ETERNAL PROGRESSION

The following are sections out of Bill McKeever’s book In their Own Words: A Collection of Mormon Quotations. The full book of 400 pages is available at Mormonism Research Ministry or Amazon.com.

2nd President Brigham Young

“Brother Kimball sometimes brings up the figure of the potter
putting fresh clay into the mill and grinding it to use in his business,
to illustrate the influx of the brethren and sisters who are
gathered from the nations, and who have to be instructed in those
principles which have been taught here for years; but carrying out
the figure, I may say that some of the clay here has been ground
over and over for thirty years, and it comes out as rough as the first
time it passed through the mill. Some men seem as if they could
learn so much and no more. They appear to be bounded in their
capacity for acquiring knowledge, as Brother Orson Pratt, has in
theory, bounded the capacity of God. According to his theory, God
can progress no further in knowledge and power; but the God
that I serve is progressing eternally, and so are his children: they
will increase to all eternity, if they are faithful” (Brigham Young,
January 13, 1867, Journal of Discourses 11:286).

“How many earths are there? I observed this morning that you
may take the particles of matter composing this earth, and if they
could be enumerated they would only be a beginning to the number
of the creations of God; and they are continually coming into
existence, and undergoing changes and passing through the same
experience that we are passing through. Sin is upon every earth
that ever was created, and if it was not so, I would like some philosophers
to let us know how people can be exalted to become
sons of God, and enjoy a fulness of glory with the Redeemer.
Consequently every earth has its redeemer, and every earth has
its tempter; and every earth, and the people thereof, in their turn
and time, receive all that we receive, and pass through all the ordeals
that we are passing through” (Brigham Young, July 10, 1870,
Journal of Discourses 14:71-72).

4th President Wilford Woodruff

“GOD IS INCREASING IN KNOWLEDGE. If there was a point
where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the
very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent and reflecting
mind. God Himself is increasing and progressing in knowledge,
power, and dominion, and will do so, worlds without end”
(Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 3).

“We are now upon our second estate, and our eternal destiny depends
upon the few years we spend in the flesh. We are placed
here that it may be seen which law we will keep. Our Heavenly
Father has placed before us the laws celestial, telestial and terrestrial.
If any man will obey the celestial law, he will be preserved by
that law; all the glory, power and exaltation, belonging to that law,
will be given to him” (Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford
Woodruff, pp. 268-269. See also Journal of Discourses 22:209, January
9, 1881).

5th President Lorenzo Snow

“We must advance through stages to godhood. As man now is, God once
was—even the babe of Bethlehem, advancing to childhood—
thence to boyhood, manhood, then to the Godhead. This, then, is
the ‘mark of the prize of man’s high calling in Christ Jesus’” (Lorenzo
Snow, The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p. 5. Italics in original).

6th President Joseph F. Smith

“It is absolutely necessary that we should come to the earth and
take upon us tabernacles; because if we did not have tabernacles
we could not be like God, nor like Jesus Christ. God has a tabernacle
of flesh and bone. He is an organized being just as we are,
who are now in the flesh. Jesus Christ was born of his mother,
Mary. He had a fleshly tabernacle. He was crucified on the cross;
and his body was raised from the dead. He burst the bonds of
the grave, and came forth to newness of life, a living soul, a living
being, a man with a body, with parts and with spirit-the spirit and
the body becoming a living and immortal soul. You and I have
to do the same thing. We must go through the same ordeal in
order to attain to the glory and exaltation which God designed we
should enjoy with him in the eternal worlds. In other words, we
must become like him; peradventure to sit upon thrones, to have
dominion, power and eternal increase. God designed this in the
beginning. We are the children of God. He is an eternal being,
without beginning of days or end of years. He always was, he is, he
always will be. We are precisely in the same condition and under
the same circumstances that God our heavenly Father was when
he was passing through this, or a similar ordeal. (Joseph F. Smith,
Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F.
Smith, 3rd Edition, pp. 77-78).

