The Gospel of Hope
This article was written my by Dad and circulated to my family. I thought that I would post it here for others to benefit by it.
In 1965 as an LDS missionary serving in San Antonio Texas, my companion and I tracted out a sincere young couple serving as missionaries for a major protestant church. We told them of our message and they shared theirs and before we left I asked if I could ask them a question and they agreed. I then posed a hypothetical situation and asked what they believed the outcome would be.
I made up a story about a man named Wong Shu who lived in a remote farming region of China. Wong knew nothing of God or Christianity…never heard or uttered the name of Jesus Christ, but spent his life working his land to provide for his wife and children. He was kind, honest, and hard working. One day a storm arose as Wong Shu was walking the familiar path to his simple home and he was struck by a lightening bolt and killed. “What”, I asked, “do you believe will be the eternal state of Wong Shu?”
There was a thoughtful pause…then the answer, “He cannot be saved since he never accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour.” I was deeply troubled by that response; incredulous that they believed a loving and merciful God could be so unfair.
In 2015 I was in Ogden, Utah meeting with a devout Christian contractor and an energetic young pastor interested in building a church building. I was impressed by the sincerity and devotion of both men. The builder had lots of experience with the LDS Church and made some very favorable compliments. After our meeting I took them both to lunch where the cordial discussion turned to religion. As lunch drew to a close I asked them if I might pose a situation and get their honest opinion. When they agreed, I respectfully laid out the story of my “friend” Wong Shu.
I was saddened that a half century later the response was exactly the same…Wong Shu could not be saved…unless by some miracle, with his dying breath, he accepted a Saviour he didn’t even know existed.
Since both men knew where I was going with my line of reasoning, one of them added, “ Whatever happens to him must happen on the earth or he cannot be saved!”
What a sad and hopeless belief! How many billions of men, women, and children, through no fault of their own, have lived and died with no knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? How many more have been blinded by the precepts of men so that they could not recognize and accept the fullness of the gospel when it was presented to them by the “weak things of the earth?” And what of those who could not or would not accept the gospel because of the tortured path of addiction, abuse, and other dense mists of darkness that have lead them to wander strange paths?
Sadly, just as my protestant friends, some in the church deprive themselves and others of the glorious “good news” and joy of a “perfect brightness of hope” contained in the pure and simple restored gospel of Jesus Christ…because of a simple misunderstanding.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed this misunderstanding clearly and directly:
“Sometimes in the Church we speak imprecisely … as if individuals who die go immediately to the celestial kingdom and are at once in the full presence of God. We tend to overlook the reality that the spirit world and paradise are part, really, of the second estate. The work of the Lord,
so far as the second estate is concerned, is not completed until the Final Judgment and the Resurrection. … “The veil of forgetfulness of the first estate apparently will not be suddenly, automatically, and totally removed at the time of our temporal death. This veil, a condition of our entire second estate, is associated with and is part of our time of mortal trial, testing, proving, and overcoming by faith—and thus will continue in some key respects into the spirit world … “Thus, if not on this side of the veil, then in the spirit world to come, the gospel will be preached to all, including all transgressors, rebels, and rejectors of prophets, along with all those billions who died without a knowledge of the gospel (D&C 138)” (The Promise of Discipleship , 119, 122).
What wonderful news for all the “Wong Shu’s”, Prodigal Sons, Late-Afternoon Laborers, and even the Drowning Victims of the Noachian Flood!!! Truly, as prophesied and proclaimed, ours is a God of Mercy…whose hand is forever extended to errant Israel…His rebellious children…and to everyone of us…if we will come to ourselves and return from the pig stys of worldliness and make the long trek of repentance home to our waiting Father.
How clearly Jesus taught this in the words of His beloved Apostle John in The Gospel of John 3:17:
“ For God sent NOT His Son into the world to condemn the world [US]; but that the world through Him might be saved.”
The Father and the Son are in the saving business, not the business of hell fire and condemnation. Had not The Crucified Saviour, surrounded by mocking priests cackling blasphemy, lifted His eyes toward heaven and cried with His last labored breath, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”
In our fallen mortal state we are not equipped to comprehend God’s love and His mercy. We want the heavens to open and pour out the volcanic hail of Sodom upon the blind rulers who orchestrated the shameful execution of our Redeemer…while He, who willingly drank the dregs of the bitterest of all cups, meekly pled for Divine mercy to save them!
The Prophet Joseph taught:
Our heavenly Father is more *liberal in His views,
and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we
are ready to believe or to receive…
TPJS p. 257
*the use of “liberal” here is in the context of early 19th century vernacular meaning generous and bountiful as in a “liberal serving of bread and gravy” and not permissive as can be seen by reading the rest of the citation.
The unfathomable immensity of God’s love, mercy, and commitment to the salvation of His children is demonstrated by Christ’s behavior immediately upon leaving his bruised and broken body on the cross. Peter revealed the great saving mission of Jesus Christ to the spirits in prison while his body lay in the garden tomb: ( I Peter 3:18-20):
18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
Here we are unequivocally taught, by Jesus’ handpicked leader of the church, that, as a spirit, Jesus visited the spirit world for the purpose of organizing and commencing the great work of preaching the gospel, ministering to, and saving of the imprisoned spirits there contingent upon their acceptance of and compliance with all the principles and covenants of the Plan of Salvation. Among the innumerable hosts anxiously awaiting the Saviour’s visit were those He, as Jehova of the Old Testament, had destroyed in the great flood.
The world at the time of Noah had become so corrupt and polluted by sin that any souls coming into that cesspool would have been denied the opportunity to exercise their agency to choose to follow God’s plan.
