Teachings of Presidents
Chapter 17: The Great Plan of Life and Salvation

“Chapter 17: The Great Plan of Life and Salvation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (2011), 146–54

“Chapter 17,” Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 146–54

Chapter 17

The Great Plan of Life and Salvation

Our Father in Heaven has provided a plan for His sons and daughters to become like Jesus Christ and to enjoy exaltation.

From the Life of Joseph F. Smith

In 1874 shortly after his arrival in England to preside over the European Mission and on the occasion of his 36th birthday, Joseph F. Smith recorded in his diary:

“The day was cold, bleak and dreary, a fit and proper anniversary of the dark and trying day of my birth; When my father [Hyrum] and his brother [Joseph] were confined in a dungeon for the gospel’s sake and the saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri by a merciless mob. The bright sunshine of my soul has never thoroughly dispelled the darkening shadows cast upon it by the lowering gloom of that eventful period.

“Yet the merciful hand of God and his kindliest providences have ever been extended visibly toward me, even from my childhood, and my days grow better and better thru humility and the pursuit of wisdom and happiness in the kingdom of God; The objects of my life becoming more apparent as time advances and experience grows. Those objects being the proclamation of the gospel, or the establishment of the kingdom of God on the earth; The salvation of souls, and most important of which to me—that of myself and family.”1

With knowledge and conviction, President Joseph F. Smith taught and testified of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan of salvation. “There is nothing under the heavens,” he declared, “of so much importance to me or to the children of men as the great plan of life and salvation.”2

Teachings of Joseph F. Smith

Our Heavenly Father designed the plan of salvation so that we can be exalted.

The Lord Almighty lives; he made the heavens and the earth, and the fountains of water; and we are his children, his offspring, and we are not here by chance. The Lord designed our coming, and the object of our being. He designs that we shall accomplish our mission, to become conformed to the likeness and image of Jesus Christ, that, like him, we may be without sin unto salvation, like him we may be filled with pure intelligence, and like him we may be exalted to the right hand of the Father, to sit upon thrones and have dominion and power in the sphere in which we shall be called to act. I testify to this doctrine, for the Lord has made me to know and feel the truth of it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet.3

Man will be held responsible in the life to come for the deeds that he has done in this life, and will have to answer for the stewardships entrusted to his care here, before the Judge of the quick and the dead, the Father of our spirits, and of our Lord and Master. This is the design of God, a part of his great purpose. We are not here to live a few months or years, to eat, drink and sleep, then to die, pass away and perish. The Lord Almighty never designed man to be so ephemeral, useless and imperfect as this.4

Had we not known before we came [to earth] the necessity of our coming, the importance of obtaining tabernacles, the glory to be achieved in posterity, the grand object to be attained by being tried and tested—weighed in the balance, in the exercise of the divine attributes, god-like powers and free agency with which we are endowed; whereby, after descending below all things, Christ-like, we might ascend above all things [see D&C 88:6], and become like our Father, Mother and Elder Brother, Almighty and Eternal!—we never would have come.5

There is nothing under the heavens of so much importance to me or to the children of men as the great plan of life and salvation which was devised in the heavens in the beginning, and which has been handed down from period to period through the inspiration of holy men called of God until the day of the coming of the Son of Man, for this gospel and this plan of salvation was revealed to our first parents. The angel of God carried to them the plan of redemption, and of salvation from death and sin that has been revealed from time to time by divine authority to the children of men, and it has undergone no change. There was nothing in it, in the beginning, that was superfluous or unnecessary; nothing in it that could be dispensed with; it was a complete plan devised in the beginning by the wisdom of the Father and the holy ones for the redemption of the human race and for their salvation and exaltation in the presence of God. … Through all the generations of time, the same gospel, the same plan of life and salvation, the same ordinances, burial with Christ, remembrance of the great sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the world and for man’s redemption, have been handed down from time to time, from the time of the creation.6

It is the plan of life that the Almighty has restored to man in the latter days for the salvation of the souls of men, not only in the world to come, but in our present life, for the Lord has instituted his work that his people may enjoy the blessings of this life to the utmost; that they should be saved in this present life, as well as in the life to come, that they should lay the foundation here for immunity from sin and all its effects and consequences, that they may obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of God beyond this vale of tears. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation.7

God did speak to His servant Joseph Smith, and did reveal Himself unto him; not only the Father, but the Son also. They did reveal themselves unto him, and they gave him commandments and their law, their Gospel and their plan of life eternal. … This plan contemplated not only salvation from sin and from the effects of sin here and hereafter, but exaltation, glory, power and dominion, that will come to the children of God through their obedience to the laws and principles of the gospel.8

We came to earth to prepare ourselves for eternal life.

