“The Incomparable Blessings of the Priesthood,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 44
While attending an area conference in 1976, President Spencer W. Kimball visited the Vor Frue Kirke cathedral in Copenhagen, Denmark, where statues of the Christus and of the Twelve Apostles by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen are prominently displayed. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote of that occasion:
“I stood with President Kimball [and others] before the statue of Peter. In his hand, depicted in marble, is a set of heavy keys. President Kimball pointed to them and explained what they symbolized. Then, in an act I shall never forget, he turned to [the Copenhagen stake president] and with unaccustomed sternness pointed his finger at him and said with firm, impressive words, ‘I want you to tell every Lutheran in Denmark that they do not hold the keys! I hold the keys! We hold the real keys and we use them every day.’”1
President Kimball solemnly and boldly testified that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the priesthood and that God’s children throughout the world can be blessed through this priesthood.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the priesthood “is the channel through which all knowledge, doctrine, the plan of salvation and every important matter is revealed from heaven.”2 It is vital to note that the keys are in the hands of the President of the Church. President Joseph F. Smith explained:
“The Priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God. Every man ordained to any degree of the Priesthood has this authority delegated to him.
“But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood. In their fulness, the keys are held by only one person at a time, the prophet and president of the Church. He may delegate any portion of this power to another, in which case that person holds the keys of that particular labor.”3
The priesthood is the authority of God and the power of God, carrying with it the right and responsibility to preside in the Church. Additionally, it is the power of salvation and exaltation—the means by which saving ordinances come to the Church, to families, and to individuals.
Ordination to the priesthood and the authorization to act in its offices come to worthy Latter-day Saint men and young men, but the incomparable temporal and eternal blessings flowing from priesthood ordinances can come to every member of the Church, no matter the gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, economic condition, educational level, or marital status. Today, millions of people are enjoying the blessings that the priesthood brings to the Church, to families, and to individuals.
One of the important blessings of the Restoration is the power inherent in the priesthood to organize the Church of Jesus Christ. Without the priesthood, the Church could not exist. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed His word and gave power and authority to administer in His name … to administer in the ordinances of the gospel and officiate in the priesthood of God—there is the kingdom of God.”4 Proper priesthood authority enabled The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be organized in Fayette, New York, on 6 April 1830.
Through this Church, the priesthood blesses our lives by gathering us with groups of fellow Latter-day Saints in wards or branches, stakes or districts so we can more effectively build up the kingdom in our area and strengthen one another under priesthood leadership. President Ezra Taft Benson said that the Lord “‘shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.’ (D&C 1:36.) He does this as He works through His anointed servants and stake and ward authorities.”5 This priesthood direction and help is a manifestation of the Lord’s blessings.
One of the most significant blessings that comes as a result of the glorious restoration is the right of the Brethren to speak in the name of the Lord. President David O. McKay once said that the most distinguishing feature of the Church is “divine authority by direct revelation.”6 The Prophet Joseph Smith said shortly before his death in 1844: “A man can do nothing for himself unless God direct[s] him in the right way; and the Priesthood is for that purpose.”7 And President Gordon B. Hinckley recently said: “One of the purposes of a prophet is to seek the wisdom and the will of the Lord. It was the case with Moses when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. It was the case for the Old Testament prophets when people were faced with oppression. That is the purpose of a prophet, to give answers to people with regard to the dilemmas in which they find themselves.”8
As the work of the Lord expands across the face of the earth, an ever-increasing number of God’s children are able to receive inspired prophetic guidance from the 15 prophets, seers, and revelators unto whom the Lord entrusts the keys of the priesthood. He prompts and guides and enlightens these members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to give counsel that will help us if we heed it.
The Lord has blessed the lives of the Saints through the Presidents of the Church by enabling these prophets to see ahead of their times. Acting as seers (see Mosiah 8:15–16), they have been warned or made aware of future events or challenges long before these appeared on the horizon of human experience.
