Since you asked
Here is kind of a Q & A with Elder Bruce R. McConkie who was in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (we have 12 apostles that work with our prophet today just as Jesus did in his lifetime) until his death. I think this answers a lot of questions and raises quite a few more, probably.
Many of the scriptural refrences are from the Book of Mormon and the Doctorine and Covenants which we use in addition to the bible. JST before a bible reference means that it is the Joseph Smith Translation.
What is a child and who are children?
A child is an adult spirit in a newly born body, a body capable of growing and maturing according to the plan of Him whose spirit children we all are. Children are the sons and daughters of God. They lived and dwelt with him for eons before their mortal birth. They are adults before birth; they are adults at death. Christ himself, the Firstborn of the Father, rose to a state of glory and exaltation before he was ever suckled at Mary’s breast.
What is mortal birth?
It is the process by which mature, aware intelligent beings pass from preexistence into a mortal sphere. It is the process by which we bring from premortality to mortality the traits and talents acquired and developed in our long years of spirit existence. It is the process by which a mortal body is created to house an eternal spirit who is an offspring of the Father. Mortality is fully upon us when we first breathe the breath of life.
Why are we born upon this earth?
We come here to gain bodies, bodies of flesh and blood, bodies which—following the natural death—we will receive back again in immortality. Those of us who arrive at the years of accountability are here to develop and to be tried and tested, to see if we can so live as to regain the state of innocence and purity which we enjoyed as children, and thereby be qualified to go where God and Christ are.
What is “original sin?”
This is the false doctrine that the sin of Adam passes upon all men and that, therefore, all men—infants included—must be baptized to be saved. It is, however, a fundamental principle of true religion “that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (A of F 1:2.)
Are children tainted with original sin?
Absolutely not. There is no such thing as original sin as such is defined in the creeds of Christendom. Such a concept denies the efficacy of the atonement. Our revelation says: “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning”—meaning that spirits started out in a state of purity and innocence in preexistence—“and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God” (D&C 93:38)—meaning that all children start out their mortal probation in purity and innocence because of the atonement. Our revelations also say, “The Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.” (Moses 6:54.)
Are children conceived in sin?
Since there is no such thing as original sin, as that expression is used in modern Christendom, it follows that children are not conceived in sin. They do not come into the world with any taint of impurity whatever. When our scriptures say that “children are conceived in sin,” they are using words in an entirely different way than when the same language is recited in the creeds of the world. The scriptural meaning is that they are born into a world of sin so that “when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.” (Moses 6:55.)
What about infant baptism?
Few false doctrines have ever deserved and received such a vigorous and forceful denunciation as that heaped upon infant baptism by the prophet Mormon. When that inspired author inquired of the Lord concerning the baptism of little children, he was told: “Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them.”
Thereupon Mormon, speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost, taught that “it is pious mockery” to baptize little children; that they “are alive in Christ from the foundation of the world”; that it is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of Christ to them; that such a belief sets at naught the power of Christ’s redemption; that those who believe such a false concept are “in the bonds of iniquity” and if cut off while in the thought shall be thrust down to hell; and that those who humble themselves and repent and are baptized shall “be saved with their little children.” (Moro. 8:8–25.)
Are all little children saved automatically in the celestial kingdom?
To this question the answer is a thunderous yes. Jesus taught it to his disciples. Mormon said it over and over again. Many of the prophets have spoken about it, and it is implicit in the whole plan of salvation. If it were not so the redemption would not be infinite in its application. And so, as we would expect, Joseph Smith’s Vision of the Celestial Kingdom contains this statement: “And I also beheld that all children who die before they arrive at the year of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 137:10.)
It is sometimes asked if this applies to children of all races, and of course the answer is that when the revelation says all children it means all children. There is no restriction as to race, kindred, or tongue. Little children are little children and they are all alive in Christ, and all are saved by him, through and because of the atonement.
Speaking of the Prophet’s statement that all children are saved in the celestial kingdom, President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “This would mean the children of every race. All the spirits that come to this world come from the presence of God and, therefore, must have been in his kingdom. … Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and all who rebelled were cast out; therefore, all who remained are entitled to the blessings of the gospel.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:55.)