“So far as the stages of eternal progression and attainment have
been made known through divine revelation, we are to understand
that only resurrected and glorified beings can become parents
of spirit offspring. Only such exalted souls have reached maturity
in the appointed course of eternal life; and the spirits born
to them in the eternal worlds will pass in due sequence through
the several stages or estates by which the glorified parents have attained
exaltation” (Joseph F. Smith, Teachings Of Presidents Of The
Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998, p. 92).

8th President George Albert Smith

“There are some people who have supposed that if we are quickened
telestial bodies that eventually, throughout the ages of eternity,
we will continue to progress until we will find our place in the
celestial kingdom, but the scriptures and revelations of God have
said that those who are quickened telestial bodies cannot come
where God and Christ dwell, worlds without end” (George Albert
Smith, Conference Reports, October 1945, p. 172. See also Search
These Commandments, 1984, p. 81).

“We are here to prepare ourselves and develop ourselves and qualify
ourselves to be worthy to dwell in the presence of our Heavenly
Father. We believe that we are here because we kept our first estate
and earned the privilege of coming to this earth. We believe that
our very existence is a reward for our faithfulness before we came
here, and that we are enjoying on earth the fruits of our efforts in
the spirit world. We also believe that we are sowing the seed today
of a harvest that we will reap when we go from here. Eternal life is
to us the sum of pre-existence, present existence, and the continuation
of life in immortality, holding out to us the power of endless
progression and increase. With that feeling and that assurance,
we believe that ‘As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may
become.’ [See Lorenzo Snow, ‘The Grand Destiny of Man,’ Deseret
Evening News, July 20, 1901, 22.] Being created in the image of
God, we believe that it is not improper, that it is not unrighteous,
for us to hope that we may be permitted to partake of the attributes
of deity and, if we are faithful, to become like unto God; for
as we receive and obey the natural laws of our Father that govern
this life, we become more like Him; and as we take advantage of
the opportunities placed within our reach, we prepare to receive
greater opportunities in this life and in the life that is to come…”
(George Albert Smith, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert
Smith, 2011, pp. 70-71. Ellipsis, italics and brackets in original).

10th President Joseph Fielding Smith

“‘They who dwell in his presence are the Church of the Firstborn;
and they see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having
received of his fulness and of his grace; and he makes them equal
in power, and in might, and in dominion.’ Those who receive a
lesser degree in the celestial kingdom, will not be made equal in
power, might and dominion, and many blessings of the exaltation
will be denied them. To be ‘made equal in power, and in might,
and in dominion,’ does not mean that all shall advance with equal
rapidity to perfection, but that the means are given to them as
sons of God by which they may obtain this fulness” (Joseph Fielding
Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 1953, 1:287).

“Latter-day Saints believe in this progression in eternity until,
eventually, we become worthy through knowledge, wisdom, humility,
and obedience, to be like God, and then to have the privilege
of being made equal in power, might and dominion (D. C.
76:95), and to possess all that the Father hath (D. C. 84:38) as
members of ‘the Church of the First-born.’ (D. C. 76:54, 94.) So
if such mighty blessings are promised to those who are willing to
keep the whole law unto the end, are they not to continue on in
the road of perfection after the resurrection until the fulness is
reached and they shall be like our Eternal Father?” (Joseph Fielding
Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 9).

“It seems very strange to me that members of the Church will
hold to the doctrine, ‘God increases in knowledge as time goes
on.’… Where has the Lord ever revealed to us that he is lacking
in knowledge? That he is still learning new truth; discovering new
laws that are unknown to him? I think this kind of doctrine is very
dangerous” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:7-8. Ellipsis
mine).

“It has been asked if it is possible for one who inherits the telestial
glory to advance in time to the celestial glory? The answer to
this question is, No! The scriptures are clear on this point. Speaking
of those who go to the telestial kingdom, the revelation says:
‘And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and
Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.’ Notwithstanding
this statement, those who do not comprehend the word of the
Lord argue that while this is true, that they cannot go where God
is ‘worlds without end,’ yet in time they will get where God was,
but he will have gone on to other heights. This is false reasoning, illogical,
and creates mischief in making people think they may procrastinate
their repentance, but in course of time they will reach
exaltation in celestial glory” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of
Salvation 2:31. Italics in original).

