C. Max Caldwell, “Acceptance of the Lord,” in The Doctrine and Covenants: Revelations in Context, ed. Andrew H. Hedges, J. Spencer Fluhman, and Alonzo L. Gaskill (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book, 2008), 1–22.
Elder C. Max Caldwell served from 1992 to 1997 as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Motivation for this presentation has come from observing fellow beings who either struggle to find and feel peace in their lives or are frustrated with a lack of contentment and instead struggle with feelings of failure. In the attempts we all make to obtain the former and avoid the latter, we sometimes neglect to gain a true perspective of either. In other words, our own lack of understanding and application of certain principles may be a self—inflicted cause for dissatisfaction with ourselves. On the other hand, those who feel comfortable with their current circumstances are commonly heard to describe the results of their efforts as success.
I recall overhearing one side of a telephone conversation in an airport terminal. The speaker declared rather triumphantly, “I finally succeeded today.” Since I heard nothing else, I was left to wonder about the nature of his success. Might he be a skillful salesman who had concluded negotiations on a contract? Or perhaps he was a persistent medical patient recovering from limitations imposed through surgical procedures and was emerging from rehabilitative processes. Possibly he was a determined diplomat who had been laboring in persuasive negotiations. Or he may have been a troubled teacher trying to train students in some difficult skill or concept previously foreign to them.
I did not know which, if any, of these assumptions might be true. But I did know he was rejoicing in feelings of success. I wished then, and often have since, that all people could enjoy such feelings frequently. But this raises an important question: should the determination of success be based on pleasing self or other people?
Perhaps an equally common experience is feeling failure. This is not a happy emotion. Each of us has been part of a competitive group wherein someone is selected or designated as a winner. Might others have simultaneously sensed they were being designated losers? When participating in graded exercises, should those receiving lesser grades consider themselves less successful and therefore categorized as either partial or total failures? When we praise or honor people based on statistically measurable performances, might we also be creating an assumption that others not praised did not do well? Do well-intentioned motivators set up desirable, though perhaps for many, unattainable, goals that can create frustration for the underachievers?
When people despair or become despondent, is it commonly because they have failed to reach some self—determined goal or condition or maybe did not do so within a personally set time frame? A very depressed friend told me he had spent a couple of miserable weeks pondering over his failings and weaknesses. He was concerned that over the years, he may have failed to make good use of time, be responsive to family needs, or be considerate in treating people as he should. I suppose most of us have had similar thoughts. Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed: “Some of us who would not chastise a neighbor for his frailties have a field day with our own. Some of us stand before no more harsh a judge than ourselves, a judge who stubbornly refuses to admit much happy evidence and who cares nothing for due process.”
I am constrained to ask a second important question: should a feeling of failure be based on being unable to please self or other people?
Sometimes the Church is criticized for encouraging members to reach for goals that seem to be unattainable, such as being a model mother, a record—setting missionary, a superman bishop, and especially the attainment of perfection. It is not uncommon for bishops to hear Church members say, “Well, I’m not perfect,” or declare, “Nobody is perfect.” This philosophy is sometimes used as a justification for mediocre effort or even sin. It may also deepen discouragement because of failure to reach self—determined goals or even the Lord’s mandated objective of perfection. Critics say our people will always be a group of frustrated failures who never experience success and thus will never feel fulfilled. Certainly we do not apologize for any celestial goal set for us by a celestial being. But, as Elder Maxwell observed, “Following celestial road signs while in telestial traffic jams is not easy.”
Today, we will discuss the following three concepts from the Doctrine and Covenants. First, what is true success or failure? We will spend most of our time with this one. Second, how do we obtain acceptance of the Lord? Third, where do we see this acceptance in the life of Joseph Smith?
Obtaining insights to these concerns seems to justify a discussion of a doctrine that, when understood and applied, will provide a positive impact in the life of every Latter—day Saint. From the sacred truths contained in the Lord’s book of revelations in this dispensation, the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn something of how we should determine what is real success or failure.
Instead of feeling satisfaction with temporal or temporary achievements that please ourselves or others, might we be wiser to strive toward a more meaningful level of internal and eternal contentment? Scriptural declarations justify the conclusion that true success or failure is equated with either an acceptance or a condemnation of the Lord. It seems fitting that one of our greatly loved patriotic songs contains a plea to God for his refinement, “Till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.” No work or success can be more noble than that which merits the divine favor and approval of God.
