Something has been stewing in the back of my mind for many months. Something about the timing in mortality for the blessings of this last dispensation just didn’t add up for me. It wasn’t until just the last few days that things began to take solid shape in my mind and I began to see how the Lord has been at work in mortality to bring to pass his many promises to his children. This is a basic outline of what the Lord has been doing since the creation of Adam down to our day. I promise it is more brief than the actual events.
In Alma 37:6 we read,
6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.
We were promised in our premortal life that all of us, meaning every soul to ever come to earth, would be given the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel of Christ, receive of its ordinances, and that we would all be judged equally on whether we accepted these ordinances, regardless of when we were presented with the gospel message. The Savior of us all, who loves us as perfectly as our Father in Heaven, would then judge us based on our opportunities and our choices, and with that mercy that is his only to dispense, he would assign us to our eternal inheritance.
We accepted these terms, knowing his love for us and his desire for our happiness. We trusted him. That trust runs a little thin for many of us in mortality, but at one time we knew him as we knew our Father in Heaven, and we trusted him completely.
That said, how did our Father in Heaven plan on all of us hearing about the work his only begotten son would do for us? Where was this to happen? When was this to happen? We know that it wasn’t to happen for most of mankind during mortality itself. For most of the children of God this blessing would have to wait until we had already passed through mortality and were in the spirit world, awaiting our resurrection.
It is important to note here that the plan of salvation extends beyond mortality in both directions, from premortal life, through mortality, and into the spirit world. While still in the premortal life we were assigned our place and time to be born into mortality. Our Father had already determined who he would send down as leaders, who would be given special privileges to be born into the chosen bloodline, and who would assist him in teaching truth to the people they were assigned to who didn’t have the fulness of the gospel.
The prophets have long taught that God has sent these special messengers to teach a portion of his word to all the nations of the earth. They, like those they lived among in this life would have to wait until the spirit world to receive the teachings of Christ and his ordinances of salvation.
It is also important to note here that the ordinances of salvation are not lessened by the location or situation in which they are received. If I receive the ordinance of baptism in this life, am I not entitled to all the same identical blessings as someone who receives them in the spirit world? Think of the parable of the laborers in the New Testament (Matthew 20). In this parable the Savior taught that it doesn’t matter when we are called to his work, the rewards are the same for us all.
So, though I say this article is about mapping the plan of salvation during mortality, I suppose I must amend that to include the spirit world in that timing. We cannot separate the two spheres of life. Most of humanity will not even hear about the gospel of Christ until they have passed into the spirit world, so the work of salvation must encompass both realms equally. The timetable of the Lord requires that we include both the mortal and spirit world in order for this work to be accomplished.
Patience is required
When I started this piece I quoted from Alma 37 that it is through small and simple things that great things are brought to pass. This is certainly true of the plan of salvation. I’ll start with the first dispensation, that of Adam. As each dispensation is made up of a time when the gospel was actively being taught on the earth, and as more than one dispensation was required because God’s children kept rejecting his offered ordinances, the Lord had to keep calling prophet after prophet to offer his blessings yet again to his children. Each time the gospel had to be reintroduced to the earth we refer to it as a dispensation. Some dispensations had more truth offered to the people, and some less truth.
The dispensation beginning with Moses is one example where the Lord offered them the fulness of the gospel, but because of the weakness of their faith he had to give them a lesser law to live by that was designed to prepare them for the day when the Savior would come and give them the fulness of his law.
In the roughly four thousand years between Adam and Jesus, there were at least half a dozen dispensations. The Lord knew that it would take time, and a lot of it, to prepare the world for the day in which he could give the gospel to the earth and it would never be rejected again. This started with the dispensation of Adam.
We don’t know how widespread the gospel and its ordinances were preached in Adam’s day. If my knowledge of the Lord is accurate, he would have offered them the fulness of the gospel and the priesthood ordinances until they rejected them. We know they had the sealing power, but we haven’t been told how widespread the holding of the priesthood and its blessings were. We only have the stories of the families who did hold the priesthood, because they were the families the prophets were born into.
