Quotes on Foreordination

“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. . . .”  (D&C 121:34)

This suggests that even though we have our free agency here, there are many who were foreordained before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here.  Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality.  Then the Lord poses this question:  “. . . and why are they not chosen?”  (D&C 121:34)

Two answers were given – First, “Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world. . . .”  And second, they “. . . aspire to the honors of men.”  (D&C 121:35) — President Harold B. Lee, “Understanding Who We Are Brings Self-Respect,” Ensign, January 1974, p. 5

Despite that calling which is spoken of in the scriptures as “foreordination,” we have another inspired declaration:  “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. . . .”  (D&C 121:34)

This suggests that even though we have our free agency here, there are many who were foreordained before the world was, to a greater state than they have prepared themselves for here.  Even though they might have been among the noble and great, from among whom the Father declared he would make his chosen leaders, they may fail of that calling here in mortality.  Then the Lord poses this question:  “. . . and why are they not chosen?”  (D&C 121:34)

Two answers were given – First, “Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world. . . .”  And second, they “. . . aspire to the honors of men.”  (D&C 121:35)

Now then, to make a summary of what I have just read, may I ask each of you again the question, “Who are you?”  You are all the sons and daughters of God.  Your spirits were created and lived as organized intelligences before the world was.  You have been blessed to have a physical body because of your obedience to certain commandments in that premortal state.  You are now born into a family to which you have come, into the nations through which you have come, as a reward for the kind of lives you lived before you came here and at a time in the world’s history, as the Apostle Paul taught the men of Athens and as the Lord revealed to Moses, determined by the faithfulness of each of those who lived before this world was created. — President Harold B. Lee, “To Know Nothing Save Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified,” Ensign, November 1973; President Harold B. Lee, Youth and the Church, p. 172

In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty.  The Lord proposed a plan, conceived by him.   We accepted it.  Since the plan is intended for all men, we became parties to the salvation of every person under that plan.  We agreed, right then and there, to be not only saviors for ourselves but measurably, saviors for the whole human family.  We went into a partnership with the Lord.  The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work, and the Savior’s work, but also our work.  The least of us, the humblest, is in partnership with the Almighty in achieving the purpose of the eternal plan of salvation.  (Elder John A. Widtsoe) — Relief Society Study Guide #3, “Being True to Our Foreordained Missions in the Last Days,” p. 61

Do you think for a moment that Heavenly Father would have sent one of His children to this earth by accident, without the possibility of a significant work to perform?

. . . You were preserved to come to the earth in this time for a special purpose.  Not just a few of you, but all of you.  There are things for each of you to do that no one else can do as well as you. . . . If you will let Him, I testify that our Father in Heaven will walk with you through the journey of life and inspire you to know your special purposes here.  (H. Burke Peterson, “Your Life Has a Purpose,” New Era, May 1979, pp. 4-5) — Relief Society Study Guide #3, “Being True to Our Foreordained Missions in the Last Days,” pp. 63-4

Elder John Groberg has suggested that we “reaffirm in our lives the importance of at least three things:  first, that God, our Father in Heaven, does have a specific mission for all of us to fulfill and perform while we are here upon this earth; second, that we can, here and now in this life, discover what that mission is; and third, that with His help we can fulfill that mission and know and have assurance – here and now in this life – that we are doing that which is pleasing to our Father in Heaven” (“What Is Your Mission?” BYU Speeches of the Year, 1979, p. 92). — Relief Society Study Guide #3, “Being True to Our Foreordained Missions in the Last Days,” p. 66

All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world.  Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality.  Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth [life] was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here? — President Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1973, pp. 7-8

We have been placed upon this earth because of our faithfulness in having kept our first estate. The labors that we performed in the sphere that we left before we came here have had a certain effect upon our lives here, and to a certain extent they govern and control the lives that we lead here, just the same as the labors that we do here will control and govern our lives when we pass from this stage of existence. — President Heber J. Grant, “Reward of Conscience,” Improvement Era, February 1943, p. 75