Permit me now to call attention to some of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants where we find this concept. It is one of the predominant themes of this latter—day scripture that provides a meaningful standard by which we should determine our success or failure.
Section 23. In this section we have an illustration of the opposing levels of a relationship with the Savior which are identified as acceptance or condemnation. The very month the Church was organized in 1830, the Lord addressed five men and gave them specific direction in their personal lives as well as their respective duties concerning the work of the kingdom. Four of the five were told they were “under no condemnation,” but the fifth was not given such an assurance. All of these brethren, except Joseph Knight Sr., had been baptized and were established in a covenant relationship with the Savior. These four had successfully pleased the Lord and were certainly expected to continue in a level of acceptance before Him. They had apparently done what the Lord required of them up to that time.
The fifth man, Joseph Knight, had not been baptized, though he knew he should. Previously he had manifested a belief in Joseph Smith’s work with the Book of Mormon plates and asked for a revelation to instruct him as to his part in the work of the Restoration. The Lord had responded and exhorted him to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 12:6). Obviously he would need to be baptized in order to do so. Once when he attended a baptism of others, he ignored a distinct impression at that time that he should also be baptized and waited instead until June 1830. Thus, the Lord considered him to be under condemnation and stated it was his “duty to unite with the true church, . . . that [he] may receive the reward of the laborer” (D&C 23:7).
When the Lord reveals a truth to a person, He expects compliance; otherwise the person is under condemnation before the Lord. When we know eternal principles such as tithing, fasting, or Sabbath observance and do not comply, we will surely feel failure. The Lord declared, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3).
Sections 39 and 40. A Reverend James Covill had served for forty years as a Baptist minister before he heard the message of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. He thereupon covenanted he would do anything the Lord would require of him. Previously in his ministry, Reverend Covill would have, as present Protestant ministers do, invited his listeners to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior as a condition of their hope for salvation. However, he could not also provide them with information as to how they could attain unto their hoped for heavenly heritage. He could not have offered them an authorized baptism with its attendant covenants.
Building upon Covill’s limited understanding and background, the Savior revealed that to receive Christ is to receive His gospel, which includes repentance and baptism. The Lord challenged him to be baptized and enter into eternal covenants that he might receive the Lord’s Spirit (see vv. 5–6, 10).
It is interesting that the Lord did not use traditional Protestant verbiage. He did not suggest any such process of “accepting Christ.” Rather, the revealed wording dealt with “receiving” the Savior. Indeed, if mortals are challenged to determine whether to accept Christ, there is an implied message that man must judge if Jesus is acceptable to mortal man. Jesus is not on trial; He is the judge. Man is on trial; he must be acceptable unto Christ by receiving the Savior’s atoning gifts and placing his life in harmony with revealed gospel principles.
A search through scriptural texts discloses that terms like accept, accepted, acceptance, and acceptable are always used in a context in which man and his works are being judged as to their acceptability unto the Lord. Such terms are not used with reference to God being accepted by man. Our conclusion must be that we attain an acceptance of the Lord when we worthily receive and partake of His doctrines and ordinances. Interesting to us are some of the meaningful uses of the root cept of Latin origin. Ac-cept-ance is of Christ. Re-cept-ion is our choice, and being re-cept-ive is our opportunity. Per-cept-ion is a spiritual gift, whereas de-cept-ion is of Lucifer. Each has distinctive meaning. We ought not to be confused.
Unfortunately, James Covill rejected the word of the Lord and failed to keep his covenant. He failed to receive the Lord’s gospel, which is tantamount to failure to receive the Lord. Though Covill did not formally enter into a covenant through baptism, the Lord referred to his verbal promise to be obedient as a binding covenant. The Savior declared, “Wherefore he broke my covenant, and it remaineth with me to do with him as seemeth me good” (D&C 40:3). Covenant breakers are failures who are not acceptable to our God.
Section 41. In the first revelation recorded after Joseph Smith moved to Ohio, the Lord provided His definition of discipleship as follows: “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you” (v. 5).
