Doctrine & Covenants/Church History
The Plan of Salvation
The plan of salvation is "one of heaven's best gifts to mankind."
Life after death.
A study of this lesson will help us understand the grand scope of the plan of
salvation and to encourage us to live according to our knowledge of the plan.
Scripture references for study:
Class Member Study Guide
Note: Underlined scripture references have been hyperlinked
to the LDS Scriptures at LDS.org and will open in a new window.
Lesson 19 Handout (PDF)
The Plan of Salvation
Joseph Smith: "All men know that they must
die. And it is important that we should understand the reasons and causes
of our exposure to the vicissitudes of life and death, and the designs
and purposes of God in our coming into the world, our sufferings here,
and our departure hence. What is the object of our coming into existence,
then dying and falling away, to be here no more? It is but reasonable to
suppose that God would reveal something in reference to the matter, and
it is a subject we ought to study more than any other. We ought to study
it day and night, for the world is ignorant in reference to their true
condition and relation. If we have any claim on our Heavenly Father for
anything, it is for knowledge on this important subject." (TPJS,
Throughout the ages men have wondered about life and their ultimate destiny.
study of religion reveals that an important feature of it is a longing
for value in life, a belief that life is not accidental and meaningless"
(World Religions - From Ancient History to the Present, p10). This
longing and desire have caused the creation of a multitude of religions
in an attempt to answer this hunger for answers about the questions of life. The true answers can only be revealed by God himself. Any attempt
by man to create or design answers only serves to lead men astray and away
When young Joseph Smith entered the grove of trees on that spring day in
1820, he was seeking answers to some of these questions. Little did
he know as he approached the grove that he would become the conduit for
providing answers to the vital questions about meaning in life and mankind's
ultimate destiny. How blessed we are to have modern revelation from God that gives us answers
to these age old questions.
Joseph Smith: "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." (TPJS, p68)
Indeed, the plan of salvation is "one of heaven's best gifts." If
our lives were to end at death, if our being is forever snuffed out, then
what purpose do we have for living? Several years ago, a friend
and I made a trip to California from Utah. As we passed through the
San Francisco area we were amazed at the amount of traffic. The freeways
were filled to capacity going both directions. That was a novelty
for two young men from Utah County in the early 70s. As we drove
along with the traffic we looked around and wondered what purpose all
these people were pursuing in life. Were they caught in a daily rite of survival,
just going to work to earn a living? Or did they have a greater purpose? How grateful we felt to know that we
have a purpose in life and that we had received teachings revealed from
Heavenly Father providing guidance
Let us consider in this lesson the latter-day revelations that have given us a
true and more expansive explanation of our purpose in life and our eternal destiny.
Who are we? Where did we come from? Did life begin at birth?
To fully understand the plan of salvation and our eternal destiny, we need
to understand who we really are. The restored gospel provides answers
to these important questions.
"I was in the beginning with the Father, and am
the Firstborn" (D&C 93:21).
In this revelation (given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in May 1833 at Kirtland,
Ohio) the Lord teaches us that he was present with Heavenly Father in the
Earlier in this revelation, the Lord makes reference to John's writing
when he says, "And he bore record, saying: I saw
his glory, that he was in the beginning, before the world was; Therefore,
in the beginning the Word was, for he was the Word, even the messenger
of salvation—The light and the Redeemer of the world; the Spirit of truth,
who came into the world, because the world was made by him, and in him
was the life of men and the light of men. The worlds were made by him;
men were made by him; all things were made by him, and through him, and
of him" (D&C 93:7-10).
It is clear from this revelation that Christ was not only present with
the Father, but that he was the Creator of this world and many other worlds. Thus, his existence did not begin when he was born in the flesh, but at
some date prior to the creation of the universe.
