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Facing the Judgment (John Widtsoe)

The following is an excerpt from pp. 80-89 of Understandable Religion (circa 1944), by John Widtsoe, Mormon apostle and popular church educator. In it he teaches that getting what we earn is “a universal principle, valid from economics to religion, on earth or in heaven… The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in full opposition to any doctrine which does not require man, and provide him with the means, to earn his way daily, to earthly and heavenly joys.”


We must pay the price for whatever we obtain. If we do something, we receive something; if we do nothing, we receive nothing. That is a universal principle, valid from economics to religion, on earth or in heaven. The price may not always be great, but it must be paid. Only as the price has been paid can we claim to own our possessions. Only as the price is paid, and to that degree, can we expect the joy which is the objective of existence. Paul says that Jesus bought us “with a price.”1

To pay the price means self-effort. But, by that price we gain increasing strength. There is no gain of inward power, if we live wholly on the bounty of others. They who do so become enfeebled, and ultimately valueless to themselves and to society. They are drones in the hive, who have no claim on the honey gathered by others. That could well be written on the souls of men.

They who set out deliberately to avoid the payment of the price, are agents of the evil one. His plan has always been to move men as pawns towards unearned satisfactions; to loot and steal from the hard-earned store of others. That plan spells retrogression, and eventual dissipation of all possessions, and the cessation of life in our universe. There can be nothing worse.

The principle of paying the price is, of course, merely a phase of the universal law of cause and effect, a law which is in full operation in the material and the spiritual domain. Every occurrence has a cause behind it. If the lightnings play in the heavens, or a hoop rolls down the hill, or a brick be lifted to the top of the wall-it is the effect of some cause. Take causes away from nature and life, and there would be no effects. A stagnant universe would be reduced to flat inactivity and ultimate death.

We may remain certain that nothing happens without a competent cause. What is more, we may as safely assume, that, if all conditions remain unchanged, despite apparent variations in the sub-atomic or electronic world, in our world the same cause will always have the same effect.

It is of course conceivable that a supreme intelligence may at any time intervene to change our expected effects, as when a person blocks the wheels of a wagon to prevent it from rolling down the hill. But, even such an event is the effect of the cause that brought the stone under the wagon wheel.

In reality, this doctrine means that we earn and must earn what we get. Salvation must be earned. The plan of salvation is of value to us only as we conform, actively, to its requirements. It has been so throughout the eternities of existence. The spirit of man, seeking progress, has toiled and striven to rise towards his high destiny, the likeness of God. The privilege to come on earth was earned by him. Earth-life was not forced upon him, nor did he receive it as a gift. That doctrine lifts man into the position of kingship. He has labored and won. His battle has resulted in victory. He has the right to walk among kings. This is one of the great doctrines, often forgotten, laid down in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of paying the price, or earning what we receive, does not imply hardship. On the contrary, the gospel teaches clearly that we are to have joy here on earth. “Men are, that they might have joy.”2 True, we are surrounded by forces which we must overcome; but man has been given power to overcome them, and to make them his servants. Increased power and courage come with every new subjection of opposing forces. The very act of conquest gives joy. Men, who set out fearlessly to pay the price, labor in the light of the sun, and find abiding joy in their tasks.

The common teaching of Christian sects has been that man is born to sorrow and suffering; and that he must wait for joy until death has brought him into that other, spiritual, world. This has been an evil doctrine. When a person believes that he must walk through life in sorrow, his eyes are likely to be on the ground. Discontent and fear are in his heart. He is tempted to forget to pay the price. Labor and toil are looked upon more and more with distaste. They become punishments imposed for some previous, forgotten sin. Idleness and sensuous hours, played up brightly by the evil one, rise in desirability. He surrenders to the appetites of the flesh. Or, he falls into a state of hopeful faith, dreaming of some poorly described future, in another world. This doctrine, which destroys the normality of life, has caused untold human misery, of body and mind.

