A Temple to Exalt

“A Temple to Exalt,” Ensign, Aug. 1993, 7

A Temple to Exalt

Say the word temple. Say it quietly and reverently. Say it over and over again. Temple. Temple. Temple. Add the word holy. Holy Temple. And you say it as though it were capitalized, no matter where it appears in the sentence.

Temple. One other word is equal in importance to a Latter-day Saint. Home. Put the words holy temple and home together, and you have described what a temple is. The house of the Lord!

The Saints had been commanded to build the first temple at Kirtland. There they had received revelations and knew what the word temple meant. There were to have been temples at Independence, at Far West, and on Spring Hill at Adam-ondi-Ahman, but those temples were never started.

The Saints built a temple at Nauvoo, but it was destroyed by the mobs.1 Colonel Thomas L. Kane wrote: “They succeeded in parrying the last sword-thrust” of the mobs until “as a closing work, they placed on the entablature of the front …

“The House of the Lord:

“Built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Holiness to the Lord!

“… It was this day,” he wrote, that “saw the departure of the last elders, and the largest band that moved in one company together. The people of Iowa have told me, that from morning to night they passed westward like an endless procession. They did not seem greatly out of heart, they said; but, at the top of every hill before they disappeared, were to be seen looking back, like banished Moors, on their abandoned homes, and the far-seen Temple and its glittering spire.”2

They left their farms and homes and the temple to their persecutors and disappeared beyond the western horizon, beyond Far West, where the cornerstones, set seven years earlier, were still in place. It was into oblivion as their persecutors thought. Not quite! They had Prophets and Apostles who had the keys of the priesthood, who carried in their minds the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and they knew of the covenants. And they had the authority to administer them.

It would be thirty years before those ordinances would be written down and forty-seven years until the Salt Lake Temple was completed. But this they knew to be a work of the eternities; that the ordinances revealed to them were “instituted from before the foundation of the world.”3 They knew as well that therein were “the keys of the holy priesthood ordained.”4

When the Saints trickled into the Salt Lake Valley, a pathetic band of refugees, all they owned was carried in a wagon box or in a handcart. All they could hope to get must come the same way, or they must make it themselves.

Nevertheless, on 28 July 1847 Brigham Young announced: “Here we shall build a temple to our God.”5 He was a prophet, a seer—and he had seen in vision a temple and sketched it out.6

It is one thing to see it standing today, walled in to keep out the confusion of a bustling city. It is quite another to picture the pioneers pacing through the sagebrush marking off the temple site before even the rudest log home was built. That they imagined to do it at all is almost beyond belief.

There was an architect in the first company of pioneers, William Weeks, who had designed the Nauvoo temple. But the stark life of the pioneer, the hopeless desolation, and the Moses-like leadership of Brigham Young were too much for him. When President Young went east in 1848, Brother Weeks left the Valley, saying, “They will never build the temple without me.”7

Brigham Young said: “We can build a temple without his assistance, altho’ he says we cannot.”8 Truman O. Angell, a carpenter, was appointed to replace Brother Weeks. “If the President and my brethren feel to sustain a poor worm of the dust like me to be Architect of the Church,” he said, “let me … serve them and not disgrace myself. … May the Lord help me so to do.”9

The isolation which gave them some relief from the mobs was itself an obstacle. Where would they get heavy sledgehammers and wedges with which to split out building blocks of granite? They didn’t carry many of those in handcarts or in wagon boxes, either. Where would they get a chisel to carve the moldings or glass to fill the windows?

A great principle was demonstrated to the Church in connection with the choice of building materials. In the October conference of 1852, it was unanimously decided “that we build [the] temple of the best materials [available] in the mountains of North America.” It was well known that “President Young was in favor of adobe and pebbles, and it was regarded by many as settled that this view would be adopted.”10 But there is the principle of presidency and the system of councils in the organization the Lord revealed to the Saints. President Young had counselors, and there was the Twelve. After lengthy counseling on the matter, strong-willed President Young yielded, and the temple was built of granite. He was not the only one who had seen the temple in vision. President Wilford Woodruff said: “Before we came to the Rocky Mountains, I had a dream. I dreamed of being in these mountains, and of seeing a large fine looking temple erected in one of these valleys which was built of cut granite stone. … Whenever President Young held a council of the brethren of the Twelve and talked of building the temple of adobe or brick, … I would say to myself, ‘No, you will never do it;’ because I had seen it in my dream built of some other material.”11

It was on the twenty-third anniversary of the organization of the Church, 6 April 1853, that the cornerstone was put in place and the construction officially began.