The Savior says that he was the Firstborn of the Father (v21). Clearly this does not refer to the Savior's mortal life, for he was the
Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. If Christ was the Firstborn
in some prior eon of time, we learn that:
There is some sort of birth process in which the pre-mortal Christ came
Jesus Christ is the offspring of God, thus being a separate and distinct
being, and not a manifestation of the Father in the flesh.
Since he was the Firstborn, there were others who followed Christ as offspring
from the Eternal Father.
"Man was also in the beginning with God"
When we place this verse in the context of this revelation, it is clear
that we, the dwellers of this world, were present with the Father in this
pre-mortal existence and that we are the younger siblings of Jesus Christ,
This eternal truth was also made clear when the Prophet received that great
revelation on the eternal destiny of man, "That
by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and
the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God"
We learn in Section 88 that "the spirit
and the body are the soul of man" (D&C 88:15). Since
we gained physical bodies at birth, we know that this pre-mortal birth
was the creation of our spirit. We are the spirit children of Heavenly
Father and part of a great family of spirits, of which Jesus Christ is our
This knowledge helps us understand Paul's reference to the Father of our
spirits: "Furthermore we have had fathers
of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not
much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?"
Our creation was not a random act, but an act of love. Our great
Eternal Father created us with purpose.
"For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring
to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). Alma
made reference to "the great plan of happiness"
(Alma 42:8). Our ultimate destiny, as designed by the Father, is
to gain immortality and dwell with our Heavenly Father in eternal happiness.
Paul wrote to the Romans, "And if children, then
heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer
with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Romans 8:17).
Eons ago, in the vast reaches of the universe, our Heavenly Father gathered
his spirit children together. He, himself, had traversed a long path
and had learned and progressed and found the ultimate meaning of eternal
existence. So great was his joy, that he desired to bestow that which
he had gained upon his children. Having trod a straight and narrow
path himself, he gained the great and marvelous position of eternal God
and Father of the universe.
In a great family home evening Father presented
to us, his spirit children, a plan in which we could partake in his great
inheritance. He presented a plan that was so incredible, that we
could become even as he and partake in the fullness of joy that was his. The eternal nature of things is such, that this inheritance required that
we follow a certain path. It would not be easy. It would take time, effort, learning, and sacrifice.
The plan he presented might be likened
to a climbing a great mountain. I grew up in Utah Valley, not
far from the foothills of Mount Timpanogos. As a child, I looked
up at the top of that great mountain and wondered what it would be like to climb
to the top. As a teenager I learned. I learned that it was
a long trail, requiring six to eight hours of hiking. The trail can
be arduous at times, even dangerous. It passes by waterfalls, fields
of flowers, alpine lakes and meadows, and along treacherous cliffs. It is a trail that most people in reasonable shape can climb. But
it can be hazardous. There have been deaths and serious injuries
on the mountain. However, if one stays on the straight and narrow path,
ultimately one can reach the summit and behold almost limitless vistas.
Our Eternal Father has provided a plan that
requires us to follow a certain straight and narrow path. If
we are careful and faithful and diligent and endure to the end, we can
reach the eternal summit and partake in Father's eternal inheritance. It can be a rocky and treacherous path. At times we are tempted to
stray or even turn around. Only those who stay on the straight and
narrow and endure to the end can achieve the victory.
There is one great difference between the mountain trail
and the eternal path. The eternal path takes us through mortality where we take
upon us a physical body that makes us subject to the natural tendencies of the
flesh. Said Paul, "For all have sinned, and
come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Along this eternal trail
we all come to a great chasm that we cannot cross on our own. The trail picks up on the other side of the chasm, but the chasm is so
deep and so wide that no man or woman can cross it without divine intervention.
As we gathered in the great pre-mortal Family
Home Evening, Father pointed out the hazards of the trail and that during
our mortal probation we would encounter this great chasm because of our
weakness as mortals. He explained to us that we could not cross this
chasm on our own.
A great chasm along the trail to eternity
In this great family meeting or council, options were offered as to how
we might bridge this great chasm that stands as an obstacle in obtaining
immortality and eternal life.
