Do Prodigals Always Return?

I have found a passage from a talk given by Orson F. Whitney in General Conference of April, 1929 that I very much want to believe:

“You parents of the wilful and the wayward! Don’t give them up. Don’t cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours–long before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.”The Prophet Joseph Smith declared–and he never taught more comforting doctrine–that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”

How sure are we that the Prophet Joseph actually said this, and how is it reconciled with the doctrine of free agency? I hope that it is true. I want to believe it. But it seems to contradict other doctrine. Isn’t a child free to reject the gospel if he wants to? And doesn’t it teach in the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants that those who live a telestial life and refuse to repent inherit a telestial glory? Can God force him to repent? I am confused, and I need help understanding this teaching.

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4 Responses to Do Prodigals Always Return?

  1. This doctrine really backs up my belief in Multiple Mortal Probations. There are a few other statements, I forget by who but I could look them up I suppose, that say that if our children are born in the covenant or are sealed to us and we are faithful, we will have them in the eternities no matter what they do. I guess it depends on one’s definition of “have them” and “eternities.”

  2. will says:

    In the April conference two years ago, President Faust said, “I believe and accept the comforting statement of Elder Orson F. Whitney:”, and quoted the second paragraph above.

  3. Kurt says:

    The Lord will not force anyone to repent. He will give them opportunities, but its their choice whether they change or not. Alma the younger didnt have to accept Christ and repent, and neither did Saul/Paul.

    Out of the guys I grew up in the Church with, as far as I can tell its about 1/3 presently active.

  4. Last Lemming says:

    You are certainly not alone in wanting to believe this teaching. But you are right to test it against other doctrines.

    The phrase “They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins” sure sounds like they are bound for the telestial kingdom to me. Does that make them “saved.” Not in the way we usually use the word, but it does conform to definition number 5 promulgated by Dallin Oaks. [B]eing “saved? can also mean being saved or delivered from the second death (meaning the final spiritual death) by assurance of a kingdom of glory in the world to come… (see the May 1998 Ensign).

    But according to that definition, everybody but the sons of perdition will be “saved.” Why is that particularly comforting? My interpretation is that the sealing transcends kingdom boundaries. Which, in turn, implies that the kingdoms are not geographical entities. They refer to the opportunities we will have available to us in the next life, not necessarily to where we will live of with whom we will associate.

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