It would be years before the railroad would cross the Rocky Mountains from the east and the Sierras from the west to meet at a point north of the Great Salt Lake. For years ox teams had been dragging granite stones from the mountains twenty miles to the southeast.

“‘Good morning, Brother,’ one man was heard to say to a teamster. ‘We missed you at the meetings yesterday afternoon.’ ‘Yes,’ said the driver of the oxen, ‘I did not attend meeting. I did not have clothes fit to go to meeting.’ ‘Well,’ said the speaker, ‘Brother Brigham called for some more men and teams to haul granite blocks for the Temple.’

“The driver, his whip thrown over his oxen, said, ‘Whoa, Haw, Buck, we shall go and get another granite stone from the quarry.’”12

At the quarry President Woodruff had watched men cut out granite stones seventy feet square and split them up into building blocks.13 If there was no mishap, and that would be an exception, the teamster, “too poorly clad to worship,” could return within a week.14

In due time the railroad came south and a spur was run to the quarry and to Temple Square. Then the stones could reach Temple Square in one day. The canal being dug to convey the granite stones to Temple Square would thereafter be used to carry irrigation water.

On Temple Square the stones were shaped into blocks for the walls, for oval windows and treads. For the four circular staircases which rise up through the corner towers, six hundred eighty-eight steps, all of them exactly alike—each of them weighing over 1,700 pounds, each taking weeks to chisel out and polish.

Symbols are chiseled on the granite stones which depict the sun, the stars, the planets, and the earth. To be sure that the stones representing the phases of the moon were accurate, Elder Orson Pratt, a competent astronomer, set up an observatory on temple block. He could open the slats in the roof to study the heavens with a three-inch lens.

The symbolism is not mysterious. The clouds with rays of sunlight shining through are immortalized in Elder Parley P. Pratt’s great anthem: “The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled! The dawning of a brighter day … Majestic rises on the world.”15

The Big Dipper, with the pointers ranging to the North Star, means that the lost may find their way by the aid of the priesthood.

The east towers represent the Melchizedek Priesthood and the west towers the Aaronic Priesthood.

These and all the other symbols were carefully drafted by the architect, Truman O. Angell, under the watchful eye of President Brigham Young.16

That wicked spirit which had inspired Governor Boggs of Missouri to issue the extermination order against the Saints in 1838 broods forever over the work of the Lord. President Brigham Young had predicted: “We never began to build a temple without the bells of hell beginning to ring.” He added: “I want to hear them ring again. All the tribes of hell will be on the move, if we uncover the walls of this temple.”17 President Young had said when they entered the Valley: “If they let us alone ten years we would ask no odds of them.”18 Ten years to the day after they entered the valley, the pioneers were celebrating the 24th of July in the canyons when a messenger arrived with word that Johnson’s army was marching west to settle the “Mormon question.” Colonel Thomas Kane came to mediate.

President Young told him: “[We] have been driven from place to place; … we have been scattered and peeled. … We have transgressed no law, … neither do we intend to; but as for any nation’s coming to destroy this people, God Almighty being my helper, they cannot come here.”19

It was Colonel Kane who worked out the agreement under which the army was permitted to enter the valley and move through the city to a place beyond.

The First Presidency ordered the settlements evacuated and the Saints to move south. Every evidence of construction was cleared away from Temple Square. All the stones were hidden. The foundation, which, after seven years’ work, was now nearing ground level, was covered over and the block was plowed. It looked then like a field ready to plant.

After peace was established and work could resume, the dirt was removed from the foundation of the temple, which at places was thirty-two feet deep. They found a crack or two running from the foundation stones down to the large rubble stones which formed the footings. A decision must be made! President Young refused to make it without revealed instruction. After seeking counsel from those around him and through that spirit of revelation which was constant with him, he ordered the foundations torn out and replaced.

Since human nature has not changed, one can imagine that there were murmurings. “If he is a prophet, why could not he have gotten that revelation a year ago, or five years ago? Now all that work is wasted.” Not so! President Young said: “When the Temple is built I want it to stand through the millennium, in connection with many others that will yet be built.”20 Someone asked Brigham Young once if they would ever live to see the temple completed. He responded: “I do not know. … This I do know: There should be a temple built here.21

They counted on the principle of the arch on each window distributing the immense weight of the stone above it. When the foundation was replaced with shaped granite stones, sixteen large inverted arches were built into it. There is no record as to why they decided to do that. That manner of construction was then unknown in this country.