As we know, Lucifer, one of our spirit brothers stepped forward and offered
"Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son,
and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely
I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor" (Moses 4:1).
"Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy
the agency of man" (Moses 4:3).
Satan promised to "redeem all mankind" and bring them back to the
God. However, it could only be done by taking away our agency, thus
denying us the possibility of eternal
progression and becoming inheritors of all that the Father possessed. Our eternal progression would be forever blocked.
Because he rebelled, Lucifer was "cast down; And
he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies"
Many of our spirit brothers and sisters followed Satan when he was cast
out of the presence of God. "...and also
a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their
agency" (D&C 29:36).
"And there stood one among them that was like
unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for
there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will
make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith,
to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command
them; And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they
who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom
with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second
estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever."
"For it is expedient that an atonement should
be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must
be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea,
all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except
it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made. For it
is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not
a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for
it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal
sacrifice." (Alma 34:9-10)
The Firstborn, Jehovah, offered to give his life as a great and eternal
sacrifice to make it possible for us to cross the great chasm. This offering
made operational the plan of the Father. With this great
sacrifice it now became possible for us to be cleansed of the sins of mortality
and progress through the eternities.
"But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved
and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and
the glory be thine forever." (Moses 4:2).
As this great family council came to a conclusion, we expressed our joy
at this great and marvelous plan.
"...all the sons of God shouted for joy"
As preparations were made for mortality, many were given specific
missions at different times during the history of the earth.
Joseph F. Smith, in describing his vision of the dead, made this statement:
observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen
in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were
born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world
of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord
to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men."
It may well be that many of us were prepared and foreordained to perform
certain tasks during our time on this earth.
Brigham Young: "From the spirit and tenor
the ancient Scriptures and revelations which we have received, it is plainly
set forth that there are men preappointed to perform certain works in their
lifetime, and bring to pass certain ends and purposes in the economy of
heaven." (Discourses of Brigham Young, p55)
Joseph Smith: "Every man who has a calling
to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose
in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I
was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. It is the testimony
that I want that I am God's servant, and this people His people."
Mortal life, this life we are now living, gains great meaning when we understand
our eternal origins. A great eternal plan was laid out for us and
a knowledge that a redeemer would intervene in our behalf help us
bridge the great chasm.
The purpose of this life is no different from either our preexistent state
or our post earthly state. As previously noted, Alma referred to
the "the great plan of happiness" (Alma
42:8). Though we pass through the challenges and vicissitudes of
mortality, we are just taking another step in the great plan of our Heavenly
Joseph Smith: "Happiness is the object and
design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the
path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness,
holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all
the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know
all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have
already received." (TPJS, p255)
As noted by the Prophet, happiness is the "object and design" of our existence. Our mortal lives are a part of our
eternal existence and thus we are entitled to
pursue the path of happiness. The Prophet then goes on to describe
Keeping all the commandments of God.
This is the path that leads to happiness. As we strive to do these
things, though we may be in the midst of trial, we will have the peace
that leads to happiness.
I would like to refer again to my experiences on Mt.
Timpanogos. Though Mt. Timpanogos is far from being the most
difficult hike in the world, it is still a challenge and requires preparation. Appropriate clothing and shoes are necessary. Depending on the season,
special equipment may be necessary to cross ice fields. One should
always pack water and food. Preparation for the hike up the mountain
might be likened to our pre-mortal existence. In this pre-existence,
we did things that prepared us for mortality and the continued pursuit
of eternal life.
The hike itself might be likened to our mortal probation. I have climbed Timpanogos several times. In most instances, I started the climb early in the morning, prior to daylight. If one
is to reach the summit, it is essential to stay on the path. Any
deviation from the path delays one in reaching the ultimate goal, the summit
(eternal happiness). I recall one time when climbing the mountain
with a group of friends very early in the morning. We were not careful
and ended up losing the trail and taking a detour that cost us several
hours. Additionally, by deviating from the path, we put ourselves
through more challenges and difficulties than were necessary.
