In November 1823, Alvin Smith — the oldest child of Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Smith Sr. — became seriously ill. A strong and capable young man, Alvin was described by his mother as a "a youth of singular goodness of disposition," whose "nobleness and generosity" blessed those around him "every hour of his existence" (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 401).
Knowing he could die, Alvin asked his family to gather at his bedside.
At the time Joseph, 18, had still not received the gold plates. "I want you to be a good boy and do everything that lies in your power to obtain the records," Alvin told his younger brother. "Be faithful in receiving instruction and keeping every commandment that is given you. Your brother Alvin must now leave you, but remember the example which he has set for you, and set a good example for the children that are younger than you."
When Alvin died, the family asked a Presbyterian minister in Palmyra, N.Y., to officiate at his funeral. "As Alvin had not been a member of the minister's congregation, the clergyman asserted in his sermon that Alvin could not be saved. William Smith, Joseph's younger brother, recalled: '[The minister] … intimated very strongly that [Alvin] had gone to hell, for Alvin was not a church member, but he was a good boy and my father did not like it' " (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, pp. 401-411).
In the world today there still remains much confusion about the plan of salvation and the necessary requirements for man to reach heaven. But latter-day prophets have been clear on the subject, offering a message of peace to those who died without knowledge of the plan and instilling a sense of responsibility in those of us that do.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, then of the Quorum of the Twelve, described the plan of salvation as "the system ordained by the Father to enable his spirit children to advance and progress and become like him." The plan, he explained, "consists of three great and eternal verities — the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement — without any of which there could be no salvation." (Bruce R. McConkie, "What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace," BYU, Jan. 10, 1984.)
"We believe and proclaim that salvation is in Christ, in his gospel, in his atoning sacrifice," Elder McConkie said. "We are bold to say it comes by the goodness and grace of the Father and the Son. No people on earth praise the Lord with greater faith and fervor than we do because of this goodness and grace."
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, "The great plan of salvation is a theme which ought to occupy our strict attention, and be regarded as one of heaven's best gifts to mankind" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 68).
His knowledge of the plan of salvation came through direct revelation from the Lord.
In January 1836, many years after Alvin's death, Joseph Smith received a vision of the celestial kingdom, in which he saw that Alvin, as well as his mother and father, would someday inherit that kingdom. Joseph "marveled how it was that [Alvin] had obtained an inheritance in that kingdom, seeing that he had departed this life before the Lord had set his hand to gather Israel the second time, and had not been baptized for the remission of sins" (Doctrine and Covenants 137:6).
The voice of the Lord then came to Joseph, declaring: "All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God; also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom; for I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts" (Doctrine and Covenants 137:7–9).
Speaking at BYU on Feb. 22, 1992, President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the ministry of the Prophet Joseph Smith. "I thank the Prophet Joseph and love him for the doctrine of salvation which was revealed through him," he said. "Through the grace of God all men will be privileged to rise from the dead, a gift freely given and made possible through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Beyond this, all who walk in obedience to the teachings and commandments of the gospel may go on, even to exaltation. ... I thank [Joseph Smith] and love him for all of this. I love him for the assurance, certain and unequivocal, of life after death in a realm of activity and growth, in contrast with a condition of static and unfruitful ecstasy as others have taught. How grateful I am for the grandeur of his vision of eternity. ... I thank him and love him for the light and understanding he brought to the world concerning the purpose of life — that mortality is a stop in an eternal journey, that we lived before we came here, that there was design in our coming, that we are sons and daughters of God our Eternal Father with a divine and wonderful birthright, that we are here to be tested and to grow, that ... death is a step across the threshold into a realm as real and as purposeful as this. Infinite is our opportunity to grow toward Godhood under the plan of our Eternal Father and His Beloved Son."
Speaking at a BYU devotional, President Henry B. Eyring, now first counselor in the First Presidency, said, as children of God, we need to have enough faith in the plan of salvation to treat it as a reality.
"You are a child of God. Our Heavenly Father lives. Jesus is the Christ, our Savior. Through Joseph Smith the knowledge of the plan of salvation was restored. If we act upon that plan as we should, it will allow us to claim eternal life, which is our inheritance" ("A Child of God," Oct. 21, 1997)."
President Thomas S. Monson said the knowledge of the Lord's plan for our happiness gives us strength and power. "As Latter-day Saints we know that we lived before we came to earth, that mortality is a probationary period wherein we might prove ourselves obedient to God's command and therefore worthy of celestial glory. Thus we learn who we are."
Then he asked a question that continues to apply to each of us today. "Now what does God expect us to become?" (Teachings of President Thomas S. Monson, p. 220).