“Unless a man will adhere to the doctrine and walk in faith, accepting
the truth and observing the commandments as they have
been given, it will be impossible for him to receive eternal life,
no matter how much he may confess with his lips that Jesus is the
Christ, or believe that his Father sent him into the world for the
redemption of man. So James is right when he says the devils ‘believe
and tremble,’ but they do not repent. So it is necessary, not
merely that we believe, but that we repent, and in faith perform
good works until the end; and then shall we receive the reward of
the faithful and a place in the celestial kingdom of God” (Joseph
Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:311).

12th President Spencer W. Kimball

“No progression between kingdoms. After a person has been assigned
to his place in the kingdom, either in the telestial, the terrestrial,
or the celestial, or to his exaltation, he will never advance
from his assigned glory to another glory. That is eternal! That is
why we must make our decisions early in life and why it is imperative
that such decisions be right” (Spencer W. Smith, The Teachings
of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 50. See also The Miracle of Forgiveness,
pp. 243-244 and Search These Commandments, 1984, p. 81-82).

15th President Gordon B. Hinckley

“We are here to test our worthiness, acting in the agency which
God has given to us. When we die we shall go on living. Our
eternal life is comprised of three phases: one, our premortal existence;
two, our mortal existence; and three, our postmortal existence”
(Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Great Things Which God Has
Revealed,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2005, p. 83).

First Presidency

“Now, we are not ashamed of the glorious doctrine of eternal progression,
that man may attain the position of those to whom came
the word of God, that is, gods” (Anthon H. Lund, Conference Reports,
October 1902, p. 81).

“Following the revelations he received, Joseph Smith taught with
authority many truths recorded in the Bible which previously had
not been understood. Some of these are: that we are spirit children
of God, that we had a premortal existence, that we are in
mortality to prove ourselves, and that if we are faithful we can return
to live eternally in the presence of God and through eternal
progression become Godlike” (N. Eldon Tanner, “The Contributions
of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Ensign (Conference Edition),
November 1979, p. 52).

“In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and
worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by
which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly
experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize
his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life” (Henry B. Eyring,
Eternal Marriage Student Manual, p. 105).

Apostles

“Now we wish to be distinctly understood that each of these personal
Gods has equal knowledge with all the rest; there are none
among them that are in advance of the others in knowledge;
though some may have been Gods as many millions of years, as
there are particles of dust in the universe, yet there is not one
truth that such are in possession of but what every other God
knows. They are all equal in knowledge, and in wisdom, and in
the possession of all truth. None of these Gods are progressing in
knowledge, neither can they progress in the acquirement of any
truth” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, p. 117).

“Some have gone so far as to say that all the Gods were progressing
in truth, and would continue to progress to all eternity, and
that some were far in advance of others: but let us examine, for a
moment, the absurdity of such a conjecture. If all the Gods will be
eternally progressing, then it follows, that there must be a boundless
infinity of knowledge that no God ever has attained to, or ever
can attain to, throughout infinite ages to come: this boundless
infinity of knowledge would be entirely out of the reach and control
of all the Gods; therefore it would either not be governed at
all, or else be governed by something that was infinitely Superior
to all the Gods—a something that had all knowledge, and consequently
that could not acquire more. Have we any right to say that
there is a boundless ocean of materials, acting under such Superior
laws that none of the Gods to all ages of eternity can be able
to understand them? We should like to know what Law Giver gave
such superior laws? If it be said that the laws were never given, but
that the materials themselves eternally acted according to them.
This would not in the least obviate the difficulty; for then there
would be a boundless ocean of materials, possessing a knowledge
of laws so infinitely superior to the knowledge of all the Gods, that
none of them, by progressing for eternal ages, could ever reach
it. This is the great absurdity, resulting from the vague conjecture
that there will be an endless progression in knowledge among all
the Gods. Such a conjecture is not only extremely absurd, but it
is in direct opposition to what is revealed” (Orson Pratt, The Seer,
pp. 117-118).