The object of our earthly existence is that we may have a fulness of joy, and that we may become the sons and daughters of God, in the fullest sense of the word, being heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ [see Romans 8:14–17], to be kings and priests unto God, to inherit glory, dominion, exaltation, thrones and every power and attribute developed and possessed by our Heavenly Father. This is the object of our being on this earth. In order to attain unto this exalted position, it is necessary that we go through this mortal experience, or probation, by which we may prove ourselves worthy, through the aid of our elder brother Jesus.9

The object of our being here is to do the will of the Father as it is done in heaven, to work righteousness in the earth, to subdue wickedness and put it under our feet, to conquer sin and the adversary of our souls, to rise above the imperfections and weaknesses of poor, fallen humanity, by the inspiration of Almighty God and his power made manifest, and thus become indeed the saints and servants of the Lord in the earth.10

We shall all die. But is that the end of our being? If we had an existence before we came here we certainly shall continue that existence when we leave here. The spirit will continue to exist as it did before, with the additional advantages derived from having passed through this probation. It is absolutely necessary that we should come to the earth and take upon us tabernacles; because if we did not have tabernacles we could not be like God, or like Jesus Christ. … We are destined to come forth out of the grave as Jesus did, and to obtain immortal bodies as he did—that is, that our tabernacles are to become immortal as his became immortal, that the spirit and the body may be joined together and become one living being, indivisible, inseparable, eternal.11

I am looking forward to the time when I shall have passed away from this stage of existence, there I shall be permitted to enjoy more fully every gift and blessing that have contributed to my happiness in this world; everything. I do not believe that there is one thing that was designed or intended to give me joy or make me happy, that I shall be denied here after, provided I continue faithful; otherwise my joy cannot be full. … I refer to the happiness experienced in seeking to do the will of God on earth as it is done in heaven. We expect to have our wives and husbands in eternity. We expect our children will acknowledge us as their fathers and mothers in eternity. I expect this; I look for nothing else. Without it, I could not be happy.12

The principles of the gospel which the Lord has revealed in these days will lead us to eternal life. This is what we are after, what we were created for, what the earth was created for. The reason that we are here is that we may overcome every folly and prepare ourselves for eternal life in the future. …

Then let us be faithful and humble; let us live the religion of Christ, put away our follies and sins and the weaknesses of the flesh, and cleave to God and his truth with undivided hearts, and with full determination to fight the good fight of faith and continue steadfast to the end.13

One of the main purposes of our existence is to conform to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.

I believe that our Savior is the ever-living example to all flesh. … The works he did, we are commanded to do. We are enjoined to follow him, as he followed his Head; that where he is, we may be also; and being with him, may be like him.14

The important consideration is not how long we can live but how well we can learn the lesson of life, and discharge our duties and obligations to God and to one another. One of the main purposes of our existence is that we might conform to the image and likeness of him who sojourned in the flesh without blemish—immaculate, pure, and spotless! Christ came not only to atone for the sins of the world, but to set an example before all man and to establish the standard of God’s perfection, of God’s law, and of obedience to the Father.15

No doctrine was ever as perfect as that of Jesus. … He has revealed to us the way of salvation, from the beginning, and through all the meanderings of this life to never-ending exaltation and glory in his kingdom, and to a newness of life therein. …

Happy is the man, indeed, who can receive this soul-satisfying testimony, and be at rest, and seek for no other road to peace than by the doctrines of Jesus Christ. His gospel teaches us to love our fellowmen, to do to others as we would have others do to us, to be just, to be merciful, to be forgiving, and to perform every good act calculated to enlarge the soul of man. …

… “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” [Matthew 11:28] is his call to all the sons and daughters of men.16

Christ is the great example for all mankind, and I believe that mankind were as much foreordained to become like him, as that he was foreordained to be the Redeemer of man. … We are … in the form of God, physically, and may become like him spiritually, and like him in the possession of knowledge, intelligence, wisdom and power.

The grand object of our coming to this earth is that we may become like Christ, for if we are not like him, we cannot become the sons of God, and be joint heirs with Christ.17

Let us follow the Son of God. Make him our exemplar, and our guide. Imitate him. Do his work. Become like unto him, as far as it lies within our powers to become like him that was perfect and without sin.18

We have hope of eternal life only through Christ and by our obedience to His gospel.

