“One day a young Sunday School teacher [came] to ask a rather interesting question that had been asked of her in her class the preceding Sunday,” said President Harold B. Lee to a congregation of Saints. “She explained that they were talking about the life before this, and this life, and the next life, and a young Sunday School student had asked, ‘The life before this came to an end when we were born into mortal life; this life comes to an end when we suffer mortal death; what shall be the end of the next life? Shall it be oblivion?’ The young Sunday School teacher said, ‘I don’t have the answer.’
“As I thought about it I remarked that we do use words rather loosely when we speak of the ‘life before this, and this life, and the next life,’ as though we were a cat of nine lives, when as a matter of fact, we only have one life. This life we speak of did not begin with mortal birth. This life does not end with mortal death. There is something that is not created or made. The Scriptures called it ‘intelligence,’ which at a certain stage in the pre-existence was organized into a ‘spirit.’ After that spirit had grown to a certain stature it then was given the opportunity by an all-wise Father to come into another stage for its development. It was added upon, and after having lived its span and having attained to its purpose in mortality, another change took place. We go, not into another life in fact, but into another stage of the same life. There is something which was not created or made, and something which does not die, and that something shall live on forever.”1
This chapter discusses our eternal identity and how our knowledge of this identity affects our lives.
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
How does knowing that we are spirit sons and daughters of Heavenly Father bless us?
Who are we? … The Apostle Paul wrote: “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” [Hebrews 12:9] suggesting that all who live upon the earth who have fathers of the flesh likewise had a father of their spirits. … To Moses and Aaron … the Lord had said, “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” His anger was stirred against these unrighteous people, but Moses and Aaron fell upon their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and wilt thou be wroth with all the congregation?” [Numbers 16:21–22.] Did you notice how they addressed him? The God of the spirits of all flesh. …
One of the oldest scriptures we have has come down to us in a miraculous way—we call it the Pearl of Great Price. One of the great books of that precious scripture is known as the book of Abraham. In that book … we find this:
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;
“And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” [Abraham 3:22–26.]
Now there are several precious truths found in that scripture. In the first place, we have just a hint, just a flash of what a spirit is. A spirit, did you hear Abraham saying, was an organized intelligence. This is the first beginning we have in our understanding of what a spirit is. It is an organized intelligence that lived as a spirit before this world was. Now what does a spirit look like? What kind of a conception do you have of that spirit? Well, the Lord has given through the Prophet Joseph Smith, an inspired answer, a part of which reads as follows: “That which is spiritual being in the likeness of that which is temporal; and that which is temporal in the likeness of that which is spiritual.” Now listen, “the spirit of man in the likeness of his person, as also the spirit of the beast, and every other creature which God has created.” [D&C 77:2.]
All right, now, you see me here as a mature physical man. There is a part of me that you can’t see with your physical eyes—that spiritual part of me that looks out through my eyes and gives me power of movement, and gives me a measure of intellect and intelligence. …
Now that is the first truth that we learn—that there was an organized intelligence that was called … a spirit. Here the Lord [Jehovah], who was that great illustrious spirit like unto God [the Father], came among those organized intelligences called spirits, and He said to them, We will make an earth whereon you as spirits may dwell, and you who live worthy here in the spirit world can go down upon that earth and be added upon. And so those spirits who kept their faith, shall I say, or were worthy, were permitted to come on the earth and have added to their spiritual body, a physical body here on this earth. … The fact that you and I are here on this earth with a physical body is an evidence that we were among those who kept our first estate; we passed the test and were permitted to come here. If we hadn’t passed the test we wouldn’t be here; we would be down with Satan trying to tempt the ones who had a body. …
Why must we be faithful in order to complete our foreordained missions on earth?
Having established our premortal identity, who we are—sons and daughters of a God before this world was, who is the Father of the spirits of all men who live in the flesh upon the earth—then we are prepared to proceed to the next answer to the query. From what I read you from the book of Abraham in the 23rd verse you heard Abraham being told that he was ordained or chosen before he was born. I wonder if you have thought of that. Moses was told the same thing. …
“And calling upon the name of God, [Moses] beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: Blessed art thou, Moses, for I, the Almighty, have chosen thee, and thou shalt be made stronger than many waters; for they shall obey thy command as if thou wert God.” [Moses 1:25.] That was to be his mission to be a great and powerful ruler. To Jeremiah, likewise, the Lord said, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” [Jeremiah 1:5.] Joseph Smith, making that plainer, said this to us: “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was.” Then he said, “I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.” [History of the Church, 6:364.]