“Think of the increase of intelligence and the development of
man in the few years between the cradle and the grave, and then
consider the fact that God’s plan for the glory and immortality
of man reaches into the eternal worlds and comprehends neverending
development and progression. Can you not imagine a day
when it will be possible for you to be perfect as your Father in
heaven is perfect? when you will have progressed to such an exalted
condition that you will be able to do the works of the Father?
Such will be the case, whether you can imagine it or not. But there
are certain conditions to which we must subscribe in order to attain
to this great glory. This perfection can only be reached on
the principles of righteousness” (John W. Taylor, Conference Reports,
November 1901, Funeral of President Lorenzo Snow, p. 92).

“However, if the great law of progression be accepted, God must
have been engaged from the beginning, and must now be engaged
in progressive development, and infinite as God is, he must
have been less powerful in the past than he is today” (John A.
Widtsoe, Rational Theology, 1915, p. 23).

“Through the system of truth taught by Joseph Smith runs the doctrine
of progression. Man does not stand still. He either descends
or ascends; either progresses or retrogrades. Man’s destiny, if he
will it so, is eternal progression. Man is of the family of the Gods,
he was begotten in his pre-existent state by his heavenly Father, yet
he has always been subject to the law of growth. He has risen in
power and understanding throughout the ages of his existence.
In words that astonish those whose eyes have not been opened
to eternal truth he said with respect to human progression: ‘God
himself was once as we are now; and is an exalted man; for Adam
was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God.’ Man’s
destiny is a God-like one. We do not worry about evolution. We
have the true doctrine. The ‘Mormon’ Prophet set forth the eternal
law of progression” (John A. Widtsoe, “The Divine Mission
of Joseph Smith,” Handbook of the Restoration: A Selection of Gospel
Themes Discussed by Various Authors, pp. 35-36).

“The question is often asked, ‘Is it possible for one who attains
telestial glory in time in the eternal world to live so well that he
may graduate from the telestial and pass into the terrestrial, and
then after a season that he may progress from that and be ultimately
worthy of the celestial glory?’ That is the query that has
been asked. I have just read the answer, so far as the telestial group
is concerned. ‘Where God and Christ dwell they cannot come,
worlds without end.’ I take it upon the same basis, the same argument
likewise applies to the terrestrial world. Those whose lives
have entitled them to terrestrial glory can never gain celestial
glory. One who gains possession of the lowest degree of the telestial
glory may ultimately arise to the highest degree of that glory,
but no provision has been made for promotion from one glory
to another” (Melvin J. Ballard, “Three Degrees of Glory,” pp. 26-
27. From a discourse given in the Ogden Tabernacle, October 22,
1922).

“Now, my brethren and sisters, what is your aim? To which place
do you desire to go? How earnest are you in this struggle? How
much are you willing to live of this precious gospel? Is your mark
fixed for the celestial glory, or the telestial glory, the lowest place?
Is that your ambition? Do you imagine that by living a terrestrial
law you will attain the celestial glory? Some of my brethren and
sisters find it very difficult to understand the words of the prophet,
wherein he said that those who gain a lower place of glory than a
celestial kingdom cannot come where those who gain the highest,
dwell, worlds without end” (Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Reports,
October 1917, p. 110).

“It is reasonable to believe, in the absence of direct revelation by
which alone absolute knowledge of the matter could be acquired,
that, in accordance with God’s plan of eternal progression, advancement
within each of the three specified kingdoms will be
provided for; though as to possible progress from one kingdom
to another the scriptures make no positive affirmation” (James E.
Talmage, Articles of Faith, 1984, p. 371).

“We were first born as the spirit children of God, our Heavenly
Father. We lived with him for an infinite period. Our lives did not
commence when we started out this mortal existence. This mortal
sphere is simply a change of status for the eternal spirit that had
lived for an infinite period in the presence of God, our Heavenly
Father. Birth is a change of status, It is a new way of living” (Bruce
R. McConkie,The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and
122, 1989, p. 69).

