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Born in the Covenant

by W. John Walsh

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”[1]

 

A child born to a couple who have been sealed under the covenant of eternal marriage is said to be born in the covenant.  This special designation means the child is eternally sealed to his or her parents and heir to all the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant including eternal life.  President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

 

“The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith the doctrine of the eternity of the marriage covenant. That is to say, when a man and a woman are married by divine authority in a temple their marriage is to continue throughout all eternity. Children born to such parents will belong to their parents forever, and the family will be an eternal organization and will not come to an end at the death of the members.”[2]

 

Latter-day Saints believe they are entitled to the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant because they are the gathered literal seed of Israel that has been restored from their long scattering.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

 

“According to the terms of the covenant which God made with Abraham, all of the literal seed of that great prophet are entitled to receive the gospel, the priesthood, and all of the ordinances of salvation and exaltation.”[3]

 

Many members of the Church are literally descended from the lost ten tribes, especially Ephraim and Manasseh.[4]  The blessing of being born in the covenant often comes about as a result of premortal faithfulness:

 

“The house of Israel was, of course, a distinct and chosen people in pre-existence, with great hosts of our Father's favored and faithful children being foreordained to receive mortal birth through this elect lineage.”[5] 

 

Since only those under this covenant can inherit eternal life, Latter-day Saints consider it a sacred responsibility to extend these blessings to others by “eventually link[ing] together in the endless chain of salvation the whole human race.”[6]  Each child will be linked to their parents who in turn are linked to their own parents, and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve—who in turn are linked to their Heavenly Father and Mother.  Each portion of the Church’s threefold mission[7] further the development of the linkage.

 

In the ideal view, every spirit son and daughter of God would marry in the temple for eternity and therefore have their children automatically born in the covenant—and thus eligible for all the blessings of salvation.  However, for those who were not born in the covenant, it is possible to be “adopted in the covenant.”[8]  Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught:

 

“Those of alien or Gentile lineage who believe the gospel and live its laws are adopted into Abraham's family and shall inherit the blessings of the covenant as fully and completely as though they had been born in the chosen lineage.”[9]

 

The adoption is accomplished via a sealing ordinance in the temple.  This work of sealing is the most important purpose of LDS temple worship.  President Brigham Young taught:

 

“[In the temple,] we expect to enter to enjoy the blessings of the Priesthood, and receive our washings, our anointings, our endowments, and our sealings; and the brethren will be sealed to connect the links and make perfect the chain from ourselves to Father Adam. This is the object of the temple which we are about to commence building at this place.”[10]

 

If “parents subsequently are sealed in temple covenants they can have their children sealed to them, and can secure the same eternal family ties as if all were born in the covenant.”[11]  In cases where ancestors are not worthy, they will be dropped from the family chain and the generation bypassed.  For example, a child with an unworthy father, but a worthy grandfather, will be sealed directly to his grandfather.  If his grandfather were also unworthy, then he would be sealed to the next worthy ancestor.  Regarding the family chain of exalted beings, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

 

“Every married man stands at the head of his household, that is, his immediate family. Thus I, for instance, will stand at the head of my family group by virtue of the sealing for time and eternity, and my children will belong to me. I will belong to my parents in their family group. My father likewise, with his brothers and sisters, will belong to his father's unit in that family group, and his father to his father before him—all linked together generation to generation like a chain. So it will be of the righteous from the days of Adam down—Adam standing at the head as Michael, having authority and jurisdiction over his posterity in this large family group who have kept the commandments of God. Now that is the order of the priesthood. Of course there will be chains that will be broken, links that will be missing, because we can not force people into the kingdom. Those who are unworthy to be joined in this grouping of families will have to stand aside, and those who are worthy will be brought together and the chain will go on just the same. Eventually, when this work is perfected, and Christ delivers up to his Father the keys and makes his report, and death is destroyed, then that great family from the days of Adam down, of all the righteous, those who have kept the commandments of God, will find that they are one family, the family of God, entitled to all the blessings that pertain to the exaltation.”[12]

 

In addition to the eternal ramifications of being born in the covenant, there are earthly privileges and responsibilities as well.  Those born in the covenant are charged with helping the Lord “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[13]  To help them in this sacred duty and also reward them and their parents for righteousness, the Lord grants those within the covenant greater blessings than those outside the covenant.[14]  Between the spiritual affinities developed in premortality and their righteous upbringing in mortality, they will develop strong spiritual proclivities in mortality—if they use their agency correctly.  Yet, because Lucifer realizes that those born in the covenant are a threat to him and his infernal schemes, they will also be subjected to greater temptation by the Adversary.  President Heber J. Grant taught:

 

“…they will have greater claim upon the blessings of God, being born under the new and everlasting covenant, and it will come natural for them to grow up and perform their duties; but the devil realizes this, and is therefore seeking all the harder to lead our children from the truth”[15]

 

However, if they are faithful to the teachings of the gospel, they will not be “tricked or turned aside by misrepresentations”[16] from the devil and his agents.  While there are many blessings available to those born in the covenant, they are not predetermined for exaltation.  “For the eternal blessings of being sealed as a family member to be valid, each must remain faithful to his or her covenants.”[17]

 

[See also Salvation of the Dead; Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About the Family home page; Teachings About Children home page.]



[1] Genesis 17:7.

 

[2]Smith, J., Answers to Gospel Questions Vol. 3, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1972, p. 158.

 

[3] McConkie, B., Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 126.

 

[4] Smith, J.,  Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 3, Compiled by B. McConkie, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 252.

 

[5] McConkie, B., Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol.3, Salt Lake City, Utah:  Bookcraft, 1973, p. 494.

 

[6] McKay, D., Gospel Ideals, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953, p. 66-67.

 

 

[7] Church leaders have summarized efforts at bringing eternal salvation to families as three principal missions:  “—To proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; —To perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; —To redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and his Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.)” Kimball, S., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1982, p. 434.

 

[8] Smith, J., Gospel Doctrine, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1919, p. 355.

 

[9] McConkie, B., A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1985, p.504 - p.505.

 

[10] Young, B., Discourses of Brigham Young, ed. by J. Widstoe, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1941, p. 418-19.

 

[11] “Born in the Covenant,” Ralph L. Cottrell, Jr., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.

 

[12] Smith, J.,  Doctrines of Salvation Vol.2, Compiled by B. McConkie, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1954, p. 67-68.

 

[13] Moses 1:39.  See Serge F. Ballif, Conference Report, April 1909, p.80.

 

[14] Journal of Discourses, Vol. 18, p. 248-49, Brigham Young, June 23, 1874.

 

[15] Grant, H., Gospel Standards, Compiled by G. Homer Durham, Salt Lake City, Utah: Improvement Era, 1943, p. 155.

 

[16] Elder Reed Smoot, Conference Report, October 1905, p.19

 

[17] Born in the Covenant,” Ralph L. Cottrell, Jr., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992.  Also, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated-- And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)

 

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