In February of 1833, for example, the Prophet Joseph Smith received an important revelation that told the Saints: “Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation” (D&C 89:4). There followed important counsel on protecting and maintaining our physical and spiritual health. Today, many studies demonstrate the great blessing of living the Word of Wisdom, given long before scientific evidence suggested these benefits.
Continual prophetic guidance has flowed down to earth since the Prophet Joseph Smith’s day. For example, President Joseph F. Smith announced in 1915: “We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord.”9
Most Latter-day Saints at that time lived in small agrarian communities in western North America. Activities were much more limited, and almost every night was family home evening. But 20th-century growth and progress brought great change to families and communities. In 1965, President McKay reemphasized the need for family home evening, and during the next several years the program was fully implemented. As society has shifted, it has become easily apparent why the Lord revealed his will to President Smith and again, 50 years later, to President McKay. Strengthening and preserving families through building loving relationships and teaching righteous principles in the home is essential to the survival of society. The First Presidency’s 1995 proclamation on the family is a solemn reaffirmation of how we can find peace and happiness in a world that could not have been foreseen without divine revelation in 1915 or even in 1965.
The early establishment of the Church Educational System is one more example. As an increasing number of Latter-day Saint youth began to attend public secondary schools at the turn of the century, the Lord inspired Church leaders to provide a religious curriculum to complement regular secular studies. In 1912, the Church began the seminary program; in 1926, the institute program.
Speaking specifically of the programs of the Church Educational System, Elder Packer once observed that they “were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel in a most challenging hour.”10 Many other inspired programs, policies, and revelations that might have seemed simply beneficial when first given may now be critical to the temporal and spiritual survival of the Saints. We can rejoice at the opportunity the Lord has provided for us to receive the guidance of prophets, seers, and revelators for the troubled times in which we live.
One of the most important blessings of the priesthood for every son and daughter of God is our access to its saving and exalting ordinances. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the Melchizedek Priesthood “is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam.”11
The ordinances of the priesthood include the blessing of children, baptism, confirmation, pronouncing of fathers’ blessings, ordination to the priesthood, pronouncing of patriarchal blessings, administration of the sacrament, settings apart, and temple ordinances.
It is a special occasion for Latter-day Saint families when, sometime after the birth of a child, worthy priesthood holders gather in a circle to confer a name by which the infant will be known. Usually blessings are promised based on spiritual impressions regarding the baby’s future mission and life. What parent would not feel the need to thank the Lord for such a spiritual privilege?
The gateway into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is baptism—the first gate that must be entered on the path to the celestial kingdom. Upon repentance and through baptism, by proper authority, we can have our sins remitted. Then, following baptism, worthy priesthood holders lay their hands on the head of the newly baptized individual to confirm him or her a member of the Lord’s Church and call upon the person to receive the Holy Ghost, being eligible to receive his constant companionship. This process of baptism and confirmation is truly one of the greatest blessings given by the Lord through his priesthood.
The sacrament is another important opportunity available through the priesthood. Instituted by the Lord on the last night of his mortal ministry, the sacrament is a means by which worthy members may renew their covenants with their Redeemer and with God the Father. This blessing is offered to members on a weekly basis to help us remember the Lord and focus our thoughts on the promises of the Savior.
The opportunity to be set apart for callings is another blessing of the priesthood. During the course of a Church member’s life, he or she may receive many opportunities to serve in the kingdom. When a person is called to serve, brethren holding proper authority and acting under the direction of the presiding priesthood leader place their hands on that individual’s head and set him or her apart to the assignment. In addition, counsel is given and blessings pronounced as the Lord’s Spirit may direct. Thus this setting apart to serve the Lord, under the hands of his servants, brings both spiritual direction and added strength to help us accomplish our assignments. Of course, not all callings require a person to be set apart, such as callings to serve as home or visiting teachers.
An individual member of the Church can also receive blessings of health and comfort through those holding the priesthood. The head of the sick or needy person is anointed with a few drops of pure olive oil consecrated for this purpose. During this ordinance, as directed by the Spirit, the person sealing the anointing may express promises of comfort or healing. Many Latter-day Saints testify of the intervention of the Lord in their lives during such moments, and testify of the fulfillment of these prophetic blessings given to them through priesthood power.
Wives and children can receive priesthood blessings from worthy husbands and fathers who have been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. These blessings, given in times of particular need or as growth experiences occur, provide love, counsel, and encouragement. Even members who do not have a priesthood-worthy father or husband may receive blessings of counsel and comfort from home teachers or local priesthood leaders. These experiences can help an individual overcome difficult challenges and bring families closer together.
As a member reaches a certain level of spiritual maturity, that person can receive a patriarchal blessing, a priesthood blessing that is sacred and prophetic to the individual, regarded as so important that it is kept on record at Church headquarters as revelatory text. President Thomas S. Monson, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “The same Lord who provided a Liahona for Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives, to mark the hazards to our safety, and to chart the way, even safe passage—not to a promised land, but to our heavenly home.”12 This personal Liahona of which he spoke is a written revelation not unlike some of those in the Doctrine and Covenants that are directed to specific individuals.
Among the most sacred and precious priesthood ordinances are those received in temples of the Most High. Members come to these sacred buildings to receive the ordinances for themselves or, as proxies, in behalf of the dead. Temple ordinances are essential to help us withstand the onslaught of temptations and trials that are part of mortality and to continue our progress throughout eternity. Sealings provide the priceless opportunity to unite husband and wife in marriage and to seal children to parents for eternity, thus creating an eternal family unit. We rejoice in all this entails for our posterity and for our own eternal salvation. We find in the Doctrine and Covenants: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2). Who can imagine how much joy and happiness we will feel when we are reunited with our families in the world to come? The Lord’s promise to us, through the ordinances of his holy house, is one not of mere survival after death but of a glorious future with our family and with him.
The Lord also tells us that it is absolutely essential to make and keep temple covenants, available through the Melchizedek Priesthood, if we desire the opportunity to live life as he does. “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
“Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
“And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh” (D&C 84:19–21).
Priesthood authority—that eternal power from God the Father—comes to earth through his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the “great high priest” (Heb. 4:14). The Son is our Redeemer and the author of salvation for us when we obey him (see Heb. 4:14–5:10). Through the power of his Atonement, we can repent, change, and receive the Holy Spirit, thus being revitalized in our own spirits.
Priesthood-related functions such as home teaching, interviews with authorized leaders, quorum and group activities, and even disciplinary councils can bless the lives of individuals who want to return to the Lord. In an interview about Church teachings for a Public Broadcasting System program aired in 1996, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles responded to this question: “Where is the joy in this rigorous living?” He told the interviewer:
“Seeing a prodigal return. To be a small part of seeing that happen is a marvelous thing. To see someone, in the words of scripture, who comes to himself and resolves that ‘I will … go to my father’ [Luke 15:18] is a marvelous journey for someone to make. The joy comes in seeing someone who has been crusty and difficult to deal with become more meek, or to see a family really come to love and appreciate each other. Those are the real miracles. … The most lasting miracles are the miracles of transformation in people’s lives. These give one much joy, and while we can’t cause these to happen, the Lord lets us, at times, be instrumental to that process.”13
How many tears of joy have been shed when a son or daughter of God enters the path back to him through baptism or through priesthood actions that restore a repentant soul to full fellowship with the Saints? We may recall what the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1829:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; …
“And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!
“Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.
“And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!” (D&C 18:10, 13–15).
