“The Heaven We Get Will be the Heaven We Earn”

The following are the words of Joseph S. Peery, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XVII. September 1914 No. 11):

We will receive the salvation we earn and no more.

Now one would think that the good Christian editors of Improvement Era would have issued a retraction of Peery’s words. One would have hoped that the readership would have voiced loud opposition and that the LDS church leadership would have immediately recognized Peery’s statement as completely opposed to Mormon doctrine.

But it was not so. They let the calamity continue for over fifteen years.

Same author, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XXII. November 1918 No. 1):

The Heaven We Get Will be the Heaven We Earn

Many people seem to be satisfied with baptism, thinking thereby they will get to heaven. It is true that baptism is the door to the Kingdom of God, but there are various degrees in that kingdom. Paul compares the degrees to the sun, moon and stars.

Heaven will be strictly a merit system. We get what we earn. That is all we are entitled to. Should we send up no good works, by what right can we expect a good place? If we make the Celestial degree, it will depend upon our works. It will not be attained through indifference. Things worth while are won by effort.

The Lord is a good pay-master. It is a great privilege to be in his service, and those who decline this opportunity will certainly have intense regrets. They may lay up for themselves treasures on earth, but these treasures all perish with death. President Young said, “I am for life everlasting.” He attained his aim.

Will I get a mansion or a dug-out? That depends on what I earn.

Same author, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XXII. January 1919 No. 3):

Through the wonderful atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, all mankind will rise from the grave sometime-the body and spirit will be reunited constituting the soul of man. However, all will not rise at the same time nor go to the same place. It will be a merit system that Paul compares to the sun, moon and stars.

Same author, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XXV. December 1921 No. 2):

Through the atonement of the Savior all will be resurrected from the grave, but our exaltation depends on merit. We get what we earn, and that is all we are entitled to receive.

Same author, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XXIX. April 1926 No. 6):

The heaven we get will be the heaven we earn, but, to earn a good place, we must have the help of the Lord continually. In all our works, we must remember of ourselves we are nothing. We must pray for God’s guidance and assistance, in all that we do, for his Spirit to lead us, and to the Lord we must give the praise and glory forever.

Same author, published in Improvement Era (Vol. XXXII. October 1929 No. 12):

Every day is a judgment day and the heaven we reach will be the heaven we earn. Through the atonement of the Savior, all will be saved from the grave, but our exaltation will depend entirely upon merit.

The most severe optimist would hope that Joseph S. Peery was simply an exception, but unfortunately, many more in Mormonism, even those esteemed amongst “the Brethren”, have promoted this same kind of merit-system doctrine.

In Understandable Religion, John Widtsoe, apostle and popular church educator, taught that getting what we earn was “a universal principle, valid from economics to religion, on earth or in heaven”:

We must pay the price for whatever we obtain. If we do something, we receive something; if we do nothing, we receive nothing. That is a universal principle, valid from economics to religion, on earth or in heaven. The price may not always be great, but it must be paid. Only as the price has been paid can we claim to own our possessions. Only as the price is paid, and to that degree, can we expect the joy which is the objective of existence. Paul says that Jesus bought us “with a price.”

To pay the price means self-effort. But, by that price we gain increasing strength. There is no gain of inward power, if we live wholly on the bounty of others. They who do so become enfeebled, and ultimately valueless to themselves and to society. They are drones in the hive, who have no claim on the honey gathered by others. That could well be written on the souls of men.

They who set out deliberately to avoid the payment of the price, are agents of the evil one. His plan has always been to move men as pawns towards unearned satisfactions; to loot and steal from the hard-earned store of others. That plan spells retrogression, and eventual dissipation of all possessions, and the cessation of life in our universe. There can be nothing worse.

The principle of paying the price is, of course, merely a phase of the universal law of cause and effect, a law which is in full operation in the material and the spiritual domain. Every occurrence has a cause behind it. If the lightnings play in the heavens, or a hoop rolls down the hill, or a brick be lifted to the top of the wall-it is the effect of some cause. Take causes away from nature and life, and there would be no effects. A stagnant universe would be reduced to flat inactivity and ultimate death…

In reality, this doctrine means that we earn and must earn what we get. Salvation must be earned. The plan of salvation is of value to us only as we conform, actively, to its requirements. It has been so throughout the eternities of existence. The spirit of man, seeking progress, has toiled and striven to rise towards his high destiny, the likeness of God. The privilege to come on earth was earned by him. Earth-life was not forced upon him, nor did he receive it as a gift. That doctrine lifts man into the position of kingship. He has labored and won. His battle has resulted in victory. He has the right to walk among kings. This is one of the great doctrines, often forgotten, laid down in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

The doctrine of paying the price, or earning what we receive, does not imply hardship. On the contrary, the gospel teaches clearly that we are to have joy here on earth. “Men are, that they might have joy.” True, we are surrounded by forces which we must overcome; but man has been given power to overcome them, and to make them his servants. Increased power and courage come with every new subjection of opposing forces. The very act of conquest gives joy. Men, who set out fearlessly to pay the price, labor in the light of the sun, and find abiding joy in their tasks.

