Plan of salvation/Sons of Perdition/Eventual fate

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PERSPECTIVES MEDIA QUESTIONS RESOURCES 2014 CONFERENCE

    What is the fate of the Sons of Perdition?

QUESTIONS


Today in our Sunday School class an individual expressed the belief that the sons of perdition would be given another chance to achieve celestial glory. Could you direct me to any specific reference on this topic?

DETAILED QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Different General Authorities have had different perspectives on the eventual fate of the sons of perdition. The ultimate issue lies in the nature of man and intelligences.

Joseph Smith

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Smith emphasized key doctrinal points regarding the eternal nature of the intelligence and the mind of man:

The soul the mind of man, whare did it come from? The learned says God made it in the beginning, but it is not so, I know better God has told me so. If you dont believe it, it wont make the truth without effect, God was a self exhisting being, man exhists upon the same principle. God made a tabernacle & put a spirit in it and it became a Human soul, man exhisted in spirit & mind coequal with God himself....[1]

In 1833, Joseph and the First Presidency also emphasized that teaching that the sons of perdition would be restored was not authorized:

Say to the brothers, Hulets, and to all others that the Lord never authorized them, to say, that the devil, nor his angels, nor the sons of perdition should ever be restored, for their state of destiny wled, save to those who are made partakers thereof: consequently those who teach this doctrine have not received it of the spirit of the Lord. Truly Brother Oliver declared it to be the doctrine of devils.[2]

Brigham Young and 19th century

After Joseph was killed, the complexities of the King Follett sermon led to a few differing interpretations regarding the soul which have lasted until today in the Church. On a few occasions Brigham Young discoursed on intelligence or spirit "recycling" (for lack of a better term), particularly regarding those sent to outer darkness, or at least those who forsake the gospel. It seems Brigham diverged from the teachings of Joseph Smith that the "mind" (or identity) is eternal — Brigham probably saw intelligence as a kind of substance that can be formed and reformed into different identities, rather than intelligences as eternal identities, or minds. For example, on 17 April 1853, he explained:

The Lord said to Jeremiah the Prophet, "Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it." The clay that marred in the potter's hands was thrown back into the unprepared portion, to be prepared over again. So it will be with every wicked man and woman, and every wicked nation, kingdom, and government upon earth, sooner or later; they will be thrown back to the native element from which they originated, to be worked over again, and be prepared to enjoy some sort of a kingdom.[3]

Technically "some sort of a kingdom" could indicate Brigham believed they could inherit a telestial or terrestrial, but never attain a celestial, kingdom. Brigham seems to have understood "intelligence," or the eternal part of man, as something that could be disorganized and reorganized. He was careful to point out he wasn't teaching an annihilation, but a recycling. On 17 August 1856 he stated:

But the truth is, you are not going to have a separate kingdom [from God when you are exalted]; I am not going to have a separate kingdom; it is not our prerogative to have it on this earth.
If you have a kingdom and a dominion here, it must be concentrated in the head; if we are ever prepared for an eternal exaltation, we must be concentrated in the head of the eternal Godhead. Why? Because everything else is opposed to that kingdom, and the heir of that kingdom will keep up the warfare with that opposing power until death is destroyed, and him that hath the power of it; not annihilated, but sent back to native element.[4]

20th century

Joseph F. Smith differed from Brigham's view, and explicitly mentioned his rejection of the idea of "dissolution":

Thus we see that the first death which came into the world is also the last death which shall be pronounced upon the sons of perdition. What is it? Banishment from the presence of God. Banishment from the power of God. Banishment from the glory of God. Banishment from the joys of heaven. Banishment from all progress. Banishment into outer darkness. Banishment into hell, which is as a lake of fire and brimstone, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, because the soul lives and is bound to live on, suffering the damnation of hell. This is what I understand spiritual death is. I do not understand it to be the separation of the body and the spirit again. I do not understand it to be the dissolution of the spirit into its [p.228] native element. I understand the second death to be the same as the first death-spiritual death; the same condition that Adam was in and that he had to be redeemed from by the blood of Christ, and by faith and obedience to the commands of God. By this means Adam was redeemed from the first death, and brought back again into the presence of God, back again into the favor of the Almighty, back again into the channel of eternal increase and progress. And if a man, after being placed in this condition, shall deny the Holy Ghost and Jesus Christ, putting Him again to open shame and crucifying Him afresh, then that first death which fell upon our first parents will again be pronounced upon that man, and it is not written that he shall ever be delivered from it. It is not written that there is any forgiveness for it, nor any redemption therefrom.[5]

More recent LDS leaders such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie have rejected the idea that those in perdition can ultimately be redeemed, which contradicts Brigham's speculations.[6] Elders Smith and McConkie were concerned that the view advanced by Brigham might "lull men into a state of carnal security,"[7] and thus hamper their mortal probation.

