Material for all of these chapters can be found in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church:... (the old Priesthood/Relief Society manuals). Resources are in Joseph Smith, p. 224, in Brigham Young, pp. 274-5 and chapter 38, and Wilford Woodruff, pp. 80-81. Go to the new “lds.org” click on “Go to Classic LDS.org” (lower left corner), then click on “Gospel Library” then “Lessons” then “Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society.” The manuals are all found at the bottom of this page.
Another tremendous resource for this lesson is Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Manual. It can be found online at “institute.lds.org” and by clicking on “Course Catalog” (along the top bar).
1 - - Life After Death
Joseph Smith taught the importance of death and “Life After Death” (title to this section):
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 of 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 (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Manual, 83).
The restoration brought back truths lost since New Testament times. President Woodruff explained:
A great many [people] believe when a man dies that is the end of him, that there is no hereafter. Can any sensible man believe that the God of heaven has created two or three hundred thousand million spirits, and given them tabernacles [physical bodies], merely to come and live upon the earth and then to pass away into oblivion or to be annihilated? It seems to me that no reflecting man can entertain such belief. It is contrary to common sense and to serious reflection (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 80).
President Brigham Young taught that with the doctrines of the gospel, death is not as frightening:
True, to most people it is a wretched thought that our spirits must, for a longer or shorter period, be separated from our bodies, and thousands and millions have been subject to this affliction throughout their lives. If they understood the design of this probation and the true principles of eternal life, it is but a small matter for the body to suffer and die (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 274).
Finally, President Kimball puts death in perspective:
If we say that early death is a calamity, disaster or a tragedy, would it not be saying that mortality is preferable to earlier entrance into the spirit world and to eventual salvation and exaltation? If mortality be the perfect state, then death would be a frustration but the Gospel teaches us there is no tragedy in death, but only in sin (“Tragedy or Destiny”, BYU Speeches of the Year, 6 Dec. 1955).
2 - - Where Is the Postmortal Spirit World?
While speaking at the funeral of Elder Thomas Williams, President Brigham Young spoke of the spirit world as follows: “How frequently the question arises in the minds of the people—’I wish I knew where I was going!’ Can you find out? Well, you will go into the spirit world, where Brother Thomas now is. He has now entered upon a higher state of being, that is, his spirit has, than when in this body. ‘Why cannot I see him? Why cannot I converse with his spirit? I wish I could see my husband or my father and converse with him!’ It is not reasonable that you should, it is not right that you should; perhaps you would miss the very object of your pursuit if you had this privilege, and there would be the same trial of faith to exercise you, not so severe a path of affliction for you to walk in, not so great a battle to fight, nor so great a victory to win, and you would miss the very object you are in pursuit of. It is right just as it is, that this veil should be closed down; that we do not see God, that we do not see angels, that we do not converse with them except through strict obedience to his requirements, and faith in Jesus Christ (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 279).
In this section Brigham Young said that the spirit world is “on the earth, around us” (p. 242). Following is more from him on this subject:
Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies, as did the servant of [Elisha] [see 2 Kings 6:16–17]. If the Lord would permit it, and it was his will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 279).
In a similar vein, Brigham Young stated:
When you lay down this tabernacle, where are you going? Into the spiritual world…Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes they do…. Do they go beyond the boundaries of the organized earth? No, they do not…. Can you see it with your natural eyes? No. Can you see spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1408).
While all spirits are “together” there is a definite division, as discussed in section 4 of this lesson.
3 - - What Is the Nature of Our Spirits?
We read in this section:
Spirits carry with them from earth their attitudes of devotion or antagonism toward things of righteousness… They have the same appetites and desires that they had when they lived on earth (p. 242). Brigham Young explained:
Suppose, then, that a man is evil in his heart—wholly given up to wickedness, and in that condition dies, his spirit will enter into the spirit world intent upon evil. On the other hand, if we are striving with all the powers and faculties God has given us to improve upon our talents, to prepare ourselves to dwell in eternal life, and the grave receives our bodies while we are thus engaged, with what disposition will our spirits enter their next state? They will be still striving to do the things of God, only in a much greater degree—learning, increasing, growing in grace and in the knowledge of the truth (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 282).
