From the Life of John Taylor
In an address he gave as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Taylor recalled the spiritual yearnings he felt as a child to understand life’s purpose and his relationship to God. He said: “When a little boy I used to ask myself, Who am I? Where did I come from? What am I doing here? And why am I here? These things still puzzle us, at least many of them do, yet these are thoughts we cannot help reflecting upon. We see children born into the world, and we see spring and summer, autumn and winter follow each other in regular succession, and we ask ourselves, By what power were these things brought about? Why are we here and what is the object of all these things which we see around us?”2
President Taylor’s teachings reflect the joy he found in the doctrines of the gospel that helped him understand his divine origin and destiny as a child of God. He declared that “when the saint of God considers, and the visions of eternity are open to his view and the unalterable purposes of God are developed to his mind—when he contemplates his true position before God, angels, and men, then he soars above the things of time and sense and bursts the cords that bind him to earthly objects. He contemplates God and his own destiny in the economy of heaven and rejoices in a blooming hope of an immortal glory.”3
Teachings of John Taylor
We are children of our Heavenly Father and have the potential to become like Him.
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” (Psalm 8:4.)
In one point of view, man appears very poor, weak, and imbecile, and very insignificant: in another point of view, he appears wise, intelligent, strong, honorable, and exalted. It is just in the way that you look at a man that you are led to form your opinions concerning him. In one respect, he appears, as it were, as the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven. He is changeable in his opinions, in his thoughts, reflections, and actions. He is idle, vain, and visionary, without being governed by any correct principle. He comes into existence, as it were, like a butterfly, flutters around for a little while, dies, and is no more.
In another point of view, we look at him as emanating from the Gods—as a God in embryo—as an eternal being who had an existence before he came here, and who will exist after his mortal remains are mingled and associated with dust, from whence he came, and from whence he will be resurrected and partake of that happiness for which he is destined, or receive the reward of his evil deeds, according to circumstances. …
… What is [man]? He had his being in the eternal worlds; he existed before he came here. He is not only the son of man, but he is the son of God also. He is a God in embryo, and possesses within him a spark of that eternal flame which was struck from the blaze of God’s eternal fire in the eternal world, and is placed here upon the earth that he may possess true intelligence, true light, true knowledge,—that he may know himself—that he may know God—that he may know something about what he was before he came here—that he may know something about what he is destined to enjoy in the eternal worlds.4
If we take man, he is said to have been made in the image of God, for the simple reason that he is a son of God, and being his son, he is, of course, his offspring, an emanation from God, in whose likeness, we are told, he is made. He did not originate from a chaotic mass of matter, moving or inert, but came forth possessing, in an embryonic state, all the faculties and powers of a God. And when he shall be perfected, and have progressed to maturity, he will be like his Father—a God, being indeed His offspring. As the horse, the ox, the sheep, and every living creature, including man, propagates its own species and perpetuates its own kind, so does God perpetuate his.5
[Man] stands erect on the earth in the likeness of his great Creator; beautifully constructed in all his parts, with a body possessing all the functions necessary for the wants of humanity; standing, not only by right, but by adaptability, beauty, symmetry and glory, at the head of all creation; possessing also mental powers and the capacity of reflecting upon the past, with capabilities to reason upon cause and effect, and by the inductive powers of his mind, through the inspiration of the Almighty, to comprehend the magnificent laws of nature as exhibited in the works of creation; with the capacity also of using the elements and forces of nature, and of adapting them to his own special benefit; and by his powers penetrating into the deep, ascending into the heavens, rushing with mighty velocity across the earth, making use of the separate or combined forces of nature with which he is surrounded and subjugating them to his will; as, likewise, by his intelligence, he has dominion over the fishes of the sea, over the fowls of the air, and over the cattle.6
We need Jesus Christ in order to reach our divine potential.
[Man] stands proudly erect as the head of all creation and the representative of God upon the earth. But while he occupies this exalted position, and is in the image of God, yet he possesses simply, as a man, only the powers which belong to man; and is subject to weakness, infirmity, disease and death. And when he dies, without some superior aid pertaining to the future, that noble structure lies silent and helpless, its organs, that heretofore were active, lively and energetic, are now dormant, inactive and powerless. And what of the mind, that before went back into eternity and reached forward into eternity? And what of its powers? Or what of that spirit, which, with its Godlike energies, its prescience [or foreknowledge] and power, could grasp infinity? What of it, and where is it? …
If … there is a spirit in man which reaches into futurity, that would grasp eternal progress, eternal enjoyments, and eternal exaltations; then those glories, those exaltations, those capabilities and those powers must be the gift of some superior being, power, or authority to that which exists in man. … It is of this gift that we now speak. It is of a principle that emanates from God, that originates with a superior intelligence, whose plans, and powers, and capabilities are exalted above those of mortal man, as the heavens are above the earth, or as the majestic works of the Great Creator throughout the infinitude of space are superior to the puny efforts of the children of mortality.
