Church History Lesson 19 (Topical Subject)
This week’s lesson is topical, meaning that it covers a subject rather than a sequential set of scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is closely tied to last week’s lesson on the building of temples and next week’s lesson on the kingdoms of Glory. It summarizes the broad sweep of our Father’s plan for the salvation of His children.
The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The great plan of salvation is a theme which ought to occupy our strict attention, and be regarded. as one of heaven’s best gifts to mankind.”1
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “The Lord has described his plan of redemption as the Plan of Happiness. . . . Conversationally, we reference this great design almost too casually at times; we even sketch its rude outlines on chalkboards and paper as if it were the floor plan for an addition to one’s house. However, when we really take time to ponder the Plan, it is breathtaking and overpowering!”2
This lesson treats the plan of salvation in three stages—premortal life, mortal life, and life after death. There are, of course, many details within each of these phases, and the teacher will not have time to cover them all. While this article is necessarily lengthy, care should be taken while teaching the lesson to focus on the overall sweep of the plan rather than its minute details.
One significant blessing of the Restoration is our increased knowledge of our premortal life. Few outside the Church know much about it. But understanding the premortal phase of our existence helps us understand our mortal life’s purpose and our part in God’s plan of salvation.
● We are sons and daughters of God, and we lived in a premortal existence as His spirit children (D&C 76:24; 93:29).
● Before the earth was created, Heavenly Father called a council in heaven and presented the plan of salvation to all His spirit children (2 Nephi 2:24–26; Alma 34:8–9; Abraham 3:24–25). This plan included all of the following principles:
— The Atonement of Jesus Christ
— The Creation of the earth
— The Fall
— Receiving a mortal body
— Time on earth during which we are tested
— Agency, or the power to choose good or evil
Be careful to note that this was our Father’s Plan. Contrary to the error that is sometimes taught in gospel classes, He did not ask for suggestions and listen to competing plans presented by Lucifer and Jehovah. This was our Father’s plan.
● Jehovah, the firstborn spirit child of our Heavenly Father, responded to the plan by offering to play the pivotal role of Redeemer in our Father’s plan (Moses 4:2). It was Lucifer, and Lucifer only, who offered an amendatory plan.
● The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the central principle in our Father’s plan (D&C 19:16–19; D&C 76:40–42). It makes it possible for the plan of salvation to work. Life was intended to be a test of our obedience while exercising complete agency of choice. It was also intended to be a laboratory in which we could learn to distinguish between good and evil. Naturally, in doing this, we will make mistakes and become unworthy to return to God’s presence. Thus, to give us the opportunity to learn, and yet to help us overcome in the end, the Father provided a Savior for us who, as a god Himself, would atone for our sins on conditions of repentance.
● Lucifer saw an opportunity for personal gain by rebelling against our Father’s plan of salvation (Moses 4:1, 3; D&C 29:36). He sought to gain a following by proposing an easier and fail-safe plan whereby we could not fail because he would personally control our lives and see to it that we did only what he commanded us to do. It proposing this, he sought to destroy our agency and gain Heavenly Father’s power as a new supreme ruler of heaven.
● Under Lucifer’s plan, he would neither be tested himself, nor allow us to be. He would hand salvation to us without effort—something for nothing—and this was very appealing to many of our Father’s children. We see the same spirit manifested in the world today as many seek to transfer responsibility for choice to others and obtain a guarantee of ease in return. And then, if things don’t go well, then that is God’s fault because He should never have allowed such a thing to happen. It is a beguiling philosophy. But it is Satan-inspired.
● Lucifer and his followers openly sought through a war of words to defeat our Father’s plan (D&C 29:36–38; D&C 76:25–27; Moses 4:4; Abraham 3:26). Thus Lucifer (“light bearer”) became Perdition (“fallen”) and Satan (“tempter”) and he and his followers were cast out of the Father’s presence and denied mortality.
● Job was told that the vast majority of us responded with great joy to our Father’s plan (Job 38:4–7).
● In the premortal world, Heavenly Father chose and foreordained noble spirits to carry forth His work on the earth (D&C 138:55–56; Abraham 3:22–23).—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 365. We were some of those noble spirits—a fact which, if understood, should greatly influence our behavior and decisions. It can also help us to cope with our trials and endure to the end in faithfulness.
By accepting our Heavenly Father’s plan in our premortal life, we kept our “first estate” and qualified to receive the opportunity to come to earth, which is our “second estate (Abraham 3:26). There were no “fence sitters” in this situation; we either supported our Father’s plan or we did not. The fact of mortal birth demonstrates that, in that premortal war in heaven, we were in support of the Father’s plan of salvation.
● Mortal life brings with it some challenges.
