“They Who Are Righteous Shall Be Righteous Still”

Brant Gardner

Jacob assures his listeners that Yahweh’s judgment will not change their essential natures. Yahweh will not mistakenly send the righteous to hell, nor the guilty to heaven. But Jacob goes further. In his view, the judgment is almost a formality, confirming the “judgment” we have already passed upon ourselves through our post-resurrection perfected self-knowledge. His characterization, the “filthy will be filthy still” and the “righteous will be righteous still” confirms that this “prejudgment” is known even before we approach the bar of justice. How is this so?

Other scriptures, some related to mortality rather than God’s final judgment, shed light on this dynamic. Matthew 7:1–2 apparently forbids judging: “Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Yet Moroni 7:15 exhorts: “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.”

How can these apparently conflicting passages be reconciled? Both scriptures deal with the spiritual realm. Our mortal experience teaches us that it is impossible to ensure that others will judge us by the measure we apply to them. We can be totally forgiving to some, yet find that many others hold long grudges against us. Or we may hold grudges, while others generously forgive us. Clearly the full impact of our judgments on ourselves belongs to the next world.

Reality also teaches us that it is not possible or desirable to eschew judgment altogether. We cannot choose never to choose, to always drift into conflicting situations. Moroni2’s clarification of our ability to make good judgments is much more harmonious with gospel principles than a vague and contradictory relativism that refuses to make a judgment upon any situation.

Since Matthew cannot be referring to how we should live our mortal lives, he is describing the effect that the judgments we make on earth will have on our souls when we stand before God. To understand Jacob’s discussion of the confirming nature of that judgment, we need to understand more about the various types of judgment that must be effected and their conditions.

The first issue is the relationship between our understanding and our actions. Romans 2:12 explains: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” The first clause in this verb describes those who have sinned without the law, and the second those who sin with the law. This verse consists of two parallel concepts in which only a slight variation marks the difference; together the parallels form a complete concept. In this verse, both clauses deal with sinners and the law. Both types of sinners are condemned, for, despite God’s love for the sinners, he cannot accept their sins. The variation in the two clauses is the function of “law”—not secular law, which could easily apply to both types of sinners, but to spiritual or revealed “law.” While Paul was probably emphasizing the law of Moses, we may also understand that this law is the gospel. The verse defines the relationship between the sinners and the law of the gospel.

The term “judge” appears only in the second clause but is clearly implied in the first clause. Rephrasing the verse for greater clarity would produce: “Those who sin and have not received the gospel shall not be judged as though they had the gospel. Those who have received the gospel shall be judged by the requirements of the gospel.” God’s willingness to judge us on the basis of our mortal understanding is a great comfort. The number of people who lived and died without knowing the gospel greatly exceeds those who did. Surely a just God would not condemn anyone by a standard he or she had no opportunity to understand.

Still, some parts of the gospel irrevocably apply to all humankind. In John 3:5 Christ says: “Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit he shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” This verse makes no exceptions. Even if there must be allowances for the varied circumstances under which people live, it is equally clear that there are some universal requirements. God cannot be so forgiving that he negates the reason for which we came to this earth.

Another clue about the nature of our judgment comes from Revelation 20:12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Lest we become complacent and feel that performing certain actions recorded in “the books” assures our salvation, we should remember Christ’s attitude concerning the Pharisees, who were all works and little true understanding. God judges our works as they reflect our understanding, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34). Our works are important as a witness to the changes made in our hearts, and “I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men” (D&C 64:22).

Therefore, the judgment we receive is based on the way we live and understand the law that we have been given. If someone without knowing the gospel still lives according to some of its precepts, he or she effects changes required by the Lord and will be judged accordingly. As Paul stated:

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.) (Rom. 2:13–15)

Jacob’s understanding of a self-effected judgment finds corroboration in Doctrine and Covenants 88:22–24:

For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

These scriptures explain how human beings are assigned to the various kingdoms. Each sentence begins with: “he who is not able to abide the law.… ” Judgment is thus applied according to each individual’s ability to live a certain law. There is no indication that Yahweh evaluates that ability. Rather, it seems to be self-evident: A person will know whether he or she has that ability. Nor does this passage suggest that Yahweh must forcibly forbid entrance to a particular kingdom. Rather, the enforcing mechanism is again internal: the individual cannot “abide the glory” of that kingdom.

Jesus also commented in Luke 6:37–38: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” The judgment confirms the character and qualities we have already developed. With our perfected self-understanding, when we approach God for judgment, we will understand our place, meaning, the glory we are able to abide. The final judgment thus becomes a confirmation of what we have already become.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2