Elder Bednar Has It Right: Joseph Smith’s August 13, 1843 Speech

By February 14, 2014

There were no sealing rituals between parents and children in Joseph Smith’s life time. [1] In his August 13, 1843 speech the prophet explained why such sealings were unnecessary:  “A measure of this sealing is to confirm upon their head in common with Elijah the doctrine of election or the covenant with Abraham?which which when a Father & mother of a family have entered into their children who have not transgressed are secured by the seal wherewith the Parents have been sealed.” [2]  Parents who were sealed to each other would have the opportunity of having their children sealed to them also so long as their children did not “transgress.” [3] Therefore, no additional ordinance was necessary.  Howard and Martha Coray’s much notes make it clear that William Clayton’s much briefer notes (just a few sentences) were problematic.  “When a seal is put upon the father and mother it secures their posterity so that they cannot be lost but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father.” [4] Again, Clayton’s notes were extremely truncated; researchers need to look to more thorough notes to get a better sense of Joseph Smith meaning (like Elder Bednar did).

Joseph Smith did teach antinomianism but like all other antinomians (from the heresy of the free spirit to John Dee to John Humphrey Noyes) perfection and thus being above the law was something that one achieved.  One progressed to that stage.  Doctrine and Covenants 132 makes this clear: “if ye abide in my covenant” (19).  Joseph Smith did perform the second anointing, but this was only given to those he felt had proven their faithfulness.  It was not given to children or newly baptized members.

That is, there isn’t any special ticket to the Celestial Kingdom for children of righteous parents.  Smith did teach that the righteous had the ability to save/exalt others in his King Follett Discourse.  But this ability did not only apply to children, this applied to everyone, friends included, that the righteous wanted to save.  “Every spirit can be ferreted out in that world that has not sinned the unpardonable sin neither in this world or in the world of spirits. Every man who has a friend in the eternal world who hath not committed the unpardonable sin you can save him.” [5] Again children didn’t get any special benefits that didn’t apply to everyone else.  Children simply were afforded the sealing rite without an ordinance (which would become effective if they were righteous) whereas sealings to non-relatives required an ordinance.

Smith’s statement in the King Follett Discourse suggested the broad scope of who could be saved: everybody who had not committed the unpardonable sin.  Taken to it’s logical conclusions, this (as J. Stapley rightly alludes to) takes us back to DC 19.  Suffering will be severe but temporary.  This applies to all people.  This was a classic statement of Universalism.  As the Universalists were want to say, the love of God would eventually (after much suffering for the wicked) bring everyone back.  Such would not override agency, because no one would refuse God’s love for ever, the Universalists believed.  Eventually (again after much suffering for the wicked) all would choose God; it just made sense. [6] DC 76 and the statement from the King Follett Discourse cited above made it clear that Smith was a near-universalist rather than a full one–the sons of perdition would not be saved–but Smith’s revelations were still pretty broad.

Such helps to contextualize Orson Wintney’s now much-quoted statement.  “Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father?s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain.”  While this applies to the children of the righteous, DC 19 makes it clear that it also applies to everyone else.  That is, we all have a righteous Father calling us to return.


1 Jonathan Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (2011): 59.

2. August 13, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 241.

3. I don’t think this was a reference to any sin whatsoever, but just indicated that children needed to be generally righteous for this to work.

4. August 13, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 242.

5. April 7, 1843, Words of Joseph Smith, 360.  Smith didn’t make it clear what kingdom such saved people would end up in, but those with ideas similar to Smith (particularly Jane Lead) said that souls would slowly advance through the various heavens, as they purged themselves of their sins.  Perhaps Smith also believed in advancement through kingdoms.

6. D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).  Joseph Smith’s grandfather was a Universalist.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. While we share some agreement here, I think your characterization of the sealings is mistaken. The idea that only certain or particular sealings persevered is fairly late, and I believe, demonstrably foreign to JS’s cosmology.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 14, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

  2. I also believe that JS envisioned child-to-parent sealings; though as you note, he didn’t perform any while alive.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 14, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

  3. Hitting me from both angles here, J. 🙂 I’ll just repost what I said on the back channel: I don’t necessarily mean to imply that “only the second anointing preserves” (maybe I do, but it’s not a distinction that I need to make for the diss) but that temple ordinances in general were for those who JS felt had proven themselves faithful. That is, one had to be qualified for them; they weren’t for children or new converts.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

  4. That is, parents being sealed was not an automatic ticket for their children to the Celestial Kingdom (unless everybody else got that ticket also).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

  5. Steve, I would say that it wasn’t a matter of who went to the Celestial Kingdom, but that for JS, the Celestial Kingdom simply didn’t exist outside of the seals of the temple. I also think that your idea of exclusivity is challenged by JS’s clear impulse to seal all that he could, being “crafty,” as he said, to bring as many of his friends and family along. I think that Sam and WVS are on the money here.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 14, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

  6. Well yeah, people needed ordinances in order to “saved” or whatever. But baptism was available to everyone expect those who denied the Holy Ghost. Logically you’d want to baptize the people you cared about first, but as JS wrote to the twelve in England “those filled with the love of God will not seek to bless their families only, but will range far and wide in the world seeking to bring salvation to everybody” (or something like that, don’t have the quote handy).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 12:52 pm

  7. Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Doctrinal Historicity Wrestlemania! Stapley vs Fleming!