Just as certain men were foreordained from before the foundations of the world, so were certain women appointed to certain tasks.  Divine design – not chance – brought Mary forward to be the mother of Jesus.  The boy prophet, Joseph Smith, was blessed not only with a great father but also with a superb mother, Lucy Mack, who influenced a whole dispensation.– Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Conference Report, April 1978, p. 13

Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. — Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365

Other spirits, such as those who laid the foundations of the American nation, were appointed beforehand to perform great works in political and governmental fields (Mormon Doctrine, p. 290).  The work to be done by John the Baptist, by the ancient Twelve, by Columbus, by the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and by the framers of the Constitution of the United States was all known and arranged for in advance.  And all these are but illustrations and patterns, for all of the Lord’s work is planned and prepared in advance, and those who are called and chosen to do the work receive their commission and ordination from him, first in the preexistence and then, if they remain true and faithful, again here in mortality. — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report, April 1974, p. 102

Foreordination, for instance, and free grace are both true doctrines; but they must be properly coupled together and correctly, so as to produce harmony between these two apparently opposite doctrines. Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 56

Foreordination is like any other blessing – it is a conditional bestowal subject to our faithfulness.  Prophecies foreshadow events without determining the outcome, because of a divine foreseeing of outcomes.  So foreordination is a conditional bestowal of a role, a responsibility, or a blessing which, likewise, foresees but does not fix the outcome.

There have been those who have failed or who have been treasonous to their trust, such as David, Solomon, and Judas.  God foresaw the fall of David, but was not the cause of it. It was David who saw Bathsheba from the balcony and sent for her. But neither was God surprised by such a sad development.

God foresaw, but did not cause, Martin Harris’s loss of certain pages of the translated Book of Mormon; God made plans to cope with failure over 1,500 years before it was to occur!  (See preface to D&C 10 and Words of Mormon.)

Thus, foreordination is clearly no excuse for fatalism, or arrogance, or the abuse of agency.  It is not, however, a doctrine that can be ignored simply because it is difficult. Indeed, deep inside the hardest doctrines are some of the pearls of greatest price.

The doctrine pertains not only to the foreordination of prophets, but to God’s precise assessment, beforehand, as to each of those who will respond to the words of the Savior and the prophets.  From the Savior’s own lips came these words, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine” (John 10:14). Similarly the Savior said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  Further, he declared, “And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7).

This responsiveness could not be gauged without divine foreknowledge concerning all mortals and their response to the gospel – which foreknowledge is so perfect it leaves the realm of prediction and enters the realm of prophecy.

The foreseeing of those who will accept the gospel in mortality, gladly and with alacrity, is based upon their parallel responsiveness in the premortal world.  No wonder the Lord could say, as he did to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; . . .  and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5).  Paul, when writing to the Saints in Rome, said, “God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew” (Rom. 11:2).  Paul also said of God that “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

The Lord, who was able to say to his disciples, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship” (John 21:6), knew beforehand that there was a multitude of fishes there.  If he knew beforehand the movements and whereabouts of fishes in the little Sea of Tiberias, should it offend us that he knows beforehand which mortals will come into the gospel net?

It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual.  The salvational sum will reflect all its parts.

Once the believer acknowledges that the past, present, and future are before God simultaneously – even though we do not understand how – then the doctrine of foreordination may be seen somewhat more clearly.  For instance, it was necessary for God to know how the economic difficulties and crop failures of the Joseph Smith, Sr. family in New England would move this special family to the Cumorah vicinity where the Book of Mormon plates were buried.  God’s plans could scarcely have so unfolded if – willy-nilly – the Smiths had been born Manchurians and if, meanwhile, the plates had been buried in Belgium!

The Lord would need to have perfect comprehension of all the military and political developments in the Middle East – some of which are unfolding even now – which would combine to bring to pass a latter-day condition in which “all nations” will be gathered “against Jerusalem to battle” (Zech. 14:2).

