“The Family and Eternity,” Ensign, Feb. 1971, 7
Some time ago I was counseling a woman who had joined the Church following the breakup of her marriage and the loss of her only child, a boy who was nine years old at the time he passed away. She told me something that I remember very well because it touched me deeply.
After the separation in her marriage, while she was trying to make a living for herself and her son, he became afflicted with a terminal disease. Some time before he passed away, he became aware of the fact that he was not going to live. His mother said from that time on he had only one thing on his mind: over and over again he would say pleadingly, “Mama, you won’t forget me, will you? I won’t be forgotten, will I?”
That pleading of a dying youngster speaks somehow for all of us, and expresses our yearning not to be forgotten.
When I was presiding over the mission in New England, I received a letter from a mother explaining that shortly after joining the Church, they had lost their only child, a little girl about five who was struck down by a car. For weeks after the funeral, this brokenhearted mother brooded and mourned the loss of her child: then, in the agony of her bereavement, she wrote, asking two questions. First, “Tell me how it is. Did it all go dark? I can’t stand the thought that it’s all dark for my little girl.” And the second question, “Will she be alone? Please tell me that my little girl won’t be alone. I can’t bear the thought that she’s all alone now.”
How grateful I am that we could offer comfort to this mother, and how grateful I am that we have received revelations in this dispensation that give us a great deal of knowledge about what transpires and what we may expect as we go beyond the veil.
The preservation of the family is one of the great missions of the Church. The Lord has revealed a way for us to permanently establish the family. The work of priesthood genealogy prepares the way for temple ordinance work, which makes eternal the basic organization of the Church—the family.
We believe in revelation. As Latter-day Saints, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (A of F 1:9.) I do not think many Latter-day Saints read the last phrase of that statement. They believe all that God has revealed, but I would like to discuss with you “all that he does now reveal.”
Revelation is a principal subject in one of the most interesting books in Church literature, the biography Wilford Woodruff, by Matthias F. Cowley. This detailed history of the president of the Church and his times was made possible through his carefully written journal.
On April 5, 1894, President Woodruff recorded in his journal, “I met with the Brethren on the matters of adoptions and endowments and the following is a revelation to Wilford Woodruff.” The next page was left blank. The revelation was not lost, however.
During a talk at a general conference of the Church in April 1894, he said: “Therefore, as the Lord commanded us not to speak only as we were moved by the Holy Ghost, I desire that, and in order to obtain it I want the prayers and faith of the Latter-day Saints.
“I have some things resting upon me that I wish to present before the Latter-day Saints, and in order to do this I will call upon President George Q. Cannon to read from the Book of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the subject which I wish to speak upon.”
Then George Q. Cannon, first counselor in the First Presidency, read concerning the preservation of family ties.
Following this, President Woodruff continued speaking: “Thus [referring to section 128] you have before you the subject which is resting upon us, and which we wish to present to the Latter-day Saints. … I wish to say to the Latter-day Saints that we live in a very important generation. We are blessed with power and authority, holding the Holy Priesthood by the commandment of God, to stand upon the earth and redeem both the living and the dead. If we did not do it, we should be damned and cut off from the earth, and the God of Israel would raise up a people who would do it. The Lord would not permit me to occupy this position one day of my life, unless I was susceptible to the Holy Spirit and to the revelations of God. It is too late in the day for this Church to stand without revelation. Not only the President of the Church should possess this gift and give it to the people, but his counselors and the Apostles and all men that bear the Holy Priesthood, if they magnify their calling, although they may not be called to give revelations to lead and direct the Church. The spirit of revelation belongs to the Priesthood. …
“… You have acted up to all the light and knowledge that you have had [referring again to the matter of adoptions and endowments]; but you have now something more to do than you have done. We have not fully carried out those principles in fulfillment of the revelations of God to us, in the sealing of the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.”
Then came the substance of the revelation in the simplicity of a single declarative sentence that has ushered in a most marvelous work in this dispensation: “We want Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it.” (Italics added.)
President Woodruff said, “… In my prayers the Lord revealed to me, that it was my duty to say to all Israel to carry this principle out, and in fulfillment of that revelation, I lay it before this people. I say to all men who are laboring in these temples, carry out this principle, and then we shall make one step in advance of what we have had before. Myself and counselors conversed upon this and we were agreed upon it, and afterwards we laid it before all the Apostles who were here … the Lord revealed to every one of these men—and they would bear testimony to it if they were to speak—that that was the word of the Lord to them. I never met with anything in my life in this Church that there was more unity upon than there was upon that principle. They all feel right about it, and that it is our duty.” (Deseret Evening News, May 19, 1894.)
On November 13, 1894, a meeting was held in the Church Historian’s Office in Salt Lake City. Attending that meeting were all members of the First Presidency: President Wilford Woodruff; his first counselor, George Q. Cannon; and his second counselor, Joseph F. Smith. Franklin D. Richards, president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, and other members of the Council were present in that meeting when the Genealogical Society of Utah was organized for benevolent, educational, and religious purposes and for the preservation of family ties.
