Joseph Fielding Smith, Ch 15: Eternal Marriage

One goal of blog is to provide resources for men and women preparing lessons for Relief Society and Elders’ Quorum. As such, I’m going to attempt to put up lesson plans and ideas about a week before I teach the lesson in question. Due to this fact, however, I need to put in a disclaimer that what I may actually teach in the final situation will not necessarily be what is displayed here. Also, due to the varied situations of classroom settings around the world, my situation and the needs of my quorum will be different from many other individuals. As Sister Virginia H. Pierce taught in 1996:

Because the daily life of people varies so much in the 160 different countries where we have organized classes, the stories and examples in the manuals may sometimes confuse the learners. Teachers can prayerfully make adaptations, always taking care that the learning activities chosen truly reflect the doctrine.[1]

My wife and me on our wedding day

My wife and me on our wedding day

My quorum is a married student ward in Logan, Utah. As such, the focus is on members who are all married relatively recently, and generally with zero to two young children. As such, my focus is offering encouragement and doctrine pointing towards the establishment of a successful, long-term marriage. My central thesis for the lesson is “to build a greater respect and desire to live as God would have us live in the marriage covenant.”

Aside from the Chapter 15 of the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, which is the basis of the lesson, I was most strongly influenced by Thomas S. Monson’s talk “Priesthood Power” from the Priesthood Session of General Conference, April 2011; Sister Julie B. Beck’s address, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family” that was published in the March 2011 Ensign; and BYU professor Eugene England’s essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” Each of these provides wonderful supplementary material for this chapter of the manual.

The 2014 manual

The 2014 manual

The biographical section of the lesson focuses on the experiences Joseph Fielding Smith had in his three marriages (he was a widower from each of them) primarily captured my interest as a way to understand that Joseph Fielding Smith had a lot of experience with marriage (and so his advice was not just theoretical) and a way to connect with the man. I included a minute-long audio clip taken from his 1968 BYU address “The Blessings of Eternal Glory” in which he talks about his wives and children being sealed to him for time and all eternity and a slide for each of his three wives.

Although I currently live in the Logan, Utah Temple district, I grew up in the Ogden Temple district and still have family connections in that area. The timing of this lesson as well as lesson 17 (coming next month!) is fortuitously correlated to the open house and rededication of the renovated Ogden Temple. This is significant both as a current event in local Church history that focuses things on temples as well as a historical link to Joseph Fielding Smith, since he dedicated the original Ogden Temple. As quorum members enter, I plan to show a video of pictures and footage of the new temple taken from the Church’s official news article on the subject to focus their attention on temples. After covering the historical introduction, I plan to bring class members’ attention back to the Ogden Temple and bring in a few quotes from the address President Smith gave at the cornerstone ceremony for that temple over forty years ago. Included are the following:

  • “We are a temple building people, and this is one of the things which sets us apart from the world and that enables us to find favor in the eyes of the Lord. Temple building and temple ordinances are at the very heart of our religion.”
  • “This high salvation which we seek is eternal life. It consists in the continuation of the family unit in eternity, and it is in and through the ordinances of the temple that eternal family units are created.”
  • “There is no more glorious work than the perfecting of the family units through the ordinances of the house of the Lord.”[2]
Joseph Fielding Smith and N. Eldon Tanner at the Ogden Temple cornerstone dedication ceremony. Image courtesy

Joseph Fielding Smith and N. Eldon Tanner at the Ogden Temple cornerstone dedication ceremony.
Image courtesy

After reading these quotes, I intend to have a small group discussion initiated by the question, “How are temple building and temple ordinances at the heart of our religion?” After a bit of discussion, I plan to narrow the focus by reading the first two paragraphs from section 1 in the manual, which are as follows:

  • “There is no ordinance connected with the Gospel of Jesus Christ of greater importance, of more solemn and sacred nature, and more necessary to [our] eternal joy . . . than marriage.”
  • “The fullness and blessings of the Priesthood and Gospel grow out of Celestial marriage. This is the crowning ordinance of the Gospel and crowning ordinance of the temple.”

Again, as we are narrowing the focus of the discussion above onto eternal marriage, the next question I intend to ask is “What is it about celestial marriage that makes it ‘the crowning ordinance of the temple?’” After some discussion on that question, we will shift to the second part of the lesson—the idea of a school of love.

