The LDS doctrine of eternal progression can be summed up by saying that all humankind existed as spirit children of “Heavenly Father” in what is known as “the first estate.” Those who proved themselves worthy in the pre-existent spirit world were eventually allowed a mortal existence here on earth (the second estate) and were given physical bodies. According to Mormon thought, we are placed here on earth to be tested and tried and after we die we enter what is known as the “third estate.” According to 11th President Harold B. Lee,
“There is no truth more plainly taught in the Gospel than that our condition in the next world will depend upon the kind of lives we live here” (Decisions for Successful Living, p.164).
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the temporary mortality we are now experiencing is “the most vital period in our eternal existence” because it
“would either give to those who received it the blessing of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of God, and thus qualify them for godhood as sons and daughters of our Eternal Father, or, if they rebelled and refused to comply with the laws and ordinances which were provided for their salvation, it would deny them the great gift and they would be assigned, after the resurrection, to some inferior sphere according to their works” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:69).
Despite what seems to be a very clear explanation on the matter, I am often amazed at how much folk-Mormonism circulates among members of the LDS Church that gives the impression that Lee and Smith were somehow not totally accurate in their appraisal. For instance, I have spoken to Mormons who really feel that even though they are not qualified for exaltation now, they will qualify someday in the hereafter. However, neither the Bible nor the Book of Mormon offers any hope that a person can repent and make things right with God after they die. Alma 34:34-35 reads:
“Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. 35 For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.”
According to LDS teaching, every person on earth is living a set of laws that will have a bearing on what level of “glory” an individual will inherit in eternity. Fourth LDS President Wilford Woodruff stated,
“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” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp.268).
Hence, it follows that if a person lived a life worthy of either the terrestrial or telestial kingdom, he can be sure that this will be his final destination after death.
Some Mormons seem to be under the impression that there is a chance to improve themselves beyond the grave; even though their mortal lifestyle may not qualify them for exaltation, give or take a million years or so, they too often believe they can eventually leave their originally assigned kingdom and advance up the ladder towards the celestial. In response to such a notion Joseph Fielding Smith said,
“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” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:31).
Twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball concurred. On pages 234-235 of his book The Miracle of Forgiveness, he noted,
“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.” (Also cited in The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.50; and Search These Commandments, 1984 ed., pp.81-82.)
In light of these comments, I personally can’t see why Latter-day Saints would look forward to entering their third estate. Doctrine and Covenants 25:15 warns LDS members to “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” If that passage is true, there is certain to be a lot of disappointed Mormons in the next life.