Enoch preached the gospel to a world who had embraced the teachings of Satan. He gathered those who would repent and they lived in the city of Enoch. Eventually, they were so righteous the Lord took them unto himself, where they remain to this day. They won’t return until the time of the millennium, when the world has become as righteous as they are.
Noah was the last of the prophets to preach to the descendants of Adam. In his day they all rejected the gospel, save his three sons and their wives. After the flood they began to spread out on the earth and all the nations of the earth came from these three sons. Mind you, more than one or two thousand years had passed by now and still there were very few who knew of Christ who was to come, and even fewer who had made covenants to obey him. By the time the dispensation of Abraham began the pyramids were already almost a thousand years old, and there were still only a handful of people on the planet who were followers of Jehovah.
So where is the plan of salvation at this point? What good is it doing the children of God? These are the kinds of questions that were running through my head. A couple thousand years have elapsed since Adam and Eve, yet very little appears to have been accomplished toward achieving the goal of providing opportunities for hearing and accepting the gospel to the children of God as a whole. It was with Abraham that this all changed. He lived about 2,000 years after Adam, and 2,000 years before Christ.
When we think of the Abrahamic covenant we often think in terms of limited vision. When I think of the covenant I think of my marriage with my wife, and the blessings of having my children forever. That is about as far as my thinking goes. But the covenant is much grander than that. I’m not sure what the Lord was doing with all the generations of prophets before Abraham, but the master plan for fulfilling the promises made in our premortal life begin to be fulfilled with God’s covenant with Abraham.
Not only was Abraham and his wife promised all the riches of eternity for their obedience, but it was also promised to all his descendants as well. Besides his sons Ismael and Isaac, Abraham had at least six additional sons by the wife he married after Sarah died. All of these children became nations of the earth. All of them have been mingling their bloodlines with those of the other inhabitants of the earth for the last 4,000 years.
This means that the seed of Abraham has now been spread across the globe into every country and clime. You can have a lot of posterity in 4,000 years. But what difference does this make? What is the Lord up to?
The answer lies partly in the Lord’s need to prepare the foundations for the great work that was scheduled to take place in that special final dispensation when the people would not reject his gospel and would begin the work of fulfilling the promises made to all of God’s children in the premortal world. This is where his patience and the simple things, like waiting for people to have children comes into play.
There were those in the premortal world whose faith was rewarded with birth into the posterity of Abraham, part of the chosen generation. They are like the second group of laborers in the parable from Matthew to be called into the fields in the middle of the day. The gospel was not being given to all of God’s children yet, but they provided the experiences that would yield for us a canon of scripture rich in lessons and doctrine that would guide us in the last days. They may have labored in the Master’s vineyard, but their calling was not to take his gospel to others, but to try to figure out how to live it themselves. Theirs was the calling to set the example for the other nations of the earth.
Even in the Savior’s time on earth, he confined himself to the people of Israel almost exclusively. Taking the gospel to those not of Abraham’s physical lineage was the responsibility of the Apostles after the Savior’s earthly ministry was finished. The Apostles began the process of taking the gospel to those outside of Abraham’s physical seed, though undoubtedly there were those who had Abraham as their father somewhere in the last thousand years of ancestry. To those who heard the gospel message, the call to their souls was unmistakable. They recognized it as having a ring of truth, and they joined this new religion.
But once again, apostasy took over and the priesthood authority was eventually lost, leaving only a distorted reflection of the original truth behind. For almost two thousand years Christ’s gospel spread in this distorted form, but people recognized truth and flocked to it. This is also part of Abraham’s blessing, that his descendants would be able to recognize the truth when it is presented to them.
Scattering and Gathering
The scriptures talk incessantly about the scattering and gathering of Israel. God knew that Abraham’s covenant lineage would reject Him someday, but through the patience that is so typical of God, He would use that rejection to spread Abraham’s posterity across the earth, turning it into a blessing upon the heads of all those who were faithful to that covenant from Abraham on down.
Even in the Book of Mormon, Nephi prophesies that their posterity would eventually be destroyed, but a remnant would remain, which would be almost wiped out by the coming of the gentiles to the American continent (his land of promise). But with the coming of the gentiles, God would give them the record of Nephi’s people, and they would take that gospel record to Nephi’s people and they would once again find joy in the doctrines and ordinances of Christ.