Brigham Young also stated:
The wicked spirits that leave here and go into the spirit world, are they wicked there? Yes (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 279).
In this section we read, “All spirits are in adult form” (p. 242). President Joseph F. Smith elaborated:
“The spirits of our children are immortal before they come to us, and their spirits, after bodily death, are like they were before they came. They are as they would have appeared if they had lived in the flesh, to grow to maturity, or to develop their physical bodies to the full stature of their spirits. If you see one of your children that has passed away it may appear to you in the form in which you would recognize it, the form of childhood; but if it came to you as a messenger bearing some important truth, it would perhaps come as the spirit of Bishop Edward Hunter’s son (who died when a little child) came to him, in the stature of full-grown manhood, and revealed himself to his father, and said: ‘I am your son.’
“Bishop Hunter did not understand it. He went to my father and said: ‘Hyrum, what does that mean? I buried my son when he was only a little boy, but he has come to me as a full-grown man—a noble, glorious, young man, and declared himself my son. What does it mean?’
“Father (Hyrum Smith, the Patriarch) told him that the Spirit of Jesus Christ was full-grown before he was born into the world; and so our children were full-grown and possessed their full stature in the Spirit, before they entered mortality, the same stature that they will possess after they have passed away from mortality, and as they will also appear after the resurrection, when they shall have completed their mission” (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).
Some have speculated that adult spirits in small bodies may be the reason for so much wiggling.
We desired so much to be like Father that we choose in part to come to earth in order to obtain a body. Something not brought out in this section, but may be important to add is that since we have desired a body for so long, when we die our spirits will dearly miss having a body. Elder Melvin J. Ballard explained:
. . . when we go out of this life, leave this body, we will desire to do many things that we cannot do at all without the body. We will be seriously handicapped, and we will long for the body, we will pray for that early reunion with our bodies. We will know then what advantage it is to have a body.
Then, every man and woman who is putting off until the next life the task of correcting and overcoming the weakness of the flesh are sentencing themselves to years of bondage, for no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection until they have completed their work, until they have overcome, until they have done as much as they can do. . . .
The point I have in mind is that we are sentencing ourselves to long periods of bondage, separating our spirits from our bodies, or we are shortening that period, according to the way in which we overcome and master ourselves (The New Testament Institute Manual, 386).
This desire our spirit will have for our body while in the spirit world is verified in scripture:
For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage (D&C 138:50).
This is also the reason we want to make and keep temple covenants is that we will then be able to be first in line to get our bodies back—in the first resurrection. In a repeat from Chapter 38 of the blog, President Faust stated this as one of the blessings promised in the temple sealing:
We can see in vision the countless couples… unspeakable joy on their countenances as they are sealed together and as there is sealed upon them through their faithfulness…the blessing of the holy Resurrection, with power to come forth in the morning of the First Resurrection clothed with glory, immortality, and eternal lives (Ensign, Aug 2001, 2).
4 - - What Are the Conditions in the Postmortal Spirit World?
While death is a sad experience for those left behind, it must be different for those already in the spirit world who meet a deceased person. President Woodruff tenderly tutored us concerning this:
When mourning the loss of our departed friends, I cannot help but think that in every death there is a birth; the spirit leaves the body dead to us, and passes to the other side of the veil alive to that great and noble company…
There is rejoicing when the spirit of a Saint of the Living God enters into the spirit world and meets with the Saints who have gone before (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 80-1).
Brigham Young elaborated on this reunion:
We have more friends behind the veil than on this side, and they will hail us more joyfully than you were ever welcomed by your parents and friends in this world; and you will rejoice more when you meet them than you ever rejoiced to see a friend in this life… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 282).
