Lesson 138

Doctrine and Covenants 131

“Lesson 138: Doctrine and Covenants 131,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)


Doctrine and Covenants 131 contains a compilation of principles the Prophet Joseph Smith taught while in Ramus, Illinois, on May 16–17, 1843. He taught about the new and everlasting covenant of marriage and the promise of eternal life for the faithful. He also taught that all spirit is matter.

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4

Joseph Smith teaches about the importance of the eternal marriage covenant

Show students a simple combination lock. You might consider using it to secure the lid of a box. If you do not have a lock, draw one on the board. Invite one male student and one female student to the front of the class. Give one student a paper with the first part of the combination written on it. Give the other student a paper with the remainder of the combination written on it. If you have brought a lock to class, ask one of the students to open the lock without the help of the other student. Then let them work together to open the lock.

combination lock

Write the following question on the board (or have it written on a paper inside the box the two students have just unlocked): If the lock represents entrance into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, what does the combination represent? Ask students to look for the answer to this question as they study Doctrine and Covenants 131.

Explain that on May 16, 1843, Joseph Smith traveled to Ramus, Illinois. While staying at the home of Benjamin and Melissa Johnson, he performed their sealing as husband and wife for eternity. He also taught them how eternal marriage is related to the celestial kingdom. These truths are recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4. (See History of the Church, 5:391–92.)

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for a truth the Prophet revealed about the celestial kingdom.

  • What did Joseph Smith reveal about the celestial kingdom?

Explain that we often refer to receiving the highest degree of glory within the celestial kingdom as exaltation or eternal life. Write the word exaltation on the board. Explain that those who obtain this degree of the celestial glory will live like our Heavenly Father lives.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:2–4 aloud, and ask the class to look for what we must do in order to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.

  • What do we need to do to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom? (Students should identify the following doctrine: In order to obtain the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, we must enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.)

  • What do you think it means in verse 4 that if we are not sealed in the temple by the proper authority, we “cannot have an increase”? (To help students understand this verse, you may need to explain that increase refers to the opportunity to continue to have children in the celestial kingdom.)

To help students understand the phrase “new and everlasting covenant of marriage,” explain that the word new in this context means that this covenant was newly restored in our dispensation. The term everlasting means that this essential covenant will endure through eternity. Remind students that we enter into this covenant of celestial marriage in the temple.)

  • In what ways do you think celestial marriage between a man and a woman prepares them for exaltation?

Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how marriage helps us prepare for eternal life.

Elder David A. Bednar

“Two compelling doctrinal reasons help us to understand why eternal marriage is essential to the Father’s plan.

“Reason 1: The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation. …

“By divine design, men and women are intended to progress together toward perfection and a fulness of glory. Because of their distinctive temperaments and capacities, males and females each bring to a marriage relationship unique perspectives and experiences. The man and the woman contribute differently but equally to a oneness and a unity that can be achieved in no other way. The man completes and perfects the woman and the woman completes and perfects the man as they learn from and mutually strengthen and bless each other. …

“Reason 2: By divine design, both a man and a woman are needed to bring children into mortality and to provide the best setting for the rearing and nurturing of children” (“Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan,” Ensign, June 2006, 83–84; boldface and italics removed).

  • According to Elder Bednar, why is marriage between a man and a woman necessary for our exaltation?

  • How could understanding the doctrine that celestial marriage is essential for exaltation affect what you look for in a future spouse?

  • Why is it important at your age to make it a priority to prepare to be married eternally in the temple?

You may want to explain that the blessings of exaltation will be available to those who do not have the opportunity for a celestial marriage in this life. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement from True to the Faith:

“Some members of the Church remain single through no fault of their own, even though they want to marry. If you find yourself in this situation, be assured that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God’ (Romans 8:28). As you remain worthy, you will someday, in this life or the next, be given all the blessings of an eternal family relationship” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 99).

  • How can keeping your baptismal covenants now help you prepare to receive the blessings of the temple? What can young men and young women do now to make celestial marriage in the temple a priority? (You may want to list students’ responses on the board.)

Encourage students to make it a priority to be married for eternity in the temple. Testify of the blessings that come as a result of celestial marriage.

Doctrine and Covenants 131:5–6

The Prophet explains the “more sure word of prophecy”

Show students a written guarantee or warranty.

  • What are the benefits of having a guarantee?

  • Why would a guarantee from Heavenly Father be especially valuable?

Explain that in Ramus, Illinois, on the morning of May 17, 1843, Joseph Smith gave a sermon on a phrase found in 2 Peter 1:19 that represents a guarantee from God (see History of the Church, 5:392). Invite students to read 2 Peter 1:19 silently and look for the phrase. (“A more sure word of prophecy.”)

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:5 and look for what the phrase “more sure word of prophecy” means. Ask them to report what they find.

  • According to verse 5, what does Heavenly Father guarantee to a person through the more sure word of prophecy? (Eternal life.)

  • How do you think it would feel to receive such a guarantee? Why?

Note: Do not speculate about living individuals who may have received the “more sure word of prophecy.” However, the scriptures tell of some individuals who have received this assurance of eternal life while still in mortality. For example, the Lord expressed this assurance to Joseph Smith (see Doctrine and Covenants 132:49) and to Alma (see Mosiah 26:20).