To be a true disciple of Christ and thus be accepted of Him requires more than verbal commitment to Him. One must be both a receiver and doer of the Lord’s law. Those who receive rewards for discipleship fulfill both of these two expectations. In this same revelation is an example of such a person. The Lord called Edward Partridge to be the first bishop of the Church and described him as a man whose heart was pure and in whom there was no guile (see v. 11). He was a disciple of the Lord and was acceptable to Him.
Conversely, to represent oneself as having received the Lord’s law yet unwilling to comply with the responsibilities of sacred covenants is to misrepresent the author of the law. This is hypocrisy, a condition oft condemned by the Lord. Such a person has an impure heart, is guilty of guile, and is unacceptable to the Lord.
Section 38. In the meridian of time, the Savior prayed for unity among His disciples (see John 17:20–21). Eighteen centuries later, the Lord mandated that the members of the Church should have unity. He said, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). We note that failure to achieve oneness with the Lord would be evidence of, and reason for, our unacceptability to Him. To the Nephites, the Savior proclaimed, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me” (3 Nephi 11:29). Those who are in harmony with the Lord and His teachings have a oneness with Him. They are also those who live in harmony with each other. They have obtained the approval and acceptance of the Master.
Section 46. In this revelation, the Lord identified many of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and counseled Church members to seek for the best gifts as suited to their specific needs. He explained the value of these gifts and proclaimed that “they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do” (D&C 46:9).
We learn that eligible recipients of these spiritual gifts include those who keep all the commandments. At first thought, one might conclude no one fits that category. But if no one does, why would such a situation even be mentioned? Further thought suggests that we must not infer something the Lord didn’t say. He did not say the gifts are for those who keep all the commandments all the time. No one does. But many do keep all the commandments most of the time. A second category of acceptable people describes those who are genuinely and sincerely seeking to keep all the commandments. Though they may not always reach their intended spiritual goals, they are striving to do so. Though they may sometimes fail or fall, they arise, repent if necessary, and continue striving to live righteous and acceptable lives.
Thus, many Latter-day Saints are eligible to obtain gifts of the Spirit, participate in privileges extended to faithful Church members, and have claim on promises made by the Lord to His covenant-keeping people and are, most important, acceptable unto the Lord. They are worthy, though imperfect, Saints. When their bishop asks if they are worthy to participate in the various experiences and privileges of the Church, they can answer with a resounding yes. These are they who partake of sacramental emblems in peace, who participate in temple ordinances and covenants in comfort, who perform and receive priesthood ordinances with confidence, who seek for and expect the gifts of the Spirit with the assurance that the Lord’s promises will be fulfilled. These are they who are accepted of the Lord and who enjoy the accompanying peaceful feelings of lives well lived.
Section 52. This revelation contains a welcome “pattern in all things” (v. 14) wherein the Lord describes a person whose actions and attributes are acceptable to Him. Anyone whose nature and behavior is in conformity with the Lord’s pattern has the revealed assurance he is complying with the Savior’s expectations for the present time. The Master declared:
Wherefore he that prayeth, whose spirit is contrite, the same is accepted of me if he obey mine ordinances.
He that speaketh, whose spirit is contrite, whose language is meek and edifieth, the same is of God if he obey mine ordinances.
And again, he that trembleth under my power shall be made strong, and shall bring forth fruits of praise and wisdom, according to the revelations and truths which I have given you. (vv. 15–17; emphasis added)
The Lord identifies at least five definitive qualities or traits that are inherent in the person who is accepted of Him:
One who prays. This is a person who relies on the Lord rather than his own understanding, reasoning, power, and judgment. Obviously such a person has faith in God, a prime prerequisite to be accepted of Him. Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “Man is just as great as his private prayers. The individual is no bigger than his private prayers. If he is a prayerful man he grows to a high stature. If he is not he shrinks to smaller stature.”
One whose spirit is contrite. This is a person of humility who has sorrowed for sins and knows the power of the redemption of Christ. He is both teachable and responsive to correct teachings. He has heard and responded to the Savior’s invitation to come unto Him. A repentant spirit pervades his soul, wherein a changed heart has resulted in acceptable attitudes and behavior. President Ezra Taft Benson observed, “The miracle of forgiveness is real, and true repentance is accepted of the Lord.”