President Young also gave us some interesting insights about “conditions” in the spirit world:
When you are in the spirit world, everything there will appear as natural as things now do. Spirits will be familiar with spirits in the spirit world—will converse, behold, and exercise every variety of communication with one another as familiarly and naturally as while here in tabernacles. …You will there see that those spirits we are speaking of are active; they sleep not. And you will learn that they are striving with all their might—laboring and toiling diligently as any individual would to accomplish an act in this world.
They walk, converse, and have their meetings…
The brightness and glory of the next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered so that when we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and be careful lest we fall down. We see our youth, even, frequently stubbing their toes and falling down. But yonder, how different! They move with ease and like lightning. If we want to visit Jerusalem, or this, that, or the other place—and I presume we will be permitted if we desire—there we are, looking at its streets. If we want to behold Jerusalem as it was in the days of the Savior; or if we want to see the Garden of Eden as it was when created, there we are, and we see it as it existed…when there we may behold the earth as at the dawn of creation, or we may visit any city we please that exists upon its surface. If we wish to understand how they are living here on these western islands, or in China, we are there; in fact, we are like the light of the morning.
When we pass into the spirit world we shall possess a measure of his power. Here, we are continually troubled with ills and ailments of various kinds. In the spirit world we are free from all this and enjoy life, glory, and intelligence… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 281-2).
A good friend of ours, Dale Mouritsen, wrote a wonderful article for the Ensign in which he related:
President George Albert Smith, after an experience with the spirit world, described the part of that world he saw:
“One day … I lost consciousness of my surroundings and thought I had passed to the Other Side. I found my self standing with my back to a large and beautiful lake, facing a great forest of trees. There was no one in sight, and there was no boat upon the lake or any other visible means to indicate how I might have arrived there. I realized, or seemed to realize, that I had finished my work in mortality and had gone home. I began to look around, to see if I could not find someone. There was no evidence of anyone’s living there, just those great, beautiful trees in front of me and the wonderful lake behind me.
“I began to explore, and soon I found a trail through the woods which seemed to have been used very little, and which was almost obscured by grass.” President Smith followed the trail and after some time met his grandfather, with whom he conversed (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).
Following is an account of President Jedediah M. Grant, of the First Presidency, of which there will be a fuller introduction later in the section on “Paradise”:
The buildings were exceptionally attractive, far exceeding in beauty his opinion of Solomon’s temple. Gardens were more beautiful than any he had seen on earth, with “flowers of numerous kinds.” After experiencing “the beauty and glory of the spirit world” among the righteous spirits, he regretted having to return to his body in mortality (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1409).
In this section we learn about “two divisions or states in the spirit world” (p. 242). Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
The spirits of all men, as soon as they depart from this mortal body, whether they are good or evil, we are told in the Book of Mormon, are taken home to that God who gave them life, where there is a separation, a partial judgment, and the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness which is called , a state of rest, a state of peace, where they expand in wisdom, where they have respite from all their troubles, and where care and sorrow do not annoy. The wicked, on the contrary, have no part nor portion in the Spirit of the Lord, and they are cast into outer darkness, being led captive, because of their own iniquity, by the evil one.
And in this space between death and the resurrection of the body, the two classes of souls remain, in happiness or in misery, until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth and be reunited both spirit and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. This is the final judgment (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Manual, 83).
There will be more on this later in section 4 B (Spirit Prison).
3 A - - Paradise
This section states, “…the righteous spirits rest from earthly care and sorrow” (p. 243). Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:
—the abode of righteous spirits, as they await the day of their resurrection; —a place of peace and rest where the sorrows and trials of his life have been shuffled off, and where the saints continue to prepare for a celestial heaven; —not the Lord’s eternal kingdom, but a way station along the course leading to eternal life, a place where the final preparation is made for that fulness of joy which comes only when body and spirit are inseparably connected in immortal glory! (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Manual, 84).
