The Ancient Covenant Restored
March 1998

“The Ancient Covenant Restored,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 36

Old Testament

The Ancient Covenant Restored

The Prophet Joseph Smith and the promises made to the fathers.

Filled with inspiration and insight, the book of Genesis offers timely and timeless lessons on almost every page—painful and joyous lessons from the lives of men and women of the past. Moses—the Lord’s lawgiver, the author of the Pentateuch—constructed his scriptural narrative in such a way as to lead the reader quickly through the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, and the scattering of the nations through the confounding of tongues. By the time we have covered 10 chapters in Genesis—15 pages in the LDS edition of the King James Version—we discover that more than 2,000 years have elapsed since the Fall. It is as though Moses were eager to move the reader, without delay, to a certain point in history. That point in time is the life of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

The Patriarchs Received the Gospel Covenant

Our present Old Testament explains, in a basic way, the lives of the patriarchs—their upbringing, strengths, and talents and, of course, their tests and trials. One can certainly come away from a reading of Genesis understanding why Abraham became known as the father of the faithful in ancient times and feeling a deep sense of gratitude for his goodness and integrity. When, however, we study the lives of the patriarchs beneath the lamp of modern revelation, we recognize clearly that plain and precious truths and many covenants of the Lord have indeed been taken from the Bible (see 1 Ne. 13:20–29; Moses 1:40–41). Though we treasure the Old Testament and know of its essential truthfulness, the heart of the gospel message is missing there. Many of the timeless lessons for life have been preserved, but the degree to which the gospel of Jesus Christ was known from Adam to Malachi is largely a mystery.

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith—his revelations, translations, and teachings—we become privy to such vital principles as the following:

• God and angels taught the gospel covenant to Adam and Eve. They were married in the Garden of Eden.1 They learned of the Savior, repented, prayed in the name of the Son, and were baptized and born of the Spirit (see Moses 5:1–12; Moses 6:51–68).

• Thus, the gospel was preached “from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Moses 5:58; see also D&C 20:35). Redemption through the Holy Messiah has been declared by prophets from Adam on (see Jacob 4:4; Jacob 7:11; Mosiah 13:33; Alma 39:17–19; D&C 20:21–29).

• The fulness of the gospel is the “new and everlasting covenant” (see D&C 1:22; D&C 39:11; D&C 45:9; D&C 49:9; D&C 66:2; D&C 133:57). It is new in the sense that it is restored anew following periods of apostasy. It is everlasting because it is timeless. “The everlasting gospel was with God in the beginning; it was taught in the councils of eternity before the foundations of this world were laid; we have it now; and it will continue forever. … Further, the gospel is in operation in all the worlds created by the Father and the Son.”2

• The principles and ordinances of salvation are forever the same; that is, from the beginning, and whenever the fulness of the gospel has been on earth, men and women have exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, have repented of their sins, have been baptized by water and by the Spirit, and have been endowed and sealed in holy places.3

• God’s people have always been commanded to build temples and officiate in sacred ordinances therein (see D&C 124:39). The Lord explained through the Prophet Joseph that “in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this [sealing] power has always been given” (D&C 128:9). Indeed, the Prophet learned from his translation of the Egyptian papyri that the “grand Key-words of the Holy Priesthood” were “revealed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, as also to Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed” (Abr. fac. 2, fig. 3).

• God established the patriarchal order, a system of family government presided over by a father and mother, patterned after what exists in heaven. It is, as President Ezra Taft Benson observed, “an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.”4 The patriarchal order, established in the days of Adam (see D&C 107:40–42), was and is an order of the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is, in fact, what we know as the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.5 The patriarchal order continued through Abraham and his righteous descendants until Moses was translated, when the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood were taken from the people (see D&C 84:19–27).

• Abraham sought for the “blessings of the fathers” and the right to administer the same (see Abr. 1:1–3). But because his father, Terah, was an idolater, the particular blessings that Abraham sought could not come to him in father-to-son fashion. He therefore looked to Melchizedek, the great high priest of that day, for counsel, direction, and authority.