One who obeys the Lord’s ordinances. Certainly one cannot obey ordinances unless one receives the ordinances. A person is not acceptable to the Savior until he comes to the Savior through the ordinances and covenants of the priesthood. A son or daughter of God who elects to remain outside God’s kingdom or a Church member who chooses not to receive all priesthood ordinances is certainly loved by Him but is not acceptable to Him. To comply with the Lord’s will is to make and keep covenants received of Him.
One whose language is meek and edifying. Speech generally portrays thoughts and nature. Language can portray an ostentatious nature or betray an unclean mind and an impure soul. A person who spews out profanity, vulgarity, or obscenities is denying the edifying powers of the Holy Spirit and is neither desirable nor acceptable. On one occasion, I had to tell a close associate that unless he cleaned up his language, I could no longer afford his friendship. He did cease to speak crudely, at least in my presence, and I was grateful.
Criticism and gossip can also offend and deny the Spirit. President Gordon B. Hinckley has counseled as follows:
Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, a catalyst that leads to failure. I am asking that we turn from the negative that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”
Conversely, verbal expressions may represent purity of heart and mind and may convey insights of eternal value. Who has not been lifted to spiritual heights while listening to testimonies and divine declarations of revealed truths?
One whose works and teachings reflect truths given by the Lord. The Lord is the source of all truth. The means by which we access that truth include living prophets, standard works of scripture, and inspiration from the Holy Ghost (see vv. 9, 36). The Lord looks with disfavor upon the teaching of untruth, whether those falsehoods are deliberate or inadvertent misrepresentations of His mind and will. Such teaching might be the means of leading souls away from God. President Joseph F. Smith warned the Church:
Among the Latter-day Saints, the preaching of false doctrines disguised as truths of the gospel, may be expected from people of two classes . . . :
First—the hopelessly ignorant, whose lack of intelligence is due to their indolence and sloth, who make but feeble effort . . . to better themselves by reading and study; those who are afflicted with a dread disease that may develop into an incurable malady—laziness.
Second—The proud and self—vaunting ones, who read by the lamp of their own conceit; who interpret by rules of their own contriving; who have become a law unto themselves and so pose as the sole judges of their own doings. More dangerously ignorant than the first.
Beware of the lazy and the proud; their infection in each case is contagious; better for them and for all when they are compelled to display the yellow flag of warning, that the clean and uninfected may be protected.
Each of us can do a personal introspection and determine if we fit the Lord’s pattern of acceptability. Any variations on our part should result in appropriate modifications to our thinking, feelings, or behavior. Additionally, all of us can evaluate what we see or hear in others and know whether we should be receptive of their ways. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same. Though we should love and be tolerant of people who deviate from the Lord’s standard, we are not also expected to embrace and accept diversions and exceptions to the Lord’s acceptable pattern.
Section 75. In this revelation we see that to be acceptable to the Lord is to do what is pleasing to Him and determine that our will becomes His.
While traveling with some elders to a church conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith noted, “The Elders seemed anxious for me to inquire of the Lord that they might know His will, or learn what would be most pleasing to Him for them to do.” The revelation that followed Joseph’s inquiry identified several ways missionaries could please the Lord:
Behold, I say unto you that it is my will that you should go forth and not tarry, neither be idle but labor with your might—
Lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, proclaiming the truth according to the revelations and commandments which I have given you.
And thus, if ye are faithful ye shall be laden with many sheaves, and crowned with honor, and glory, and immortality, and eternal life. (vv. 3–5)
A review of the Lord’s expectations and counsel from this and other revelations provides the missionary with a plan for effective missionary work. He has the means by which he can evaluate his service in the ministry and know when the Lord is pleased. He is not to be compared with other missionaries, nor is his work to be judged by the results accomplished by others or by other missions. If he has subjugated his will to be harmonious with the will of the Lord, he knows he has presented an acceptable offering and enjoys the quiet confidence that accompanies the fulfillment of a successful mission.
While I served as a mission president, a missionary said to me as he was being released, “I am going home without any regrets. I kept all the mission rules, I worked hard and did my best to do everything I knew the Lord expected of me. I am happy to say I served a successful mission.”
Section 97. As a bit of background for a gospel principle contained in this section, it is good for us to recall a pinnacle moment in the mortal history of the Lord’s people. It happened just after the cataclysmic destruction took place on this continent in connection with the Lord’s Crucifixion. The Lord spoke from the heavens and announced a change in the law of sacrifice. The Lord’s people had faithfully obeyed that law by offering blood sacrifice since the days of Adam some four thousand years earlier. In His announcement, the Lord abolished the practice of blood sacrifice. Though the law was not discontinued, the way by which it was to be kept was changed. The Lord commanded them to “offer for a sacrifice . . . a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20).