It is for the exaltation of man to this state of superior intelligence and Godhead that the mediation and atonement of Jesus Christ is instituted; and that noble being, man, made in the image of God, is rendered capable not only of being a son of man, but also a son of God, … and is rendered capable of becoming a God, possessing the power, the majesty, the exaltation and the position of a God. As it is written, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” [1 John 3:2.]
As a man through the powers of his body he could attain to the dignity and completeness of manhood, but could go no further; as a man he is born, as a man he lives, and as a man he dies; but through the essence and power of the Godhead, which is in him, which descended to him as the gift of God from his heavenly Father, he is capable of rising from the contracted limits of manhood to the dignity of a God, and thus through the atonement of Jesus Christ … he is capable of eternal exaltation, eternal lives and eternal progression. But this transition from his manhood to the Godhead can alone be made through a power which is superior to man—an infinite power, an eternal power, even the power of the Godhead: for as in Adam all die, so in Christ only can all be made alive [see 1 Corinthians 15:22].
Through [Christ] mankind are brought into communion and communication with God; through His atonement they are enabled, as He was, to vanquish death; through that atonement and the power of the Priesthood associated therewith, they become heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ, and inheritors of thrones, powers, principalities and dominions in the eternal worlds. And instead of being subject to death, when that last enemy shall be destroyed, and death be swallowed up in victory, through that atonement they can become the fathers and mothers of lives, and be capable of perpetual and eternal progression.7
The Church of Jesus Christ helps us realize our divine potential.
God has ordained among you presidents, apostles, prophets, high priests, seventies, bishops and other authorities; they are of his appointment, empowered and directed by him, under his influence, teaching his law, unfolding the principles of life, and are organized and ordained expressly to lead the people in the path of exaltation and eternal glory.8
We were as much in the dark as other people were about the principles of salvation, and the relationship we hold to God and each other, until these things were made known to us by Joseph Smith.9
We are the offspring of God, and God in these last days has seen fit to place us in communication with himself. He has, through the revelations of himself and of his Son Jesus Christ, by the ministry of holy angels and by the restoration of the holy priesthood which emanates from God, and by which he himself is governed, placed us in a position whereby we can fulfill the object of our creation.10
We want to realize and appreciate the position we occupy before God and the great blessings and privileges that are within our reach. We have just commenced, as it were, in the great work. … We do not always comprehend these things, and hence we labor under difficulties pertaining to this matter, because we do not see, we do not comprehend the position and relationship that subsists between us and our God.
God is our Father; we are his children. He has brought us into his covenant, and it is our privilege to go on from wisdom to wisdom, from intelligence to intelligence, from understanding of one principle to that of another, to go forward and progress in the development of truth until we can comprehend God. For we are his children, we are his sons and daughters, and he is our father. He has organized this Church in order that we may be educated in the principles of life, that we may comprehend those principles that exist in the bosom of God, that we may be able to teach our children correct principles, in order that we may be placed in a position whereby we can be assimilated in the likeness of our heavenly Father.11
We should “contend earnestly” to fulfill our divine potential.
The Lord has revealed to us many blessings, and I sometimes think that we hardly appreciate the light of truth which has been developed, the glory that is connected with the gospel which has been restored, the light of revelation which has been communicated, the position that we occupy in relation to God, angels, our posterity and our progenitors; the hope that the gospel has implanted in the bosom of every faithful Latter-day Saint, which blooms with immortality and eternal life. …
We sometimes forget our prayers, responsibilities, duties and covenants, and we give way in many instances to things which have a tendency to darken the mind, becloud the understanding, weaken our faith and deprive us of the Spirit of God. We forget the pit whence we were dug, and the rock from which we were hewn, and it is necessary that we should reflect on the position that we occupy, upon the relationship we sustain to God, to each other and to our families, that our minds may be drawn back again to the God who made us—our Father in the heavens, who hears our prayers, and who is ready at all times to supply the wants of his faithful Saints. And it is sometimes necessary that we should reflect upon the position we hold in relation to the earth on which we live, to the existence that we had before we came here and to the eternities to come.
