Unit 23: Day 4

Doctrine and Covenants 137

“Unit 23: Day 4, Doctrine and Covenants 137,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2017)


Introduction

On January 21, 1836, the Prophet Joseph Smith met with his counselors in the First Presidency and his father, Joseph Smith Sr., in an upper room of the nearly completed Kirtland Temple. On this occasion the Prophet saw a vision of the celestial kingdom and heard the Lord declare how He will judge those who die without a knowledge of the gospel. Warren Parrish, Joseph Smith’s scribe at the time, recorded the vision in the Prophet’s journal. The record of the vision was later included in the Doctrine and Covenants as section 137.

Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–6

Joseph Smith receives a vision of the celestial kingdom

Think about some of the most important people in your life. Why are they especially significant to you?

  1. journal iconIn your scripture study journal, write why it is important to you to know that the people you love will have the opportunity to live in the celestial kingdom after they die.

Doctrine and Covenants 137 contains the Prophet Joseph Smith’s description of a vision in which he saw the celestial kingdom.

Read Doctrine and Covenants 137:1–4, looking for words and phrases that describe the celestial kingdom. Try to visualize what it would be like to be in the celestial kingdom.

Joseph Smith rejoiced to see some of his family members in the celestial kingdom. Read Doctrine and Covenants 137:3, 5–6, and identify whom Joseph Smith saw in the celestial kingdom.

Joseph’s parents were still alive at this time, and his father was even in the room with him during this vision. This indicates that this vision was not of those who were already in the celestial kingdom but of those who would eventually be there.

  1. journal iconAnswer the following questions in your scripture study journal:

    1. According to Doctrine and Covenants 137:6, why did Joseph Smith marvel (wonder) when he saw his brother Alvin in the celestial kingdom?

    2. What other feelings do you think Joseph may have had when he saw Alvin in the celestial kingdom?

Alvin Smith’s gravestone

Alvin Smith, the Prophet’s brother, died November 19, 1823, before the Church was organized.

The Prophet Joseph Smith loved and admired his oldest brother, Alvin. Alvin loved Joseph too, and he supported Joseph in his preparation to receive the gold plates from the angel Moroni. In November 1823, when Alvin was 25 years old and Joseph was 17, Alvin suddenly became gravely ill. As his condition worsened and it became apparent that he would soon die, he counseled Joseph: “I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the records. Be faithful in receiving instruction and keeping every commandment that is given you” (quoted in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 401).

Alvin’s death brought great sorrow to the Smith family. “The family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, New York, to officiate at his funeral. As Alvin had not been a member of the minister’s congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph’s younger brother, recalled: ‘[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it’” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 401, 403).

Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–10

The Lord reveals how He will judge people who die without a knowledge of the gospel

As the Prophet Joseph Smith was marveling how it was that Alvin was able to enter the celestial kingdom without being baptized, the Lord provided an answer. Study Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8, and identify the doctrine that the Lord taught to help Joseph understand why Alvin would be able to enter the celestial kingdom.

  1. journal iconIn your scripture study journal, record the doctrine you identified in Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8, and answer the following question: How might this doctrine comfort those who have loved ones who have died without a knowledge of the gospel?

The Lord revealed the doctrine in Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8 before He revealed the doctrine of baptism for the dead. You will study revelations on baptism for the dead in coming lessons.

As part of this revelation concerning those who have died, the Lord taught about how He will judge all people. Read Doctrine and Covenants 137:9, and complete the following statement: The Lord will judge us by our and the .

  1. journal iconIn your scripture study journal, explain in your own words why you think our desires and our works are both important.

To better understand how the Lord will judge us according to our works and our desires, study the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“Are we sure to be guiltless under the law of God if we merely refrain from evil acts? What if we entertain evil thoughts and desires?

“Will hateful feelings go unnoticed in the day of judgment? Will envy? Will covetousness? …

“Our answers to such questions illustrate what we might call the bad news, that we can sin without overt [obvious] acts, merely by our feelings and the desires of our hearts.

“There is also good news. Under the law of God, we can be rewarded for righteousness even where we are unable to perform the acts that are usually associated with such blessings.

“When someone genuinely wanted to do something for my father-in-law but was prevented by circumstances, he would say: ‘Thank you. I will take the good will for the deed.’ Similarly, I believe that our Father in Heaven will receive the true desires of our hearts as a substitute for actions that are genuinely impossible” (“The Desires of Our Hearts” [Brigham Young University devotional, Oct. 8, 1985], 4; speeches.byu.edu).

  1. journal iconThe following four examples can help you better understand the doctrine you identified in Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–8. In your scripture study journal, answer the following question for each of the examples: How does this example illustrate the importance of our desires as well as our works?

    1. A Church member has a righteous desire to be married in the temple. After a lifetime of faithful service in the Church, this member dies without having an opportunity to be sealed to a spouse in the temple.

    2. A young man valiantly keeps his baptismal covenants and performs his Aaronic Priesthood duties. After graduating from high school, he has a great desire to serve a full-time mission but is unable to do so because of a physical disability.

    3. A young woman holds a grudge against another young woman. She pretends to be friendly but secretly hopes that bad things will happen to the other young woman.

    4. A young man thinks lustful thoughts, and he does not seek the Lord’s help to change his inappropriate thoughts and feelings.

Ponder what it means to you to know you will be judged by your works and also by the desires of your heart.

Read Doctrine and Covenants 137:10, and mark the truth it teaches about children who die before the age of accountability.

Joseph and Emma with infant

When the Prophet Joseph Smith received this revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 137:10, he and his wife, Emma, had suffered the deaths of four of their children, including one adopted child. Later, two more of their children would also die. Think about how the doctrine revealed in this verse can bring comfort to families who grieve because of the death of a child.

How does this doctrine help increase your faith in God? Why do you think it is important to trust in God’s plan when children die in their infancy?

Joseph Smith

Speaking about the death of little children, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “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; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 176).

President Wilford Woodruff

President Wilford Woodruff taught: “The question may arise with me and with you—‘Why has the Lord taken away my children?’ But that is not for me to tell, because I do not know; it is in the hands of the Lord, and it has been so from the creation of the world all the way down. Children are taken away in their infancy, and they go to the spirit world. They come here and fulfil the object of their coming, that is, they tabernacle in the flesh. They come to receive a probation and an inheritance on the earth; they obtain a body, or tabernacle, and that tabernacle will be preserved for them, and in the morning of the resurrection the spirits and bodies will be reunited, and as here we find children of various ages in a family, from the infant at the mother’s breast to manhood, so will it be in the family organization in the celestial world. Our children will be restored to us as they are laid down if we, their parents, keep the faith and prove ourselves worthy to obtain eternal life; and if we do not so prove ourselves our children will still be preserved, and will inherit celestial glory. This is my view in regard to all infants who die” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff [2004], 84–85).

  1. journal iconAnswer the following questions in your scripture study journal:

    1. What have you learned from your study of Doctrine and Covenants 137 about the Lord’s efforts to give all people the opportunity to live in the celestial kingdom?

    2. Why do these truths matter to you?

  2. journal iconWrite the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:

    I have studied Doctrine and Covenants 137 and completed this lesson on (date).

    Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: