“Symbol of Sacrifice, Monument to Life,” Ensign, Oct. 1993, 9
This year, the entire Church celebrates the one hundredth anniversary of the completion and dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. That sacred edifice was dedicated on 6 April 1893, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to carry out the holy purposes of our Eternal Father. It stands proudly today as a marvelous monument to the dauntless dedication of humble pioneers as they sought to serve the God of heaven. Many of those who saw its beginning—including Presidents Brigham Young and John Taylor—never with their mortal eyes saw it finished.
Millennia ago, the prophet Micah predicted the following:
“But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
“And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”1
No doubt the building of the Salt Lake Temple was in partial fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy.
Here we may ask ourselves why the Saints—who had already been driven from their homes (and temples) at Kirtland and Nauvoo—would be so willing, even eager, to build another temple.
I believe the answer lies in their conviction that the Lord had commanded them to build it so they could receive the ordinances of salvation therein, for the Lord had said to the Prophet Joseph Smith on 19 January 1841 that the Saints must build a house “unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;
“For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world.”2
I am convinced those rugged pioneers knew in their hearts that the ordinances of the temple would actually bind (seal) them to their spouses, children, and parents (living and dead) and provide them an eternal home in the presence of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Just four days after the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, President Brigham Young walked with Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, and several others to a section of land located between two creeks in the heart of the valley, waved his hand over the site, and said, “Here is the forty acres [later reduced to ten acres] for the temple.”3 Another account states that he “stood upon the spot where now rises the magnificent Salt Lake Temple, and exclaimed to his brother Apostles and companions: ‘Here we will build the Temple of our God!’”4
Construction began in 1853. The temple was to be built according to a divine plan; President Young testified later that he had first seen it in vision as he stood on the temple site not long after the Saints arrived in the valley.5 But translating that design to earthly stone and mortar was to be no short-term project completed according to a planned-out construction schedule, as our temples now are. Instead, completion of the Salt Lake Temple would be a goal, a dream, and a motive for sacrifice by two generations of Latter-day Saints! Interrupted at times, they toiled on despite physical difficulties, despite civil difficulties6, undeterred in their efforts because they were building for the ages. By early 1892, as the exterior of the sacred building neared completion, any observer could see that this magnificent house of God would also be a monument to the faith and dedication of a people.
The date of 6 April 1892 was set for the laying of the capstone of the temple, and as that day drew near, “the wave of joy which swept over the heart of the Saints was visible in all their associations. It was to them a day of triumph for which they had patiently toiled, many of them the greater part of a lifetime.”7
The capstone was laid by President Wilford Woodruff (who, before becoming President of the Church, had served from 1877 to 1881 as the first president of the St. George Temple, the first one completed by Latter-day Saints in the Mountain West). Thousands gathered to observe the capstone laying. Afterward, President Woodruff wrote in his journal that it was “the largest assembly I ever saw meet on any occasion of the Latter-day Saints. … This was certainly the greatest day the Latter-day Saints ever saw in these mountains.”8
But a greater day than this was to follow—the glorious day of the temple’s dedication on 6 April 1893. On that historic day, some twenty-five hundred people were gathered in the upper assembly room of the temple for the first dedicatory session. President Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer. All three members of the First Presidency spoke. Then came the awe-inspiring, sacred Hosannah Shout, led by Lorenzo Snow, with “the entire audience standing upon their feet and waving white handkerchiefs in concert.”9
In the dedicatory prayer, President Woodruff asked the Lord to bless the Saints and to accept “this building in all its parts from foundation to capstone” that it might be “the abode of thy Well-Beloved Son, our Savior.” He asked the Lord to remember “all those who have labored in erection of this house, or who have, in any way, by their means or influence aided in its completion.”10
He told the congregation at a later dedication session that a “Heavenly Host were in attendance at the [first] dedication [service] … and if the eyes of the congregation could [have been] opened they would [have seen] Joseph and Hyrum [Smith], Brigham Young, John Taylor and all other good men who had lived in this dispensation assembled with us; as also Esaias, Jeremiah, and all the holy Prophets and Apostles who had prophesied of the latter-day work. … They were rejoicing with us in this building which had been accepted of the Lord, and the shout of Hosanna which had arisen from this House of God had reached the throne of the Almighty.”11
The glorious, long-awaited day had come at last!
