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D&C 131:1-4; D&C 132:4-33
Ramus, Illinois, situated twenty miles due east from Nauvoo, was the site of several significant visits from the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1843. Ramus was nearly exclusively LDS and reached a population of five hundred inhabitants at its peak. Benjamin F. Johnson, younger brother of Joel (founder of Ramus), lived there and was a favorite of Joseph’s. In his home, in the spring of 1843, Joseph taught the Saints the items of instruction found in D&C 130 and 131. Also, as noted in the section heading, though Joseph received D&C 132 in 1831, at Hyrum’s urging, he formally recorded this revelation in the summer of 1843 in Nauvoo.
Marriage from the Beginning
Sections 131 and 132 contain doctrines relative to the eternal nature of holy matrimony. These were not new doctrines. The Lord instituted marriage as the wholesome and perfecting relationship between men and women in the Garden of Eden (see History of the Church, 2:320; also Matt. 19:4-6). Both Elders Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie have noted that Adam and Eve’s union was implicitly considered eternal due to the fact that death had not yet entered the world at the time of their union (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:70-71; and Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:548; respectively). This highlights the terrible but true nature of those words “till death do us part” found in the modern marriage ceremonies performed outside the Lord’s house and without his power and priesthood (see D&C 132:7-8, 15-18). In their eternal union, Adam and Eve stand as our great models, just as Heavenly Father and Mother were theirs (see Genesis 2:23-24).
Abraham and Sarah-Models of Exaltation
In the temples we learn more of Adam and Eve’s experiences, but outside of the temple we can recognize another exemplary couple – Abraham and Sarah (see 2 Ne. 8:1-2 and Abr. 1:18-19). In D&C 132 the Lord uses Abraham to illustrate this sacred relationship with its eternal potential. Joseph is told that the promises Abraham received (continuation of marriage and family relations, including procreation, priesthood power, and eternal land inheritance in God’s kingdom – the Abrahamic Covenant) were Joseph’s also, “because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself” (verse 31; emphasis added). “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (verse 32).
Because Abraham had been faithful in living the Lord’s laws, including the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, the Lord reveals that Abraham (and Sarah) “hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29; see also verse 37). What more powerful mortal example could the Lord have employed?
In another place Joseph further revealed, “Those holding the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam. [Joseph now uses Abraham as the example] Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 322-23). Authorized and empowered, Abraham could now both enjoy and administer all that Adam and Eve did from the beginning.
“No man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my Word, which is my Law”
Joseph instructed that we must all enter into this “order of the priesthood” called the “new and everlasting covenant of marriage” if we are to enjoy not only the same kingdom, but also the same privileges as Adam and Abraham (D&C 131:2). The Lord expresses this in very legalistic terms – stressing the point in language that cannot be misunderstood. In fact, the Lord refers to “law” no less than eighteen times (D&C 131:2 and 132:3, 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 25, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33), which he also consistently equates with His “word.” Both “law” and “word” are further equated with the Lord himself as He makes clear in the following: “… no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord” (D&C 132:12 and 18; see also vv. 13-15, 19, 24-25). Accordingly, it is clear that none can eternally enjoy the marriage relation nor the fullness of exaltation in the highest degree of celestial glory without entering into the specific law of eternal marriage and having it sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise (132:18; see commentary below).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie has explained what is involved in this Patriarchal order of the Melchizedek Priesthood that Adam and Eve, and Abraham and Sarah received. “Joseph Smith says that in the temple of God there is an order of the priesthood that is patriarchal. ‘Go to the temple,’ he says, ‘and find out about this order.’ So I went to the temple, and I took my wife with me, and we kneeled at the altar. There on that occasion we entered, the two of us, into an ‘order of the priesthood.’ When we did it, we had sealed upon us, on a conditional basis, every blessing that God promised Father Abraham – the blessings of exaltation and eternal increase. The name of that order of the priesthood, which is patriarchal in nature, because Abraham was a natural patriarch to his posterity, is the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage” (“Eternal Family Concept,” Address given at Priesthood Genealogical Research Seminar, BYU, 23 June 1967, 7; cited in Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration, 1053).
President Lorenzo Snow further describes the unparalleled blessings available to those who enter into this priesthood order. “When two Latter-day Saints are united together in marriage, promises are made to them concerning their offspring that reach from eternity to eternity. They are promised that they shall have the power and the right to govern and control and administer salvation and exaltation and glory to their offspring worlds without end.
And what offspring they do not have here, undoubtedly there will be opportunities to have them hereafter. What else could man wish? A man and a woman in the other life, having celestial bodies, free from sickness and disease, glorified and beautified beyond description, standing in the midst of their posterity, governing and controlling them, administering life, exaltation and glory [D&C 76:112] (Lorenzo Snow, The Deseret Weekly, 3 April 1897, p. 481).