There have been times in the earth’s history when the gospel and the priesthood have not been available to all, for they have been given to the children of our Heavenly Father only according to his omniscient wisdom and his timetable for our experiences in eternity. In the present dispensation of mortal time, however, he has given those of us who receive the gospel and the blessings of the priesthood the privilege and responsibility of sharing these with every soul on earth. He has given us the means, through marvelous methods of travel and communication unavailable to mankind before this century. He has given us unprecedented wealth to support his work, according to the generosity of our hearts. The barriers we face are largely those of individual unwillingness to hear and of restrictions on personal liberty in some remaining areas. Nevertheless, the work that was begun among a comparative handful of people in the eastern United States more than a century and a half ago, which then spread to neighboring nations, Europe, and the Pacific, now has the potential to touch every land and people.
In April of 1974, a few months after President Kimball became President of the Church, he gave a powerful and visionary address to a group of priesthood leaders. He spoke of an “army of missionaries”14 taking the gospel to the whole world. He said:
“‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ (Mark 16:15.) …
“Surely there is significance in these words! There was a universal need and there must be universal coverage.”15
One member’s story illustrates how important the priesthood is for each of us and our families and how grateful we might be for the opportunity to receive it. Joseph William Billy Johnson of Cape Coast, Ghana, first received literature about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1964. He knew that the Church doctrines he read in it were true, and he immediately began teaching them to his family, friends, and anyone else who would listen to him. It was not until four years later that he was able to obtain a copy of the Book of Mormon, to carefully read and pray about it, and to receive a witness of its truth. In letters to Salt Lake City, he had asked for more information about the Church and for missionaries to come to Africa to teach and baptize him. President McKay sent him literature and told him it was not yet time for missionaries to come to his country but that he should continue to study and have faith.
For 14 years Billy Johnson devoted himself to teaching the everlasting gospel and meeting with informal groups of believers. While strengthened by many spiritual experiences, he and members of these groups became discouraged when their pleadings for missionaries were not answered quickly.
During a particularly difficult period, Billy returned home one day much discouraged. As he struggled to obtain comfort and counsel from the Lord, he felt impressed to turn on his shortwave radio and find the BBC news broadcast. He was finally able to tune in the BBC at midnight. He recalls:
“I heard the message of President Kimball’s prophecy concerning the priesthood, that all worthy males in all of the world could receive the priesthood. I burst into tears of joy, because I knew the priesthood would come to Africa, and if we did the right things, we would all receive the priesthood.”16
What joy spread through his heart as he heard the BBC news commentator announce the long-awaited revelation!
Of this event, President Gordon B. Hinckley has observed: “I need not tell you of the electric effect that was felt both within the Church and without. There was much weeping, with tears of gratitude not only on the part of those who previously had been denied the priesthood and who became the immediate beneficiaries of this announcement, but also by men and women of the Church across the world who had felt as we had felt concerning this matter.”17
The blessings of the priesthood may sometimes be taken for granted by members who have had them throughout their lifetime. The example of Brother Johnson, who now has the opportunity to serve as a patriarch in his stake, can remind us how privileged we are to enjoy the blessings of the priesthood in our lives.
In the eternal plan of our Father in Heaven, these blessings truly are for his children of every nation and every epoch. To Abraham, he said:
“Thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations; … and in thee (that is, in thy priesthood) … shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal” (Abr. 2:9, 11).
As foretold by this prophecy, missionary and family history work in combination will yet touch untold millions of God’s children.
While hiding from his enemies in September 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church members in Nauvoo, giving them further directions on baptisms for the dead. In spite of the troubling circumstances he was facing at the time, he put the challenges and difficulties of the Saints in a proper perspective—the blessings of the priesthood were also available to the dead!
“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; … a voice of gladness for the living and the dead. …
“And again, what do we hear? … The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness … , declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times! …
“And again, the voice of God … and the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels … , all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; … giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!
“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 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.
“… And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!” (D&C 128:19–23).
In this last dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times, the priesthood has been restored to earth to bless the lives of all mankind, both the living and the dead. The Church is the organization the Lord has established through which these blessings shall come. We, like the Prophet Joseph Smith, can rejoice in our membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because, above all else, this Church has the priesthood!