temple” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith , 194).
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the new and everlasting covenant of marriage necessarily includes a man and a woman: “Men and women receive the highest ordinance in the house of the Lord together and equally, or not at all. (See D&C 131:1–3.)” (“Woman—Of Infinite Worth,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 20).
President Nelson further testified that the divinely appointed pattern of marriage between a man and a woman is essential to Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness:
“Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the Lord’s doctrine and crucial to God’s eternal plan. Marriage between a man and a woman is God’s pattern for a fulness of life on earth and in heaven. God’s marriage pattern cannot be abused, misunderstood, or misconstrued [see Matthew 19:4–6; Mosiah 29:26–27; Helaman 5:2]. Not if you want true joy. …
“In our day civil governments have a vested interest in protecting marriage because strong families constitute the best way of providing for the health, education, welfare, and prosperity of rising generations. But civil governments are heavily influenced by social trends and secular philosophies as they write, rewrite, and enforce laws. Regardless of what civil legislation may be enacted, the doctrine of the Lord regarding marriage and morality cannot be changed” (“Decisions for Eternity,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 108).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “in order to obtain the highest [degree of the celestial kingdom], a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other [degrees of the celestial kingdom], but that is the end of his kingdom” (D&C 131:2–4). The person therefore forfeits the full blessings of exaltation and the opportunity to become like God.
“Some members of the Church remain single through no fault of their own, even though they want to marry. … [Those who] remain worthy … will someday, in this life or the next, be given all the blessings of an eternal family relationship. The Lord has made this promise repeatedly through His latter-day prophets” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 99). President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency testified: “The brief span of this life is nothing in comparison with eternity. And if only we can hope and exercise faith, and joyfully endure to the end, … there, in that great heavenly future, we will have the fulfillment of the righteous desires of our heart, and so very much more that we can scarcely comprehend now” (“The Reflection in the Water” [Church Educational System fireside, Nov. 1, 2009], lds.org/media-library).
On May 16, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “in order to obtain the highest [degree of the celestial kingdom], a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, … he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131:2–4). As part of his teachings given to Church members in Ramus, Illinois, the Prophet clarified what it means to “have an increase”: “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, that they will not have any children after the resurrection; but those who are married by the power and authority of the Priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, page 1551, josephsmithpapers.org).
The Prophet Joseph Smith’s teachings about eternal marriage in the early 1840s expanded the Saints’ understanding of that important relationship between husband and wife. Elder Parley P. Pratt (1807–1857) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles contrasted his prior incorrect beliefs about marriage with the truths he learned from the Prophet:
“I had learned to esteem kindred affections and sympathies as appertaining solely to this transitory state [our temporal life on earth], as something from which the heart must be entirely weaned, in order to be fitted for its heavenly state. …
“It was from [Joseph Smith] that I learned that the wife of my bosom might be secured to me for time and all eternity. … It was from him that I learned that we might cultivate these affections, and grow and increase in the same to all eternity; while the result of our endless union would be an offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, or the sands of the sea shore. …
“I had loved before, but I knew not why. But now I loved—with a pureness—an intensity of elevated, exalted feeling” (The Autobiography of Parley Parker Pratt, 297).
The doctrine taught by the Apostle Peter regarding God’s promise of exaltation (see 2 Peter 1) was the subject of at least two sermons given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. The first of these sermons was given on May 14, 1843, to Church members in the Morley Settlement in Illinois, also known as Yelrome. In his sermon the Prophet recounted the Apostle Peter’s counsel to the early Christian Saints to “give diligence to make [their] calling and election sure” (see 2 Peter 1:10). (See Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, page 1549, josephsmithpapers.org.) Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is to receive the assurance of godhood; it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced, so that an inheritance of all the glory and honor of the Father’s kingdom is assured prior to the day when the faithful actually enter into the divine presence to sit with Christ in his throne, even as he is ‘set down’ with his ‘Father in his throne.’ (Rev. 3:21.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 3:330–31; see also the commentary for Doctrine and Covenants 132:49–50 in this manual).
During his sermon at Yelrome, the Prophet Joseph Smith also spoke about the “more sure word of prophecy” mentioned in 2 Peter 1:19. He taught the Saints in that settlement that a “more sure word of prophecy” is a confirmation from the Spirit that allows a person to know that his or her calling and election has been made sure; it is reassurance given to faithful followers of Jesus Christ “that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.” He explained that this knowledge would be “as an anchor to the Soul sure and stedfast, though the thunders might roll, and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble and tribulation.” He also counseled the Saints to seek for this gift: “I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God, until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.” (Reported by Wilford Woodruff, in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, pages 1549–50, josephsmithpapers.org.)