In this section we read that spirits “are occupied in doing the work of the Lord” (p. 243). Joseph Smith was talking about paradise and this “work” when he declared:
The spirits of the just are exalted to a greater and more glorious work; hence they are blessed in their departure to the world of spirits. Enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and motions, and are often pained therewith (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1409).
We, as children of God, are also “the work of the Lord.” Concerning how at times those who have died can be involved with us and our lives, Robert L. Millet wrote about President Joseph F. Smith:
At the April 1916 general conference President [Joseph F.] Smith…spoke of the nearness of the world of spirits, and of their interest and concern for us and our labors exercised by those who have passed beyond the veil. He stressed that those who labored so diligently in their mortal estate to establish the cause of Zion would not be denied the privilege of “looking down upon the results of their own labors” from their post-mortal estate… In fact, the President insisted, “they are as deeply interested in our welfare today, if not with greater capacity, with far more interest, behind the veil, than they were in the flesh” (Studies in Scripture: The Doctrine and Covenants, 556).
In the Ensign article by Dale Mouritsen referred to earlier, we read:
One sister who visited the spirit world and was recalled to mortality by President Lorenzo Snow had personal experience… “Some inquired about their friends and relatives on the earth. Among the number was my cousin. He asked me how the folks were getting along and said it grieved him to hear that some of the boys were using tobacco, liquor and many things that were injurious to them” (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).
Perhaps this is what President Ezra Taft Benson meant when he said:
The spirit world is not far away. Sometimes the veil between this life and the life beyond becomes very thin. Our loved ones who have passed on are not far from us (Ensign, June 1971, 33).
President Boyd Packer also taught:
It is a veil, not a wall, that separates us from the spirit world. ... Veils can become thin, even parted. We are not left to do this work alone. They who have preceded us...and our forebears there, on occasion, are very close to us. ... Those who go beyond the veil yet live and minister here (Ensign, May 1987, 22).
President Kimball also related:
...my grandfather...searched all his life to get together his genealogical records; and when he died... he had been unsuccessful in establishing his line back more than the second generation beyond him. I am sure that most of my family members feel the same as I do – that there was a thin veil between him and the earth, after he had gone to the other side, and that which he was unable to do as a mortal he perhaps was able to do after he had gone into eternity. After he passed away, the spirit of research took hold of...two distant relatives. ... The family feels definitely that the spirit of Elijah was at work on the other side and that our grandfather had been able to inspire men on this side to search out these records; and as a result, two large volumes are in our possession with about seventeen thousand names (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 543).
President Benson stated that directions from leaders in the spirit world influence the Church today:
Sometimes actions here, by the priesthood of God, the First Presidency and the Twelve, as we meet in the temple, have been planned and influenced by leaders of the priesthood on the other side. I am sure of that. We have evidence of it. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.35)
Since paradise is a place “work of the Lord” it is also a place of learning and progression. President Woodruff made a wonderful statement about this learning:
If the veil could be taken from our eyes and we could see into the spirit world, we would see that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor had gathered together every spirit that ever dwelt in the flesh in this Church since its organization. We would also see the faithful apostles and elders of the Nephites who dwelt in the flesh in the days of Jesus Christ. In that assembly we would also see Isaiah and every prophet and apostle that ever prophesied of the great work of God. In the midst of those spirits we would see the Son of God, the Savior, who presides and guides and controls the preparing for the kingdom of God on the earth and in heaven…The Son of God stands in the midst of that body of celestial spirits, and teaches them their duties concerning the day in which we live and instructs them what they must do to prepare and qualify themselves to go with him to the earth when he comes to judge every man according to the deeds done in the body. (We Believe, 169)
We know that the “work of the Lord” has included church organization in premortality as well as mortality. This will obviously continue in postmortality. President Brigham Young discussed in part how this will continue:
When the faithful Elders, holding this Priesthood, go into the spirit world they carry with them the same power and Priesthood that they had while in the mortal tabernacle (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).
