Children are Heirs to Exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom

The following excerpts from an article written for The Ensign by Elder Bruce R. McConkie is the clearest statement on the salvation of little children that I have found.

Bruce R. McConkie, “The Salvation of Little Children,” Ensign, Apr 1977, 3

Nowhere does the Easter message of resurrection ring so triumphant.

Among all the glorious gospel verities given of God to his people there is scarcely a doctrine so sweet, so soul satisfying, and so soul sanctifying, as the one which proclaims—Little children shall be saved. They are alive in Christ and shall have eternal life. For them the family unit will continue, and the fulness of exaltation is theirs. No blessing shall be withheld. They shall rise in immortal glory, grow to full maturity, and live forever in the highest heaven of the celestial kingdom.

What is a child and who are children?

A child is an adult spirit in a newly born body, a body capable of growing and maturing according to the providences of Him whose spirit children we all are. Children are the sons and daughters of God. They lived and dwelt with him for ages and eons before their mortal birth. They are adults before birth; they are adults at death.

Are children tainted with original sin?

Absolutely not. There is no such thing as original sin as such is defined in the creeds of Christendom. Such a concept denies the efficacy of the atonement. Our revelation says: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning”

Are all little children saved automatically in the celestial kingdom?

To this question the answer is a thunderous yes, which echoes and re-echoes from one end of heaven to the other. Jesus taught it to his disciples. Mormon said it over and over again. Many of the prophets have spoken about it, and it is implicit in the whole plan of salvation. If it were not so the redemption would not be infinite in its application. And so, as we would expect, Joseph Smith’s Vision of the Celestial Kingdom contains this statement: “And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 137:10)

Will they have eternal life?

Eternal life is life in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is exaltation; it is the name of the kind of life God lives. It consists of a continuation of the family unit in eternity. Joseph Smith taught, “Children will be enthroned in the presence of God and the Lamb; … they will there enjoy the fulness of that light, glory, and intelligence, which is prepared in the celestial kingdom.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 200.).

Will children be married and live in the family unit?

Certainly. There can be no question about this. If they gain salvation, which is eternal life, which is exaltation, it means that they are married and live in the family unit.

Why do some children die and others live? Are those who die better off than those who remain in mortality?

President Joseph Fielding Smith once told me that we must assume that the Lord knows and arranges beforehand who shall be taken in infancy and who shall remain on earth to undergo whatever tests are needed in their cases. This accords with Joseph Smith’s statement: “The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth.” (Teachings, pp. 196–97.)

Will children ever be tested?

Absolutely not!  “Satan cannot tempt little children in this life, nor in the spirit world, nor after their resurrection. Little children who die before reaching the years of accountability will not be tempted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:56–57.) Such is the emphatic language of President Joseph Fielding Smith.

What is the age of accountability?

In our revelation the Lord says, “They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” (D&C 29:47.) There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism. (D&C 68:27.)

What about the mentally deficient?

It is with them as it is with little children. They never arrive at the years of accountability and are considered as though they were little children.

When and with what stature will children be resurrected?

Because they will receive a celestial inheritance, they will come forth in the first resurrection, President Joseph F. Smith said: “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’

What, then, of this glorious doctrine concerning the salvation of children?

Truly it is one of the sweetest and most soul-satisfying doctrines of the gospel!

Brigham Young Confirms His Vision upon Arrival in the Salt Lake Valley

The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847 and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On 24 July, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years that the House of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.” Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a “resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey.” 21

On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. “While gazing upon the scene before us, he was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said, ‘It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.’” 22

22. In “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, 26 July 1880, p. 2.

The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young

The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young

Thursday, 8 August 1844, 22 stands as one of the most important days in the history of the Restoration. On that day a miracle occurred before the body of the Church—Brigham Young was transfigured before the people, and the succession crisis of the Church was resolved. A special meeting to choose a guardian was held that morning at ten o’clock in the grove, according to the arrangements of William Marks. Sidney Rigdon spoke for an hour and a half about his desires to be the guardian of the Church, but he awakened no emotion and said nothing that marked him as the true leader. Brigham Young told the audience that he would rather have spent a month mourning the dead Prophet than so quickly attend to the business of appointing a new shepherd. 23 While he was speaking, he was miraculously transfigured before the people.