In this dispensation, the Lord reaffirmed that commandment in 1831 (see D&C 59:8) and then two years later added a very meaningful and most significant word to the commandment: “Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me” (D&C 97:8; emphasis added).
Whatever sacrifice we may be asked to make, the Lord has emphasized that we are to make it with a willingness to do so. A sacrifice made unwillingly is not a fulfillment of the Lord’s expectation, and the individual should expect to have feelings of failure in his effort to please the Lord. The prophet Mormon explained that process when he said:
For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:6–8)
Conversely, the person who complies with the Lord’s request with a willing heart is accepted of Him. There is yet an additional dimension of this matter. A person may not be requested to make a specific sacrifice, but if his heart is willing to do so, he is accepted of the Lord. The condition of willingness is the crucial issue.
We all know we are to be judged according to our works, but sometimes our works become our only focal point. What if a person is physically unable to perform certain works? Or what if some of us never have opportunity to contribute in the same meaningful ways as others? We have all noticed that some people have strengths and talents that permit them to do some things easier, faster, or better than others. Is one who outwardly performs less productively to be judged with a lesser reward for his efforts?
Pertaining to these questions, the Lord affirmed an eternal principle in a revealed statement given to Joseph Smith during his vision of the celestial kingdom, recorded in section 137 verse 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants: “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.” Truly our acceptance before the Lord is predicated upon not only our actions but also our attitudes.
I vividly recall a statement made to me by a senior missionary couple when they returned from an eighteen—month mission to a European country. I asked them how they felt about their mission. The brother said, “I guess we wasted our time and money. We didn’t baptize a single person.” I was disturbed to hear such a comment and asked them to tell me more about their mission. They indicated they had worked hard to find people to teach, but no one would listen to their message. I was not surprised at that report because I knew the mission where they served to be an extremely difficult place for missionaries to teach and baptize. I asked if they had any other responsibilities or experiences. They said they were involved in activation efforts in a small branch. I inquired about those efforts. They expressed their great love for the members they worked with and described many positive results of increased faith and strength in the spiritual lives of more than twenty people.
Let me digress and propose a few questions for our consideration. Did these missionaries not work diligently? Were they not willing to serve and sacrifice time and means to assist in the Lord’s work? Did their hearts not have a desire to accomplish His will? Do we not think their missionary service was acceptable to the Lord? Is not His acceptance a greater measurement of success than to presume failure due to their notion of what constituted a valid evaluation of their missionary efforts? After asking similar questions of them, I sensed the presence of peace as they considered the criteria the Lord uses for His judgment and acceptance.
This concept is reinforced again by the Lord in section 124. The Lord had previously directed the Saints in Missouri to build a temple. Though they began the work, they were unfortunately prevented from completing it due to subsequent actions taken against them by Missouri mobs. After being driven from Missouri and later settling in Nauvoo, they were comforted, though they failed to accomplish their task; the Lord revealed their status with Him in the following verse: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings” (D&C 124:49; emphasis added).
President Joseph F. Smith emphasized the need for all of us to keep trying when he taught:
There should be no such thing as quitting when we put our hands to the plow. . . . There must be no such thing as being discouraged. We may fail over and over again; . . . we may fail to accomplish the object we have in view. . . . If you fail, never mind. Go right on; try it again; try it somewhere else. Never say quit. Do not say it cannot be done. Failure is a word that should be unknown. . . . The word “fail” ought to be expunged from our language and our thoughts. . . . We will get the reward for all the good we do. We will get the reward for all the good we desire to do, and labor to do, though we fail to accomplish it, for we will be judged according to our works and our intent and purposes; . . . we who try . . . will not fail, if we do not quit.
I treasure the memory of one of my missionary elders. He had difficulty learning Spanish and had not received favorable evaluations of his progress in the Missionary Training Center. Though he was diligent in his efforts, others in his district made much greater progress in their language studies.