So even in the Book of Mormon, all the prophets knew their people would one day be destroyed, leaving only a remnant behind who would dwindle in unbelief until God sent the Gentiles with their own record to convert them back into the family of God through the covenant of Abraham. They all knew they were swimming upstream when it came to permanently converting their people. The prophets all knew what the end result would be, yet they struggled on to keep as many people in the right path as they could.
Like the original house of Israel, this branch of Israel prepared the way for the real work of salvation that would begin with the last dispensation, that time of sacred privilege foretold by all the major prophets from Adam on down to the Savior’s Apostles and the prophets we have in the Book of Mormon.
What happens in the last dispensation?
For 4,000 plus years the posterity of Abraham has been providing those who live in the final dispensation before Christ’s return with scripture and experience about life and the gospel of Christ to help them in their efforts to fulfill the promises made by the Father and the Son in the premortal world that at some point in time the gospel message will be shared with every child of God.
Those who showed greater faith in the premortal world have been reserved to come forth in the last dispensation to assist in the fulfilling of God’s promises to his children. The scriptures refer to those who do this work as saviors on Mt. Zion. The specific work reserved for those who live in the last dispensation is that of temple work.
Yes, temple work blesses us because we can be sealed to our spouse and our family members, but that is only the beginning. Once we have gone through the temple for ourselves, it becomes our lifelong responsibility to continue to return to the temple and perform the work that opened the doors of salvation for our immediate family for our progenitors, our ancestors. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide the teachings and covenants of Christ to every person who ever entered or will enter mortality.
We need a large number of people to do this work, because at no time in the history of the world has there been this many people on the earth at one time. As we draw nearer to the return of Christ for his millennial reign, the Lord is pouring out his spirit on the nations of the earth. People from all nations are being inspired to make advances in every field of endeavor.
We only see what is happening. It is almost impossible to see where this is all going in the future. But I suspect that all the advances being made will contribute to the spread, dissemination, and the acceptance of his message throughout the world. We can already begin to see how much of an impact these advances have made on family history. Genealogy used to be so cumbersome and difficult. It took immense effort and an incalculable number of hours just to find a few names to submit to the temples. Now, with the indexing program, photographers being allowed to take pictures of records around the globe in almost every country, census records being made available, parish records, family records in increasing numbers, literally millions of names and dates are appearing almost as if by magic.
The promise God made was that he would hasten his work in the last days. This is all part of his work. We who have been withheld until the last dispensation are privileged to assist in this work. The joy is ours. The responsibility is ours.
It may feel like suddenly the weight of the world has been placed on the shoulders of those whose lot it is to live in the last dispensation of time. That would be a correct assessment. For whatever reason we were honored to be held to come at this time of the world, it becomes our sacred privilege to begin the process of fulfilling the promise to teach the gospel to those who live around us, and to provide the ordinances of salvation for those who have already passed through mortality.
Even those who lived before the great flood were not permitted to hear the gospel message until the resurrection of Christ. And then they had to wait another 2,000 years before temples would be built to offer them the ordinances of salvation. The work is immense in scope. The Lord has all the prophets of old and the righteous of old working around the clock beyond the veil teaching the children of God about his covenants and his plan for their happiness.
Meanwhile, we who are still in mortality are working (hopefully tirelessly) to provide the saving ordinances for those people who are accepting the gospel message beyond the veil. No people since the days of Adam have had the privileges of worshiping in temples like the Latter-day Saints. We are where the Lord is beginning to fulfill those promises made specifically to Abraham, but also to all the holy prophets from Adam to the present day. We are participating in the winding up scene. We are those who are a nation of High Priests who have been reserved to come forth in the last days to be saviors on Mt. Zion, to provide salvation to all of God’s children. What a privilege to assist Christ in this glorious work, and to be able to be one of his under-shepherds in caring for his flock.
This is the purpose of this last dispensation. Every dispensation leading up to this one has been but a preparation for the fulfilling of God’s promises to his children. So if it seems that the reservoir has been filling and filling all these generations, but now the dam of blessings and responsibilities is beginning to burst, you are correct. And it is our privilege to see the beginning of the knowledge of the Lord flow out and fill the earth.