Background and History to the Revelation
The following was recorded by Philo Dibble, who was present at the time the revelation was received.
The vision which is recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants was given at the house of “Father Johnson,” in Hyrum [sic], Ohio, and during the time that Joseph and Sidney were in the spirit and saw the heavens open, there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one during a part of the time—probably two-thirds of the time,—I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.
The events and conversation, while they were seeing what is written (and many things were seen and related that are not written,) I will relate as minutely as is necessary.
Joseph would, at intervals, say: “What do I see?” as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then
This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and
Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but
Not all the Saints immediately accepted the revelation. The following is Brigham’s experience:
After all, my traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was so directly contrary and opposed to my former education, I said, wait a little; I did not reject it, but I could not understand it. I then could feel what incorrect traditions had done for me. Suppose all that I have ever heard from my priest and parents—the way they taught me to read the Bible, had been true;—my understanding would be diametrically opposed to the doctrine revealed in the Vision. I used to think and pray, to read and think, until I knew, and fully understood it for myself, by the visions of the holy Spirit. At first, it actually came in contact with my own feelings, though I never could believe like the mass of the Christian world around me; but I did not know how nigh I believed as they did. I found, however, that I was so nigh, I could shake hands with them any time I wished. (Deseret News—Extra (Salt Lake City), 14 Sept. 1852, p. 52, as quoted in Robert J. Woodford, “The Historical Development of the Doctrine and Covenants,” unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Brigham Young University, 1974, p. 929.)
The revelation contained in D&C 76 is a series of visions on the following topics:
1. The Son of God (vv. 1-24)
2. Satan and His Followers (vv. 25-49)
Verse 21 in Joseph’s poetic version of the Vision:
I beheld round the throne, holy angels and hosts,
And sanctified beings from worlds that have been,
In holiness worshipping God and the Lamb,
Forever and ever, amen and amen! (Times and Seasons, 4:82)
Verse 23 in Joseph’s poetic version of the Vision:
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad,
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons,
By the very same truths, and the very same pow’rs. (Times and Seasons, 4:83)
The Vision of Satan and His Followers (vv. 25-49)
Making One’s “Calling and Damnation Sure”
v. 31, 35, 43 gives us the qualifications for making one’s “calling and damnation sure.”
- know God’s power (v. 31)
- have been mace partakers thereof (v. 31)
- have suffered themselves to be overcome (v. 31)
- deny the truth (v. 31)
- defy God’s power (v. 31)
- deny the Holy Spirit after having received it (v. 35)
- deny the Only Begotten Son (crucify him unto themselves) (v. 35)
- deny the Son after the Father has revealed him (v. 43)
The question is often asked, “Just how much does one have to know before one could become a son of perdition?” The following quotations from Joseph Smith and Spencer W. Kimball may help:
Joseph Smith taught, “All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy. This is the case with many apostates of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“When a man begins to be an enemy to this work, he hunts me, he seeks to kill me, and never ceases to thirst for my blood. He gets the spirit of the devil—the same spirit that they had who crucified the Lord of Life—the same spirit that sins against the Holy Ghost. You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358.)
President Kimball taught: “The sins unto death may be thought of as somewhat difficult to define and limit with precision. From the words of Joseph Smith quoted above we note that ‘. . . many apostates of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ will fall into this category. We cannot definitely identify them individually since it is impossible for us to know the extent of their knowledge, the depth of their enlightenment, and the sureness of their testimonies before their fall. . . .
“The sin against the Holy Ghost requires such knowledge that it is manifestly impossible for the rank and file to commit such a sin. Comparatively few Church members will commit murder wherein they shed innocent blood, and we hope only few will deny the Holy Ghost.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), pp. 122-23.)
How easy is to commit this sin? Not very. Brigham Young taught: “How much does it take to prepare a man, or woman, or any being, to become angels to the Devil, to suffer with him to all eternity? Just as much as it does to prepare a man to go into the celestial kingdom, into the presence of the Father and the Son, and to be made an heir to his Kingdom, and all his glory, and be crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives.” (JD 3:93)
We know in the
Requirements of the
- Receive the testimony of Jesus (v. 51)
- Believe on His name (we might say faith) (v. 51)
- Baptized (v. 51)
- Keep the commandments (v. 52)
- Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost (v. 52)
- Overcome by faith (v. 53)
- Sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (v. 53)
Nothing specific is said in this revelation about the necessity of eternal marriage in order to achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. That requirement is made clear in D&C 131:1-4 and D&C 132:15-25. Also, we learn from D&C 84:33-44 that faithfulness to the oath and covenant of the priesthood is a requirement. This is an excellent example of why we do not isolate verses and base the gospel on that isolation. When we read the scriptures, we must be inclusive with the doctrines and not exclusive.
D&C 76:54: Church of the Firstborn
“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who so devote themselves to righteousness that they receive the higher ordinances of exaltation become members of the Church of the Firstborn. Baptism is the gate to the Church itself, but celestial marriage is the gate to membership in the Church of the Firstborn, the inner circle of faithful saints who are heirs of exaltation and the fulness of the Father’s kingdom. (D &amp;amp;amp; C 76:54, 67, 71, 94, 102; 77:11; 78:21; 88:1-5; Heb. 12:23.) The Church of the Firstborn is made up of the sons of God, those who have been adopted into the family of the Lord, those who are destined to be joint-heirs with Christ in receiving all that the Father hath.” (Mormon Doctrine, 139.)
Joseph Fielding Smith has said: “To be ‘made equal in power, and in might, and in dominion,’ does not mean that all shall advance with equal rapidity and perfection, but that means are given to them as sons of God by which they may obtain this fulness.” (Church History and Modern Revelation, 2:58)
Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348)
Requirements for the
- Died without the law (v. 72)
- Visited by the Son in the Spirit World, received not the Gospel in the flesh but did in the Spirit World (v. 73-4) “they felt it by the Spirit” (See D&C 137)
- Honorable men of the earth (v. 75)
- They receive His glory, but not the fullness of His Glory (v. 76)
- Not valiant in the testimony of Jesus (v. 79)
The doctrine in D&C 137:
In these verses the principles upon which the doctrine of salvation for the dead rests are announced for the first time in this dispensation. They are:
1. first, that the doctrine applies only to those who “died without a knowledge” of the gospel;
2. second, that God must read the hearts of those concerned and affirm that had the gospel come to them in mortality they would have accepted it;
3. and third, that God must judge that not only would they have accepted the gospel but that they would have done so “with all their hearts,” meaning that they would have endured valiantly and faithfully to the end.
Requirements for the
- they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus (v. 82)
- they who deny not the Holy Spirit (v. 83)
- they who say they are some of one, and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses—but received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant (vv. 99-101)
- they who are liars and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie (v. 103; Rev. 22:15 adds murderers)
The Great Invitation (D&C 76:114-118)
Here is what Joseph Smith said: “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 305).
On another occasion he said: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 149).