After his arrival in the mission, he still struggled to communicate with Spanish—speaking people; he labored under many limitations when he attempted to speak to them. Nonetheless, he did not give up; he refused to be discouraged. He carried a marvelous spirit, so when he introduced the Book of Mormon to people and bore his testimony they knew he knew the book was true. Many responded favorably to his invitation to read it and later permitted him and his companion to come into their home and teach them. He still struggled to converse and teach, but he prayed and studied diligently. A considerable number of his investigators were brought into the Church. I knew the Lord accepted his efforts because of his willingness to do all he could to fulfill the Lord’s expectations.
Over time, his language skills increased. Eventually, he was called to be a zone leader in the Spanish zone, and when I spoke to the Spanish branch he translated for me. His mission was his opportunity to gain the Lord’s acceptance and have that status confirmed to him.
Though the Lord expects us to put forth our best effort to achieve a level of perfect performance, it is comforting to know that for us here and now, He has established a lesser level of acceptance. Our efforts might be described as “Persistence towards Perfect Performance.” We have learned from the Lord’s revelations of His expectations relative to our responsibilities while working to achieve certain established goals. We are expected to seek to reach His described levels of performance. We are taught to sincerely strive to attain unto His characteristics of character and make genuine efforts to follow His example of behavior in all situations. If our hearts are right and we are willing to do His will, we can and will be acceptable servants unto the Most High.
Being accepted of the Lord is really the result of living by the first principles and ordinances described in article of faith 4, namely faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is one more principle we need to mention. After embarking on our journey along the strait and narrow path as acceptable children of God, we must continue our efforts and endure to the end (see 2 Nephi 31:15–21). The Lord used a word forty—six times in the Doctrine and Covenants, which basically means the same as “endure” but carries a slightly different connotation. The word is “continue.” I like to hear the Lord use that word because it implies His current acceptance and also validates a person’s current direction on the path toward eternal life. As an example of this concept, we can read a statement made by the Lord to John C. Bennett: “I have seen the work which he hath done, which I accept if he continue, and will crown him with blessings and great glory” (D&C 124:17; emphasis added). Unfortunately, John Bennett did not continue but instead broke away from the Lord and His Church and lost the glorious promised blessings. For a positive example, we refer to the Lord’s assurance to Lyman Sherman of his acceptable standing before the Lord and promises of marvelous future blessings if he would continue faithful (see D&C 108:2–5). He did so until his death.
We will look at one more example of our subject in the Doctrine and Covenants. We see a pattern from the life and ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith wherein he sought for and obtained the acceptance of the Savior. We will select a few significant passages of scripture in this portrayal. We should notice there are some parallels to us and our destiny.
We are all aware that Joseph was a very young man when the Lord entrusted him with a most overwhelming responsibility to lay the foundation of and build up the kingdom of God on earth. But the whole load was not placed upon him at once. He grew through his assignments and experiences one step at a time. For instance, because of the loss of 116 pages of Book of Mormon manuscript, Joseph was chastised and reminded that he had the gift of translation but was not to seek for or pretend to have any other gift until he finished translating the plates (see D&C 5:4). He was to focus all his efforts on that one assignment. By so doing, he learned how to receive revelation and became more acquainted with the mind and will of the Lord while learning principles of truth and doctrine.
A year later the translation was completed, Joseph was sustained as the Lord’s prophet, and the Church membership was commanded to “give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you. . . . For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth” (D&C 21:4–5). What a weight of responsibility to be carried by a twenty—four—year—old young man with no Church leadership experience! But he could be sustained by the assurance he was accepted of the Lord who manifested a marvelous level of trust in him. He also knew he would not work alone; the Lord intended to direct him in his calling.
However, it is also apparent that, though the Lord was accepting of Joseph at that time, still the young prophet was serving in a conditional or probationary status. He still needed to prove himself worthy of a continuing acceptance. During the first few years of his service, some of the revelations he received reminded him of the need to be diligent and faithful to his sacred trust. We will read from a few of those scriptural passages.
In June 1829, almost a year before the Church was organized, the Lord made the following conditional statement: “And now, marvel not that I have called him unto mine own purpose, which purpose is known in me; wherefore, if he shall be diligent in keeping my commandments he shall be blessed unto eternal life; and his name is Joseph” (D&C 18:8; emphasis added).