“Endowed with agency and subject to eternal laws, man began his
progression and advancement in pre-existence, his ultimate goal
being to attain a state of glory, honor, and exaltation like the Father
of spirits. During his earth life he gains a mortal body, receives
experience in earthly things, and prepares for a future eternity after
the resurrection when he will continue to gain knowledge and
intelligence” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 238).
“There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge
and is learning new truths. This is false—utterly, totally, and completely.
There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly
twisted and incorrect view of the King Follett Sermon and of what
is meant by eternal progression” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Seven
Deadly Heresies,” an address given at Brigham Young University
on June 1, 1980. Transcribed from actual speech).

“There are those who say that there is progression from one kingdom
to another in the eternal worlds or if not that, lower kingdoms
eventually progress to where higher kingdoms once were.
This is worse than false. It is an evil and pernicious doctrine. It
lulls men into a state of carnal security” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The
Seven Deadly Heresies,” an address given at Brigham Young University
on June 1, 1980. Transcribed from actual speech).

“Should one live to qualify for all of the richest promised blessings
but for reasons beyond his or her control not be able to obtain
them on earth, there would be a compensating opportunity in
postmortal life” (Richard G. Scott, “Truth Restored,” Ensign (Conference
Edition), November 2005, p. 79).

Seventies

“The principal purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the ultimate
goal of eternal progression is to receive eternal life, i.e., to
become as God is. It is thoroughly understood, however, that a vast
majority of the human family will never become gods, because to
do so they must accept the true gospel, receive all of the ordinances-including
celestial marriage-and obey all of God’s commandments
faithfully to the end” (Milton R. Hunter, Christ in Ancient
America, p. 168).

“Yet, if we accept the great law of eternal progression, we must
accept the fact that there was a time when Deity was much less
powerful than He is today. Then how did he become glorified and
attain His present status of Godhood? In the first place, aeons ago
God undoubtedly took advantage of every opportunity to learn
the laws of truth and as He became acquainted with each new verity
He righteously obeyed it” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through
the Ages, p. 114).

“Revelations were given by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph relative
to several phases of the eternal progression of man. In the
first stage, man was an eternally existent being termed an intelligence.
In that sphere of existence each individual was naturally
conscious. ‘He must have the power to distinguish himself from
other things—the “me” from the “not me”. He must have power of
deliberation, by which he sets over one thing against another; with
power also to form a judgment that this or that is a better thing or
state than this or that.’ In short, he must have the power of choosing
one thing instead of another and acting upon that choice. In
that realm, as in all other states of immortal existence, natural
law, good and evil, love and hate, truth and error, and free agency
exist. They are all eternal and closely connected with immortal
man as he ascends the ladder of progression. We do not know how
long we lived in this first realm, but it must have been ages and
ages. There came a time, however, when we completed our work
in that realm and were permitted to go forward in the eternal
process of progression” (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel through the
Ages, p. 127).

“This Church teaches the value and necessity of eternal progression.
We progressed in the preexistence, and it is our responsibility
and opportunity to progress in this estate and throughout all
eternity” (Franklin D. Richards, Conference Reports, October 1968,
p. 111).

“When the Lord came to earth, He had a veil of forgetfulness
placed over His mind, as we do, but He, like us, progressed from
grace to grace” (Presidency of the Seventy Jay E. Jensen, “The Savior
the Master Teacher,” Ensign, January 2011, p. 42).