Truths restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith shed light on the relationship between Abraham and Melchizedek. The Book of Mormon, as well as the Bible, mentions that Abraham paid tithing to Melchizedek (see Alma 13:15). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that the Saints of God who lived at that time, “the church in ancient days,” called the holy priesthood after Melchizedek (see D&C 107:2–4). Another revelation informs us that “Esaias … lived in the days of Abraham, and was blessed of him—which Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek, who received it through the lineage of his fathers, even till Noah” (D&C 84:13–14). It appears that Abraham sought for the same power and authority as Melchizedek, the power to administer endless lives, the fulness of the priesthood. According to Franklin D. Richards, later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that the power of Melchizedek was “not the power of a prophet, nor apostle, nor patriarch only, but of a king and priest to God, to open the windows of heaven and pour out the peace and law of endless life to man. And no man can attain to the joint heirship with Jesus Christ without being administered to by one having the same power and authority of Melchizedek.”6 The Prophet explained: “Abraham says to Melchizedek, I believe all that thou hast taught me concerning the priesthood and the coming of the Son of Man; so Melchizedek ordained Abraham and sent him away. Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood.”7

• Abraham saw the days of the coming of the Son of Man and rejoiced. He learned by revelation of the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God and of the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection to raise all men and women from the grave (see JST, Gen. 15:9–12; Hel. 8:17).

• Although the Lord’s promises to Abraham of an endless posterity and a chosen land are given in Genesis (see Gen. 13:14–17; Gen. 15:1–6; Gen. 17:1–8), we turn to truths restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price to understand more fully the Abrahamic covenant. The Lord called upon Abraham and his posterity to set themselves apart forevermore from worldliness, to live godly and upright lives—to be a covenant people. In return, the Lord promised Abraham and his posterity that they would be entitled to the blessings of the gospel, the priesthood, and eternal life (see Abr. 2:10–11; Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Abraham, Covenant of”). Further, we learn that “in addition to Abraham’s direct descendants, all who should receive the Gospel from that time forth, should also become of Abraham’s seed by adoption, and his blood should be mixed among the nations to leaven them with the privileges of the Gospel.”8

• The Bible clearly notes that the covenant was renewed with Isaac, Abraham’s son (see Gen. 26:1–4), and then with Jacob, his grandson (see Gen. 28; 35:9–13; 48:3–4). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lived true to their trusts and faithful to their covenants. Latter-day revelation adds this: “And because they did none other things than that which they were commanded, they have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37).

• Joseph, Abraham’s great-grandson, also obtained the birthright and became one of the “fathers by whom the promises remain” (see D&C 27:10). “Under the patriarchal order, the right or inheritance of the firstborn is known as birthright. This generally included a land inheritance as well as the authority to preside” (Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Birthright”). The patriarchs who held the birthright were those who also held the keys of the priesthood, the right of presidency (see D&C 107:8) or directing power.9 Because Reuben, the oldest of the twelve sons of Jacob, lost the birthright through disobedience (see Gen. 35:22; 1 Chr. 5:1–2), the privilege of presiding among the tribes of Israel fell upon Joseph and his descendants.

• We know from the Bible something of Joseph’s spiritual gifts (see Gen. 37:1–11; Gen. 40:1–41:38), as well as his nobility, as manifested in his refusal to yield to evil (see Gen. 39:7–12). Latter-day revelation adds that Joseph was also a seer and a revelator, for Joseph “truly prophesied concerning all his seed. And the prophecies which he wrote, there are not many greater” (2 Ne. 4:2). He spoke of Moses the lawgiver and deliverer; of Aaron his brother and spokesman; of Shiloh, or the Redeemer; and of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a “choice seer” in the last days, a descendant of Joseph himself, one who would gather latter-day Israel to the Lord and restore the ancient covenants among the people (see JST, Gen. 50; 2 Ne. 3).

• Ephraim, second son of Joseph, received the birthright in Israel (see 1 Chr. 5:1–2; Jer. 31:9). In the last days it is the tribe of Ephraim’s privilege to teach the gospel to the world (see Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Ephraim”). The Prophet Joseph Smith came through Ephraim’s lineage.