A little over a year later, in September 1830, after Hiram Page professed to be receiving revelations, the Lord reminded the Saints that Joseph still served as his prophet and the only one authorized to receive revelation for the Church: “But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses” (D&C 28:2).
Three more months went by while Joseph worked on a Bible translation. Sidney Rigdon visited Joseph and was called by the Lord to assist Joseph as his scribe. Sidney was reminded of Joseph’s high calling, though it was still a conditional one. The Lord said: “And I have given unto [Joseph] the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed, even things which were from the foundation of the world, and the things which shall come from this time until the time of my coming, if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead” (D&C 35:18; emphasis added).
Only two more months went by before a woman by the name of Hubble came among the Saints making pretensions of revealing commandments and laws for the Church and professing to be a prophetess. We might refer to these problems as “Hubble Trouble!” Because some of the Saints were deceived into thinking she represented the Lord, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord and received a revelation that included the following divine declaration to the Saints: “Ye have received a commandment for a law unto my church [section 42], through him whom I have appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations from my hand [Joseph Smith]. And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he be taken, if he abide in me” (D&C 43:2–3; emphasis added).
Once again, in the fall of 1831, the Lord made still another conditional statement of the prophetic position Joseph occupied. He stated, “The keys of the mysteries of the kingdom shall not be taken from my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., through the means I have appointed, while he liveth, inasmuch as he obeyeth mine ordinances” (D&C 64:5; emphasis added).
In the earliest days of the Church, it was needful that the Lord frequently emphasize that Joseph Smith was the only mortal being authorized to speak for Him and receive revelations for His Church. But it is interesting that during a period of twenty—seven months, from June 1829 to September 1831, we read that the Lord cautioned Joseph five times that his calling was contingent upon keeping the commandments and obeying the ordinances. However, the next recording of the Lord speaking of Joseph’s calling in the kingdom contained a most remarkable statement. In section 90, given March 8, 1833, the Lord told Joseph: “Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come” (D&C 90:3; emphasis added).
After the many times the Lord emphasized the conditional status of Joseph, He now declares the sacred calling and role of Joseph to be eternal and unconditional. We wonder what happened? Why the change? When we read section 132, we find the answer. The Lord declared to Joseph: “For I am the Lord thy God, and will be with thee even unto the end of the world, and through all eternity; for verily I seal upon you your exaltation, and prepare a throne for you in the kingdom of my Father, with Abraham your father” (D&C 132:49).
Some will wonder how the Lord’s declaration in section 132 could have any bearing upon a statement that was made back in section 90. The simple reason is that section 132 was received by Joseph Smith at least a year before section 90, as early as 1831, though not officially written until 1843. So when Joseph’s calling and election was made sure by the Lord some time in the last three months of 1831, it preceded the 1833 revelation in section 90 wherein the Lord unconditionally affirmed Joseph Smith’s prophetic position in this world and in the world to come.
We pause for a brief explanation of “calling and election”:
To be called is to be a member of the Church and kingdom of God on earth; . . . it is to have a conditional promise of eternal life. . . . The call itself is to the gospel cause; it is not reserved for apostles and prophets or for the great and mighty in Israel; it is for all the members of the kingdom. To have one’s calling and election made sure is to be sealed up unto eternal life; it is to have the unconditional guarantee of exaltation in the highest heaven of the celestial world; . . . it is, in effect, to have the day of judgment advanced.
During the first phase of Joseph Smith’s mortal life and ministry, the Lord repeatedly reminded him that he needed to keep his covenants and thus prove himself worthy to rise beyond his conditional status in the Lord’s kingdom. After doing so, Joseph moved from an awareness of his conditional acceptability before the Lord to a level where he was given certain knowledge of his permanent and ultimate state of acceptance, even that of having his exaltation sealed upon him.
We commented earlier that when we examined Joseph Smith’s experiences in connection with his acceptance of the Lord, we would notice several parallels to our own quest to receive the Lord’s approval. Let me mention a few. Like Joseph, we too enter into covenants and promise that we will sincerely strive to keep them, knowing of the Lord’s promise of eternal life for those who are faithful. We also need to be warned of the pitfalls and temptations of mortality and seek diligently to avoid any departures from the Lord’s plan for our happiness.