Today we have other organizations in the Church that are working on family ties. We have stakes and missions, wards, branches, and districts. Each is presided over by a priesthood officer. These organizations are temporarily essential; they are not eternal organizations. They can be organized or they can be dissolved. Stakes are often divided and boundaries changed in size and shape, and they may have an entirely different group of people than when they were organized.
These organizations are for convenience in administering priesthood authority. Officers are called to administer in the wards and stakes, but they serve temporarily. The bishops and stake presidents will be replaced one day. These are temporary assignments placed upon the shoulders of men.
But the family, on the other hand, can be an eternal organization. Though the family may move from one ward or stake to another, the family organization remains intact. It may even be transferred from mortality into the eternities in the spirit world. The family established under the priesthood in the temple is founded in what is perhaps the most profound of all ordinances. When a couple enters into the new and everlasting covenant, they have the possibility of entering full expression of their life powers, both spiritual and physical.
This is a responsibility not to be regarded lightly. Those sacred life-giving physical powers which have been reserved and protected through the entire life of the individual are at last released for a sacred and pure and holy purpose, the begetting of a family.
These positions in the family, the positions of parenthood, should not be temporary; they should be permanent. Presiding officers in the Church are changed from time to time, but not so with the father and mother. What happens when a father is not diligent in his responsibility? Sometimes we may even think he ought to be replaced, but who has the authority to do that? A bishop can release a Sunday School superintendent, but he cannot release the father of a family. He has not that authority, nor has a stake president.
Do the General Authorities of the Church have that authority? I know that I cannot release a father from presiding over his family. His calling is special; it is permanent in the new and everlasting covenant, and no release is contemplated.
A release can come, of course, through transgression. Through authority reserved to the president and prophet himself, those binding ties can be dissolved. This comes, however, not at the instigation of the bishop and the stake president. It comes when the individual breaks the covenant, transgresses, and becomes unworthy.
When we catch a vision of what the family is, what those binding ties are, and what the marriage covenant is, then we must know that surely few things in our day offend the Lord more than the silly and whimsical way in which many people enter into and release themselves from the marriage covenant. Indeed, we have reached a point in history when the marriage covenant, considered through all generations of history as sacred and vital, is now declared by many to be useless.
As an outgrowth, those sacred life processes through which spirits may enter mortality are being tampered with. That path of life over which new spirits must cross to enter a mortal body is often walled up through contraceptive practice; and should, through some accidental means, those natural conditions be met and a body be generated, abortive procedures are now all too common, and the spirits are thrust back whence they came. These practices are looked upon as advancements for mankind. Both are founded upon selfishness.
When I read and reread section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants, I am impressed with the fact that the Lord made many references not just to the dead and baptism for the dead, but he also talked about salvation for the living and the dead. When you read that section, you notice how they are together—the living and the dead, or the dead and the living. The same principles relate to both of them.
This binding of the families together through genealogical research, and the subsequent performance of the sealing ordinance in the temple, is being strengthened by the vital program to secure the family and bind its members together while they are living. Never before in the history of the Church have there been two programs that have come so close to interlocking for the living and the dead than we have in our day. We have the family home evening program and the home teaching program, both directed at stabilizing and strengthening the families. And we have the genealogical program and temple work, with the objective of making the family unit eternal and keeping it together in the spirit world. We have these programs because “we believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
If we are to preserve families, everything must be done to see that there is something worthy of preserving. There is much to be said for the sustaining of a happy family life here in mortality, and in a very real way it ties very closely to what we know as priesthood genealogical work. Reference is made in section 128 to the coming of Elijah. This had been prophesied by Malachi four hundred years B.C. The closing words of the Old Testament are:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:
“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4:5–6.)
Let me quote for you the words of President Harold B. Lee, delivered at the dedication of the Oakland Temple. “I ask you to consider a Churchwide family teaching program about which we are talking today. … President Joseph F. Smith and his counselors promised Church members that if they would gather their children around them once a week and instruct them in the gospel, those children in such homes would not go astray.
“And so today there are being prepared instructions to do what? … to turn here upon the earth the hearts of parents to children, and the hearts of children to parents. Can you conceive that when parents have passed beyond the veil that that is the only time when parents should have their hearts turned to their children, and children to their parents?
“I would have you consider seriously whether or not that binding with your family will be secure if you have waited until you have passed beyond the veil before your hearts then yearn for your children whom you have neglected to help along the way. It is time for us to think of turning the hearts of parents to children now while living, that there might be a bond between parents and children that will last beyond death. It is a very real principle, and we should consider it.”
So today in the Church, priesthood genealogical work enjoys the status and receives an emphasis it has never previously enjoyed. The work in the temples and the organization through which wards and stakes do genealogical research constitute a modern-day implementation of that revelation given through President Woodruff.
We are all concerned as never before with the binding of families here upon the earth, that they might be bound together in eternity. What more marvelous experience is there than for members of all ages in a family to bind themselves together in genealogical research?