No other name, under heaven, is given, but that of Jesus Christ, by which you can be saved or exalted in the Kingdom of God.19

The man who passes through this probation, and is faithful, being redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ, through the ordinances of the gospel, and attains to exaltation in the kingdom of God, is not less but greater than the angels.20

We have entered into the bond of that new and everlasting covenant agreeing that we would obey the commandments of God in all things whatsoever he shall command us. This is an everlasting covenant even unto the end of our days. … We shall never see the day in time nor in eternity, when it will not be obligatory, and when it will not be a pleasure as well as a duty for us, as his children, to obey all the commandments of the Lord throughout the endless ages of eternity. It is upon this principle that we keep in touch with God, and remain in harmony with his purposes. It is only in this way that we can consummate our mission, and obtain our crown and the gift of eternal lives, which is the greatest gift of God. Can you imagine any other way?21

There is no salvation but in the way God has pointed out. There is no hope of everlasting life but through obedience to the law that has been affixed by the Father of life, “with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” [James 1:17]; and there is no other way by which we may obtain that light and exaltation. Those matters are beyond peradventure, beyond all doubt in my mind; I know them to be true.22

Every blessing, privilege, glory, or exaltation is obtained only through obedience to the law upon which the same is promised. If we will abide the law, we shall receive the reward; but we can receive it on no other ground.23

Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fulness [see D&C 93:11–13]. Is not this to be so with the children of men? Is any man perfect? Has any man received a fulness at once? Have we reached a point wherein we may receive the fulness of God, of his glory, and his intelligence? No; and yet, if Jesus, the Son of God, and the Father of the heavens and the earth in which we dwell, received not a fulness at the first, but increased in faith, knowledge, understanding and grace until he received a fulness, is it not possible for all men who are born of women to receive little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept, until they shall receive a fulness, as he has received a fulness, and be exalted with him in the presence of the Father?24

I am living for my own salvation now and hereafter; next to my own comes that of my children and their beloved and precious mothers. Nothing that I can do in the world that will secure this glorious end can be called a sacrifice. It is a labor of love, an aim for life eternal and the fulness of joy. “He that hath eternal life is rich.” [D&C 6:7.]25

Suggestions for Study

  • Who is the author of the plan of salvation? How can this knowledge help us during our mortal lives?

  • What are the purposes of our life here on earth? How does your life reflect that knowledge?

  • Why is the same plan of salvation revealed by the Lord in every dispensation? How does the gospel plan work for our salvation “in this present life, as well as in the life to come”?

  • Why was it necessary for each of us to receive a body? (See also D&C 93:33–34.) How can we use our bodies to accomplish God’s will?

  • In what ways is the Savior our “great example”? What are we to do to become conformed to the “image and likeness” of Christ and eventually become like Him?

  • Why is keeping the commandments of God obligatory in time and eternity? How can obedience to the Lord be a “pleasure as well as a duty”?

  • What does it mean to you to receive “grace for grace”? (See also D&C 93:12.) In what ways have you grown more like the Savior “little by little, line upon line, precept upon precept”?

  • Why is nothing a sacrifice if it is done for our own salvation or the salvation of others?


  1. Joseph F. Smith’s diary, 13 Nov. 1874, quoted in Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith: Patriarch and Preacher, Prophet of God (1984), 98.

  2. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 11.

  3. Gospel Doctrine, 6.

  4. Gospel Doctrine, 21–22.

  5. Gospel Doctrine, 13.

  6. Gospel Doctrine, 11.

  7. Gospel Doctrine, 72–73.

  8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1909, 3.

  9. Gospel Doctrine, 439.

  10. Gospel Doctrine, 249.

  11. Gospel Doctrine, 32–33.

  12. Gospel Doctrine, 65.

  13. Gospel Doctrine, 85.

  14. Gospel Doctrine, 13.

  15. Gospel Doctrine, 270.

  16. Gospel Doctrine, 127–28.

  17. Gospel Doctrine, 18.

  18. Gospel Doctrine, 180.

  19. Gospel Doctrine, 3.

  20. Gospel Doctrine, 18.

  21. Gospel Doctrine, 210.

  22. Gospel Doctrine, 503.

  23. Gospel Doctrine, 441.

  24. Gospel Doctrine, 68.

  25. Joseph F. Smith to one of his sons, 1907, quoted in Life of Joseph F. Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (1938), 454.