Understanding the Justice and Mercy of the Degrees of Glory
Today in church we had a lesson on the doctrine of the “three degrees of glory”. A comment seemed to indicate a feeling that inheriting a particular lower degree of glory as your eternal home with no chance of progression was unjust.
The comments began around a particular verse that describes the inhabitants of the telestial kingdom as “…they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:82). I think a misunderstanding of the word “received” is where the difficulty arises. A few assumed that received meant that the individuals never got a chance to accept Christ because they never had access to the gospel.
However, the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary shows the first definition of receive as: “To take, as a thing offered or sent; to accept. He had the offer of a donation, but he would not receive it.” A great many of our words have changed in the way we use and understand them over time. That same verse in Doctrine and Covenants would probably read more clearly to our generation if it read like this: “…they who accepted not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:82). It isn’t that they never had the gospel, it is that they rejected it when it was offered.
Still on the subject, a scripture came to mind, it was D&C 88:32 which states:
“…nevertheless they shall return to their own place, to enjoy that which they were willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.”
Couldn’t be simpler of a concept to understand, it works the same way in the world we live in. I didn’t have too many opportunities at all for an Ivy-league education, so I attended a small community college and did the best I could. I could have furthered my education and obtained many degrees or even Ph.Ds perhaps, but I was only willing to receive my sole degree and decided it was enough to pursue the career of my choice which I have excelled and become very successful in.
I don’t regret anything, I enjoy what I was willing to receive. I was not willing to enjoy what I might have received and I’m still not willing to enjoy it! That doesn’t make me evil, I have my agency and pursue that which brings me, personally, the most joy.
It seems to be very similar for how things will shape up in the next life, we will inherit that which we are willing to receive. Think about what we covenant each week in the sacrament prayer:
“that they are willing to take upon them
- the name of thy Son,
- and always remember him,
- and keep his commandments which he hath given them,
that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” (Moroni 4:3)
If we go back to Doctrine and Covenants and look at D&C 88:33-41, we see an incredibly clear description of how law and the various kingdoms of heaven operate.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.
All kingdoms have a law given; And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.
We can understand now just how wrong Lucifer was to oppose God. As we can clearly see, the restored understanding of the plan of salvation illustrates just how many of God’s children will receive glory in his kingdom according to the laws they obeyed. According to Jesus Christ, there is only one unpardonable sin:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matt. 12:31-32)
He taught that all sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, even those that speak against himself. However, speaking against the Holy Ghost is unforgivable because it is pretty much like denying the sun at noon day.
This creates a little paradox for the simply heaven/hell dynamic. If someone has not committed the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost on the one hand, but they speak against Jesus Christ on the other hand, what happens to them? Do they inherit the same glory as those that accept Christ? If there are many kingdoms in Heaven, perhaps there is a place where some may enjoy the presence of the Spirit but not the presence of the Son or Father; this is basically what is taught in D&C 76 and 88.
The apostasy didn’t remove all truth. The priesthood was lost along with the understanding of certain doctrines and teachings but overall, Terrestrial law was preserved for almost 2000 years by the efforts of many faithful men and women. Most contemporary Christian traditions envision a heaven where they will be with Jesus Christ, there will be no marriage or posterity or any kind of eternal progression; this is essentially the Terrestrial kingdom.
It is the Celestial law that it appears was almost completely lost, though much “doctrinal debris” has survived. Essentially, the doctrines of the restoration contain everything that traditional creedal Christianity already has, along with the higher law that we believe was lost. It may be a little of an oversimplification but essentially, all of the doctrines associated with Celestial law is what separates the Latter-day Saints from the rest of the Christian world.
Christ asks us to come unto him, which all Christians seek to do, but then he is also the intercessor between us and the Father. Well what does the Father have to offer in addition to Christ’s salvation? Christ’s atonement saves man, it cleanses and purifies him and adopts him into the family and he receives the family name: Christ. Once you are a member of the family, a son or daughter of the king, you can not only enter the kingdom as an heir, but receive all that the Father has to offer if you are willing.
“And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (Rev. 1:5-6)
It is far beyond the scope of this article to detail the blessings of Celestial Glory and the purpose of temples in extending all of these blessings to us and back to those who never had the opportunity to receive them.
Jesus said his house had many mansions and only within the revelations of the Restoration do we find answers that reveal the true majesty of the justice and mercy of God.