To transition to discussion marriage as a school of love, I intend to point out President Smith’s statement that, “The fullness and blessings of the Priesthood and Gospel grow out of Celestial marriage,” and tell them to pay attention for similar statements as we read a few more paragraphs from the manual and to ponder how the fulness and blessings grow out of Celestial marriage. From the manual:

  • Section 2, ¶ 1-2, p. 194-195:
    • Marriage is considered by a great many people as merely a civil contract or agreement between a man and a woman that they will live together in the marriage relation. It is, in fact, an eternal princi­ple upon which the very existence of mankind depends. The Lord gave this law to man in the very beginning of the world as part of the Gospel law, and the first marriage was to endure forever. According to the law of the Lord every marriage should endure forever. If all mankind would live in strict obedience to the Gospel and in that love which is begotten by the Spirit of the Lord, all mar­riages would be eternal. . . .
    • . . . Marriage as understood by Latter-day Saints is a covenant or­dained to be everlasting. It is the foundation for eternal exaltation, for without it there could be no eternal progress in the kingdom of God.
  • Section 3, ¶ 3-4, p. 197:
    • Nothing will prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God as readily as faithfulness to the marriage covenant. . . .
    • If properly received this covenant becomes the means of the greatest happiness. The greatest honor in this life, and in the life to come, honor, dominion and power in perfect love, are the bless­ings which come out of it. These blessings of eternal glory are held in reserve for those who are willing to abide in this and all other covenants of the Gospel

After we read these paragraphs, I intend to restate the question as follows: “How does eternal marriage give us a fulness of blessings of the Gospel, serve as the foundation for eternal exaltation and eternal progress, and prepare mankind for glory in the kingdom of God?” After more discussion, I intend to state that one way that I think of it is that marriage is a school of love. To emphasize the point, I will bring in a few quotes from the Eugene England essay referenced above, such as: “Martin Luther, with prophetic perception, wrote, ‘Marriage is the school of love’—that is, marriage is not the home or the result of love so much as the school.” And the Michael Novak statements that:

  • Marriage is an assault upon the lonely, atomic ego. Marriage is a threat to the solitary individual. Marriage does impose grueling, humbling, baffling, and frustrating responsibilities. Yet if one supposes that precisely such things are the preconditions for all true liberation, marriage is not the enemy of moral development in adults. Quite the opposite.
  • Being married and having children has impressed on my mind certain lessons, for whose learning I cannot help being grateful. Most are lessons of difficulty and duress. Most of what I am forced to learn about myself is not pleasant. . . . My dignity as a human being depends perhaps more on what sort of husband and parent I am, than on any professional work I am called on to do. My bonds to my family hold me back (and my wife even more) from many sorts of opportunities. And yet these do not feel like bonds. They are, I know, my liberation. They force me to be a different sort of human being, in a way in which I want and need to be forced.
Joseph Fielding Smith with his wife, Jessie Evans Smith. Image from the manual.

Joseph Fielding Smith with his wife, Jessie Evans Smith.
Image from the manual.

The point I will be driving at in this section is that marriage is important not only as a place where love should constant exist but also as a place where we are forced to learn and practice Godlike attributes—particularly loving and forgiving as He does—preparing us for eternal glory in the Celestial Kingdom. After a bit of review of the Novak statements in that light, it will be time to move to the next section of the lesson.

To accentuate the LDS-Christian views of marriage and prepare discussion on what pitfalls to avoid in marriage, the next section of the lesson will focus on contrasting the worldly view of marriage to Celestial marriage. While searching for some pitfalls and problems to avoid, we will read the following selections from the manual and Julie B. Beck’s address:

  • Section 2, ¶ 3-5, p. 195:
    • It is very apparent to all of us who read the newspapers, who lis­ten to the news accounts on the radio and who watch what comes over television that all too many do not hold marriage and the family unit in that respect which the Lord intends.
    • Marriage is a sacred covenant, yet in many instances it is made the butt of coarse jokes, a jest, a passing fancy, by the vulgar and the unclean, and, too, by many who think themselves refined but who do not regard the sacredness of this great principle.
    • The Lord has given us his everlasting gospel to be a light and a standard to us, and this gospel includes his holy order of mat­rimony, which is eternal in nature. We should not and must not follow the marriage practices of the world. We have greater light than the world has, and the Lord expects more of us than he does of them.
  • Julie B. Beck:
    • Evidence is all around us that the family is becoming less important. Marriage rates are declining, the age of marriage is rising, and divorce rates are rising. Out-of-wedlock births are growing. Abortion is rising and becoming increasingly legal. We see lower birth rates. We see unequal relationships between men and women, and we see cultures that still practice abuse within family relationships. Many times a career gains importance over the family.
    • We also face the problem that we read about in Ephesians 6:12: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Public policies are being made every day that are antifamily, and the definition of family is changing legally around the world. Pornography is rampant. For those who create pornography, their new target audience is young women. Parents are being portrayed as inept and out of touch. Antifamily media messages are everywhere…. Any doctrine or principle our youth hear from the world that is antifamily is also anti-Christ.

To emphasize the point, I will have the class turn to their neighbors and find the problems listed in the statements above and discuss the questions, “What is significant about the contrast between the Gospel’s view on marriage and the world’s views on marriage?” “How do you feel about your eternal family?” “How can you work to avoid the pitfalls of the world in your marriage?” Then, we will bring everything back together and have people highlight what was said in their discussions.

For the final section of the lesson, I intend to emphasize the need to live up to the marriage covenants. To do so, we will turn to the manual and read the following paragraphs:

  • Section 3, ¶ 2, p. 197:
    • I want to plead with those who have been to the temple and have been so married to be faithful and true to their covenants and their obligations, for in the House of the Lord they have made solemn covenants.
  • Section 2, ¶ 6, p. 195:
    • We know what the true order of marriage is. We know the place of the family unit in the plan of salvation. We know that we should be married in the temple, and that we must keep ourselves clean and pure so as to gain the approving seal of the Holy Spirit of Promise upon our marriage unions.

After a brief discussion about the lifelong process of gaining the “approving seal of the Holy Spirit of Promise upon our marriage unions,” if there is time, I intend to show a 10 minute clip from the President Monson talk referenced above where he talks about avoiding divorce. Before turning it on, I intend to tell the class to reflect on the question, “How do my temple covenants affect my marriage today?” as they watch. After the clip, I will restate this question and facilitate discussion. After a bit, I hope to bring out some of what President Smith thought about the question by reading some of the following from the manual:

  • Section 6, ¶ 1-3, p. 199-200:
    • Marriage was ordained of God. It is a righteous principle when in holiness it is received and practiced. If men and women today would enter into this covenant in the spirit of humility, love and faith, as they are commanded to do, walking righteously in the ways of eternal life, there would be no divorce, no broken homes; but a happiness, a joy, beyond expression.
    • I want to impress upon all my good brethren and sisters who have been married in the temple that they should never forget the great blessings which were bestowed upon them: That the Lord has given unto them, through their faithfulness, the right to become his sons and his daughters, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, possessing, as stated here, all that the Father has [referring to Romans 8:13–19 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:54–60].
    • And yet, there are members of the Church who fail to compre­hend this and after they are married for time and all eternity, . . . receiving the promise of the fulness of the Father’s kingdom, they permit things to come into their lives that bring friction and separate them. And they forget that they have made a covenant for time and all eternity with each other; and not only that, but they have made a covenant with their Father in heaven.
  • Final Paragraph, p. 200-201:
    • If a man and his wife were earnestly and faithfully observing all the ordinances and principles of the gospel, there could not arise any cause for divorce. The joy and happiness pertaining to the marriage relationship would grow sweeter, and husband and wife would become more and more attached to each other as the days go by. Not only would the husband love the wife and the wife the husband, but children born to them would live in an atmosphere of love and harmony. The love of each for the others would not be im­paired, and moreover the love of all towards our Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ would be more firmly rooted in their souls.

We’ll probably be long out of time by this point, so I will testify, encourage them to reflect on the “so what” of the lesson—what application they will make from the lesson—which will hopefully reflect the central thesis for the lesson of building a greater respect and desire to live as God would have us live in the marriage covenant, then close the meeting.

[1] Virginia H. Pierce, “The Ordinary Classroom—a Powerful Place for Steady and Continued Growth,” Conference Report, October 1996, 12-15

[2] Ogden Cornerstone Laying Report, Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 September 1970, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, UT.