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:6 aloud, and ask the class to look for something that would prevent someone from receiving eternal life.

  • What did Joseph Smith say would make it impossible for us to be saved, or receive eternal life? (Students may use different words, but make sure they understand that we cannot be saved in ignorance. You may want to write this truth on the board.)

Invite a student to read the following explanation of this truth as given by President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency. Ask students to listen for the kind of knowledge we need in order to receive eternal life.

President Marion G. Romney

“Knowledge of ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ (John 17:3) is the most important knowledge in the universe; it is the knowledge without which the Prophet Joseph Smith said no man could be saved. The lack of it is the ignorance referred to in the revelation wherein it is written: ‘It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.’ (D&C 131:6.)” (“Except a Man Be Born Again,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 14).

  • What kind of knowledge must we have in order to have eternal life? Why do you think this kind of knowledge is essential for salvation?

  • What can we do to increase in our knowledge of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?

Doctrine and Covenants 131:7–8

Joseph Smith teaches that all spirit is matter

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 131:7–8 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what spirits are composed of.

  • What do you learn from these verses? (All creations are composed of matter, but spirit matter is “more fine or pure.”)

Testify of the principles discussed in Doctrine and Covenants 131, and encourage students to continue gaining knowledge of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so they can become more like Them.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4. “The new and everlasting covenant of marriage”

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the link between celestial marriage and having one’s calling and election made sure:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

“In the same sense that baptism opens the door and starts repentant persons traveling on the path leading to eternal life, so also does celestial marriage. This holy order of matrimony also opens a door leading to celestial exaltation. …

“As everyone who has been married in the temple knows, those so united—by the power and authority of the holy priesthood and by virtue of the sealing power restored by Elijah—are promised an inheritance of glory, honor, power, and dominion in the kingdom of God. But, as with baptism, all the promises are conditional; they are specifically and pointedly stated as being contingent upon the subsequent faithfulness of the participating parties. If they keep the commandments after celestial marriage, their union continues in the life to come; if they do not conform to the standards of personal righteousness involved, their marriage is not of force when they die and they revert to their separate and single status. …

“… Because having one’s calling and election made sure is the receipt of a guarantee of eternal life—it was the most natural thing in the world for the Lord to reveal both the doctrine of eternal marriage and the doctrine of being sealed up unto eternal life (meaning having one’s calling and election made sure) in one and the same revelation. In effect one grows out of the other. The one is a conditional promise of eternal life; the other is an unconditional promise. …

“… We must so live as to receive the guarantees to which we have thus been called, and the assurances that appertain to our election, and which are given on a conditional basis only in celestial marriage. As with baptism, so with celestial marriage; after the glorious promise of eternal life that is part of each of these covenants, we must press forward in righteousness until our calling and election is made sure; and this high achievement grows out of and is the crowning reward of celestial marriage” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–1973], 3:331, 332, 333).

Doctrine and Covenants 131:5. “The more sure word of prophecy”

“The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood” (D&C 131:5). This blessing is also referred to as making one’s “calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).

“Righteous followers of Christ can become numbered among the elect who gain the assurance of exaltation. This calling and election begins with repentance and baptism. It becomes complete when they ‘press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end’ (2 Ne. 31:19–20). The scriptures call this process making our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:4–11; D&C 131:5–6)” (Guide to the Scriptures, “Calling and Election,” scriptures.lds.org).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained:

Elder Bruce R. McConkie

“Those members of the Church who devote themselves wholly to righteousness, living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God, make their calling and election sure. That is, they receive the more sure word of prophecy, which means that the Lord seals their exaltation upon them while they are yet in this life. Peter summarized the course of righteousness which the saints must pursue to make their calling and election sure and then (referring to his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration with James and John) said that those three had received this more sure word of prophecy. (2 Pet. 1.)

“Joseph Smith taught: ‘After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter.’ To receive the other Comforter is to have Christ appear to him and to see the visions of eternity. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 149–51; italics added].

“Thus, as the Prophet also said, ‘The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood.’ (D. & C. 131:5.) Those so favored of the Lord are sealed up against all manner of sin and blasphemy except the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost and the shedding of innocent blood. That is, their exaltation is assured; their calling and election is made sure, because they have obeyed the fulness of God’s laws and have overcome the world. …

“… The Prophet, for one, had this seal placed upon him. That is, he knew ‘by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood,’ that he would attain godhood in the world to come. To him Deity said: ‘I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father.’ (D. & C. 132:49; italics added.)

“It should be clearly understood that these high blessings are not part of celestial marriage. ‘Blessings pronounced upon couples in connection with celestial marriage are conditioned upon the subsequent faithfulness of the participating parties.’ (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, pp. 46–47.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 109–10).

Doctrine and Covenants 131:6. “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”

On April 7, 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith delivered a sermon at the funeral of his friend King Follett. In the sermon, he taught about the value of knowledge:

Prophet Joseph Smith

“Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge. So long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation. If a man has knowledge, he can be saved” (“The King Follett Sermon,” Ensign, May 1971, 15).