So in love and mercy, God recalled all those souls to His spiritual “study hall” or “Detention” to await future remedial classes where they would have a real and fair opportunity to hear the gospel, understand it, and make their own choice to reject it or embrace it’s saving principles.
In addition to Elder Maxwell’s declaration that the probationary test of the Second Estate continues beyond our brief earthly experience, two of our
Latter-Day Prophets have testified that the work of salvation not only continues in the Spirit World, but that “few, if any” will reject the gospel when it is taught to them there.
From President Wilford Woodruff:
“I tell you when the prophets and apostles go to preach to those who are shut up in prison, and who have not received the gospel, thousands of them will there embrace the gospel. There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the gospel.
Jesus, while his body lay in the tomb, went and preached to the spirits in prison, who were destroyed in the days of Noah. After so long an imprisonment, in torment, they doubtless gladly embraced the gospel, and if so they will be saved in the kingdom of God.
The fathers [and children] of this people will embrace the gospel” (Wilford Woodruff, April Conf. 1894).
From President Lorenzo Snow:
“The great bulk of those who are in the spirit world for whom the work has been done will receive the truth. The conditions for the spirits of the dead receiving the testimony of Jesus in the spirit world are a thousand times more favorable than they are here in this life”
(Millennial Star, Oct. 6, 1893, 718).
Again from President Snow:
“A wonderful work is being accomplished in our temples in favor of the spirits in prison. I believe, strongly too, that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life.
I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable”
(Millennial Star, Jan. 22, 1894, 50).
It is instructive that in Joseph F. Smith’s great vision of the redemption of the dead, contained in D&C 138, Jesus went not unto the wicked in hell, but called the spirits of the righteous to take the light of His everlasting Gospel to those suffering in the darkness of spirit prison.
The “Hell” referred to in the scriptures equates to Spirit Prison where the
spirits of the rebellious, wantonly sinful, and those who sought evil during
their earthly probation will dwell. However, far from a place of endless
torture and burning coals, Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the
Twelve Apostles explained it is a place of learning and growth and progress:
“To hell there is an exit as well as an entrance. Hell is no place to which
a vindictive judge sends prisoners to suffer and to be punished principally
for his glory; but it is a place prepared for the teaching, the disciplining
of those who failed to learn here upon the earth what they should have
True, we read of everlasting punishment, unending suffering, eternal
damnation. That is a direful expression; but in his mercy the Lord has
made plain what those words mean. ‘Eternal punishment,’ he says, is
God’s punishment, for he is eternal; and that condition or state or
possibility will ever exist for the sinner who deserves and really needs
such condemnation; but this does not mean that the individual sufferer
or sinner is to be eternally and everlastingly made to endure and suffer.
No man will be kept in hell longer than is necessary to bring him to a
fitness for something better. When he reaches that stage the prison doors
will open and there will be rejoicing among the hosts who welcome him
into a better state.
The Lord has not abated in the least what he has said in earlier
dispensations concerning the operation of his law and his gospel,
but he has made clear unto us his goodness and mercy through it all,
for it is his glory and his work to bring about the immortality and eternal life
of man” April 1930 General Conference Report p. 97
The Prophet Joseph taught that progress toward exaltation takes time. The
Principle purpose of our mortal existence is that we might progress to
become like our Father in Heaven. Though we enter the spirit world with
the same tendencies we exhibited in mortality, opportunities for growth
and progress are available in the spirit world.
He explained the incremental nature of our growth toward perfection after
“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 Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 268) History of the
Church, 6:306-7; from a discourse by Joseph Smith on April 7, 1844, in Nauvoo Illinois
“We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of
instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the
heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the
intellect; and that the nearer a man approaches perfection, the clearer
are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the
evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives
at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his
Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him.
But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a
moment-- he must have been instructed in the government and laws of
that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable in some
measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality and
consistency of the same.”
Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith pp. 63-64 condition or state or m into a better state. The Lord has not abated in the least what he has said in e dispensations concerning the operation of this law and his gospel, but he has made clear unto us his goodness h it all, for it is his glory and his w
Joseph Fielding Smith:
Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in heaven in perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will eventually overcome all things, and receive all things, even the fullness of the Father’s glory.
I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should become perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.
But here we lay the foundation. Here is where we are taught these simple truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this probationary state to prepare us for that perfection. It is our duty to be better today than we were yesterday, and better tomorrow than we are today.
Why? Because we are on that road, if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation Volume 2, page 18
- A once rebellious young man who becomes wiser and more compliant as he matures;
- A course and profane man who becomes softened and more refined in time;
- An addict who eventually shakes off the chains of his addiction;
- A young woman who has a child out of marriage, but becomes
a devoted and loving mother….
all are fulfilling this portion of their mortal probation…though perhaps unwittingly…they are becoming better today than they were yesterday. Is this not pleasing to the Lord and part of their test.
Whereas in their prior state they might have been beyond the reach of the Spirit… yet as they progress, little by little, line upon line they become more teachable and susceptible to the refining influence of the Light of Christ working within them... until beyond this veil of tears they no longer “see through a glass darkly, but then face to face” …knowing even as they are known.
We will all suffer along the way…as the prodigal son of the Saviour’s beloved parable… so long as we chose to ignore the principles upon which true and lasting happiness is based and follow our own way.
But the great and eternal message of Hope in this prescient story is that whenever we “come to ourselves” we can and most likely will choose to get up, dust off the detritus of life, and make the long journey home… where a loving father, who has never forgotten us, occasionally rises from his daily labor, stretches his back, and squints into the horizon searching for a precious speck moving with a familiar and beloved cadence…to run to… to embrace…and welcome home …regardless of which side of the veil of the Second Estate that may occur.