    Comment by Matt W. — February 14, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

  8. That’s what the bloggernacle is for, right? 🙂

    I have tremendous respect for J.’s thoughts and research, so I hope this doesn’t come across as churlish. But I do happen to agree with Elder Bednar on this point.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  9. Enjoying this thoughtful conversation between Stapley and Steve. Well done, gents.

    Comment by Ben P — February 14, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

  10. Not at all churlish, Steve. But I do think this is not a small difference in perspective we are discussing. How do you read the perseverance described in 132? Also do you see the sealings in the Nauvoo Temple as being divergent?

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 14, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

  11. Okay, good questions. There certainly a lot to say about all this but let me sort of lay out some musing.

    Af few points: 1) there’s no mention of children sealings in 132 and I do read the 1843 speech as a promise to righteous children. I don’t see DC 132 negating that. It seems to me that implied in all of Smith’s ordinances is personal purity and obedience to the Lord (DC 93:1). Thus I see that people need to be righteous to receive the blessings mentioned in DC 132.

    I see the “perseverance” statements as heavily overlaid with antinomian principles. That is, as with antinomianism generally, it is a state that one achieves, at which point the concern become the spirit over the letter. That is, do what God tells you directly, worry less about what is written, mentioned in verses 28-39. I see that as “if ye abide in my covenant” (19). Like the oath and covenant of the priesthood “For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (84:44). One needs to do this to abide in the covenant. Then, as explained in the next verses, if you do whatever God asks, you won’t be in trouble, because it was God that told you to do it.

    I know it’s more complicated than that, but I do think that that particular antinomian principle informs all this.

    Furthermore, I think there’s a lot of vagueness in DC 132, things being hinted at that aren’t fully explained. This is all to say that I wonder if some of the perseverance passages do apply to second anointing since that rite was also done as a kind of sealing between husbands and wives.

    The way I see it, is that the early Mormons were talking about sealing people up to eternal life from the very beginning. But Smith keeps adding ordinances to “really” do it, suggesting that he considered such early rites to be inadequate. That is, this perseverance language would be used for a lot of rites, but the “fulness” of all of this was realized in the second anointing. Just thinking out loud here.

    For me the question is, what role did the second anointing play in perseverance? If one is sealed but apostatizes before they received the second anointing, do you think Joseph Smith thought that they we in just as good a position as those who had received the second anointing? Was that rite extraneous?

    Anyway, fun to think about.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

  12. Steve, I think I will just point to my argument in pp. 60-61 of my adoption paper. I honestly don’t think that the folks in Nauvoo saw any of the sealings as conditional. See, e.g., n18, and n48. And as it relates to 132, when you consider what portion of the liturgy was revealed at that time, it is hard to argue, I think, beyond marriage sealing.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 14, 2014 @ 5:07 pm

  13. I’ll take a look at that, but JS was constantly foreshadowing J.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

  14. I guess I would just reiterate what I said above: the Clayton quotes strikes me as highly problematic and DC 132:19 does say “if ye abide in my covenant.?

    And JS was constantly foreshadowing :).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

  15. I think an argument can be made that Joseph Smith taught the need for intergenerational sealings before anyone could truly receive a fullness of glory. His circa 8 Aug. 1839 and particularly his 5 Oct 1840 sermons essentially declared that there could not be a real fulness for anyone until all the dispensations were “gathered together in one” and that even Adam “cannot receive a fulness, until Christ shall present the kingdom to the Father which shall be at the end of the last dispensation.” So how does Smith envision that we gather together all the dispensations in one? He seems to have two ideas in mind: 1) “all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by the priesthood . . . in any of the dispensations, shall all be had in the last dispensation. 2) “a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations . . . should take place . . . from the days of Adam even to the present time.” The “welding” together of dispensations/generations, he indicates would be accomplished via the work for the dead (D&C 128:18, 24). I do not think Smith was antinomian in the least, but he seems to believe that the law of justification could advance certain blessings while, in the meantime, we continued to fulfilled the law every whit, before moving on to eternal glory as a complete family.

    Comment by John Thompson — February 14, 2014 @ 5:53 pm

  16. I’m a little confused John but just FYI, DC 132: 28-39 is THE textbook definition of antinomianism.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 14, 2014 @ 6:10 pm


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