It is well to remember that the prophets have always allowed for mortal contingencies that hinder individuals from marrying (e.g. premature death, lack of suitors or ineligible spouses, etc.). One apostle offered the following: “When the wife is faithful and desires to obey the divine law and the husband is rebellious, or unwilling to obey the will of the Lord, if she maintains her integrity to the best of her ability, she will be given to another husband in eternity and will receive all the blessings of the celestial kingdom” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:24).
“The New and Everlasting Covenant”
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith explained the significance of the different articles the Lord used when revealing about a, or the “new and everlasting covenant.” He wrote, “In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 132, the Lord speaks of two covenants that are everlasting and a great many have confused the two. The first everlasting covenant is revealed in verses four and five [quoting them and italicizing the a] … This covenant pertains to the covenant of marriage which was to be revealed. Then the Lord speaks of the new and everlasting covenant which is obedience, faith, in God, repentance from sin and baptism for the remission of sins and the keeping of every commandment belonging to the plan of salvation …” (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 1:65-66).
Elder Smith goes on note that the Lord had also called baptism “a new and everlasting covenant” in D&C 22:1-2 and concludes that “in Section 132, verses 6 and 7, the Lord speaks of the new and everlasting covenant and in detail explains what it is. He is now speaking of a definite covenant, which embraces ‘all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations,’ pertaining to salvation and exaltation in the celestial kingdom. Here we discover that marriage for eternity is not the new and everlasting covenant, but an everlasting covenant embraced in the new and everlasting covenant which covers all things” (Answers, 66-67).
The Holy Spirit of Promise
In this revelation there are three different kinds of marriage mentioned by the Lord. D&C 132:15 discusses non-temple unions that only expect to last until death; indeed that is all they will last. D&C 132:18 discusses non-temple marriages that claim to be eternal, as well as, temple marriages that are not ratified by the “Holy Spirit of promise” – ultimately neither of these can “be received” in heaven either. Finally, D&C 132:19 describes a temple marriage that is “sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise” by one with proper authority – this marriage will be “of full force when they are out of the world.” Clearly this special “Spirit of promise” is crucial to achieve exaltation. Robert Millet has commented on this special role of the Holy Ghost as follows: “In this capacity he searches the heart, certifies a person is just, and thereafter seals an exaltation upon that person. That is to say, to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise is to be sealed unto eternal life” (Studies in Scripture, vol. 1:517). Needless to say, the Holy Ghost cannot be fooled or deceived about the real intents of each individual – hence, only to those with pure hearts will the ordinances have eternal effect.
Individual and Joint Covenants and Blessings of Temple Sealings
Elder Kofford of the Seventy published an open letter in the Ensign to a young engaged couple he knew, explaining to them the nature and significance of their upcoming temple marriage. Notice the difference between the individual and the joint aspects in the temple ordinance. “Each of you will individually and separately make promises, commitments, and covenants with your Heavenly Father and will individually receive promises of blessings conditioned on your individual worthiness. The individual nature of these promises is such that even if one of you were to cease being obedient following your participation in the sealing ordinance and so lose the promises made to you, the other partner who remained faithful would continue to be eligible to receive the promised blessings.”
Additionally, “The two of you jointly will make promises, commitments, and covenants with your Heavenly Father and will make covenants to receive each other as husband and wife. You then will jointly receive promises of blessings conditioned upon your joint faithfulness. The continued faithful obedience of both of you is essential if the promised blessings are to be received jointly. This is because the promises are made to you as one-that is, as a single unit consisting of two halves … This element qualifies you to live together as husband and wife under the laws of the land. It is here that you are united forever, becoming one flesh before the Lord and forming a new family unit that, if you are faithful and obedient, will last forever … All children born to the two of you are born under the blessings of the sealing covenant; thus, it is common to say that your children are ‘born in the covenant.’ They are entitled to blessings of the Abrahamic covenant” (Elder Cree-L Kofford, Ensign, June 1998, 9; emphasis original).
Sacrament of Highest Union
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has carefully explained the twofold significance of marital relations on both the relationship of the spouses to themselves and their relationship to the Lord. “…Marriage was intended to mean the complete merger of a man and a woman-their hearts, hopes, lives, love, family, future, everything. Adam said of Eve that she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, and that they were to be ‘one flesh’ in their life together. This is a union of such completeness that we use the word seal to convey its eternal promise. The Prophet Joseph Smith once said we perhaps could render such a sacred bond as being ‘welded’ [D&C 128:18] one to another … With solemn promises and the pledge of all they possess-their very hearts and minds, all their days and all their dreams … May I say that physical intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a husband and a wife-the very uniting of their souls – but it is also symbolic of a shared relationship between them and their Father in Heaven. He is immortal and perfect. We are mortal and imperfect. Nevertheless we seek ways even in mortality whereby we can unite with Him spiritually. In so doing we gain some access to both the grace and the majesty of His power … These are moments [including other spiritual occasions such as ordinances of sealing, sacrament and baptism, etc.] when we quite literally unite our will with God’s will, our spirit with His spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge His divinity but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves” (Ensign, November 1998, 76).