If someday perchance there be a massive force wanting to lift the temple from beneath, the arches may well act to distribute the pressure.

The work proceeded with various interruptions. It becomes more of a miracle when one considers what else was done during that period of time. While the building of the Salt Lake Temple might have, during the forty years of its construction, consumed all of the time and energy and resources of the Church, the work was moving forward. Three temples were dedicated during that period of time; 364 communities were founded by the Church in the United States, Canada, and Mexico; the translation of the standard works in the languages proceeded; missions were opened in many parts of the world.

Construction inched upward slowly but surely. A family coming to April conference might notice little difference from the previous April, for only one or two courses of stone might have been placed in the meantime. And a young couple showing their little children about the construction site, as they explained what a temple is and why it must be built with care, might return to the yet unfinished building to teach the same lesson to teenaged grandchildren.

It is not to be wondered that Satan, the enemy of all righteousness, should want to disrupt, to delay, and to destroy both the construction of temples and the work that goes on within them. Opposition rose again, and Congress voted to disenfranchise the Church. In March of 1887, the Edmunds-Tucker Act became effective. Church properties, including the Salt Lake Temple, were escheated to the government. The unfinished temple stood firmly on a foundation of stone; the work of construction went forward on a foundation of faith. For eight years the Church would pay rent on the temple block. It was not until Utah became a state in 1896 that the properties and some of the rent money returned to the Church.

In 1892 the capstone was laid, and it was unanimously determined to dedicate the temple one year later.

The problem of providing heat and light had been solved years earlier when the temple was at ground level. Natural gas was discovered in Farmington Bay. It was piped to the temple block, and they began to drill channels through the granite walls to conduct gas into all the rooms.

Then, about three years before the dedication, electricity became available. They converted the new gas chandeliers, which had been lovingly made by the quorums of elders, and the electric wires were run through the conduits already drilled up through the granite walls.

When the structure was closed in, attention was turned to the interior, which was to exceed in beauty the exterior. In 1890 John Fairbanks, John Hafen, Lorus Pratt, and Edwin Evans were set apart as missionaries to France. They were to learn to paint and sculpt, for the temple would be beautiful within, “so that the Lord’s name may be glorified and his cause advanced through … the arts.”22

Brother Fairbanks left seven children for his wife to look after. He could not bear to part with her in public, so two of the children walked with him to the station for a tearful parting.23 Each wife encouraged her husband to go. The women contributed no less than the men to the building of the temple. Perhaps only another woman can know the sacrifice a woman makes to see that something that must be done, that she cannot do herself, is done. And only a good man knows in his heart of hearts the depth of his dependency upon his wife; how she alone makes worth doing that which must be done, even at great personal sacrifice. The artists were called back when the rooms were ready, and they came with sketches and plans which pleased the Brethren.

A year later, James F. Woods was set apart as a missionary to England to gather genealogies in anticipation of the completion of the temple.24 How could Brother Woods know that he was pioneering a family history work beyond anything that had been imagined in the mind of man.

Eventually the day of dedication came. In the immense crowd was a seven-year-old boy from Tooele who would carry a clear memory of that event and of President Wilford W. Woodruff for another ninety years. LeGrand Richards would one day serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as his father before him had done.

When he was twelve, LeGrand heard President Woodruff give his last public address. Even after ninety years, Elder Richards bore clear testimony to us of those sacred events.

There have been many visitations to the temple of significance to individuals or to the Church. President Lorenzo Snow saw the Savior there. Most of these sacred experiences remain unrecorded or unpublished. Solemn assemblies have been held. Through the years the day-to-day work of administering ordinances to the living and the dead has proceeded at an ever-increasing pace.

And so the temple was finished. It had been seventy years since the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith and quoted the words with which Malachi the prophet had closed the Old Testament: “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.

“If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”25

It had been fifty-seven years since the Lord appeared in the newly completed temple at Kirtland and with him Elijah the prophet, thus fulfilling the prophecy spoken by Malachi more than twenty-two hundred years earlier.

It had been fifty-two years since the Lord commanded the Saints to build a temple in Nauvoo. “For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood.26

He gave them a stern warning if they did not complete it within the allotted time: “But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.

“But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.

“For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me;

For therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory.”27

It had been fifty-one years since Joseph Smith, in an epistle to the Saints, revealed the will of the Lord concerning the redemption of both the living and the dead and said: “Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.

“Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud.”28

“The Spirit of God” was sung for the first time at the dedication of the temple at Kirtland, and the building was engulfed in celestial fire. It was sung at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. Added was the “Hosanna Anthem”: “The house of the Lord is completed, the house of the Lord is completed! May our offering to him be accepted.”29 As the voices of the Saints rose in singing “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning,”30 surely the mountains did shout for joy and the valleys did cry aloud.

As the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated and given to the Lord as His house, the Hosanna Shout echoed in the everlasting hills. The work was finished, and at once the greater work was just begun. It had been forty years since ground had been broken. Thousands of Saints had forgone the comforts and conveniences of life, had given up even the necessities; and more than a few had literally worn out their lives in the building of the temple. Three other temples had been dedicated, the gospel had been taken across the world, a civilization had been built in the mountains, and now the words of Isaiah the prophet were fulfilled: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”31

It was not the granite nor the mortar nor the carved work nor the indescribably beautiful appointments that mattered most. Other temples would be built. As we celebrate this centenary, there are forty-five temples across the world. None are less important. However more imposing the temple at Salt Lake City may be, that invisible temple that lives in the building itself is the same in all temples. The ordinances are the same, the covenants equally binding, the blessings equally in force, the Holy Spirit of Promise equally present.

And the center of it all is another temple. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

“If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”32

“Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”33

On the day that the cornerstones were laid for the Salt Lake Temple, President Brigham Young said, “Very few of the Elders of Israel, now on earth, … know the meaning of the word endowment. To know, they must experience; and to experience, a temple must be built.”34 Surely it could be said today that very few of those who have experienced the endowment fully appreciate or fully know the supernal worth of the temple ordinances and the family history work which sustains them. This work is crucial to the redemption of both the living and the dead. It is this doctrine more than any other we teach which sets The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apart from all of Christianity and must justify the Restoration.

In preparation for the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, the First Presidency issued an epistle to the Saints. It is timeless. If it had been written today, it would apply as well as it did one hundred years ago.

To the Officers and Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“The near approach of the date for the dedication of the Temple of our God moves us to express with some degree of fullness our feelings to our brethren, the officers of the Church, who with us bear the Priesthood of the Son of God, and to the Latter-day Saints generally; to the end that in entering that holy building we may all be found acceptable ourselves, with our households, and that the building which we shall dedicate may also be acceptable unto the Lord.

“The Latter-day Saints have used their means freely to erect other temples in these valleys, and our Father has blessed us in our efforts. Today we enjoy the great happiness of having three of these sacred structures completed, dedicated to and accepted of the Lord, wherein the Saints can enter and attend to those ordinances which He, in His infinite goodness and kindness, has revealed. But for forty years the hopes, desires, and anticipations of the entire Church have been centered upon the completion of this edifice in the principal city of Zion. Its foundation was laid in the early days of our settlement in these mountains; and from that day until the present, the eyes of the members of the Church in every land have been lovingly directed toward it. Looking upon it as the Temple of temples, the people during all these years have labored with unceasing toil, undiminished patience, and ungrudging expenditure of means to bring it to its present condition of completion; and now that the toils and the sacrifices of forty years are crowned so successfully and happily; now that the great building is at last finished and ready to be used for divine purposes, need we say that we draw near an event whose consummation is to us as a people momentous in the highest degree? Far-reaching in its consequences, as that occasion is certain to be, what remains for us to say in order to impress the entire Church with a sense of its tremendous importance?

“On this point, surely nothing; yet may we offer a few words upon a phase that directly touches it. No member of the Church who would be deemed worthy to enter that sacred house can be considered ignorant of the principles of the Gospel. It is not too much to presume that every one knows what his duty is to God and to his fellowman. None is so forgetful as to have lost sight of the admonition that we must be filled with love for and charity toward our brethren. And hence none can for a moment doubt the supreme importance of every member of the congregation being at peace with all his or her brethren and sisters, and at peace with God. How else can we hope to gain the blessings He has promised save by complying with the requirements for which those blessings are the reward!

“Can men and women who are violating a law of God, or those who are derelict in yielding obedience to His commands, expect that the mere going into His holy house and taking part in its dedication will render them worthy to receive, and cause them to receive, His blessing?

“Do they think that repentance and turning away from sin may be so lightly dispensed with?

“Do they dare, even in thought, thus to accuse our Father of injustice and partiality, and attribute to Him carelessness in the fulfillment of His own words?

“Assuredly no one claiming to belong to His people would be guilty of such a thing.

“Then must those who are unworthy cease to expect a blessing from their attendance at the Temple while sin unrepented of still casts its odor about them, and while bitterness or even an unforgiving coolness exists in their hearts against their brethren and sisters.