— Because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, the earth became a fallen state of existence—separated from God’s presence (D&C 29:40).
— We are subject to physical death and also to spiritual death, or separation from the presence of God (D&C 29:41–42; Alma 42:9, 14).
— Living in such a world, and subject to temptation and discouragement, we experience a “fall” of our own making, which separates us spiritually from God’s presence. For this, we cannot blame Adam Eve; this fall is of our own making.
— Nevertheless, the Fall is a necessary step in our eternal progress.
— We can be delivered from spiritual death by the Atonement (Alma 42:11–13, 15).
● Eve spoke eloquently of the blessings of the Fall: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient (Moses 5:11).”
● Some of the purposes of mortal life include:
— To receive a physical body. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom.”3
— To prove our faithfulness through obedience to God’s commandments (Abraham 3:25–26). This includes repenting of our sins and receiving the ordinances of salvation (Alma 12:24; D&C 29:42–43; Articles of Faith 1:3).
— To live in families and to seal children to their parents through temple ordinances (Moses 2:28; D&C 93:40; 131:1–4; 138:48).
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles proclaimed how central marriage and family life are to our salvation: “Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children…. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”4
● The argument and conflict of the war in heaven continues on earth (D&C 29:39; 2 Nephi 2:11–13). As part of our mortal life, Satan is allowed to tempt us. At first, he saw an opportunity to still win the battle if he could (1) get Adam to fall, and (2) get Jehovah to fail in His redemptive mission. He achieved the first objective, but not the second. And because of this, he now seeks only our misery and damnation, knowing that, in the end, he will fail.
● Satan’s temptations actually serve a purpose in our Father’s plan, which is to make agency possible as we are presented choices between good and evil (D&C 58:27–28; D&C 101:78; 2 Nephi 2:25–27). This must be particularly frustrating to one who sought to destroy that very plan. But God is wise and turns all things to our good as He seeks our immortality and eternal life.
The Spirit World
When we die, our spirits enter the spirit world (Alma 40:11–14, 21).5 We do not go into the immediate presence of the Lord. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “‘Taken home to God,’ simply means that their mortal existence has come to an end, and they have returned to the world of spirits, where they are assigned to a place according to their works with the just or with the unjust, there to await the resurrection.”6
● Our works during mortality influence our life in the postmortal spirit world (Alma 34:34; 40:11–14). Our spirits go to either “paradise” or “outer darkness,” which means “spirit prison.”
● The location of the spirit world. The spirits of the dead do not go to a far distant place; they are nearby. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “The spirit world is not far away. Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us.”7 Parley P. Pratt said, “(The spirit world) is here on the very planet where we were born; or in other words, the earth and other planets of like sphere, have their inward or spiritual spheres, as well as their outward, or temporal. The one is peopled by temporal tabernacles, and the other by spirits. A veil is drawn between the one sphere and the other, whereby all the objects in the spiritual sphere are rendered invisible to those in the temporal.”8
● Paradise is a state of happiness, rest, and peace where people can “rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow” (Alma 40:12). President Brigham Young said, “[On this earth] we are continually troubled with ills and ailments of various kinds. In the spirit world we are free from all this and enjoy life, glory, and intelligence; and we have the Father to speak to us, Jesus to speak to us, and angels to speak to us, and we shall enjoy the society of the just and the pure who are in the spirit world until the resurrection.”9
● Spirit Prison is a place of spiritual darkness and fearful anticipation, “looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them” (Alma 40:14). President Brigham Young said, “What is the condition of the wicked? They are in prison. Are they happy? No.”10 Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “So complete is the darkness prevailing in the minds of these spirits, so wholly has gospel light been shut out of their consciences, that they know little or nothing of the plan of salvation, and have little hope within themselves of advancement and progression through the saving grace of Christ.”11
● When righteous persons pass away, they do missionary work to the billions of souls who need to hear the gospel in the spirit prison part of the spirit world (D&C 138:29–34; 57–59).
● We help them receive all the blessings of the plan of salvation by doing family history work and performing priesthood ordinances for them in temples (D&C 128:6–8, 15).
The Fall brought physical and spiritual death into the world, but through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, all people will be resurrected, or “raised from this temporal death.” Our spirits will reunite with our bodies, and we will be able to “receive a fulness of joy” (Alma 11:42; D&C 88:14–16; D&C 93:33).
