You prepare for a test. We have no way of knowing how long we lived in the premortal sphere. It is inevitable that we lived there. It’s unavoidable to reach the conclusion that we lived there for an infinite period of time. We’ve heard some of the early brethren talk in terms of millions of years. It certainly was that. I would suppose that we can get some vision and understanding of how long we lived in the premortal life by just reciting some of the things that happened. We know that here’s a being who is called the Firstborn Spirit, who is the Lord Jesus, and that He lived there long enough to advance and progress to become like God and to become, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number. It’s implicit in that kind of a concept that long periods of time – totally beyond mortal conception – were involved. That means that we prepared, for what we would designate as an infinite duration of time, for the privilege and opportunity of coming down here and taking the test of mortality, and so this mortal life becomes the final examination for all of the life that we lived back there. We prepared and went to school. Now we’re taking the examination to see if we will be awarded the degree, and the degree – in this sense – is eternal life. Whereas, this mortality is the final examination for all that went before, in a manner of speaking. If you want so to designate it, this mortality is the entrance examination into the high state of glory and honor as found in the various kingdoms that are prepared. — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Devotional Address, Salt Lake Instituted of Religion, January 10, 1982
I believe that we, as fellow workers in the priesthood, might well take to heart the admonition of Alma [Alma 29:1-8] and be content with that which God hath allotted us. We might well be assured that we had something to do with our “allotment” in our pre-existent state. This would be an additional reason for us to accept our present condition and make the best of it. It is what we agreed to do. . . .
. . . We had our own free agency in our premortal existence, and whatever we are today is likely the result of that which we willed to be heretofore.” (Henry D. Moyle, Conference Report, Oct. 1952, p. 71) — Book of Mormon Student Manual, p. 86
I believe everyone called to an important work was foreordained in the life before this one. Covenants we made there enabled us to be born here. Our actions in the spirit world influenced our mortality. — Joseph Smith
Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the earth was foreordained in the councils in Heaven before the world was. — Joseph Smith
You are a child of God. He is the Father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble parentage, the offspring of heaven. Your pedigree can be written on a single line: You are a child of God. Once we understand that doctrine, that realization changes us. After that we cannot willingly hurt another. We then can yield to his discipline and accept even the very hard lessons of life. — Elder Boyd K. Packer
At the first organization in heaven we were all present and saw the Savior chosen and appointed and the plan of salvation made, and we sanctioned it. — Remarks by Joseph Smith in January 1841, The Church News, February 8, 1992, p. 2
Elder John A. Widtsoe provides insight to an earth-life responsibility made in that premortal world which is of great importance. He highlights a contractual agreement we made concerning the eternal welfare of all of the sons and daughters of the Eternal Father:
“In our preexistent state, in the day of the great council, we made an . . . agreement with the Almighty. The Lord proposed a plan. . . . 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…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.
“That places us in a very responsible attitude towards the human race. By that doctrine, with the Lord at the head, we become saviors on Mount Zion, all committed to the great plan of offering salvation to the untold numbers of spirits. To do this is the Lord’s self-imposed duty, this great labor his highest glory. Likewise, it is man’s duty, self-imposed, his pleasure and joy, his labor, and ultimately his glory.” (“The Worth of Souls,” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, Oct. 1934, p. 189) — Elder David B. Haight, Ensign, November 1990, p. 59
That law of blessings based upon obedience prevailed in the first estate as well as in the second estate. — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are, p. 24
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 become 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. (History of the Church, 6:59-61) — Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, p. 8
We know that the manner in which we lived in the premortal existence qualified us to be foreordained to the offices and responsibilities we have received here on earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “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 I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 365) — Elder Glenn L. Pace, “Confidence and Self-Worth,” Ensign, January 2005, p. 34
In the words of Isaiah, “Known unto God are all of his works from the beginning.” He does not have to wait to see things worked out here in mortality, because He has decreed certain things and objectives shall be achieved, and He has made preparations and provision in advance by sending certain spirits for their day and time. Their lives and their ministry [are] known to God just as much before they are born as was the mission and ministry of His only Begotten Son. That is why Gabriel could announce the coming of John and his great mission in the world. . . .