The Prophet makes reference to "keeping all the
commandments of God". He then continues by saying that we cannot
keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot know
them all unless we are obedient to the ones we know. When we deviated
from the mountain trail, we were not obedient to the path. We were
led astray and could not continue our climb to the summit until we once
again found the path (repentance and obedience). What could have
kept us from deviating from the path? A flashlight. It was
a dark night without a moon. We needed light. We find light
in this life by living worthy of the the Holy Ghost, by communing with
the Father in prayer, by studying the scriptures, and by continued obedience. These are the things that keep us on the path to happiness.
Like life, the mountain path can have its challenges. When we stray from the path, we suffer the consequences. Negative
things happen in life over which we have no control. I have had a
variety of experiences on the mountain that were challenging. On
one hike, I slipped and hurt my knee. It was severely bruised and
made the remainder of the hike painful. Another time, my brother
and I were hiking to the 10,000 foot level to spend a few days camping. While crossing a snow field, my brother slipped and slid down the slope.
I called and called, but received no response. I removed my pack
and carefully climbed down to the bottom of the ice field. I was
worried that my brother was severely injured. Fortunately,
he was only slightly bruised. Another time, I got caught in a freezing
summer storm. That is not fun when hiking in jeans, a T-shirt,
and a light sweater.
Happiness is not reserved for the next life. We can partake
of it in this life. The joy of the climb was not reserved
for the summit. Over the years, I have enjoyed many wonderful moments during
the climb. The waterfalls. The fields of flowers. The
sunrise. The beauty of the mountain standing against a blue sky. A morning when the mountain seemed to be floating above the clouds. Catching a second wind. And
sharing the experience with family and friends.
Happiness is the "object and design" of our existence. But true happiness can only be obtained and maintained by following the
path as outlined by the Prophet.
On the trail to the summit of Mt. Timpanogos
Mortality is necessary in order to continue our eternal progression. It is necessary for us to obtain a physical body to house our eternal spirit.
According to the Prophet Joseph Smith, "the great
principle of happiness consists in having a body" (TPJS, p255). We are restricted in our happiness without a physical body, and can only
receive a fulness of happiness or joy after the resurrection when the spirit
and the physical body are inseparably connected.
We are blessed with knowledge of our eternal nature, reaching back to our
pre-existent state. Because of that knowledge, we know that Satan
is working "to deceive and to blind men, and to
lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my
voice" (Moses 4:4). Having rebelled against the plan of
the Father, Satan is doing all that he can to steer us away from the path. All of us have slipped at one time or another and come to that great chasm
in the path that we cannot cross on our own. The great and eternal
sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes it possible for us to bridge the chasm
if we obey the voice of the Lord by repenting of our sins and striving
to be obedient to the principles and ordinances of the gospel.
Much of our joy in this life comes through the sacred institution of marriage
and the creation of a family. To continue on the path of happiness,
couples and families must be sealed together through the ordinances of
The Proclamation on the Family states that "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
HOW DOES YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE PURPOSES OF MORTALITY MAKE A DIFFERENCE
IN YOUR LIFE? HOW DOES YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THESE PURPOSES INFLUENCE THE
DECISIONS YOU MAKE?
Life After Death
Alma provides one of the clearest descriptions of what happens to us as
we make the transition from mortality to eternal life.
"Now, concerning the state of the soul between
death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an
angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this
mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil,
are taken home to that God who gave them life.
"And then shall it come
to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into
a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state
of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care,
"And then shall it come
to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold,
they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they
chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did
enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be
cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and
gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive
by the will of the devil.
