The Sower, the Tree of Life and the Degrees of Glory
We have a parable and two visions to look at here. The parable of the sower is a familiar New Testament parable related by Jesus Christ to a multitude from a ship on the sea shore about the various types of ground certain seeds were cast on to. The first vision is an account in the Book of Mormon by a prophet named Lehi who sees a vision revolving around a tree of life and a description of the various types of people he observes. The second vision is an account from Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the degrees of glory that exist in the hereafter and a description of the characteristics of those inhabitants.
In the parable of the sower, we are taught by the Master about seeds cast into various situations and what the consequences were. The parable is found in Matthew 13 in the New Testament.
- Good ground: (Brought forth fruit; some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.)
Interpretation: To those that hear the word and understand it, they will all bear fruit but at varying degrees.
- The way side: (Fowls came and devoured them up)
Interpretation: When any one hears the word of the kingdom, but doesn’t understand it the adversary can come and steal away whatever was sown in his heart.
- Thorns: (The thorns sprung up, and choked them.)
Interpretation: This is one that hears the word, but the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word.
- Stony places: (There was not much earth so when they sprung up they were scorched by the sun because they had no root and they withered away.)
Interpretation: This is one that hears the word and receives it gladly but because ‘he hath not root in himself’, he endures for a while but is immediately offended when tribulation and persecution arise.
Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life
In Lehi’s vision there are multitudes of people pressing toward a tree of life along a path. The path to the tree is surrounded with many perils and temptations, some of which affect those on the path. The tree of life bears fruit that is the ultimate goal of those progressing toward it. This account is found in 1 Nephi: 8 in the Book of Mormon.
- Those who made it to the tree and ate the fruit: These caught hold of the end of the rod of iron without ever letting go (which is key) and made it to the tree where they fell down and partook of the tree’s fruit.
- Lost in the mist of darkness: A mist of darkness blinds those who had commenced on the path to the point that they wander off, lose their way and are lost (it seems to be that these people were on the path but were not holding onto the iron rod).
- Felt their way toward the great and spacious building: These ‘multitudes’ voluntarily left the path to feel their way towards the great and spacious building that they were so attracted to; many were drowned in the depths of the fountain, many were lost from wandering in strange roads and many other ‘multitudes’ entered the building and would then point the finger of scorn at those eating the fruit.
- Partook of the fruit but were ashamed: These people made it to the tree but after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, primarily because of those in the great and spacious building (which represents ‘the world and the wisdom thereof’) that were scoffing at them. These then fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.
The Vision of the Degrees of Glory
This unique vision is located in Doctrine & Covenants section 76 and details the inhabitants of the kingdom of God and those who will be cast out at the last day. The idea of degrees of glory in the kingdom of God is indicated in scripture
- Celestial Glory: Those who received the testimony of Jesus, believed, were baptized and received the Holy Spirit. These have part in the first resurrection and are just men made perfect through Jesus Christ. There are three ‘levels’ within this degree, comparable to the ‘hundredfold, sixtyfold and thirtyfold divisions in the parable of the sower.
- Terrestrial Glory: These are they who died without law, they were those who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom Jesus visited. These did not receive a testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. They are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men. They are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus.
- Telestial Glory: These did not receive the gospel of Christ or a testimony of Jesus but they do not deny the Holy Spirit. They are thrust down to hell only to be redeemed at the last resurrection which is after the Millennium.
- Perdition/Outer Darkness (No Glory): These have denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and have denied the Jesus Christ, having “crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame”.
Piecing it all together
In each of these accounts we have four distinct groups that have striking similarities. We can see the same story being told through different symbols and archetypes which is a very common thing for God to do as we can see in scripture. Below is an attempt to identify the parallels in each of these accounts. I realize that some may disagree with my conclusions which is fine, this isn’t meant to be an authoritative declaration of any kind. I have personally changed these around several times myself over the years as I have gained different insights, so feel free to shuffle!
- Celestial Glory, the good ground and those who make it to the tree and partake of the fruit
Each of these are those who are ‘redeemed’ in each case, each partake of fruit, bear fruit or gain a testimony of Christ. The parallels between the three levels of fruit from the seed on the good ground and divisions in the Celestial glory are obvious.
- Terrestrial Glory, the way side and those lost in the mist of darkness
Some intervening force, the birds, the mist of darkness or the craftiness of men steal away or blind from the truth. It seems that the truth never really ‘took root’ in these.
- The Telestial Glory, the thorns and those who felt their way towards the great and spacious building
Each of these are distracted by ‘the world’ at one level or another. The care of the world or riches choke or the lure of the great and spacious building pulls them off the path, these never had the gospel and were never attracted to it.
- Perdition, the Stony Places and those that partook of the fruit but were ashamed
This is the only case where each receives the fruit or word but then flat out rejects it. Reasons for the rejection are tribulation, persecution, scoffing and mocking. After weighing the truth in their possession with other seeming alternatives the truth or word is consciously discarded. Receiving and rejecting the truth seem to be the common parallel.
Each of these symbolic teachings in scripture can act as a mirror, reflecting back to us our own situation before God in our journey through life. It is important to find parallels as we search the Word of God and allow the Spirit reveal how we fit into what is presented. I believe that as each of these three examples are studied, we will find that there are intentionally inspired parallels relating to our mortal journey through life and our post-mortal destinies.
Updated: December 20, 2010