Throughout his ministry, President Harold B. Lee emphasized that the overarching purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to enable us to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. He often taught the importance of walking by faith until we reach our heavenly goal.
President Lee’s ministry coincided with the courageous flights of the dawning space age in the 1960s and early 1970s. When an accident in 1970 forced the astronauts on the Apollo 13 spacecraft to return prematurely to earth from the regions of the moon, President Lee was impressed with the careful attention to instruction and the exacting performance required to bring the men safely home. He saw in this experience a likeness to the faith and obedience necessary to complete our journey through mortality to our heavenly home. In an October 1970 general conference address, he used the story of the Apollo 13 spacecraft, the Aquarius, to illustrate the importance of keeping to the path the Lord has planned for us to follow.
President Lee’s messages continually emphasized that the ultimate goal of this mortal journey is to return to our Father in Heaven. These messages can help us strive to see that “every act of our lives, every decision we make [is] patterned toward the development of a life that shall permit us to enter into the presence of the Lord our Heavenly Father.”1
In this chapter, President Lee outlines the path by which we can return in peace and safety to our Heavenly Father’s presence.
Some months ago, millions of watchers and listeners over the world waited breathlessly and anxiously the precarious flight of Apollo 13. The whole world, it seemed, prayed for one significant result: the safe return to earth of three brave men.
When one of them with restrained anxiety announced the startling information, “We have had an explosion!” the mission control in Houston immediately mobilized all the technically trained scientists who had, over the years, planned every conceivable detail pertaining to that flight.
The safety of those three now depended on two vital qualifications: on the reliability of the skills and the knowledge of those technicians in the mission control center at Houston, and upon the implicit obedience of the men in the Aquarius to every instruction from the technicians, who, because of their understanding of the problems of the astronauts, were better qualified to find the essential solutions. The decisions of the technicians had to be perfect or the Aquarius could have missed the earth by thousands of miles.
This dramatic event is somewhat analogous to these [troubled] times in which we live. … Many are frightened when they see and hear of unbelievable happenings the world over—political intrigues, wars and contention everywhere, frustrations of parents endeavoring to cope with social problems that threaten to break down the sanctity of the home, the frustrations of children and youth as they face challenges to their faith and their morals.
Only if you are willing to listen and obey, as did the astronauts on the Aquarius, can you and all your households be guided to ultimate safety and security in the Lord’s own way. …
From the incident of the Apollo 13 … , I will now, in a few moments, undertake to outline briefly the wondrously conceived plan upon obedience to which the salvation of every soul depends in his journey through mortality to his ultimate destiny—a return to that God who gave him life. …
This plan is identified by name, and the overarching purpose is clearly set forth in an announcement to the Church in the beginning of this gospel dispensation.
More than a century ago the Lord declared:
“And even so I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.” (D&C 45:9.)
This plan, then, was to be as a covenant, which implied a contract to be participated in by more than one person. It was to be a standard for the Lord’s elect and for all the world to benefit by it. Its purpose was to serve the needs of all men and to prepare the world for the second coming of the Lord.
The participants in the formulation of this plan in the premortal world were all the spirit children of our Heavenly Father. Our oldest scriptures, from the writings of the ancient prophets Abraham and Jeremiah, affirm also that God, or Eloheim, was there; his Firstborn Son, Jehovah; Abraham; Jeremiah; and many others of great stature were there.
All the organized intelligences before the earth was formed, who had become spirits, were there, including many great and noble ones whose performance and conduct in that premortal sphere qualified them to become rulers and leaders in carrying out this eternal plan. …
Under the Father’s instruction and by Jehovah’s direction, the earth and all pertaining thereto was organized and formed. They “ordered,” they “watched over” and “prepared” the earth. They took “counsel among themselves” as to the bringing of all manner of life to the earth and all things, including man, and prepared it for the carrying out of the plan, which we could well liken to a blueprint, by which the children of God could be tutored and trained in all that was necessary for the divine purpose of bringing to pass, “to the glory of God,” the opportunity of every soul to gain “immortality and eternal life.” Eternal life means to have everlasting life in that celestial sphere where God and Christ dwell, by doing all things we are commanded. (See Abraham 3:25.)
The plan embodied three distinctive principles:
First, the privilege to be given to every soul to choose for himself “liberty and eternal life” through obedience to the laws of God, or “captivity and death” as to spiritual things because of disobedience. (See 2 Nephi 2:27.)
Next to life itself, free agency is God’s greatest gift to mankind, providing thereby the greatest opportunity for the children of God to advance in this second estate of mortality. A prophet-leader on this continent explained this to his son as recorded in an ancient scripture: that to bring about these, the Lord’s eternal purposes, there must be opposites, an enticement by the good on the one hand and by the evil on the other, or to say it in the language of the scriptures, “… the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” This father further explained, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.” (2 Nephi 2:15–16.)