President Benson also taught:
On the other side of the veil, the righteous are taught their duties preparatory to the time when they will return with the Son of Man to earth when He comes again, this time to judge every man according to his works. These righteous spirits are close by us. They are organized according to priesthood order in family organizations as we are here; only there they exist in a more perfect order. This was revealed to the Prophet Joseph. (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 35-36)
Perhaps one of the reasons it is named “paradise” is that Satan is not there. Brigham Young explained:
If we are faithful to our religion, when we go into the spirit world, the fallen spirits—Lucifer and the third part of the heavenly hosts that came with him, and the spirits of wicked men who have dwelt upon this earth, the whole of them combined will have no influence over our spirits. Is not that an advantage? Yes. All the rest of the children of men are more or less subject to them, and they are subject to them as they were while here in the flesh.
Here [the faithful] shall be perplexed and hunted by him; but when we go into the spirit world there we are masters over the power of satan, and he cannot afflict us any more… (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 282).
This may also be why Brigham Young instructed concerning paradise a wonderful idea:
…we have the Father to speak to us, Jesus to speak to us, and angels to speak to us, and we shall enjoy the society of the just and the pure who are in the spirit world until the resurrection (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 282).
In the last paragraph of this section, the description of the spirit world from President Jedediah M. Grant is discussed. An expanded account which follows discusses some of the above:
A statement regarding conditions in the spirit world among the righteous was given in 1856 by Jedediah M. Grant, a member of the First Presidency. He had related to President Heber C. Kimball a vision he had had of the spirit world, which President Kimball subsequently discussed at Grant’s funeral a few days later on December 4, 1856. Although an unofficial statement, it represents concepts generally held by Latter-day Saints. A summary follows: Jedediah Grant saw the righteous gathered in the spirit world; there were no wicked spirits among them. There were order, government, and organization. Among the righteous there was no disorder, darkness, or confusion. They were organized into families, and there was “perfect harmony.” He saw his wife, with whom he conversed, and many other persons whom he knew. There was “a deficiency in some” families, because some individuals “had not honored their calling” on earth and therefore were not “permitted to…dwell together” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1409).
President George Albert Smith tells a story relevant here:
I am here reminded of a story of two brothers who lived in a northern Utah town: The older brother, Henry, was a banker and merchant, and had ample means. The other brother, George, was a farmer, and did not have very much beyond his needs, but he had a desire to do temple work for their dead. He searched out their genealogy and went to the temple and worked for those who had passed on.
One day George said to Henry, “I think you should go down to the temple and help.”
But Henry said, “I haven’t time to do anything like that. It takes me all my time to take care of my business.” …
About a year after that, Henry called at George’s home and said, “George, I have had a dream, and it worries me. I wonder if you can tell me what it means?”
George asked, “What did you dream, Henry?”
Henry said, “I dreamed that you and I had passed from this life and were on the other side of the veil. As we went along, we came to a beautiful city. People were gathered together in groups in many places, and every place we came they shook your hand and put their arms around you and blessed you and said how thankful they were to see you, but,” he said, “they didn’t pay a bit of attention to me; they were hardly friendly. What does that mean?”
George asked, “You thought we were on the other side of the veil?”
“Well, this is what I have been talking to you about. I have been trying to get you to do the work for those people who are over there. I have been doing work for many of them, but the work for many more is yet to be done. … You had better get busy, because you have had a taste of what you may expect when you get over there if you do not do your part in performing this work for them.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, 86)
It seems we must keep the covenants we have made in the temple in order to be with our families in paradise.
3 B - - Spirit Prison
It may be important to help understand how righteous and wicked spirits are all in the same spirit world and yet are divided into two states, as taught in this section. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism we read:
In Latter-day Saint doctrine the “spirit prison” is both a condition and a place within the postearthly spirit world (p. 1406).