How and why are they saved?
They are saved through the atonement and because they are free from sin. They come from God in purity; no sin or taint attaches to them in this life; and they return in purity to their Maker. Accountable persons must become pure through repentance and baptism and obedience. Those who are not accountable for sins never fall spiritually and need not be redeemed from a spiritual fall. Hence the expression that little children are alive in Christ. “Little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten,” the Lord says. (D&C 29:46.)
Will they have eternal life?
Eternal life is life in the highest heaven of the celestial world; it is exaltation; it is the name of the kind of life God lives. It consists of a continuation of the family unit in eternity. We have quoted scriptures saying that children will be saved in the celestial kingdom, but now face the further query as to whether this includes the greatest of all the gifts of God—the gift of eternal life. And in the providences of Him who is infinitely wise, the answer is in the affirmative. Salvation means eternal life; the two terms are synonymous; they mean exactly the same thing. Joseph Smith said, “Salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses and in nothing else.” (Lectures on Faith, pp. 63–67.) We have come to speak of this salvation as exaltation—which it is—but all of the scriptures in all of the standard works call it salvation. I know of only three passages in all our scriptures which use salvation to mean something other and less than exaltation.
Abinadi said, “Little children also have eternal life.” (Mosiah 15:25) Joseph Smith taught, “Children will be enthroned in the presence of God and the Lamb; … they will there enjoy the fulness of that light, glory, and intelligence, which is prepared in the celestial kingdom.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 200) President Joseph Fielding Smith spoke very expressly on this point: “The Lord will grant unto these children the privilege of all the sealing blessings which pertain to the exaltation. We were all mature spirits before we were born; and the bodies of little children will grow after the resurrection to the full stature of the spirit, and all the blessings will be theirs through their obedience, the same as if they had lived to maturity and received them on the earth. The Lord is just and will not deprive any person of a blessing simply because he dies before that blessing can be received. It would be clearly unfair to deprive a little child of the privilege of receiving all the blessings of exaltation in the world to come simply because it died in infancy. … Children who die in childhood will not be deprived of any blessing. When they grow, after the resurrection, to the full maturity of the spirit, they will be entitled to all the blessings which they would have been entitled to had they been privileged to tarry here and receive them.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:54.)
Will children be married and live in the family unit?
Certainly. There can be no question about this. If they gain salvation, which is eternal life, which is exaltation, it means that they are married and live in the family unit. President Joseph Fielding Smith has so stated in plain words, and it is something that must necessarily be so. (See Doctrines of Salvation, 2:49–57.)
Why do some children die and others live? Are those who die better off than those who remain in mortality?
We may rest assured that all things are controlled and governed by Him whose spirit children we are. He knows all things from the beginning to the end and he provides for each of us the testings and trials which he knows we need. President Joseph Fielding Smith once told me that we must assume that the Lord knows and arranges beforehand who shall die in infancy and who shall remain on earth to undergo whatever tests are needed in their cases. This accords with Joseph Smith’s statement: “The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth.” (Teachings, pp. 196–97.) It is implicit in the whole plan of things that those of us who have arrived at the years of accountability need the tests and trials to which we are subject. Our problem is to overcome the world and attain that spotless and pure state which little children already possess.
How much do children know before their mortal birth about God and the plan of salvation?
Every person born into the world comes from the presence of God. We all saw him in that eternal world. We heard his voice. He taught us his laws. We learned about Christ and chose to follow him when he was chosen to be our Savior and Redeemer. We understood and knew the gospel plan and shouted for joy at the privilege of getting our mortal bodies as part of that great plan of salvation. Returning pure and spotless to their Maker, children—who in reality are adults—will again have that gospel knowledge which once was theirs.
Will children ever be tested?