Here comes an ominous warning. Despite that calling, the Lord put it into the mind of the Prophet Joseph Smith and he has written it … , “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.” In other words, … because we have our agency here, there were many who were foreordained to a greater work than they prepare themselves to do here. Now he said, “And why are they not chosen?” Then he gives two reasons why men fail of their appointments. First, “because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world,” and second, they “aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.” [D&C 121:34–36.]2
Do not misunderstand that such a calling and such foreordination pre-determine what you must do. A prophet on this western continent has spoken plainly on this subject: “Being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil.” (Alma 13:3.) … God may have called and chosen men in the spirit world or in their first estate to do a certain work, but whether they will accept that calling here and magnify it by faithful service and good works while in mortality is a matter in which it is their right and privilege to exercise their free agency to choose good or evil.3
How does knowing who we are influence our use of agency?
What else are we told we are? We are an independent free agent and some people think to do as we please, but that isn’t quite correct. We do have our free agency, but now let me read you something about that. Will you mark down 2 Nephi 2nd chapter, verses 15–16. I tell you I think this was a great risk that our Father was taking to send us down here with the privilege of our agency to make a choice. Now in order to make our choice and thus gain our eternal rewards, there was something that had to happen to us. Now notice—here is a father explaining this very matter to his son: “And to bring about his eternal purposes in the end of man, after he had created our first parents, and the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and in fine, all things which are created, it must needs be that there was an opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life; the one being sweet and the other bitter.” [2 Nephi 2:15.]
Now that is the way it ofttimes sounds, that the things that are forbidden are the things which are the most desirable, and the things that are right for us are sometimes pretty bitter pills for us to swallow, as we say. Now, in order to give man the chance to choose, “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 2:16.] Now to be an independent thinking individual, we had to have not only just the good but we had to have the evil in order that we could choose between the two. Now you think about that for a moment. If everything were good in the world and there were none evil, would you be able to choose anything but good? If everything were evil in the world, if there wasn’t any good to choose, could you choose anything else but evil? When you think about it for a moment, the only way there could be free agency in the individuals who live upon this earth is to have both the good and the bad and each one of us given the opportunity to choose for ourselves. … You see, free agency takes its chances. The Lord was willing to risk that in order that we might walk by faith and, as free, independent agents, choose the right.4
What is our eternal potential as children of God?
The purpose of life was to bring to pass immortality and eternal life. Now, immortality means to eventually gain a body that will no longer be subject to the pains of mortality, no longer subject to another mortal death, and no longer disillusioned, all these former things having passed away. To gain eternal life is the right to live in the presence of the Eternal One, even God, our Heavenly Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ. These are the two objectives for which all of us are placed upon the earth.5
We are here today preparing for immortality, “an interminable extent of time which is the true life of man.” We are all great souls, because we came through a noble heritage. We have the right to become kings and rulers because of the roles we played in the spirit world before we came here. We were chosen to come forth in this day and time, and we are destined for immortality as are all the youth of this church. We too should “find all that is not eternal too short and all that is not infinite too small” for us to stoop to.6
Now let me read from the 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants. … “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise,” and I shall skip a few words in order to give you the meaning, “it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory.” Now listen to this: and shall have “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” [D&C 132:19.]
The Prophet Joseph Smith said this meant that those who were married in the new and everlasting covenant and were true to their covenants, that after they passed through the resurrection they would be able to live together again as husband and wife and have what he calls here, a continuation of the seeds. Now what does that mean? Let me read you from another scripture: …
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
“He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom”; now notice, “he cannot have an increase.” [D&C 131:1–4.]
Increase of what? Increase of posterity. In other words, through obedience to His divine command, we here as human beings are given power to cooperate with God in the creation of a human soul here, and then beyond the grave to have eternal increase in a family relationship after this earth has concluded its work.
… Now speaking of those resurrected beings who had kept the covenant of holy marriage and had been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise: “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” [D&C 132:20.] …
… May we so live that all who are with us may see not us but that which is divine that came from God, and in that vision of what we are and may become, may we receive the strength to climb higher and upward, onward to that great goal of eternal life, I humbly pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.7
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
What has strengthened your testimony that God is your Father?
Why do people sometimes fail to fulfill the work they were foreordained to do here on earth?
What is agency? Why is opposition necessary in the exercise of our agency?
How does the knowledge of our eternal potential influence our daily behavior?
What has given you strength as you have sought to “climb higher and upward, onward to that great goal of eternal life”?
Address at the funeral of Edwin Marcellus Clark, 5 Apr. 1955, Harold Bingham Lee Addresses (1939–73), Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 11.
“Who Am I?” address to Grant Stake Senior Aaronic School, 18 Feb. 1957, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4–7.
Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 168–69.
“Who Am I?” 9–10.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 30.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 73.
“Who Am I?” 11–12, 14.