On the other hand, the man who believes that he is born to find joy, but must win it by earning it, walks through life with head up, and a steady, fearless heart. To him labor brings joy; idleness begets sorrow. He feels that to overcome obstacles, to resist evil, will bring happiness on earth, and eternal joy hereafter. They who so believe cast off the cares of life. At the end of the day they take the deep breath of satisfaction. Their sleep is sound, and they awake refreshed.

The difference between the two doctrines is that between truth and untruth, between light and darkness. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in full opposition to any doctrine which does not require man, and provide him with the means, to earn his way daily, to earthly and heavenly joys.

The doctrine of paying the price involves the age-old discussion of faith versus works. Clearly, without faith, the first principle of the gospel, there can be no religious life, no proper acceptance of gospel doctrine. The importance of this basic principle has led many to believe that faith is all sufficient. This teaching has gone so far as to declare that mere faith, even at the moment of death, is sufficient to win heaven’s greatest rewards. “Believe, and nothing more is needed.” That, of course, is contrary to the doctrine that man must earn his salvation.3

This fallacious doctrine is also opposed to the true meaning of the principles and ordinances that follow faith. Faith has no power unless it does lead to works. To repent, to be baptized, to conform with any Church requirement, is to do something, to be engaged in works. Truly, faith itself is recognized only by the works that follow. No one has stated the necessity of works more clearly than the Apostle James:

“Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works . . . But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? . . . By works a man is justified, and not by faith only . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”4The Savior stated the condition simply: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”5

A heartening thought accompanies the principle of paying the price by righteous works. In that manner, we not only lay a foundation for ultimate salvation, but we are daily recipients of rewards. In that sense we are in the daily process of being saved. The rewards that we associate with salvation may be enjoyed, in small measure at least, here on earth. We may, by this means, if we choose, give our journey on earth a heavenly value. We may bring heaven down to earth, or lift earth towards heaven. Salvation, and facing the judgment, become a day by day affair. That is no doubt what the Father intended us to do.

Through the doctrine of earning our salvation runs another thought, perhaps of first importance.

We do not all strive with equal earnestness to pay the price. What then is the logical consequence? We shall not all attain to the same degree of salvation. Under the law, composed of divine justice tempered with mercy, each one of us will be given a fully equitable reward. All that we have earned will be given us, and the measure will be full to overflowing. But, there will be no dead equality of salvation, such as has been painted by churches for generations of men. Such a doctrine does not prevail on earth, and cannot rule in the heavens, unless the Lord of order abrogate his own law. This He cannot do, for He has declared in modern revelation: “Justice and judgment are the penalty which is affixed unto my law.”6

This really means that salvation is graded. When Jesus spoke of our eternal abiding place, he said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”7 He had in mind, no doubt, the various assignments of men according to their works. Paul, likewise, said, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.”8 And in our day, through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, the more complete understanding of the gradations of salvation has been secured. The document in which this doctrine is stated is one of the most precious in sacred literature.9 In short, according to our works, and our consequent capacities, we shall be placed, under God’s mercy, with much or little at our command in various departments of the heavenly place.

There will come a judgment day, on which our every act shall be given heavenly measure. Our works are in the eternal record. The Judge will then place us according to the findings. High or low, the judgment will really be of our own making. Brigham Young said: “All who believe, have honest hearts, and bring forth fruits of righteousness, are the elect of God and heirs to all things. All who refuse to obey the holy commandments of the Lord and the ordinances of this house will be judged out of their own mouths, will condemn themselves as they do now.”10

Before this event, weak mankind trembles. Our foolish acts are many. Our mistakes are beyond number. And we may even have fallen into great sin. Can we face the judgment?