It should not surprise us that the Lord, who notices the fall of each sparrow and the hair from every head, would know centuries before how much money Judas would receive – thirty pieces of silver – at the time he betrayed the Savior.  (See Matt. 26:15, Matt. 27:3, Zech. 11:12.)

Quite understandably, the manner in which things unfold seems to us mortals to be so natural.  Our not knowing what is to come (in the perfect way that God knows it) thus preserves our free agency completely.

When, through a process we call inspiration and revelation, we are permitted at times to tap that divine databank, we are accessing, for the narrow purposes at hand, the knowledge of God.  No wonder that experience is so unforgettable! — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979; also Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Foreordination,” a talk given at the District Sacrament Meeting in Jerusalem, October 1978

“Our Heavenly Father has a full knowledge of the nature and disposition of each of His children, a knowledge gained by long observation and experience in the past eternity of our primeval childhood; a knowledge compared with which that gained by earthly parents through mortal experience with their children is infinitesimally small. By reason of that surpassing knowledge, God reads the future of child and children, of men individually and of men collectively as communities and nations; He knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning. His foreknowledge is based on intelligence and reason.  He foresees the future as a state which naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be.”  (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977, p. 29)

Another helpful analogy for students is the reality that universities can and do predict with a high degree of accuracy the grades entering students will receive in their college careers based upon certain tests and past performances. If mortals can do this with reasonable accuracy (even with our short span of familiarity and with finite data), God the Father, who knows us perfectly, surely can foresee how we will respond to various challenges.

While we often do not rise to our opportunities, God is neither pleased nor surprised. But we cannot say to him later on that we could have achieved had we just been given the chance!  This is all part of the justice of God.

One of the most helpful – indeed, very necessary – parallel truths to be pondered when studying this powerful doctrine of foreordination is given in the revelation of the Lord to Moses in which the Lord says, “And all things are present with me, for I know them all” (Moses 1:6). God does not live in the dimension of time as do we.  Moreover, since “all things are present with” God, his is not simply a predicting based solely upon the past. In ways which are not clear to us, he actually sees, rather than foresees,the future – because all things are, at once, present, before him!

In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord describes himself as “the same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes” (D&C 38:2).  From the prophet Nephi we receive the same basic insight in which we likewise must trust: “But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (1 Ne. 9:6).

It was by divine design that the marvelous Mary became the mother of Jesus. Further, Lucy Mack Smith, who played such a crucial role in the rearing of Joseph Smith, did not come to that assignment by chance.

One of the dimensions of worshiping a living God is to know that he is alive and living in the sense of seeing and acting.  He is not a retired God whose best years are past – to whom we should pay a retroactive obeisance, worshiping him for what he has already done.  He is the living God who is, at once, in the dimensions of the past and present and future, while we labor constrained by the limitations of time itself.

It is imperative that we always keep in mind the caveats noted earlier, so that we do not indulge ourselves or our whims simply because of the presence of this powerful doctrine of foreordination, for with special opportunities come special responsibilities and much greater risks.

But the doctrine of foreordination properly understood and humbly pursued can help us immensely in coping with the vicissitudes of life.  Otherwise, time can play so many tricks upon us.  We should always understand that while God is not surprised, we often are. — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, February 1979

“We fancy God can manage His world only with great battalions, when all the time He is doing it with beautiful babies.

“When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants discovering, God sends a baby into the world.” (F. M. Bareham in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 323.)

Consider these thoughts from Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “We are quite well aware that Joseph Smith and Jeremiah and the apostles and prophets, the wise, the great, and the good were foreordained to particular ministries.  But that is only a part of the doctrine of foreordination.  The great and glorious thing about foreordination is that the whole House of Israel was foreordained, that millions upon millions – comparatively few compared to the total preexistent host – but millions of people were foreordained.” (“Making Our Calling and Election Sure,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, [25 Mar. 1969], p. 6)

It may be that your calling is not to save a nation, or to lead one.  But one thing is certain: you are here now not by chance but by design.  If you will, you have a role to play in building the kingdom that will eventually produce Zion and prepare for the Second Coming of Christ. Old Testament Student Manual,Manual, 1 Kings – Malachi, p. 332

The Plan of Salvation:  Now, this plan was to enable his spirit children to grow from their primeval spirit state to a state of glory and dignity and exaltation so that they would be like him – like the Father.  The name of the kind of life that God the Father lives is eternal life.  This name describes wholly and completely the nature and kind of life he possesses; his life includes having power and dominion, might and glory and omnipotence, and also it includes living in the family relationship.  In God’s instance, we were among his spirit offspring.

