The title of this short essay is taken from this scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man marry a wife according to my word, and they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, according to mine appointment, and he or she shall commit any sin or transgression of the new and everlasting covenant whatever, and all manner of blasphemies, and if they commit no murder wherein they shed innocent blood, yet they shall come forth in the first resurrection, and enter into their exaltation; but they shall be destroyed in the flesh, and shall be delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption, saith the Lord God. The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall not be forgiven in the world nor out of the world, is in that ye commit murder wherein ye shed innocent blood, and assent unto my death, after ye have received my new and everlasting covenant, saith the Lord God; and he that abideth not this law can in nowise enter into my glory, but shall be damned, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:26-27, emphasis added).
The enemies of Joseph Smith who ultimately caused his death, the same who were once the prophet’s closest friends, cited this doctrine in their libelous first (and only) edition of the Nauvoo Expositor wherein they cited the above, then-secret doctrine as proof that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet:
“Resolved 2nd. Inasmuch as we have for years borne with the individual follies and iniquities of Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, and many other official characters in the Church of Jesus Christ, (conceiving it a duty incumbent upon us so to bear,)…; and inasmuch as they have introduced false and damnable doctrines into the Church, such as…the doctrine of unconditional sealing up to eternal life, against all crimes except that of sheding [sic] innocent blood, by a perversion of their priestly authority…; we therefore are constrained to denounce them as apostates from the pure and holy doctrines of Jesus Christ” (Law, William. “Resolutions.” Nauvoo Expositor 7 Jun. 1844: 2. Wikisource Web. 25 Jun. 2017.).
Yet these same accusers of the prophet make no mention of Christ’s own endorsement of this doctrine contained directly in the New Testament:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31-32, emphasis added).
Joseph Smith, therefore, did not teach a conjured heresy worthy of public denouncement, but, as with all other revelations he received, enabled a full understanding of the truth of Christ’s Gospel through additional principles. In this case, the great truth that enables comprehension of this doctrine is the term ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.’ Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants informs us what this ‘spirit’ is when it was promised to a group of High Priests in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1832:
“Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John. This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 88:3-4, emphasis added).
To be ‘sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise’ is thus to have the promise of eternal life from the Godhead (see the blog post Not My Will, But Thine: The Calling and Election). It is the result of overcoming the natural man and thence becoming sanctified in this life through the merits of Jesus Christ, that he might “seal you his,” according to the language of the Book of Mormon:
“Be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life” (Mosiah 5:15, emphasis added).
Therefore Joseph Smith unlocks the meaning of Christ’s teaching that ‘all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men…[except] the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost,’ in that this condition does not apply until a man and woman are sealed Christ’s. This is not the second comforter (Christ’s person) per se, but the calling and election made sure that comes by the Holy Ghost. The implication is that once the Godhead has approved of a man and woman, they needn’t fret that their final standing will be jeopardized by mortal tendencies1, though those acts may give way to the consequences of sin during the remainder of mortality (‘they shall be destroyed in the flesh’) and even some degree of adversity in the spirit world before the resurrection (‘delivered unto the buffetings of Satan unto the day of redemption’). So it is that their reward remains inasmuch as Christ’s sealing cannot be broken but upon one condition: the committing of the unpardonable sin (see the blog post Classic Truth: Accepted of the Lord). And it is this covenant-breaking condition that clarifies the substance of the controversy.
The apostates who, ironically, sought Joseph’s blood for this very teaching (thus committing the unpardonable sin themselves), failed to realize that this seal is not unbreakable. If it was unbreakable it would seem to be divine permission to eat, drink, and be merry without fear of even a single stripe (quite unlike 2 Nephi 28:8). But inasmuch as it is conditional, the clause allowing for ‘any transgression…whatever’ is not permission to be licentious and devilish2 but rather one of many terms pertaining to this highest and holy covenant.
The catch is this: since it has been established that ‘the same small stones of sin make a bigger splash than they did from a lower place’ (see the blog post Do You Sell Your Tokens for Money?), someone who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise runs a greater risk when committing ‘any transgression…whatever’—not in terms of losing one’s seal with Christ directly, but of being led by Satan precipitously to the point of committing the unpardonable sin, thereby breaking one’s seal with Christ. Indeed, in this event, Christ’s seal is replaced by another:
“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” (Alma 34:35, emphasis added).
- The Spirit of Promise is “whereby ye are sealed up unto the day of redemption, that ye may not fall notwithstanding the hour of temptation that may come upon you” (D&C 124:124). The Old Testament records an instance of someone who was thus ‘sealed up’ but who did not come forth from the dead when he could have because he had committed the unpardonable sin in his ‘hour of temptation.’ That man is King David, and this sealing may explain why his taking of Bathsheba to wife was not attributed a sin (she is, in fact, the wife through whom Christ’s Davidic lineage passes [see Matthew 1:6]) though she was already the wife of another, namely, Uriah; it was the murder of Uriah that broke the seal, as Joseph Smith said: “No murderer hath eternal life…. We read that many bodies of the Saints arose at Christ’s resurrection, probably all the Saints, but it seems that David did not. Why? Because he had been a murderer” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 188; see also Acts 2:29 and D&C 132:39).↩
“Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin; for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; and he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received that holy Spirit of promise” (JST 1 John 3:9).↩