Absolutely not! Any idea that they will be tested in paradise or during the millennium or after the millennium is pure fantasy. Why would a resurrected being, who has already come forth from the grave with a celestial body and whose salvation is guaranteed, be tested? Would the Lord test someone who cannot fail the test and whose exaltation is guaranteed? For that matter, all those billions of people who will be born during the millennium, when Satan is bound, “shall grow up without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:58) and therefore will not be tested. “Satan cannot tempt little children in this life, nor in the spirit world, nor after their resurrection. Little children who die before reaching the years of accountability will not be tempted.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:56–57.) Such is the emphatic language of President Joseph Fielding Smith.
What is the age of accountability?
Accountability does not burst full-bloom upon a child at any given moment in his life. Children become accountable gradually, over a number of years. Becoming accountable is a process, not a goal to be attained when a specified number of years, days, and hours have elapsed. In our revelation the Lord says, “They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” (D&C 29:47.) There comes a time, however, when accountability is real and actual and sin is attributed in the lives of those who develop normally. It is eight years of age, the age of baptism. (D&C 68:27.)
This principle of accountability has been twisted and perverted and even lost at various times. It was at the root of Mormon’s inquiry to the Lord about infant baptism. (See Moro. 8.) One of our most instructive passages on the point contains the words spoken by the Lord to Abraham. “My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers,” the Lord said.
“And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;
“But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of children, and the blood of sprinkling.” (JST, Gen. 17:1–6.)
Infant baptism was practiced by some even in those early days. The reason? Men no longer understood the atonement. For, as the record continues, those ancient peoples “said that the blood of the righteous Abel was shed for sins; and they have not known wherein they are accountable before me.” (JST, Gen. 17:7.)
Then the Lord made this promise to Abraham: “I will establish a covenant of circumcision with thee, and it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old.” (JST, Gen. 17:11.)
What about the mentally deficient?
It is with them as it is with little children. They never arrive at the years of accountability and are considered as though they were little children. If because of some physical deficiency, or for some other reason unknown to us, they never mature in the spiritual and moral sense, then they never become accountable for sins. They need no baptism; they are alive in Christ; and they will receive, inherit, and possess in eternity on the same basis as do all children.
After revealing that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through the atoning sacrifice of Him who died to save us all, and after specifying that Satan has no power to tempt little children until they begin to become accountable, the Lord applied the same principles to those who are mentally deficient: “And, again, I say unto you, that whoso having knowledge, have I not commanded to repent? And he that hath no understanding, it remaineth in me to do according as it is written.” (D&C 29:49–50.)
When and with what stature will children be resurrected?
Because they will receive a celestial inheritance, they will come forth in the first resurrection. President Joseph F. Smith said: “Joseph Smith taught the doctrine that the infant child that was laid away in death would come up in the resurrection as a child; and, pointing to the mother of a lifeless child, he said to her: ‘You will have the joy, the pleasure, and satisfaction of nurturing this child, after its resurrection, until it reaches the full stature of its spirit.’ There is restitution, there is growth, there is development, after the resurrection from death. I love this truth. It speaks volumes of happiness, of joy and gratitude to my soul. Thank the Lord he has revealed these principles to us.” (Gospel Doctrine, pp. 455–56.)
What is our responsibility to our children?
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” (Ps. 127:3.) Our children are our Father’s children. He has entrusted them to us for a time. Our duty is to bring them up in light and truth so they will qualify to return to his Eternal Presence.
Parents in Zion have an especial responsibility for the care and well-being of the souls entrusted to them. King Benjamin summarized it in these words: “Ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness.
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14–15; see also D&C 68:25–28.)
What, then, of this glorious doctrine concerning the salvation of children?
Truly it is one of the sweetest and most soul-satisfying doctrines of the gospel! It is also one of the great evidences of the divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In his day the fiery evangelists of Christendom were thundering from their pulpits that the road to hell is paved with the skulls of infants not a span long because careless parents had neglected to have their offspring baptized. Joseph Smith’s statements, as recorded in the Book of Mormon and latter-day revelation, came as a refreshing breeze of pure truth: little children shall be saved. Thanks be to God for the revelations of his mind where these innocent and pure souls are concerned!