We should not be sluggish and dull and careless and indifferent; but as the ancient Saints were exhorted, so let us exhort you to-day—contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints [see Jude 1:3]. …
… We, as eternal beings, associated with an eternal God, having a religion that leads to that God, are desirous, as the ancients were, to know something about him, to be brought into communication with him, to fulfil the measure of our creation and our destiny on the earth, and to help the Lord to bring to pass those things that he designed from before the foundation of the world, in regard to the human family. … The Almighty has never altered his purpose, never changed his designs nor abrogated his laws. … His course is one eternal round. He has had one object in view, and that object will be accomplished in regard to man and the earth whereon he lives.
The only question with us is whether we will cooperate with God, or whether we will individually work out our own salvation or not; whether we will individually fulfil the various responsibilities that devolve upon us or not; whether we will attend to the ordinances that God has introduced or not; for ourselves to begin with, for our families, for the living and for the dead. Whether we will cooperate in building temples and administering in them; whether we will unite with the Almighty, under the direction of his holy priesthood, in bringing to pass things that have been spoken of by the holy prophets since the world was; whether we will contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints. These things rest with us to a certain extent. …
… He desires that his people shall contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints, that as immortal beings they may act in unison with the Almighty, that they may be inspired by the principle of revelation; that they should comprehend something of their dignity and manhood; of their relationship to eternity, to the world that we live in as it is and as it will be, and to the worlds that are to come. …
The spirit of man, possessing a body, will, through the medium of the everlasting gospel, be exalted; and that man, inasmuch as he is faithful, will, by and by, be associated with the Gods in the eternal worlds; and while we plant and sow and reap, and pursue the common avocations of life, as other men do, our main object is eternal lives and exaltations; our main object is to prepare ourselves, our posterity and our progenitors for thrones, principalities and powers in the eternal worlds.
This is what we are after, and what the ancient Saints were after. This is what Adam, Noah, Enoch, Abraham and the prophets were after, that they might fulfil their destiny on the earth, and, as one of the old prophets said, “stand in their lot in the end of days,” [see Daniel 12:13] when the books should be opened, when the great white throne should appear and he who sits upon it, before whose face the heavens and the earth fled away; that we and they, and they and we might be prepared, having fulfilled the measure of our creation on the earth, to associate with the intelligences that exist in the eternal worlds; be admitted again to the presence of our Father, whence we came, and participate in those eternal realities which mankind, without revelation, know nothing about. We are here for that purpose; … we are building temples for that purpose; we are receiving endowments for that purpose; we are making covenants for that purpose; we are administering for the living and the dead for that purpose, and all our objects, and all our aims, like the object and aim of inspired men in former days, are altogether with reference to eternal realities as well as to time. …
This is what we are after, and we shall accomplish it, and no man can stop it, no organization, no power, no authority, for God is at the helm, and his kingdom is onward, onward, onward, and it will continue, and grow and increase until the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and his Christ.12
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
How does it help you to know that you are a child of God? How does this knowledge influence your feelings about your own potential? In what ways does this knowledge influence your prayers?
How does the truth that all people are sons and daughters of God affect your view of others? How should this knowledge affect our relationships within our families?
How have the doctrines of the Church helped you understand your origin and destiny? In what ways does the Church help us fulfill our eternal destiny?
What does it mean to you to “contend earnestly” to fulfill your divine potential? What examples have you seen of people who do this? How can we “cooperate with God” to achieve this goal?
President Taylor taught that “our main object is to prepare ourselves, our posterity and our progenitors for thrones, principalities and powers in the eternal worlds.” How can we remain focused on this objective as we pass through mortality?
The Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham (1943), 70–71.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 24 June 1879, 1.
The Gospel Kingdom, 63.
The Gospel Kingdom, 52–54; paragraphing altered.
The Gospel Kingdom, 52.
The Gospel Kingdom, 56–57.
The Mediation and Atonement (1882), 139–41; paragraphing altered.
Deseret News (Weekly), 8 May 1872, 186.
The Gospel Kingdom, 33.
The Gospel Kingdom, 70–71.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 1 June 1880, 1; paragraphing altered.
Deseret News (Weekly), 8 May 1872, 186; paragraphing altered.