The Prophet Joseph Smith used the Apostle Peter’s teachings again on May 17, 1843, when he was visiting Ramus, Illinois. The Prophet again preached a sermon on 2 Peter 1. During this sermon he explained, “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” (D&C 131:5).
On April 10, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844) preached a sermon in Nauvoo, Illinois, rebuking the wicked and teaching the Saints that “without knowledge we cannot be saved.” He also 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. Hence [we need] revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 265–66).
In his May 17, 1843, sermon to Church members in Ramus, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “knowledge is power, and the man who has the most knowledge, has the greatest power.” He also taught that “it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (In Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, pages 1551–52, josephsmithpapers.org; see also D&C 131:6).
President Marion G. Romney explained what type of knowledge is needed in order for a person to be saved:
“By receiving the Savior’s message and accepting him for what he was and is, the Apostles obtained eternal life [see John 17:1–2, 6–8].
“This knowledge of ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ (John 17:3) is the most important knowledge in the universe; it is the knowledge without which the Prophet Joseph Smith said no man could be saved. The lack of it is the ignorance referred to in the revelation wherein it is written: ‘It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.’ (D&C 131:6.)” (“Except a Man Be Born Again,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 14).
On the evening of May 17, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith and others listened to a sermon given by Samuel A. Prior, a Methodist preacher. When Reverend Prior finished his sermon, the Prophet asked if he could offer a few corrections. (See Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, page 1552, josephsmithpapers.org.) Reverend Prior wrote about that incident in a letter of appreciation about his visit among the Saints: “After I had closed, [Joseph] 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 with his remarks, and felt less prejudiced against the Mormons than ever. He invited me to call upon him, and I promised to do so” (“A Visit to Nauvoo,” Times and Seasons, May 15, 1843, 198; note that the date of this issue does not reflect the actual date of its publication; the article before Reverend Prior’s letter is dated May 19 and the article after it is dated May 22). On that occasion, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “there is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine and pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes” (D&C 131:7; see also Manuscript History of the Church, vol. D-1, page 1552, josephsmithpapers.org).
A little over a year earlier, on April 1, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith had taught the following about the nature of the spirit: “We shall find a very material difference between the body and the Spirit:—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 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” (in Manuscript History of the Church, vol. C-1, page 1307, josephsmithpapers.org).
In February and March 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith was working in the book of Genesis as part of the inspired translation of the Old Testament. As he worked on the translation, the Prophet inquired of the Lord about the plural marriages of ancient patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. In response, the Lord revealed principles about plural marriage. Joseph Smith was eventually commanded to live that principle. (See “Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Gospel Topics Essays, topics.lds.org.)
In 1840, a year after the Saints relocated to Nauvoo, Illinois, the Prophet Joseph Smith began privately teaching the principle of eternal marriage. The importance of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage in God’s plan was emphasized in the Prophet’s May 1843 revelation received in Ramus, Illinois (see D&C 131:1–4). Additional information about the new and everlasting covenant of marriage came again in July 1843 when the Prophet Joseph Smith dictated a lengthy revelation that included principles about eternal marriage as well as plural marriage.
This chapter of the student manual addresses Doctrine and Covenants 132:1–33, which primarily discusses the doctrine of “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2). Chapter 52 of this manual addresses Doctrine and Covenants 132:34–66, which primarily discusses the principle of plural marriage.
While working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament, the Prophet Joseph Smith read about ancient patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob “having many wives and concubines” (D&C 132:1; see also Genesis 16:1–3; 25:6; 30:1–13; 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Kings 11:1–6). This prompted the Prophet to ask the Lord about this practice. Such marriages were not only contrary to the cultural and legal standards of Joseph Smith’s day but also to the Lord’s standard of marriage as taught by the prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon: “There shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none” (Jacob 2:27; see also D&C 49:15–16). The Lord expressly forbade plural marriage unless He commanded His people otherwise (see Jacob 2:30; D&C 132:34–35).
In response to the Prophet’s question, the Lord first provided an explanation of the principle of eternal marriage, known as “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (D&C 131:2; see D&C 132:3–33). Then, as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132:34, the Lord returned to Joseph Smith’s question about the ancient practice of plural marriage.