“On this latter subject we feel that much might be said. In the striving after compliance with the apparently weightier matters of the law, there is a possibility that the importance of this spirit of love and kindness and charity may be underestimated. For ourselves, we cannot think of any precept that at present requires more earnest inculcation.

“During the past eighteen months there has been a division of the Latter-day Saints upon national party lines. Political campaigns have been conducted, elections have been held, and feelings, more or less intense, have been engendered in the minds of brethren and sisters upon one side and the other.

“We have been cognizant of conduct and have heard of many expressions that have been very painful to us and have grieved our spirits.

“We know they have been an offense unto the God of peace and love, and a stumbling block unto many of the Saints.

“We feel now that a time for reconciliation has come; that before entering into the Temple to present ourselves before the Lord in solemn assembly, we shall divest ourselves of every harsh and unkind feeling against each other; that not only our bickerings shall cease, but that the cause of them shall be removed, and every sentiment that prompted and has maintained them shall be dispelled; that we shall confess our sins one to another, and ask forgiveness one of another; that we shall plead with the Lord for the spirit of repentance, and, having obtained it, follow its promptings; so that in humbling ourselves before Him and seeking forgiveness from each other, we shall yield that charity and generosity to those who crave our forgiveness that we ask for and expect from heaven.

“Thus may we come up into the holy place with our hearts free from guile and our souls prepared for the edification that is promised! Thus shall our supplications, undisturbed by a thought of discord, unitedly mount into the ears of Jehovah and draw down the choice blessings of the God of Heaven!

“As your brethren, sustained by your vote and in your faith as the First Presidency of the Church, we have this to say to the Latter-day Saints, in our individual as well as our official capacity: If there is a single member of the Church who has feelings against us, we do not wish to cross the threshold of the Temple until we have satisfied him and have removed from him all cause of feeling, either by explanation or by making proper amends and atonement; neither would we wish to enter the sacred portals of that edifice until we have sought an explanation, or amends, or atonement, from any against whom we may have either a real or fancied grievance.

“In now announcing this course for ourselves, we say to all the other officers of the Church that we desire them to follow our example. We wish them from the highest to the lowest and throughout all the Stakes and Wards of Zion to take heed of this counsel. Let them invite all who may have feelings against them to come forward and make them known; let them then endeavor to correct any misapprehensions or misunderstandings which may exist, or give redress for any wrong or injury that may have been done.

“We say the same—and when the officers have taken the course indicated we wish them to say the same—to the individual members of the Church. We call upon them to seek to have the fellowship of their brethren and their sisters, and their entire confidence and love; above all to seek to have the fellowship and union of the Holy Ghost. Let this spirit be sought and cherished as diligently within the smallest and humblest family circle, as within the membership of the highest organization and quorum. Let it permeate the hearts of the brothers and sisters, the parents and children of the household, as well as the hearts of the First Presidency and Twelve. Let it mellow and soften all differences between members of the Stake Presidencies and the High Councils, as well as between neighbors living in the same ward. Let it unite young and old, male and female, flock and shepherd, people and Priesthood, in the bonds of gratitude and forgiveness and love, so that Israel may feel approved of the Lord, and that we may all come before Him with a conscience void of offense before all men. Then there will be no disappointment as to the blessings promised those who sincerely worship Him. The sweet whisperings of the Holy Spirit will be given to them and the treasures of heaven, the communion of angels, will be added from time to time, for His promise has gone forth and it cannot fail!

“Asking God’s blessing upon you all in your endeavor to carry out this counsel, and desirous of seeing it take the form of a united effort on the part of the whole people, we suggest that Saturday, March 25th, 1893, be set apart as a day of fasting and prayer. On that occasion we advise that the Presidencies of Stakes, the High Councils, the Bishops and their Counselors, meet together with the Saints in their several meeting houses, confess their sins one to another, and draw out from the people all feelings of anger, of distrust, or of unfriendliness that may have found a lodgment; so that entire confidence may then and there be restored and love from this time prevail through all the congregations of the Saints.

“Wilford Woodruff,

“George Q. Cannon,

“Joseph F. Smith,

“First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 18 March 1893.”35

The Lord had promised the Saints at Nauvoo: “If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot [the temple site] that it shall be made holy.

“And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.

“But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest.”36

Surely then if we hearken to His voice, and the voice of His servants, we will not be moved from the place the Lord has prepared for each of us.

Lettering by James Fedor

Illustrated by Del Parson

Photography by John Luke