“…And None Else”
As with all truly good things, the Godly capacities for marital union in all their wonderful forms come as a result of continual vigilance and care. President Kimball explained what the Lord expects of his married children.
“Some let their marriages get stale and common … There are those married people who permit their eyes to wander and their hearts to become vagrant, who think it is not improper to flirt a little, to share their hearts, and have desire for someone other than the wife or the husband, the Lord says in no uncertain terms: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart and shall cleave unto her and none else.” (D&C 42:22) And, when the Lord says all thy heart it allows for no sharing nor dividing nor depriving. And, to the woman it is paraphrased: ‘Thou shalt love thy husband with all thy heart and shall cleave unto him and none else.’ The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse. We sometimes find women who absorb and hover over the children at the expense of the husband, sometimes even estranging them from him. The Lord says to them: ‘Thou shalt cleave unto him and none else.’ Marriage presupposes total allegiance and total fidelity. Each spouse takes the partner with the understanding that he or she gives self totally to the spouse: all the heart, strength, loyalty, honor, and affection with all dignity. Any divergence is sin-any sharing the heart is transgression. As we should have “an eye single to the glory of God” so should we have an eye, an ear, a heart single to the marriage and the spouse and family” (Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, October 1962, 56-58.)
President Ezra Taft Benson also cautioned against certain practices that could undermine the spousal relationship. “If you are married, avoid flirtations of any kind. Sometimes we hear of a married man going to lunch with his secretary or other women in the office. Men and women who are married sometimes flirt with and tease members of the opposite sex. So-called harmless meetings are arranged or inordinate amounts of time are spent together. In all these cases, people rationalize by saying that these are expressions of friendship. But what may appear to be harmless teasing or simply having a little fun with someone of the opposite sex can easily lead to more serious involvement and eventual infidelity. If you are married, avoid being alone with members of the opposite sex whenever possible. Many of the tragedies of immorality begin when a man and woman are alone in the office or at church or driving in a car … It is so much easier to avoid such circumstances from the start so that temptation gets no chance for nourishment” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Law of Chastity,” BYU 1987-1988 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, 52).
Letting the Lord Lay His Hands on Our Marriage
We have all known those who have carelessly treated this most precious opportunity and have sorrowfully reaped the tares of a tattered, torn or terminated marriage. The pain associated with broken marital covenants and promises is deep and poignant, and often leads to bitterness and loss of hope. But it must be remembered and constantly taught that the Lord is merciful and offers repentance in mortality. It is through Him and his matchless power that we may receive “beauty for ashes, [and] the oil of joy for mourning” (Isaiah 60:3).
Those who have been foolish themselves, or who have suffered from the wrong-doings of others in their marriages, need not despair – for the Apostle John promises that “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” after the millennial day when the “new heaven and a new earth” are refashioned from this fallen one (Revelation 21:4). In that future day, the “holy city, [the] new Jerusalem [will come] down from God out of heaven, [symbolically] prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1-2). I can’t help but think that John’s use of marriage as the symbol of our ultimate respite and reward is not accidental. The whole history of mortality is one of estrangement through sin and reunion through repentance afforded by the Atonement – so it can be in our marriages as well.
Elder Howard W. Hunter has beautifully taught, “Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives” (Ensign, 1979, 66). How do we allow Jesus to lay his healing hands on our marriages and families?
While visiting with a close friend recently I learned of his frustrations and fears about his marriage. As I listened I felt a strong spiritual suggestion come to my mind. Accordingly I suggested that he needed to become more seriously and consistently committed to personal scripture study. As we discussed this, we both sensed that one of the complications in their marriage was a lack of spiritual perspective. While they were both fairly “active” in attending their Sunday meetings and fulfilling their callings, it was apparent that they had become preoccupied with paying the bills, planning and funding their vacations, remodeling the house and a myriad of other terrestrial pursuits. In short, they were focusing on their ownership and use of things, rather than on their relationship and enjoyment with each other and with the Lord.
As our discussion progressed, the insidious nature of this danger became further clarified. It is not that the worldly interests listed above are evil or insignificant! It goes without saying that we must fulfill our financial obligations and provide for an enjoyable and comfortable life for our families as our circumstances allow. However, these things, in and of themselves, have no inherent life in them, no lasting emotional and spiritual nourishment to fill our soul’s true hungers (see Luke 12:15).
Truly, “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live” (Deut. 8:3; emphasis added). Immersion in His scriptures is one powerful way we can allow the Lord to lay his hand on our marriages, our families, and ourselves in order for His abundant life to come to us (see John 10:10). If we will but “try the virtue of the word of God” ( Alma 31:5), we will find the needed direction, perspective and power to live as He lives and love and He loves.