The common teaching of Christian sects has been that man is born to sorrow and suffering; and that he must wait for joy until death has brought him into that other, spiritual, world. This has been an evil doctrine. When a person believes that he must walk through life in sorrow, his eyes are likely to be on the ground. Discontent and fear are in his heart. He is tempted to forget to pay the price. Labor and toil are looked upon more and more with distaste. They become punishments imposed for some previous, forgotten sin. Idleness and sensuous hours, played up brightly by the evil one, rise in desirability. He surrenders to the appetites of the flesh. Or, he falls into a state of hopeful faith, dreaming of some poorly described future, in another world. This doctrine, which destroys the normality of life, has caused untold human misery, of body and mind.

On the other hand, the man who believes that he is born to find joy, but must win it by earning it, walks through life with head up, and a steady, fearless heart. To him labor brings joy; idleness begets sorrow. He feels that to overcome obstacles, to resist evil, will bring happiness on earth, and eternal joy hereafter. They who so believe cast off the cares of life. At the end of the day they take the deep breath of satisfaction. Their sleep is sound, and they awake refreshed.

The difference between the two doctrines is that between truth and untruth, between light and darkness. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in full opposition to any doctrine which does not require man, and provide him with the means, to earn his way daily, to earthly and heavenly joys.

Elder Nelson D. Hogan, in the 1920 October conference:

I believe, my brethren and sisters, that we will get everything we earn. If we are faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord and that which he asks us to do, we will get the blessings for these things; and, on the other hand, if we are neglectful and careless and indifferent, and do not the things that the Lord has required of us, we cannot expect to get something for nothing. I often think of it this way, that if we start to work for a man, we generally know what we are to get out of it. We know just about what the wages will be, and if we are faithful in performing our duty, we will get a full pay. On the other hand, if we are careless, indifferent, lie around part of the time, when we come to get our pay, we will only get a part pay, and that is all we will ask for. I believe it is the same with the gospel. We know what we will get out of it, if we are faithful.

Elder Henry D. Taylor, in the 1971 October conference:

All the effort and struggle and sorrow will be well worth it, for we will earn the greatest of all gifts, the gift of eternal life.

Victor L. Brown in the 1969 October conference:

It is a period of probation during which we earn our place in the eternities. The Lord said of this: “And thus did I, the Lord God, appoint unto man the days of his probation (D&C 29:43.)

Richard O. Cowan in Church in the Twentieth Century (p. 282) wrote:

As we are obedient to the commandments of the Lord, we earn the right to live with him forever in the celestial kingdom.

Published in Improvement Era (Vol. Xliv. August 1941. No. 8.):

Full benefits of the Gospel are secured only by living up to the requirements. The Gospel plan is so arranged that each member receives his reward in proportion to his efforts and his observance of the principles. No member is deprived of his blessings because of the failure of someone else. As individuals we earn our own rewards and blessings.

Bruce McConkie in Mormon Doctrine, p. 408:

What then is the law of justification? It is simply this: ‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations (D. & C. 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done. (1 Ne. 16:2; Jac. 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; D. & C. 98; 132:1, 62.) An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in other words, ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. This law of justification is the provision the Lord has placed in the gospel to assure that no unrighteous performance will be binding on earth and in heaven, and that no person will add to his position or glory in the hereafter by gaining an unearned blessing.

Joseph F. Smith in Journal of Discourses, v. 20, p. 30:

[E]very man and woman will receive all that they are worthy of, and something thrown in perhaps on the score of the boundless charity of God. But who can justly expect to obtain more than they merit?

I reject all these quotes and I call upon all Mormons to repudiate them as tragic, gospel-denying, damnable heresy. It is not enough for Mormons to say they are emphasizing or focusing on grace more than Mormonism traditionally has. Nor is it enough to say that God graciously assists us in our earning and meriting the eternal life we receive. One must recognize this merit-system doctrine as altogether nothing less than gross heresy. The grace of Christ is just too precious to demand anything less.

Grace and peace in Christ, from whom I receive free spiritual welfare checks instead of earned, merited paychecks (Romans 4:4-8),


Addendum for clarification: When it comes to individual rewards beyond salvation, eternal life, and forgiveness, I don’t have any problem with the theology that people receive rewards according to their works. I very much believe that people will have different starting points in heaven with different capacities of joy and even dominion. But no one redeemed in the age to come will be stuck. The redeemed will ever-increasingly grow from that starting point of joy. The problem I have with Roman Catholicism and the mainstream sect of Mormonism is that they ascribe a role of individual merit in earning eternal life, forgiveness, and salvation.

This entry was posted in Grace, Salvation, Worthiness. Bookmark the permalink.