Church Manuals

“Our Heavenly Father knew we could not progress beyond a certain
point unless we left Him for a time. He wanted us to develop
the godlike qualities that He has. To do this, we needed to leave
our premortal home to be tested and to gain experience. Our
spirits needed to be clothed with physical bodies. We would need
to leave our physical bodies at death and reunite with them in the
Resurrection. Then we would receive immortal bodies like that
of our Heavenly Father. If we passed our tests, we would receive
the fulness of joy that our Heavenly Father has received. (See
D&C 93:30–34.) Our Heavenly Father called a Grand Council to
present His plan for our progression (see Teachings of Presidents of
the Church: Joseph Smith, 209, 511). We learned that if we followed
His plan, we would become like Him. We would be resurrected;
we would have all power in heaven and on earth; we would become
heavenly parents and have spirit children just as He does
(see D&C 132:19–20). We learned that He would provide an earth
for us where we would prove ourselves (see Abraham 3:24–26). A
veil would cover our memories, and we would forget our heavenly
home. This would be necessary so we could exercise our agency to
choose good or evil without being influenced by the memory of
living with our Heavenly Father. Thus we could obey Him because
of our faith in Him, not because of our knowledge or memory of
Him. He would help us recognize the truth when we heard it again
on earth (see John 18:37)” (Gospel Principles, 2009, pp. 10-11).

“As shown in this chapter, our Father in heaven was once a man
as we are now, capable of physical death. By obedience to eternal
gospel principles, he progressed from one stage of life to another
until he attained the state we call exaltation or godhood” (Achieving
a Celestial Marriage, p. 132).

Other Sources

“‘Can one pass from the telestial to the terrestrial and celestial
glories, sometime in eternity, worlds without end?’ The answer to
this question may not be absolutely clear in the revelation; but
the general understanding, both from the revelation and from the
interpretations that have heretofore been made thereof, is that
once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in
the line of each of these particular glories, but that the privilege
of passing from one to the other (though this may be possible for
especially gifted and faithful characters) is not provided for. The
statement in verse 112, relating to partakers of the telestial glory,
that they who inhabit it shall be servants of the Most High, but
‘where God and Christ dwell they cannot come worlds without
end,’ would indicate that at least those who live in this glory are
not capable of graduating into the celestial glory” (“Priesthood
Quorums’ Table,” Improvement Era, November, 1910, p. 87).

“In the latter-day Gospel is restored the teaching that God is in a
very literal sense the father of the spirits of men. These spirits had
a premortal existence in which some were more obedient, and
some progressed much farther than others, and herein is found,
in a measure, the explanation for the inequalities in the natures of
humankind.” (J. Percy Goddard (General Sunday School Board),
“God’s Fatherly Mercy and Love,” Improvement Era, March 1931,
p. 280).

“A man can be saved only so fast as he gains knowledge of the laws
of God. This law of eternal progression is symbolized by a learning
process during the endowment and without a mastery of which
the recipient cannot advance” (William E. Berrett, The Restored
Church, 1956, p. 506).

“The phrase ‘eternal progression’ is not found in the scriptures,
nor do we find it in the sermons and writings of Joseph Smith.
There are obvious difficulties in announcing as doctrine a concept
that is without scriptural basis” (BYU Professor Emeritus Joseph
Fielding McConkie, Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough
Gospel Questions, p. 112).

“Part of God’s purpose in designing mortal life for his children
was to ‘prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever
the Lord their God shall command them’ (Abr. 3:25; cf.
D&C 98:14). Passing such a test is necessary for one to progress to
become like God because he, himself, lives in accordance with law
and principles of justice (Alma 42:22-26). Thus, obedience to divine
law is essential to eternal progression, and those who live obediently
in this life will ‘have glory added upon their heads for ever
and ever’ (Abr. 3:26)” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 3:1020-1021).

“The LDS theogonic view is unlike all others. It is based on a doctrine
of eternal existence of all intelligent beings (D&C 93:29)
coupled with a belief in their eternal progression (see D&C 93:13-
14). By embracing truth and light, uncreated intelligence is capable
of growing in knowledge, power, and organization until it
arrives at the glorified state of godhood, being one with God. This
process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in
the LDS aphorism, ‘As man is, God once was. As God is, man may
become’ (Lorenzo Snow)” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1474).

“The concept of eternal progression may imply the possibility of
progressing from one kingdom to another. Doctrinal teachings,
however, suggest otherwise” (Richard O. Cowan, Answers to Your
Questions About the Doctrine and Covenants, p. 93).