We have observed that Joseph was chastised by the Lord when it was needed, but after genuine repentance he was reinstated to a favorable relationship with Deity. We will not always do the right thing either. But when we stumble or displease the Lord, we also repent and then strive to do better. By so doing, we can expect the same loving help from on high. Observing that we will not reach all levels of perfection in this life, President Lorenzo Snow provided some comforting insights and counsel:
If we could read in detail the life of Abraham, or the lives of other great and holy men, we would doubtless find that their efforts to be righteous were not always crowned with success. Hence, we should not be discouraged if we should be overcome in a weak moment; but, on the contrary, straightway repent of the error or the wrong we may have committed, and as far as possible repair it, and then seek to God for renewed strength to go on and do better. We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged whenever we discover our weakness. We can scarcely find an instance in all the glorious examples set us by the prophets, ancient or modern, wherein they permitted the Evil One to discourage them; but on the other hand they constantly sought to overcome, to win the prize, and thus prepare themselves for a fulness of glory.
As we examine the final destiny of Joseph Smith and consider that his calling and election was made sure, many may think we will not be able to follow his pattern. But the primary difference between us and Joseph is that the sealing of his exaltation took place during his mortal life; certainly some of us may also do the same and yet many may not. However, the time frame for the event makes no difference in the eternal scheme of things. Those who find acceptance of the Lord in this life and depart mortality having endured to the end in that relationship will also be sealed up to eternal life. Listen to the confirming teachings of an Apostle, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, as he spoke on this matter:
All the faithful Saints, all of those who have endured to the end, depart this life with the absolute guarantee of eternal life.
There is no equivocation, no doubt, no uncertainty in our minds. Those who have been true and faithful in this life will not fall by the wayside in the life to come. If they keep their covenants here and now and depart this life firm and true in the testimony of our blessed Lord, they shall come forth with an inheritance of eternal life.
We do not mean to say that those who die in the Lord, and who are true and faithful in this life, must be perfect in all things when they go into the next sphere of existence. There was only one perfect man—the Lord Jesus whose Father was God. . . .
But what we are saying is that when the saints of God chart a course of righteousness, when they gain sure testimonies of the truth and divinity of the Lord’s work, when they keep the commandments, when they overcome the world, when they put first in their lives the things of God’s kingdom: when they do all these things, and then depart this life—though they have not yet become perfect—they shall nonetheless gain eternal life in our Father’s kingdom; and eventually they shall be perfect as God their Father and Christ His Son are perfect.
So we really can follow the same path as Joseph Smith. We have learned that true success in mortal life is the obtaining of our God’s approval and to be accepted of Him. All who obtain that status can know it by the peaceful presence of the Holy Spirit. The Lord told Joseph Smith he would know when he was where the Lord wanted him to be by the “peace and power of my Spirit, that shall flow unto you” (D&C 111:8).
No one in this Church would question the success Joseph achieved in his life. But what did he do? He found acceptance of the Savior, though for a time it was a conditional relationship. He had to prove himself like everyone else. But he endured faithfully and obtained the Lord’s unconditional promise of eternal life. Little wonder that Joseph Smith has exclaimed to us: “Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure.” In considering how we fulfill the Prophet’s charge, we simply say to our fellow Saints, “Receive all available priesthood covenants, including those in the temple, and keep them.” To simplify even further, we say, “Keep the baptismal covenant and endure to the end; the promise is eternal life” (see Mosiah 18:8–10). Eternal life, or exaltation, is the ultimate level of the Lord’s acceptance. He provides no greater gift (see D&C 14:7); it is bestowed upon all those who are accepted of Him who then continue to maintain that status. There is no greater success. That we all may constantly seek to attain it is my desire and prayer.
 Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, October 1976, 14.
 Neal A. Maxwell, in Conference Report, October 1976, 14.
 “America the Beautiful,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 338.
 John A. Widtsoe, The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 38.
 Ezra Taft Benson, The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 70.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, Stand a Little Taller (Salt Lake City: Eagle Gate, 2001), 161.
 Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 373.
 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1980), 1:243.
 Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 132–33.
 Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1973), 3:326, 330–31.
 Lorenzo Snow, “Blessings of the Gospel Only Obtained by Compliance to the Law,” Ensign, October 1971, 19, 21.
 Bruce R. McConkie, in Conference Report, October 1976, 158–59.
 Smith, History of the Church, 1:316.
 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1967), 366.