In ancient times, a concubine was a woman legally married to a man but who, because of the time and culture in which she lived, had a lower social status and fewer rights than a wife (see Genesis 25:5–6; 2 Samuel 5:13). Concubines were not part of plural marriage as practiced by the early Saints in this dispensation. (See Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 154–55.)
In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, the Lord revealed a law He called “a new and an everlasting covenant” (D&C 132:4) and told the Prophet Joseph Smith that he and all those who received this law must obey it. This newly revealed law is part of “the new and everlasting covenant” (D&C 132:6) restored in this dispensation of the fulness of times (see also D&C 66:2).
“The new and everlasting covenant ‘is the sum total of all gospel covenants and obligations’ [Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (1955), 1:156] given anciently [see Jeremiah 32:40; D&C 22:1] and again restored to the earth in these latter days. … Because the covenant has been restored in the last dispensation of time, it is ‘new,’ and because it spans all eternity [see D&C 132:7], it is ‘everlasting.’
“In the scriptures the Lord speaks of both ‘the’ new and everlasting covenant and ‘a’ new and everlasting covenant. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants 22:1, He refers to baptism as ‘a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.’ In Doctrine and Covenants 132:4, He likewise refers to eternal marriage as ‘a new and an everlasting covenant.’ When He speaks of ‘a’ new and everlasting covenant, He is speaking of one of the many covenants encompassed by His gospel.
“When the Lord speaks generally of ‘the’ new and everlasting covenant, He is speaking of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which embraces all ordinances and covenants necessary for the salvation and exaltation of mankind. Neither baptism nor eternal marriage is ‘the’ new and everlasting covenant; rather, they are each parts of the whole” (“The New and Everlasting Covenant,” Ensign, Dec. 2015, 42–43).
The Lord taught, “As pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fulness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fulness thereof must abide and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned” (D&C 132:6). To “be damned” is “the state of being stopped in one’s progress and denied access to the presence of God and His glory. Damnation exists in varying degrees. All who do not obtain the fulness of celestial exaltation will to some degree be limited in their progress and privileges, and they will be damned to that extent” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Damnation,” scriptures.lds.org). Those who choose not to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage are “damned” because they cannot receive exaltation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom and “cannot have an increase” (see D&C 131:2–4).
Elder Marcus B. Nash clarified that the doctrine of eternal marriage taught in Doctrine and Covenants 132:4 is not plural marriage: “Some people, including some Church members, inaccurately read Doctrine and Covenants 132:4 to mean that plural marriage is necessary for exaltation, leading them to believe that plural marriage is a necessary prerequisite for exaltation in the eternal realm. This, however, is not supported in the revelations. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131 and 132, the Lord introduced the law of eternal marriage by expressly referring to the sealing of one man and one woman (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:4–7, 15–25). By setting forth the law of eternal marriage in the context of a monogamous marriage, the Lord makes plain that the blessings of exaltation, extended to each man and each woman who worthily enters into the covenant of eternal marriage performed by proper priesthood authority, are independent of whether that marriage is plural or monogamous [see D&C 132:15–25]” (“The New and Everlasting Covenant,” 44).
In contrast to earthly contracts, which “have an end when men are dead” (D&C 132:7), covenants that we make with the Lord can be binding forever. A covenant is “an agreement between God and man, but they do not act as equals in the agreement. God gives the conditions for the covenant, and men agree to do what He asks them to do. God then promises men certain blessings for their obedience” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Covenant,” scriptures.lds.org). In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, the Lord gave the conditions necessary for any covenant to be binding in eternity: “All covenants … that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, … both as well for time and for all eternity, … through the medium of mine anointed whom I have appointed on the earth to hold this power … are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead” (D&C 132:7). Therefore, in order to be eternally binding, covenants must be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise,” made “for time and for all eternity,” and made under the direction of the person who holds and is authorized to use all priesthood keys (D&C 132:7).
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained what it means to be “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (D&C 132:7): “The Holy Spirit of Promise is the ratifying power of the Holy Ghost. When sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, an ordinance, vow, or covenant is binding on earth and in heaven. (See D&C 132:7.) Receiving this ‘stamp of approval’ from the Holy Ghost is the result of faithfulness, integrity, and steadfastness in honoring gospel covenants ‘in [the] process of time’ (Moses 7:21). However, this sealing can be forfeited through unrighteousness and transgression” (“Ye Must Be Born Again,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007, 22).