● The Resurrection is literal. This is no “spiritual resurrection” as many churches and pastors teach, but a real and literal reuniting of the body and the spirit. “The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul” said Alma to his son (v. 23). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “The resurrection is the creation of an immortal soul; it consists in the uniting or reuniting of body and spirit in immortality. . . . Resurrected beings have bodies of flesh and bones, tangible, corporeal bodies, bodies that occupy space, digest food, and have power, outwardly, to appear as mortal bodies do (Luke 24).”12
● The Resurrection is universal (Alma 40:1–2, 5). There is “a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead” means that every person who has ever lived on this earth will be resurrected (Alma 11:42–44). Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Nothing is more absolutely universal than the resurrection. Every living being will be resurrected. ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Cor. 15:22).”13
● The Resurrection is perfect (Alma 40:23). All things shall be “restored to their proper and perfect frame” meaning that our genetic code will be duplicated in our resurrected bodies. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “All men will come from the grave as they lie down, whether old or young; there will not be added unto their stature one cubit, neither taken from it; all will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in the bodies, and not blood.”14
President Joseph F. Smith said, “Deformity will be removed; defects will be eliminated, and men and women shall attain to the perfection of their spirits, to the perfection that God designed in the beginning.”15 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Death is a purifying process as far as the body is concerned. We have reason to believe that the appearance of old age will disappear and the body will be restored with the full vigor of manhood and womanhood.”16
Children will be resurrected as children, not as adults. President Joseph F. Smith said, “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.”17
● Alma taught that the resurrection of those who lived and died before the resurrection of Christ would occur “before the resurrection of those who die after the resurrection of Christ” (v. 19).
● The Sequence of the final resurrection (D&C 76:51–86):
—Those who inherit the celestial kingdom are resurrected first (vv. 51–70).
—Those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom are resurrected second (vv. 71–79).
—Those who inherit the telestial kingdom are resurrected last (vv. 81–86).
After we are resurrected, we will return to the presence of God to be judged according to our works (Alma 11:43–45; D&C 76:111). We will discuss the judgment in more detail in next week’s lesson, when we discuss our future rewards in the various kingdoms of glory.
The Law of Justice
Corianton was troubled by his father’s teachings that “the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.” He thought it unfair (Alma 42:1). This is a common attitude—that negative consequences or punishments are “mean” or “cruel” and that saying “I’m sorry” should be enough.
● Consequences are not “unfair;” they are essential. It was Satan who wanted to spare us of any consequences, and one-third of our Father’s children agreed with him. But our loving Father knew that there would be no growth without consequences. He gave us our agency, making us “subjects” that can control our destiny through our choices (Alma 42:6–7, 10).
● Justice requires a penalty for sin; otherwise, there would be no incentive to keep the commandments (Alma 42:16–21). Or, as Alma put it, “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment” (v. 16).
● Alma taught that the entire plan of redemption was designed to provide a way to satisfy the demands of justice and still make it possible for us to be forgiven of our mistakes (Alma 42:11–14, 22–23). Without an opportunity to repent “in this probationary state” then “mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice” (v. 13), and mercy cannot rob justice.
The Law of Mercy
God has provided a way for both mercy and justice to be served (Alma 42:15). God himself has paid the price of all sins “to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.”
President John Taylor said, “The Savior thus becomes master of the situation—the debt is paid, the redemption made, the covenant fulfilled, justice satisfied, the will of God done, and all power is now given into the hands of the Son of God—the power of the resurrection, the power of the redemption, the power of salvation, the power to enact laws for the carrying out and accomplishment of this design.”19
Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
“There are three parts to the plan. You are in the second or the middle part, the one in which you will be tested by temptation, by trials, perhaps by tragedy. . . .
“Remember this! The line ‘And they all lived happily ever after’ is never written into the second act [of a play]. That line belongs in the third act, when the mysteries are solved and everything is put right. . . .
“Until you have a broad perspective of the eternal nature of [the plan], you won’t make much sense out of the inequities in life. Some are born with so little and others with so much. Some are born in poverty, with handicaps, with pain, with suffering. Some experience premature death, even innocent children. There are the brutal, unforgiving forces of nature and the brutality of man to man. We have seen a lot of that recently.
“Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven.”20
1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith , 68.
2. “Thanks Be to God,” Ensign, July 1982, 51.
3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 181.
4. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102.
5. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 309-310.
6. Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols.  2:84–86.
7. God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, 22.
8. A Key to the Science of Theology/A Voice of Warning , 126–127.
9. Discourses of President Brigham Young, sel. Elder John A. Widtsoe , 380–381.
10. In Journal of Discourses, 3:95.
11. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. , 551–552.
12. Mormon Doctrine, 637.
13. Mormon Doctrine, 638.
14. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 199–200.
15. Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 23–24, 447–448, 623–624.
16. Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:187.
17. As quoted in Ensign, April 1977, 7.
18. The Mediation and Atonement , 171.
19. “The Play and the Plan” [satellite broadcast, 7 May 1995], 1-2.