Scripture

Knowing that disagreement exists among the teachings of various LDS leaders, perhaps for the time being it is most prudent to rely upon canonized LDS scripture. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 76 maintains that no ultimate knowledge of the fate of the sons of perdition will be known to any but the partakers:

Wherefore, he saves all except them — they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment —
And the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows;
Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof. (DC 76:44-46)

Compare that with the following from an earlier revelation:

Wherefore I will say unto them — Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.
And now, behold, I say unto you, never at any time have I declared from mine own mouth that they should return, for where I am they cannot come, for they have no power.
But remember that all my judgments are not given unto men; and as the words have gone forth out of my mouth even so shall they be fulfilled, that the first shall be last, and that the last shall be first in all things whatsoever I have created by the word of my power, which is the power of my Spirit. (DC 29:29-30)

Summary

Brigham's speculations are interesting, but currently remain outside accepted or official LDS doctrine, and stand in contrast to other LDS leaders past and present. Perhaps it is significant that in the official Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, a segment from a sermon given August 26, 1860 is included as follows:

Jesus will bring forth, by his own redemption, every son and daughter of Adam, except the sons of perdition, who will be cast into hell....
The punishment of God is God-like [see D&C 19]. It endures forever, because there never will be a time when people ought not to be damned and there must always be a hell to send them to. How long the damned remain in hell, I know not, nor what degree of suffering they endure....
God's punishment is eternal, but that does not prove that a wicked person will remain eternally in a state of punishment.[8]

Perhaps Brigham viewed the fate of the sons of perdition much like the fate of those who inherit a telestial glory, who suffer for a time, as described in DC 76:81-84. Perhaps the best course for the time being is to recall that, ultimately, "all [God's] judgments are not given unto men" (DC 29:30).

The Church does not take an official position on this issue

This is one of many issues about which the Church has no official position. As President J. Reuben Clark taught under assignment from the First Presidency:

Here we must have in mind—must know—that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church....
When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not "moved upon by the Holy Ghost," unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.
Of these things we may have a confident assurance without chance for doubt or quibbling.
—J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "Church Leaders and the Scriptures," [original title "When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?"] Immortality and Eternal Life: Reflections from the Writings and Messages of President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Vol, 2, (1969-70): 221; address to Seminary and Institute Teachers, BYU (7 July 1954); reproduced in Church News (31 July 1954); also reprinted in Dialogue 12/2 (Summer 1979): 68–81.

Harold B. Lee was emphatic that only one person can speak for the Church:

All over the Church you're being asked this: "What does the Church think about this or that?" Have you ever heard anybody ask that question? "What does the Church think about the civil rights legislation?" "What do they think about the war?" "What do they think about drinking Coca-Cola or Sanka coffee?" Did you ever hear that? "What do they think about the Democratic Party or ticket or the Republican ticket?" Did you ever hear that? "How should we vote in this forthcoming election?" Now, with most all of those questions, if you answer them, you're going to be in trouble. Most all of them. Now, it's the smart man that will say, "There's only one man in this church that speaks for the Church, and I'm not that one man."
I think nothing could get you into deep water quicker than to answer people on these things, when they say, "What does the Church think?" and you want to be smart, so you try to answer what the Church's policy is. Well, you're not the one to make the policies for the Church. You just remember what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He said, "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Well now, as teachers of our youth, you're not supposed to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. On that subject you're expected to be an expert. You're expected to know your subject. You're expected to have a testimony. And in that you'll have great strength. If the President of the Church has not declared the position of the Church, then you shouldn't go shopping for the answer. (Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 445. GospeLink (requires subscrip.))

This was recently reiterated by the First Presidency (who now approves all statements published on the Church's official website):

Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church. With divine inspiration, the First Presidency...and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications. This doctrine resides in the four “standard works” of scripture (the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price), official declarations and proclamations, and the Articles of Faith. Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted.
—LDS Newsroom, "Approaching Mormon Doctrine," lds.org (4 May 2007) off-site]

In response to a letter "received at the office of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" in 1912, Charles W. Penrose of the First Presidency wrote:

Question 14: Do you believe that the President of the Church, when speaking to the Church in his official capacity is infallible?
Answer: We do not believe in the infallibility of man. When God reveals anything it is truth, and truth is infallible. No President of the Church has claimed infallibility. — Charles W. Penrose, "Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered," Improvement Era 15 no. 11 (September 1912).

Endnotes

This article was originally based on the 29 May 2008 blog post "Spirit Recycling?" off-site Due to the nature of a wiki project, it may have been edited or had additions made by other editors.

  1. [note] From Wilford Woodruff's journal account of the "King Follett discourse," a funeral sermon during the General Conference of the Church at Nauvoo, Illinois, on Sunday afternoon, April 7, 1844. Original spelling retained.
  2. [note]  Joseph Smith, Jr., Sidney Rigdon, F.G. Williams [First Presidency], "History of Joseph Smith (continued)," Times and Seasons 6 no. 3 (15 February 1845), 801. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) [The letter was dated 25 June 1833; see also History of the Church, 1:366. BYU Studies link]
  3. [note] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:124.
  4. [note] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:28.
  5. [note]  Joseph F. Smith, "The Second Death," in Brian H. Stuy (editor), Collected Discourses: Delivered by Wilford Woodruff, his two counselors, the twelve apostles, and others, 1868–1898, 5 vols., (Woodland Hills, Utah: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987–1989), 4:227–228. [Discourse given on 20 January 1895.]
  6. [note] See Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 31. ISBN 0884940411 GospeLink (requires subscrip.); Bruce R. McConkie, "Seven Deadly Heresies," 1 June 1980, BYU Marriot Center.
  7. [note] McConkie, "Seven Deadly Heresies."
  8. [note] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:154-155.; see also Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 288–89. off-site

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