As previously mentioned, in section 4 we learned about the “two divisions or states in the spirit world” (p. 242). It may be important to understand more about the wall that separates paradise from spirit prison. The Savoir talked of this as a gulf in the story of Lazarus and the rich man:
…between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence (Luke 16:26).
The Atonement changed all of that:
Bruce R. McConkie explained, “Until the death of Christ these two spirit abodes were separated by a great gulf, with the intermingling of their respective inhabitants strictly forbidden. (Luke 16:19-31.) After our Lord bridged the gulf between the two (1 Pet. 3:18-21; Moses 7:37-39), the affairs of his kingdom in the spirit world were so arranged that righteous spirits began teaching the gospel to wicked ones.”
An important LDS doctrine states that Jesus Christ inaugurated the preaching of the gospel and organized a mission in the spirit world during his ministry there between his death and resurrection. This is the substance of a revelation recorded as Doctrine and Covenants section 138. Since Jesus’ visit there, the gospel has been taught vigorously in the spirit world (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1409).
The Atonement of Jesus Christ bridged that gulf. D&C 138 is all about how this wall can be breached, allowing movement from one place to the other. Only those who come to Christ through the principles and ordinances in Articles of Faith # 4 can leave spirit prison and enter into paradise. This is what is referred to in the first paragraph of this section:
If they [those in spirit prison] accept the gospel and the ordinances performed for them in the temples, they may leave the spirit prison and dwell in paradise (p. 244).
As we read in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism:
Repentance of imprisoned spirits opens the doors of the prison, enabling them to loose themselves from the spiritual darkness of unbelief, ignorance, and sin. As they accept the gospel of Jesus Christ and cast off their sins, the repentant are able to break the chains of hell and dwell with the righteous in paradise (p. 1406).
Indeed, that this “wall” between paradise and spirit prison literally separates “righteous” from “wicked” can be found in a definition of “wicked” given by the Savior:
…the wicked, for they will not repent… (D&C 29:17).
First, however, those in spirit prison must be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the fifth paragraph of this section we read, “The spirits in paradise can teach the spirits in prison” (p. 243). President Joseph F. Smith discussed this:
Not a soul that has ever lived and died from off the face of this earth shall escape a chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. If they receive it and obey it, the ordinances of the gospel will be performed for and in their behalf, by their kindred, or their posterity in some generation of time after them (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 307).
President Brigham Young also explained about these “spirits in prison”:
Compare those inhabitants on the earth who have heard the Gospel in our day, with the millions who have never heard it, or had the keys of salvation presented to them, and you will conclude at once as I do, that there is an almighty work to perform in the spirit world” (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).
Brigham Young taught about those who will help organize this teaching in spirit prison:
…the spirits of good men like Joseph and the Elders, who have left this Church on earth for a season to operate in another sphere, are rallying all their powers and going from place to place preaching the Gospel, and Joseph is directing them, saying, go ahead, my brethren, and if they hedge up your way, walk up and command them to disperse. You have the Priesthood and can disperse them, but if any of them wish to hear the Gospel, preach to them (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 281).
Brigham Young further explained more about who will teach as well as the importance of this teaching:
Father Smith [Joseph Smith Sr.] and Carlos [Smith] and Brother [Edward] Partridge, yes, and every other good Saint, are just as busy in the spirit world as you and I are here. They can see us, but we cannot see them unless our eyes were opened. What are they doing there? They are preaching, preaching all the time, and preparing the way for us to hasten our work in building temples here and elsewhere.
Every faithful man’s labor will continue as long as the labor of Jesus, until all things are redeemed that can be redeemed, and presented to the Father. There is a great work before us (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 280).