"Now this is the state
of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful
looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they
remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time
of their resurrection." (Alma 40:11-14)
As Alma states, this is a place of temporary residence where our spirits
reside between the time of death and the resurrection. We might call
it our third estate. Like the two previous estates, this continues
to be a time of preparation. The righteous are able to enjoy a time
of happiness, peace, and rest from earthly cares and sorrows. Those
who have not heard the gospel in this life will have an opportunity hear
the gospel and accept or reject it. The righteous will be involved
in this great missionary effort.
Joseph F. Smith: "And as I wondered, my
eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that
the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had
rejected the truth, to teach them; But behold, from among the righteous,
he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and
authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the
gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and
thus was the gospel preached to the dead." (D&C 138:29-30)
When all have had the opportunity to hear and accept or reject the gospel,
then the general resurrection will commence.
"Now, there is a death which is called a temporal
death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death,
that all shall be raised from this temporal death.
"The spirit and the body
shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall
be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we
shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and
have a bright recollection of all our guilt.
"Now, this restoration
shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and
female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so
much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored
to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought
and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father,
and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to
their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil." (Alma
As Alma states, when everything has been "restored to its perfect frame"
we will be judged according to our works.
"For they shall be judged according to their works,
and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion,
in the mansions which are prepared" (D&C 76:111).
Modern revelation has provided us with revelation that clarifies the eternal
state of man following the resurrection and judgment. We will discuss
that further in next week's lesson.
We are eternal beings. Our existence spans the eternities from the
beginning of time to all eternity. In pursuit of the eternal plan
of happiness, we pass through various states of existence. The resurrection
of Jesus Christ makes it possible to receive a fulness of joy that is only
possible through an eternal union of spirit and body. The great and
wonderful Atonement bridges the chasm from spiritual death to eternal life
with Heavenly Father for those who repent of their sins and obediently
follow the gospel path.
As previously noted in this lesson, I am quite familiar with Mount Timpanogos. After graduating from BYU, my wife and I moved away from Utah Valley to the Pacific Northwest. Over
the years I enjoyed hiking experiences
in the Cascade Mountains of both Oregon and Washington. Not being
as familiar with the Cascades and its trails, I had to rely on others
familiar with the trails, maps, and trail markers in order to reach my
destination. If I had begun hiking up one of the Cascade trails without
one of those three guides, I might have become lost or be unable to find
We are blessed in our day, as members of the Church to have trail markers,
maps, and trail guides to lead us to our ultimate destiny, eternal life.
The Map: The Holy Scriptures. As the lesson has clearly pointed
out, we have been blessed with additional scripture that provides us with
a unique knowledge of the plan of salvation. Throughout the world
many religions teach of life after death, but there is much confusion. The Book of Mormon,
the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants
reveal a great deal about our eternal destiny and the path that we must
Trail Markers: Prophets, Apostles, and other church leaders.
They stand as sentinels at critical points along the path. They point us in
the right direction. They warn us of paths that lead away from
The Trail Guide: If we live worthy, we are blessed to have the constant
companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide us as we wend our way up the path
to the summit of the mountain, eternal life with God.
Elder Sylvester Q. Cannon: "We are eternal
beings spiritually. We have received through the blessing of the Lord the
opportunity to come here upon the earth in mortality, to live and to accomplish
our mission; and after we leave here we will go into the spirit world.
The day will come when we will be resurrected and become immortal beings
and will have to account for our deeds. We will receive the blessings that
we merit according to our deeds here in the flesh and our preparations
for immortality." (CR, April 1941)
For more on this topic visit
Becoming Like God, and
Man Was Also in the Beginning with God, at LDS.org.
Gospel Doctrine Notebook
Record your thoughts on the great plan of salvation. How does
this belief give you purpose in life? How can you be more diligent in following
the guides that have been given us?
Resources Used In This Lesson
Conference Reports (CR).
Discourses of Brigham Young.
History of the Church (HC).
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS).
World Religions - From Ancient History to the Present edited by Geoffrey
Gospel Doctrine Class
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Changes last made on:
13 March 2017