The second distinctive principle in this divine plan involved the necessity of providing a savior by whose atonement the most favored Son of God became our Savior, as a “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8), as revealed to John on the Isle of Patmos. [The prophet Lehi] explained that the mission of the Son of God was to “make intercession for all the children of men; and they that believe in him shall be saved.” (2 Nephi 2:9.)
We hear much from some of limited understanding about the possibility of one’s being saved by grace alone. But it requires the explanation of another prophet to understand the true doctrine of grace as he explained in these meaningful words:
“For,” said this prophet, “we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23.) Truly we are redeemed by the atoning blood of the Savior of the world, but only after each has done all he can to work out his own salvation.
The third great distinctive principle in the plan of salvation was the provision that “all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (Article of Faith 3.) These fundamental laws and ordinances by which salvation comes are clearly set forth:
First, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, repentance from sin, meaning the turning away from the sins of disobedience to God’s laws and never returning again thereto. The Lord spoke plainly on this point. Said he: “… go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth [meaning, of course, returning again to the sins from which he has repented] shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God.” (D&C 82:7.)
This same teaching was forcibly impressed by the resurrected Savior to the saints on this continent, in what it appears likely was his final message to his disciples. The Master taught his faithful saints that “no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel. …” (3 Nephi 27:19–21.)
If the children of the Lord, which includes all who are upon this earth, regardless of nationality, color, or creed, will heed the call of the true messenger of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as did the three astronauts on the Aquarius to the trained technicians at Mission Control in the hour of their peril, each may in time see the Lord and know that he is, as the Lord has promised. …
This promise of the glory which awaits those who are faithful to the end was plainly portrayed in the Master’s parable of the Prodigal Son. To the son who was faithful and did not squander his birthright, the father, who in the Master’s lesson would be our Father and our God, promised this faithful son: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” (Luke 15:31.)
In a revelation through a modern prophet, the Lord promises to the faithful and obedient today: “… all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:38.)
Or will we be like those foolhardy ones on the river above the Niagara Falls who were approaching the dangerous rapids? Despite warnings of the river guards to go toward safety before it was too late, and in complete disregard of the warnings, they laughed, they danced, they drank, they mocked, and they perished.
So would have been the fate of the three astronauts on the Aquarius if they had refused to give heed to the minutest instruction from Houston Control. Their very lives depended upon obedience to the basic laws which govern and control the forces of the universe.
Jesus wept as he witnessed the world about him in his day which had seemingly gone mad, and continually mocked his pleading that they come unto him along “the strait and narrow way,” so plainly marked out in God’s eternal plan of salvation.
O that we could hear again his pleadings today as he then cried out: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37.)
O that the world would see in another parable to John the Revelator the sacred figure of the Master calling to us today as he did to those of Jerusalem:
Said the Master, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
“To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:20–21.)
Here, then, is the plan of salvation as taught by the true church, which is founded upon apostles and prophets, with Christ, the Lord, as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), by which only can peace come, not as the world giveth, but as only the Lord can give to those who overcome the things of the world, as did the Master.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12.) …
In a recent meeting I listened to a young girl’s heartwarming testimony. Her father was afflicted with what the doctors had pronounced was an incurable malady. To his wife one morning, this stricken father, after a night of pain and suffering, had said with great feeling, “I am so thankful today.” “For what?” she asked. He replied, “For God’s giving me the privilege of one more day with you.”
Today I could desire with all my heart that all within the sound of this broadcast would likewise thank God for one more day! For what? For the opportunity to take care of some unfinished business. To repent; to right some wrongs; to influence for good some wayward child; to reach out to someone who cries for help—in short, to thank God for one more day to prepare to meet God.
Don’t try to live too many days ahead. Seek for strength to attend to the problems of today. In his Sermon on the Mount, the Master admonished: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34.)
Do all that you can do and leave the rest to God, the Father of us all. It is not enough to say I will do my best, but rather, I will do everything which is within my power; I will do all that is necessary.2
In what ways does our Father’s plan of salvation show His great love for us?
How does an understanding of the plan of salvation bring peace into your life?
Why is agency necessary if we are to return to God? Why is the Atonement necessary? Why must we be obedient to gospel principles and ordinances?
What might be some of the consequences of deviating from the path Heavenly Father has laid out for us to follow?
What things sometimes cause people to lose sight of the goal to return to Heavenly Father’s presence? What counsel could we give to family members and others who have lost their way?
Why is it important to serve each day? to express gratitude each day? to repent and strive to overcome our weaknesses? How can doing each of these things help us prepare to meet God?