Similarly, President Joseph F. Smith declared:
This gospel revealed to the Prophet Joseph is already being preached to the spirits in prison, to those who have passed away from this stage of action into the spirit world without the knowledge of the gospel. Joseph Smith is preaching that gospel to them. So is Hyrum Smith. So is Brigham Young, and so are all the faithful apostles that lived in this dispensation under the administration of the Prophet Joseph [see D&C 138:36–37, 51–54]. They are there, having carried with them from here the holy Priesthood that they received under authority, and which was conferred upon them in the flesh; they are preaching the gospel to the spirits in prison; for Christ, when his body lay in the tomb, went to proclaim liberty to the captives and opened the prison doors to them that were bound [see D&C 138:27–30]. Not only are these engaged in that work but hundreds and thousands of others; the elders that have died in the mission field have not finished their missions, but they are continuing them in the spirit world [see D&C 138:57]. Possibly the Lord saw it necessary or proper to call them hence as he did.
I have always believed, and still do believe with all my soul, that such men as Peter and James and the twelve disciples chosen by the Savior in his time, have been engaged all the centuries that have passed since their martyrdom for the testimony of Jesus Christ, in proclaiming liberty to the captives in the spirit world and in opening their prison doors [see D&C 138:38–50]. I do not believe that they could be employed in any greater work. Their special calling and anointing of the Lord himself was to save the world, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison doors to those who were bound in chains of darkness, superstition, and ignorance (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 411).
President Woodruff added:
Joseph Smith, Heber Kimball, George A. Smith and thousands of the elders of Israel may preach to those spirits, and they may receive the testimonies which the elders bear; but the elders will not baptize believers there; there is no baptism in the spirit world any more than there is any marrying and giving in marriage (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 188).
The above statement seems to refer to Matthew 22:23-32, where Jesus taught:
For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven (Matthew 22:30).
Concerning this doctrine, President Wilford Woodruff explained:
As I said before, the God of heaven requires this at your hands. They will not baptize anybody in the spirit world; there is no baptism there; there is no marrying or giving in marriage there; all these ordinances have to be performed on the earth (Journal of Discourses, 18:114).
As a secondary source, utilizing the “LDS Scripture Citation Index” (found online at “scriptures.byu.edu”) under Matthew 22:30, another explanation of this was found from Elder Theodore M. Burton, Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, and brother to my mission president:
Thus either in this life or in the spirit world each man and woman who has lived upon this earth is given an opportunity to covenant with God through baptism to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Father. However, just as Jesus taught that there is no marrying in heaven ( Matt. 22:30), so there can be no baptism in heaven. Both baptism and marriage are earthly ordinances which must be performed here (Conference Report, April 1964, 71).
This, of course, is where the last lesson on “Temple and Family History” comes into play.
President Woodruff explained that this “missionary work” to the spirits in prison is merely a continuation of what we are commanded to do in this life (see also Chapter 33):
…the spirit leaves the body dead to us, and passes to the other side of the veil alive to that great and noble company that are also working for the accomplishment of the purposes of God, in the redemption and salvation of a fallen world.
Some labor this side of the veil, others on the other side of the veil. If we tarry here we expect to labor in the cause of salvation, and if we go hence we expect to continue our work until the coming of the Son of Man (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 80-1).
Similarly, Brigham Young stated:
The spirits that dwell in these tabernacles on this earth, when they leave them go directly into this world of spirits. What! A congregated mass of inhabitants there in spirit, mingling with each other, as they do here? Yes, brethren, they are there together, and if they associate together, and collect together, in clans and in societies as they do here, it is their privilege. No doubt they yet, more or less, see, hear, converse and have to do with each other, both good and bad. If the Elders of Israel in these latter times go and preach to the spirits in prison, they associate with them, precisely as our Elders associate with the wicked in the flesh, when they go to preach to them (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 280-1).
This “missionary work” in the spirit world apparently sometimes means that some are called from this mortality to help. In a talk, President Wilford Woodruff related the experience of Abraham H. Cannon, an apostle, who inquired of the Lord about his son’s death. Elder Cannon said:
I asked the Lord why he was taken from me. The answer to me was, “You are doing a great deal for the redemption of your dead; but the law of redemption requires some of your own seed in the spirit world to attend to work connected with this.” That was a new principle to me; but it satisfied me why he was taken away. I name this, because there are a great many instances like it among the Latter-day Saints (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 292).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell also explained:
We do not control what I call “the great transfer board in the sky.” The inconveniences that are sometimes associated with release from our labors here are necessary in order to accelerate the work there. Heavenly Father can’t do His work there, with 10 times more people than we have on this planet, without on occasion taking some of the very best sisters and brothers from among us (Ensign, July 2002, 56).
Joseph F. Smith gave an interesting insight about women and this wonderful missionary work in the spirit world:
Now, among all…spirits that have lived on the earth and have passed away…at least one half are women. Who is going to preach the gospel to the women? Who is going to carry the testimony of Jesus Christ to the hearts of the women who have passed away without a knowledge of the gospel? Well, to my mind, it is a simple thing. These good sisters that have been set apart, ordained to the work, called to it, authorized by the authority of the Holy Priesthood to minister, for their sex, in the House of God for the living and the dead, will be fully authorized and empowered to preach the gospel and minister to the women while the elders and prophets are preaching it to the men. The things we experience here are typical of the things of God and the life beyond us. (Latter-day Prophets Speak, p. 35)
This is a terrific parallel to the work done in temples today by sister ordinance workers.
During the last adult institute class that we teach (Chapter 41), we were discussing the idea that to prepare for the Second Coming as the Savior commanded in Matthew 25:36, we should visit those in “prison” by doing temple work for the dead. A member of the class, John Johnson, used his “super powers” (well, super in our eyes, since we don’t have one of those super-advanced phones) to dial up the following quote from the Dedicatory Prayer for the Vernal Utah temple by President Hinckley:
Prison doors will be opened for those beyond the veil of death. Within these sacred walls the dividing line between the living and the dead will soften as Thy glorious work is carried forward.
If you want to read the whole prayer, just block and paste the following link into the address bar:
In the second paragraph of this section is discussed the idea that spirit prison is also referred to as “hell.” Joseph Smith declared:
God has decreed that all who will not obey His voice shall not escape the damnation of hell. What is the damnation of hell? To go with that society who have not obeyed His commands. … I know that all men will be damned if they do not come in the way which He hath opened, and this is the way marked out by the word of the Lord.
The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, 224).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie also noted:
That part of the spirit world inhabited by wicked spirits who are awaiting the eventual day of their resurrection is called hell. Between their death and resurrection, these souls of the wicked are cast out into outer darkness, into the gloomy depression of sheol, into the hades of waiting wicked spirits, into hell. There they suffer the torments of the damned; there they welter in the vengeance of eternal fire; there is found weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; there the fiery indignation of the wrath of God is poured out upon the wicked ( Alma 40:11–14 ; D. & C. 76:103–106)” (Doctrines of the Gospel Institute Manual, 84).
It may be interesting to discuss the concept of “death bed repentance” here. Some have justified this false concept by the statement made by Jesus to the thief on the cross next to Him (only found in Luke):
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Joseph Smith discussed this:
I will say something about the spirits in prison. There has been much said by modern divines about the words of Jesus (when on the cross) to the thief, saying, “this day shalt thou be with me in . …There is nothing in the original word in Greek, from which this was taken that signifies ; but it was—This day thou shalt be with me in the world of spirits.
…what is hell? It is another modern term, and is taken from hades. …Hades, the Greek, or Sheol, the Hebrew, these two significations mean a world of spirits. Hades, Sheol, , spirits in prison, are all one: it is a world of spirits.
The righteous and the wicked all go to the same world of spirits until the resurrection (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 309-10).
Here is a final note on teaching those in spirit prison. We repeat from Chapter 40 of this blog the opinion given by President Lorenzo Snow:
… 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 (Ensign, Jan. 1977, 47).