President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the person who holds the sealing power and “the keys of this priesthood” (D&C 132:7) is the President of the Church:
“The keys of the priesthood are the right to preside and direct the affairs of the Church within a jurisdiction. All priesthood keys are within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and no keys exist outside the Church on earth.
“The President of the Church is the only person on earth who has the right to exercise all the keys in their fulness. (See D&C 132:7.)” (“What Every Elder Should Know—and Every Sister as Well: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government,” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 8).
Although all of the Lord’s Apostles receive all the keys that pertain to the kingdom of God on earth, they exercise those keys only as directed by the President of the Church (see D&C 107:65–67, 91–92; 112:30–32). Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testified: “The keys are safely in the possession of prophets, seers, and revelators. They are conferred, delegated, and assigned to others in accordance with the Lord’s will, under the direction of the President of the Church” (“Where Are the Keys and Authority of the Priesthood?” Ensign or Liahona, May 2016, 32). Priesthood keys are delegated to presiding priesthood leaders, such as temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, and bishops, who in turn may authorize individuals to participate in the ordinances of salvation and enter the associated covenants.
The Lord provided two examples of marriage to illustrate the importance of complying with the conditions essential for covenants to be binding in the eternities. These examples illustrate what happens to those who choose not to comply with the Lord’s conditions for eternal marriage (see D&C 132:7). First, the Lord described a marriage in which a man and a woman covenant to be married for this life only (see D&C 132:15–17). Under such an agreement, when one of the spouses dies, the marriage ends. These spouses will “remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever” (see D&C 132:17). Next, the Lord described a marriage in which a man and a woman “make a covenant with [each other] for time and for all eternity,” but because “that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, … then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word” (D&C 132:18). This could refer to those who promise or are promised as a part of their marriage ceremony that they will be married forever but who have not been sealed by proper priesthood authority. This could also refer to those who receive the marriage sealing ordinance in the temple but who do not honor their covenants and thus are not sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“To qualify for eternal life, we must make an eternal and everlasting covenant with our Heavenly Father [see D&C 132:19]. This means that a temple marriage is not only between husband and wife; it embraces a partnership with God [see Matthew 19:6].
“… When a family is sealed in the temple, that family may become as eternal as the kingdom of God itself [see D&C 132:19–20].
“Such a reward requires more than a hopeful wish. On occasion, I read in a newspaper obituary of an expectation that a recent death has reunited that person with a deceased spouse, when, in fact, they did not choose the eternal option. Instead, they opted for a marriage that was valid only as long as they both should live. Heavenly Father had offered them a supernal gift, but they refused it. And in rejecting the gift, they rejected the Giver of the gift [see D&C 88:33]” (“Celestial Marriage,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 93).
When the Sadducees, who rejected “the doctrines of Resurrection and eternal life” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Sadducees,” scriptures.lds.org), asked Jesus Christ which man out of seven brothers who had all married the same woman would be married to her after the Resurrection, He responded, “In the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as angels of God in heaven” (see Matthew 22:23–30; see also Luke 20:27–35). Some have mistakenly interpreted this teaching to mean that marriage does not last beyond this life or that those who do not have the opportunity to marry in this life will never receive that blessing. However, the Lord’s words recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132:15–17 clarify that His teachings recorded in the New Testament refer to those who choose not to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage or abide by the conditions of the covenant. Those who choose not to enter into or honor the new and everlasting covenant of marriage will “remain separately and singly, without exaltation” (D&C 132:17; see also the commentary for D&C 131:3 in this chapter of the manual).
To receive the blessings of exaltation, Heavenly Father’s children must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage by being sealed in the temple. While temple marriage is an important beginning, it is not enough to receive exaltation. The Lord clarified that a man and a woman can only receive the blessings of exaltation if they “abide in [His] covenant” after entering into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage (D&C 132:19). To “abide in [His] covenant” implies accepting and living God’s law. Elder Cree-L Kofford of the Seventy explained that eternal marriage requires commitment and obedience to God’s laws:
“Being married in the Lord’s way does not necessarily mean there won’t be disagreements, arguments, moments of despair, and times of trial. Being sealed in the temple is a great start, but it only works as long as you’re both totally obedient to the covenants you make. …
“Your marriage, even though started in the sealing room of the temple, will still require dedicated effort. It will require understanding, love, forgiveness, patience, and every other virtue of which you can possibly think. There may be days when you cry, and there may be disagreements. But remember this—you are working and building a relationship that will live through eternity. That can and will occur so long as you both love your Heavenly Father and live His teachings” (“Marriage in the Lord’s Way, Part Two,” Ensign, July 1998, 22–23).