So you see, those whom God hath chosen before the foundation of the world – and I would like to bear my testimony to you that most of us who were born under the new and everlasting covenant, and those of us who have heeded the voice of the messengers of eternal truths and have accepted the same, come under this promise – He has called out of the world to be his leaders, to be a light unto the world. — Elder LeGrand Richards, New Era, Feb. 1977
Where and when did all of this happen? Well, it happened long before man’s mortal birth. It happened in a great premortal existence where we developed our identities and increased our spiritual capabilities by exercising our agency and making important choices. We developed our intelligence and learned to love the truth, and we prepared to come to earth to continue our progress. — President Howard W. Hunter, Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 17
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. He has power to institute laws to instruct the weaker intelligences, that they may be exalted with Himself, so that they might have one glory upon another, and all that knowledge, power, glory, and intelligence, which is requisite in order to save them in the world of spirits” (History of the Church, 6:312). — Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, Abr. 3:18-23, p. 37
“Agreeing to enter this second estate, therefore, was like agreeing in advance to anesthetic – the anesthetic of forgetfulness. Doctors do not deanesthetize a patient, in the midst of what was previously authorized, to ask him, again, if it should be continued. We agreed to come here and to undergo certain experiences under certain conditions” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 21; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 17). — Pearl of Great Price Student Manual, Abr. 3:26, pp. 38-39
A veil covers our memories of our premortal life, but our Father in Heaven knows who we are and what we did before we came here. He has chosen the time and the place for each of us to be born so we can learn the lessons we personally need and do the most good with our individual talents and personalities. — Gospel Principles, p. 10
When was there a beginning? There never was one; if there was, there will be an end; but there never was a beginning, and hence there will never be an end; that looks like eternity. When we talk about the beginning of eternity, it is rather simple conversation, and goes far beyond the capacity of man. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 47) — Old Testament Student Manual, p. 27
The Creation of this world was not the real beginning for those who would come to live here. Before the foundations of the earth were laid, we lived as spirit children of heavenly parents in a premortal state of existence. President Joseph F. Smith said:
“Where did we come from? From God. Our spirits existed before they came to this world. They were in the councils of the heavens before the foundations of the earth were laid. . . . We sang together with the heavenly hosts for joy when the foundations of the earth were laid and when the plan of our existence upon this earth and redemption were mapped out. . . . We were unquestionably present in those councils when that wonderful circumstance occurred . . . when Satan offered himself as a savior of the world if he could but receive the honor and glory of the Father for doing it. . . . We were, no doubt, there and took part in all those scenes, we were vitally concerned in the carrying out of these great plans and purposes, we understood them, and it was for our sakes they were decreed and are to be consummated.” (In Ludlow, Latter-day Prophets Speak, pp. 5–6.)
Thus, all men had existence for an unknown length of time before the world was ever created (see D&C 49:16–17). — Old Testament Student Manual, pp. 27-28
Before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. You are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of you just as are those we sustain as prophets and apostles! — President Spencer W. Kimball, “The Role of Righteous Women,” Ensign, November 1979, p. 102
God gave his children their free agency even in the spirit world, by which the individual spirits had the privilege, just as men have here, of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. . . . The spirits of men were not equal. They may have had an equal start, and we know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful, for they were free to act for themselves, to think for themselves, to receive the truth or rebel against it. — President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:58-59
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, Feb. 1943, p. 75
To fulfill the purpose of His omniscient design, our Heavenly Father foreordained certain valiant spirit children and assigned them to come to earth at specific times and places to fulfill their appointments. The greatest of these spirits He reserved to come as prophets and priesthood leaders in His kingdom. — Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 21
The spirits of men were created with different dispositions and likes and talents. Some evidently were mechanically inclined, from them have come our inventors. Some loved music and hence they have become great musicians. We evidently brought to this world some if not all of the inclinations and talents that we had there. The fact that one person finds one bent, like mathematics easy and another finds it difficult, may, in my judgment, be traced to the spirit existence. So with other talents and skills. It was these characteristics that enabled our Eternal Father to choose certain individuals for certain work on the earth, such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Joseph Smith. . . . It is my judgment that thousands of others were chosen for their special fields because they showed talents and dispositions in that spirit world. — President Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5:138-39
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. — Elder Bruce R. McConkie, “Making Our Calling and Election Sure,” BYU Devotional, March 25, 1969
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.
Elder Orson Hyde said of our life in the premortal world, “We understood things better there than we do in this lower world.” Elder Hyde also surmised as to the agreements we made there as follows: “It is not impossible that we signed the articles thereof with our own hands, – which articles may be retained in the archives above, to be presented to us when we rise from the dead, and be judged out of our own mouths, according to that which is written in the books.” Just because we have forgotten, said Elder Hyde, “our forgetfulness cannot alter the facts” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:314–15). Brothers and sisters, the degree of detail involved in the covenants and promises we participated in at that time may be a much more highly customized thing than many of us surmise. Yet, on occasion even with our forgetting, there may be inklings. President Joseph F. Smith wrote:
“But in coming here, we forget all, that our agency might be free indeed, to choose good or evil, that we might merit the reward of our own choice and conduct. But by the power of the Spirit, in the redemption of Christ through obedience, we often catch a spark from the awakened memories of the immortal soul, which lights up our whole being as with the glory of our former home.” [Gospel Doctrines, pp. 13-14] — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Meeting the Challenges of Today,” BYU Devotional, October 10, 1978