Well, this plan was ordained.  This system was given to us, and for an infinite period of time, we advanced and progressed and did things that enabled us to go along the course leading to exaltation and dominion and godhood.  The whole system and philosophy of true and revealed religion consists in progressing toward exaltation.

In this prior life, this premortal existence, this preexistence, we developed various capacities and talents.  Some developed them in one field and some in another.  The most important of all fields was the field of spirituality – the ability, the talent, the capacity to recognize truth.  Those segregated out from among the whole hosts of men, the hosts of all the spirit offspring of God, who had the greatest spiritual talents got themselves in a state and a condition where they were foreordained to receive certain blessings when in due course they came down into mortality.

We are quite well aware that Joseph Smith and Jeremiah and the apostles and prophets, the wise, the great, and the good were foreordained to particular ministries.  But that is only a part of the doctrine of foreordination.  The great and glorious thing about foreordination is that the whole House of Israel was foreordained, that millions upon millions – comparatively few compared to the total preexistent host – but millions of people were foreordained to get certain gospel blessings in this life.

It is our habit and it is our custom to talk about foreordination; it is not a difficult concept for us to understand.  But in the day of Peter and Paul and these ancient brethren, they were faced with a little different social circumstance and a little different educational climate, and so, although they did talk about foreordination to some extent, primarily they talked about being called and elected.  They talked about callings and elections – about elections and callings that made people members of the House of Israel. — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Making Our Calling and Election Sure,” BYU Devotional, March 25, 1969

The combined doctrine of God’s foreknowledge and of foreordination is one of the doctrinal roads least traveled by, yet these clearly underline how very long and how perfectly God has loved us and known us with our individual needs and capacities.  Isolated from other doctrines or mishandled, though, these truths can stoke the fires of fatalism, impact adversely upon our agency, cause us to focus on status rather than service, and carry us over into predestination.  President Joseph Fielding Smith once warned:

“It is very evident from a thorough study of the gospel and the plan of salvation that a conclusion that those who accepted the Savior were predestined to be saved no matter what the nature of their lives must be an error. . . . Surely Paul never intended to convey such a thought.”  [The Improvement Era, May 1963, pp. 350–51] 

Paul, you will recall, brothers and sisters, stressed running the life’s race the full distance; he did not intend a casual Christianity in which some had won the race even before the race had started. 

Yet, though foreordination is a difficult doctrine, it has been given to us by the living God, through living prophets, for a purpose.  It can actually increase our understanding of how crucial this mortal estate is and it can encourage us in further good works.  This precious doctrine can also help us to go the second mile because we are doubly called.              In some ways, our second estate, in relationship to our first estate, is like agreeing in advance to surgery.  Then the anesthetic of forgetfulness settles in upon us.  Just as doctors do not de-anesthetize a patient in the midst of authorized surgery to ask him again if the surgery should be continued, so, after divine tutoring, we agreed once to come here and to submit ourselves to certain experiences and have no occasion to revoke that decision. 

Of course, when we mortals try to comprehend, rather than merely accept, foreordination, the result is one in which finite minds futilely try to comprehend omniscience.  A full understanding is impossible; we simply have to trust in what the Lord has told us, knowing enough, however, to realize that we are not dealing with guarantees from God but extra opportunities – and heavier responsibilities.  If those responsibilities are in some ways linked to past performance or to past capabilities, it should not surprise us. — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Meeting the Challenges of Today,” BYU Devotional, October 10, 1978