All human beings are children of Heavenly Parents and have within them the potential to become like God. The Bible contains several passages that refer to the potential of God’s children to become like Him (see Genesis 1:26–27; 3:22; Psalm 82:6; Matthew 5:48; John 10:33–34; Acts 17:29; Romans 8:16–17; 2 Peter 1:4; Revelation 3:21).
Through a series of revelations, the Prophet Joseph Smith learned that those who receive exaltation “are gods, even the sons of God” (D&C 76:58), will “be made equal with [the Lamb of God]” (see D&C 88:106–7), and will “receive of [the Father’s] fulness” (D&C 93:20). The revelation that the Prophet dictated on July 12, 1843, explained that eternal marriage is necessary in order to obtain exaltation and godhood. The Lord taught, “If a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, … then shall they be gods” (D&C 132:19–20).
In an April 1844 Church conference, “Joseph Smith spoke about the nature of God and the future of humankind to the Saints. … He used the occasion in part to reflect upon the death of a Church member named King Follett, who had died unexpectedly a month earlier,” and then taught that God established laws whereby His children could have the opportunity to advance like He has and to be exalted with Him (“Becoming Like God,” topics.lds.org; see also Joseph Smith, Discourse, Nauvoo, Illinois, Apr. 7 1844; in Times and Seasons, Aug. 15, 1844, pages 612–17, josephsmithpapers.org). It is only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and by keeping God’s laws, including entering into and keeping the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, that a person can attain exaltation.
One of the blessings of becoming like God is the ability to have children in the eternities. President Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901) described this blessing: “Think of the promises that are made to you in the beautiful and glorious ceremony that is used in the marriage covenant in the temple. When two Latter-day Saints are united together in marriage, promises are made to them concerning their offspring, that reach from eternity to eternity. They are promised that they shall have the power and the right to govern and control and administer salvation and exaltation and glory to their offspring worlds without end. And what offspring they do not have here, undoubtedly there will be opportunities to have them hereafter” (The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 138).
The Lord emphasized the importance of accepting His law of eternal marriage in order to be exalted when He said, “Strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it” (D&C 132:22). The phrase “continuation of the lives” means more than the promise of resurrection. It refers to the ability of those who obtain exaltation to create their own eternal families through bearing and rearing spirit children. They will receive the blessings of Abraham, which include having a posterity as numerous “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Genesis 22:17; see also D&C 132:30).
To inherit these blessings and live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ eternally, we must “receive [the Lord] in the world” and come to know God our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (see D&C 132:23–24). We come to know Them as we receive and abide by their laws, including the law of eternal marriage (see D&C 132:24–25). Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught: “To know God is to think what He thinks, to feel what he feels, to have the power he possesses, to comprehend the truths he understands, and to do what he does. Those who know God become like him, and have his kind of life, which is eternal life” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:762).
Those who choose not to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage cannot come to know God. The Lord said, “Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law” (D&C 132:25). Referring to Doctrine and Covenants 132:25, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “The term ‘deaths’ mentioned here has reference to the cutting off of all those who reject this eternal covenant of marriage and therefore they are denied the power of exaltation and the continuation of posterity. To be denied posterity and the family organization, leads to the ‘deaths,’ or the end of increase in the life to come” (Church History and Modern Revelation , 2:360).
In the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 132, the Lord included a warning to those who enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and whose covenants are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise. The Lord clarified that even if a person has entered into the covenant of eternal marriage and the Holy Spirit of Promise has sealed that covenant, that person is still accountable for his or her sins if “he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever” (D&C 132:26). President Joseph Fielding Smith taught the following regarding this verse: “The Lord has never promised any soul that he may be taken into exaltation without the spirit of repentance. While repentance is not stated in this passage, yet it is, and must be, implied” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:95).
The “innocent blood” mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 132:27 is the innocent blood of Jesus Christ and is what the phrase “and assent unto my death” refers to in that verse. This is a description of a person who has become a son of perdition. (See Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith , 232–33.)
Because Abraham willingly received and obeyed all the laws the Lord revealed to him, including eternal marriage, he obtained exaltation. Those who “do the works of Abraham” (D&C 132:32) by entering into and keeping the new and everlasting covenant will receive the same blessings Abraham received, including posterity in the next life.