Can you progress among the eternal kingdoms of glory?
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
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ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.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 34:33-35)
There have been differing views on this question. This listing is not to promote one view over another, but to merely make clear that the matter seems still to be open, in spite of D&C 76 and other scriptures.
Statements in favor of advancement:
Brigham Young (as quoted by Wilford Woodruff): None would inherit this earth when it became celestial and translated into the presence of God but those who would be crowned as Gods…all others would have to inherit another kingdom [yet] they would eventually have the privilege of proving themselves worthy and advancing to a celestial kingdom but it would be a slow process. (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 5 August 1855)
Wilford Woodruff: If there was a point where man in his progression could not proceed any further, the very idea would throw a gloom over every intelligent creature. (Journal of Discourses, 6:120)
Charles W. Penrose: see below*
Joseph F. Smith: Once a person enters these glories there will be eternal progress in the line of each of these particular glories, but…the privilege of passing from one to another, though this may be possible for especially gifted and faithful characters, is not provided for. (Improvement Era, Nov. 1910)
J. Reuben Clark: I am not a strict constructionalist, believing that we seal our eternal progress by what we do here. It is my belief that God will save all of His children that he can; and while, if we live unrighteously here, we shall not go to the other side in the same status, so to speak, as those who lived righteously; nevertheless, the unrighteous will have their chance, and in the eons of the eternities that are to follow, they, too, may climb to the destinies to which they who are righteous and serve God, have climbed to in those eternities that are to come. (Church News, 23 April 1960).
Statements against advancement
Mevlvin J. Ballard: Those whose lives have entitled them to terrestrial glory can never gain celestial glory. One who gains possession of the lowest degree of the telestial glory may ultimately arise to the highest degree of that glory, but no provision has been made for promotion from one glory to another. (Discourse in the Ogden tabernacle, 22 Sept. 1922)
Joseph Fielding Smith: It has been asked if it is possible for one who inherits the telestial glory to advance in time to the celestial glory. The answer to this question is “No!” (Doctrine of Salvation II, p. 31)
Bruce R. McConkie: There are those who say that there is progression from one kingdom to another in the eternal world…this is worse than false. It is an evil and pernicious doctrine. (“Seven Deadly Heresies,” Speech at BYU, 1 June 1980. This was heresy #5 on his list of 7. This was changed in the printed version, but this is what he said. The print version can be viewed here. A comparison of the audio and print version of his talk can be viewed here.)
Spencer W. Kimball: After a person has been assigned to his place in [a] kingdom…he will never advance from his assigned glory to another glory. (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 243-4)
Statements leaving the matter open
James E. Talmage (see special note below)
David O. McKay Presidency: Letter to Ward Magleby, seminary teacher, 5 March 1952 (and, I’m told, again in 1965 to another person, with identical wording):
The Brethren direct me to say that the Church has never announced a definite doctrine upon this point. Some of the Brethren have held the view that it was possible in the course of progression to advance from one glory to another, invoking the principle of eternal progression; others of the Brethren have taken an opposite view. But, as stated, the church has never announced a definite doctrine on this point.
Signed By Joseph Anderson
Secretary to the First Presidency
James E. Talmage’s The Articles of Faith in three editions has offered three views: yes, no, and maybe.
1899 edition 1917 edition 1924 edition
It is reasonable It is reasonable It is reasonable
to believe… to believe… to believe…
that, in that, in that, in
accordance accordance accordance
with God’s plan with God’s plan with God’s plan
of eternal of eternal of eternal
progressions, progressions, progressions,
advancement advancement advancement
from grade from grade will be provided
to grade to grade for, though as to
within any within each of possible progress
kingdom and the three from one kingdom
from kingdom specified kingdom to another the
to kingdom, will will be provided for. scriptures make
be provide for.* no positive affirmation.
*Robert Matthews, dean of the BYU College of Religion, has stated that the 1899 statement about advancement from kingdom to kingdom was made at the request of Charles Penrose of the First Presidency, putting him in the group favoring it.
While we are allowed opinions just as the General Authorities are, we and they must keep in mind what President Clark taught us years ago: “When any man, except the President of the Church, undertakes to proclaim one unsettled doctrine, as among two or more doctrines in dispute, as the settled doctrine of the Church, we may know that he is not ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost,’ unless he is acting under the direction and by the authority of the President.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr.,“When are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” address to Seminary and Institute Personnel, 7 July 1954)
It’s interesting to note, in light of this statement from President Clark, that none of the quotes given here were made by men during the time they were Church Presidents except the ones from Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, and David O. McKay.
As B.H. Roberts said: “In essentials, let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity.”