Dedication services were repeated until all worthy Saints who desired had an opportunity to attend and participate. The final dedication session was on Monday, April 24. “Thirty-one services provided opportunity for eighty-two thousand people to participate in presenting their temple to their God.”12
President Lorenzo Snow was called to serve as the first president of the Salt Lake Temple, and ordinance work commenced on 22 May 1893. In the one hundred years that have followed, nearly 600,000 members have received their own endowments there, and the number of sealings of living couples now stands at nearly 280,000, while millions of our ancestors have received vicariously their sacred temple ordinances.
No doubt millions more will yet receive their temple ordinances in the Salt Lake Temple. Brigham Young said in 1863 that he wanted “to see the Temple built in a manner that it will endure through the Millennium.”13
Several years following completion of the Salt Lake Temple, Elder J. Golden Kimball said:
“When I think about [the temple], every stone in it is a sermon to me. It tells of suffering, it tells of sacrifice, it preaches—every rock in it, preaches a discourse. When it was dedicated, it seemed to me that it was the greatest sermon that has ever been preached since the Sermon on the Mount. … Every window, every steeple, everything about the Temple speaks of the things of God, and gives evidence of the faith of the people who built it.”14
Elder B. H. Roberts reflected on the meaning of the temple for him during a Church conference in 1928:
“Whenever I pass this temple, walk alongside of it and contemplate its towers, its architectural beauty … I hold it as sacred in my heart as I look upon it; and I have another thought in connection with it, and that is that it is a mass testimony of a whole people, a testimony to the world that God has spoken, and that he has revealed his truths once more for the salvation of men and has ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is … a community testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and becomes a witness wherever … its architectural beauty is published to the world. I love the temple as a testimony to the world of God’s great new dispensation of his gospel.”15
To these testimonies, I add my own testimony. God did inspire his prophet Brigham Young to build the Salt Lake Temple. President Young saw the temple in vision and was able to instruct Truman O. Angell, the architect, as to its design.
When we look at succession in the presidency of the Salt Lake Temple, we learn much about the place of this great house of the Lord in the latter-day kingdom. While Lorenzo Snow served as its president, between 1893 and 1898, he was also serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. His successor, Joseph F. Smith, served as Second Counselor in the First Presidency (under President Lorenzo Snow) during the first three years that he was the temple president. Then, from 1901 until 1911, President Smith served as both President of the Church and president of the Salt Lake Temple. In 1911, President Smith’s First Counselor in the First Presidency, Anthon H. Lund, succeeded him as temple president. President Lund served until his death in 1921; after President Joseph F. Smith died in 1918, President Lund was named as First Counselor to President Heber J. Grant in the First Presidency, but retained his assignment as president of the temple.
This situation is unique in Church history. In no other temple did the President of the Church—or even a counselor in the First Presidency—also preside directly over a temple. But the work of this great temple was so significant to these men that they were willing to carry the additional responsibility of presiding over it and looking after its operation—in essence going to the temple each morning and taking care of business there before going to do the work of the First Presidency of the Church.
Presidents of the Church in our dispensation, from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson, have received and exercised the priesthood keys of the kingdom, including the keys which authorized them to perform in the holy temples of God the ordinances essential for the salvation of both the living and the dead. Those ordinances, which center on our Savior Jesus Christ and his divine mission, can be had in no other place.
Reflecting upon the Salt Lake Temple this centennial year, our hearts are inspired and touched by the willing sacrifices and unbending faith of those pioneer Saints who built it. Should we not then also be willing—even anxious—to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in our own lives to worthily enter a temple of the Lord? Should we not be eager, as they were, to receive our own temple blessings, to be sealed as families, and to provide those same saving ordinances for our ancestors?16 Then, as we keep the sacred covenants entered into in the Lord’s house here on earth, we may eventually become perfect and inherit a place with him in the eternal worlds.