The answer given by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, comes as “a great awakening light.” Our Father, the Father of our spirits, is the judge. He understands the conditions, often beyond mortal comprehension, that lead to evil acts. He is a God of mercy, as well as of justice. And, best of all, he loves us as His children. He said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.”11

Our Father, who is mighty to make, is also great to give. Our small acts of kindness on earth; our strivings towards truth; our hopes and aspirations, tiny though they be-are transmuted and multiplied by divine means, into great spiritual values, in our behalf. One little act of mercy; and the Lord rewards us a hundred fold. By that divine principle of cause and effect, every man becomes entitled to some eternal precious reward.

It follows that all shall be saved. This is also set forth in modern revelation. “And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us-That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; that through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him; who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.”12 Every soul shall receive much in the life that awaits us. That tradition-shattering doctrine, offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the only one that can give eternal hope to human hearts. For this doctrine weak, suffering humanity has hungered throughout the many years of false doctrine.

The fearful tradition of punishment in a burning hell then vanishes. There is no such hell. That was the revealed message through Joseph Smith, the Prophet, at a time and in the midst of a din of threats of everlasting suffering and burning in the great hereafter. At a time when the pulpits tried to scare men into heaven, the clear light and warm truth of the restored gospel declared that the entrance to heaven is for all through love, not fear. One who enters heaven through fear can never attain full citizenship therein. If Mormonism had done nothing else than to lay low the bogey of an intolerable hell, it has justified its coming on earth.

And, in the century since Joseph Smith, perhaps every Christian church has forsaken the traditional hell, and now looks ruefully at its former sulphurous fires and pursuing devils with two-tined forks, that struck terror into the hearts of children and sinners, and set up a revengeful, pitiless God for men to worship. We wonder how intelligent man could dip so devilish a doctrine from the pool of darkness. The nature of God as a loving Father is becoming better understood. Yet, the doctrine is not wholly dead, for a leading Church writes today that there is a “place of eternal torments for the wicked, and of everlasting rest for the righteous.”13

Joseph Smith, the Prophet, wrestled with the problem of the judgments to be passed on men in the hereafter. He had grown up under the erroneous cruel beliefs of that day. In answer the Lord said that “Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment.”14That is, the punishment to be meted out to erring man will be done by God, who has declared Himself above all things to be a God of love. In the words of Brigham Young: “The punishment of God is God-like.”15 And the Lord, speaking later to the Prophet, added about the children of men: “They shall be judged according to their works, and every man shall receive according to his own works, his own dominion, in the mansions which are prepared.”16

Now, it may be contended that a judgment, with some degree of salvation for all, encourages the sinner to pursue his dark ways. Not so. However generous the judgment, it is measured by our works. Our punishment will be the heavy regret that we might have received a greater reward, a higher kingdom, had our lives conformed more nearly to truth. Such remorse may yield keener pain than physical torture.

But, the law of progress is operative in heaven as on earth. There is possible advancement for all, in any degree or state of salvation, throughout the endless, waiting ages; though it must be remembered that those in the lower cannot overtake those in the higher kingdoms.

The glorious doctrine of the restored gospel, that all shall be saved according to their works and capacities, is to toiling man as the light and warmth of the sun, breaking through the overcast sky.

Let us all remember, however, that the highest kingdom is that in which God and Christ dwell. There the highest joys may be attained. That kingdom may be entered only by those who accept the gospel of Jesus Christ in its purity and under divine authority. To find a place in that kingdom should be our daily concern.


  1. (I Cor. 6:20)
  2. (2 Nephi 2:25)
  3. (The Primacy of Faith)
  4. (James 2:17-26)
  5. (Matt. 7:21)
  6. (D. & C. 82:4)
  7. (John 14:2)
  8. (I Cor. 15:41)
  9. (D. & C., Section 76)
  10. (Discourses, p. 383)
  11. (D. & C. 88:40)
  12. (D. & C. 76:40-43)
  13. (Gibbons, Faith of the Fathers, p. 210)
  14. (D. & C. 19:11, 12)
  15. (Discourses, p. 383)
  16. (D. & C. 76:111)

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