People of all ages were present, and they later recorded their experiences. Benjamin F. Johnson, twenty-six at that time, remembered, “As soon as he [Brigham Young] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.” 24 Zina Huntington, who was a young woman twenty-one years old at that time, said “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. . . . I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone. But the same spirit was with the people.” 26

George Q. Cannon, then a boy of fifteen, declared that “it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. . . . They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy.” 27 Wilford Woodruff testified, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking.” 28

In view of these statements, Brigham Young’s own record of the events that day is especially meaningful: “My heart was swollen with compassion towards them and by the power of the Holy Ghost, even the spirit of the Prophets, I was enabled to comfort the hearts of the Saints.” 29 The meeting was then dismissed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

At 2 P.M. thousands of Saints gathered for what they knew would be a significant meeting. With the quorums of the priesthood seated in order, Brigham Young spoke frankly about the proposed guardianship of Sidney Rigdon and his alienation from Joseph Smith during the previous two years. He boldly prophesied, “All that want to draw away a party from the church after them, let them do it if they can, but they will not prosper.” 30

President Young continued, and then turning to his main point declared,

“If the people want President Rigdon to lead them they may have him; but I say unto you that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have the keys of the kingdom of God in all the world.

“The Twelve are appointed by the finger of God. Here is Brigham, have his knees ever faltered? Have his lips ever quivered? Here is Heber and the rest of the Twelve, an independent body who have the keys of the priesthood—the keys of the kingdom of God to deliver to all the world: this is true, so help me God. They stand next to Joseph, and are as the First Presidency of the Church.” 31

He pointed out that Sidney could not be above the Twelve because they would have to ordain him to be President of the Church. Brigham urged everybody to see Brother Rigdon as a friend and stated that if he were to sit in cooperation and counsel with the Twelve, they would be able to act as one. Following President Young’s two-hour speech, talks were delivered by Amasa Lyman, William W. Phelps, and Parley P. Pratt; each eloquently contended for the authority of the Twelve.

Brigham Young then arose and asked the basic question: “Do you want Brother Rigdon to stand forward as your leader, your guide, your spokesman. President Rigdon wants me to bring up the other question first, and that is, Does the church want, and is it their only desire to sustain the Twelve as the First Presidency of this people?” The vote was then taken, and all hands went up. Brigham then asked, “If there are any of the contrary mind, every man and every woman who does not want the Twelve to preside, lift up your hands in like manner.” No hands went up. 32

32. In History of the Church, 7:240.

Joseph Smith prophesied that one day Brigham Young would preside over the Church. 11

11. See Brigham Young, “History of Brigham Young,” Millennial Star, 11 July 1863, p. 439.

Sidney RIgdon Aspires to the Presidency of the Church

Sidney Rigdon (1793–1876) was called to serve as a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency. He was a gifted orator and a spokesman for the Prophet on many occasions. Several of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants deal with Sidney Rigdon.

Sidney avoided meeting with the four Apostles who were already in Nauvoo, choosing instead to speak to the assembled Saints at the grove on Sunday, 4 August. He asserted that he had received a vision:

“He related a vision which he said the Lord had shown him concerning the situation of the church, and said there must be a guardian appointed to build the church up to Joseph, as he had begun it.

“He said he was the identical man that the ancient prophets had sung about, wrote and rejoiced over, and that he was sent to do the identical work that had been the theme of all the prophets in every preceding generation.” 13 Elder Parley P. Pratt later remarked that Sidney Rigdon was “the identical man the prophets never sang nor wrote a word about.” 14

14. In History of the Church, 7:225.

Sidney Rigdon was invited to make a statement about his vision and revelations. He said, “The object of my mission is to visit the saints and offer myself to them as a guardian. I had a vision at Pittsburgh, June 27th [the day of the Martyrdom]. This was presented to my mind not as an open vision, but rather a continuation of the vision mentioned in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants [referring to the vision he and Joseph Smith had experienced that is recorded in D&C 76 ].” 18 He went on to say that no one could take the place of Joseph as the head of the Church and that he, as the designated spokesman for the Prophet, should assume the role of guardian of the Church. Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that Sidney’s statement was a “long story. It was a kind of second class vision.” 19

19. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 7 Aug. 1844; punctuation and capitalization standardized

Intimations of the Martyrdom by Apostles Abroad

At the time of the death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Apostles were located in various parts of the country.

Brigham Young, Orson Hyde, and Wilford Woodruff were in Boston.

Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight had left Philadelphia and were traveling to New York. William Smith at some point joined them, and they continued to Boston for an appointed conference that was held on 29 June. Seven members of the Twelve were present at the conference—Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William Smith, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Lyman Wight.

Parley P. Pratt was returning to Nauvoo and was on a canal boat between Utica and Buffalo, New York.

George A. Smith was staying with members of the Church near Jacksonburg, Michigan.

Amasa Lyman was in Cincinnati.

The location of Orson Pratt on 27 June is not known, but on 29 June he attended the conference in Boston, so he must have been fairly close to Boston on the day of the Martyrdom.

John E. Page had been in Pittsburgh, where he edited and published the Gospel Light from June 1843 to May 1844. His exact location is not known, but in all probability he was in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area.

John Taylor and Willard Richards were in Carthage.

On the day of the Martyrdom, members of the Twelve were depressed and melancholic without knowing why. Elders Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight were traveling between Philadelphia and New York City when Elder Kimball felt mournful, as if he had just lost a friend. In Boston, Orson Hyde was examining maps in the hall rented by the Church when he felt a heavy and sorrowful spirit come upon him. Tears ran down his cheeks as he turned from the maps and paced the floor. In Michigan, George A. Smith was plagued with a depressed spirit and foreboding thoughts all day long. When he retired to bed he could not sleep. He said that “Once it seemed to him that some fiend whispered in his ear, ‘Joseph and Hyrum are dead; ain’t you glad of it?’” 5

5. History of the Church, 7:133; see also pp. 132–33.

Two days before the Martyrdom, Parley P. Pratt was moved upon by the Spirit to start home from New York State and coincidentally met his brother William on a canal boat on the day of the tragedy. Parley wrote that as they talked, “a strange and solemn awe came over me, as if the powers of hell were let loose. I was so overwhelmed with sorrow I could hardly speak. . . . ‘Let us observe an entire and solemn silence, for this is a dark day, and the hour of triumph for the powers of darkness. O, how sensible I am of the spirit of murder which seems to prevade the whole land.’” 6

6. Parley P. Pratt, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Classics in Mormon Literature series (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 292.

In sorrow Elder Pratt walked 105 miles across the plains of Illinois, hardly able to eat or sleep, wondering how he should “meet the entire community bowed down with grief and unutterable sorrow.” He prayed for assistance. “On a sudden the Spirit of God came upon me, and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable; and while the spirit of revelation glowed in my bosom with as visible a warmth and gladness as if it were fire. The Spirit said unto me: . . . ‘Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo, that they shall continue to pursue their daily duties and take care of themselves, and make no movement in Church government to reorganize or alter anything until the return of the remainder of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. But exhort them that they continue to build the House of the Lord which I have commanded them to build in Nauvoo.’” 8 Arriving in Nauvoo on 8 July, Parley helped Elders Richards and Taylor keep order in the stricken community.

George A. Smith learned of the Martyrdom from a newspaper account in Michigan on 13 July. At first he thought it a hoax, but when the report was confirmed, he hastened home with his three missionary companions. Overcome by worry and fatigue, he broke out in hives over his entire body. He could not even eat, but he traveled on, arriving in Nauvoo on 27 July. Soon he was meeting in council with the three Apostles already there. 9

In Boston rumors of Joseph Smith’s death began on 9 July. 10 During the week before confirmation came from family letters and more complete newspaper accounts, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Orson Pratt struggled within themselves about what the terrible news meant. Brigham recorded in his journal, “The first thing which I thought of was, whether Joseph had taken the keys of the kingdom with him from the earth; brother Orson Pratt sat on my left; we were both leaning back on our chairs. Bringing my hand down on my knee, I said the keys of the kingdom are right here with the Church.” 11

Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and Lyman Wight contacted each other, joined together, and hastened home by railway, stagecoach, boat, and buggy. Subsequent events proved the wisdom of their haste. They arrived in Nauvoo the evening of 6 August. Wilford Woodruff recorded his feelings:

“When we landed in the city there was a deep gloom seemed to rest over the City of Nauvoo which we never experienced before.

“. . . We were received with gladness by the Saints throughout the city. They felt like sheep without a shepherd, as being without a father, as their head had been taken away.” 12

12. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 6–7 Aug. 1844, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; spelling, punctuation, and capitalization standardized.