Ancient Keys Restored in the Savior’s Time

Jesus of Nazareth came to earth in the meridian of time to save us from sin and death. Yet our Lord came among men also as a restorer, one sent by the Father to bring again to earth knowledge and keys and authorities that had been lost during the preceding centuries of apostasy. That is, Jesus was an Elias of restoration (see JST, John 1:20–28; compare JST, Matt. 11:13–14; Matt. 17:10–13). Because the Melchizedek Priesthood had not been available to the generality of the people for a millennium and a half, since Moses and the keys of the priesthood were taken from Israel as a body (see D&C 84:19–27; JST, Ex. 34:1–2; JST, Deut. 10:1–2), Jesus Christ restored this holy order. “Christ … was greater than John, because He held the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood and kingdom of God.”10 He organized a church among men, ordained chosen disciples to the holy apostleship, and oversaw the conferral of sacred keys (see Matt. 16:16–19; Matt. 17:1–9; Matt. 18:17–18).

“I say also unto thee,” the Savior stated at Caesarea Philippi, “that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:18–19). Within a week the Lord’s promise was fulfilled: Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John—the chief Apostles—to a mountain to pray. While in that setting, these four were transfigured—lifted spiritually to a higher plane—and thus prepared for a transcendent experience. Moses and Elijah appeared and bestowed sacred priesthood keys upon these chief Apostles, who seemed to have formed a meridian Presidency (see Matt. 17:1–9).11 These directing powers would allow the Apostles to govern and direct the Church in the absence of Jesus Christ and make available to the members of the Church all of the blessings of the everlasting gospel. Peter, James, and John had received the Melchizedek Priesthood earlier and had been given apostolic power and commission at the time of their appointment to the Twelve. But on the Mount of Transfiguration, they were granted the right to bind and seal on earth, with the full confidence that their actions would receive sealing validity in the heavens.

Ancient Keys Restored in the Latter Days

The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this final dispensation entailed the restoration of the Abrahamic covenant, the renewal of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and their almost limitless posterity. The early missionaries were “called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts” (D&C 29:7). The Savior promised, “And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice” (D&C 33:6). The Saints were instructed to keep the commandments and covenants by which they were bound: “And Israel shall be saved in mine own due time; and by the keys which I have given shall they be led, and no more be confounded at all” (D&C 35:24–25). Thus, James Covill was directed to be baptized and cleansed of his sins and then to go forth proclaiming the restored gospel: “Thou shalt preach the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel” (see D&C 39:10–11).

What took place on the holy mount some six months prior to the Savior’s death serves as a pattern for what needed to occur in our own day. On Sunday, 3 April 1836, after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knelt in prayer in the new Kirtland Temple, a wondrous experience took place. Jesus the Christ appeared. He came to his temple—the first to be authorized by him for centuries. The Savior accepted the offering of his Saints—this temple built at great sacrifice—and then expanded their understanding in regard to the importance of what they had accomplished: “Yea the hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house” (D&C 110:9).

“After this vision [of the Lord] closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north” (D&C 110:11). The keys restored by the ancient lawgiver formalized the work of gathering people into the fold that had begun six years earlier. The President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the man appointed “to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses” (D&C 107:91)—received keys to gather modern Israel. Even as Moses led ancient Israel out of Egyptian bondage, so the President of the Church was given keys to gather modern Israel into Zion.

“After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:12). The identity of Elias is not given in the revelation. This heavenly messenger restored the keys necessary to establish the Abrahamic covenant, making the Prophet Joseph Smith and the faithful Saints who receive celestial marriage heirs to the blessings and promises made to the fathers (see D&C 27:10). Elias thus restored the patriarchal order, the power by which eternal families are organized through the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. “As the crowning cause for wonderment,” Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has explained, “that God who is no respecter of persons has given a like promise [to that of Abraham and Joseph Smith] to every [member] in the kingdom who has gone to the holy temple and entered into the blessed order of matrimony there performed. Every person married in the temple for time and for all eternity has sealed upon him, conditioned upon his faithfulness, all of the blessings of the ancient patriarchs, including the crowning promise and assurance of eternal increase, which means, literally, a posterity as numerous as the dust particles of the earth.”12

The Prophet Joseph Smith’s account continues: “After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse” (D&C 110:13–15). Precisely on that day in 1836 when Elijah’s appearance took place, Jews throughout the world were engaged in the celebration of the Passover. Since the time of Malachi, four centuries before Christ’s mortal birth, Jews worldwide have awaited Elijah’s coming at Passover with anxious anticipation. Elijah came, but not to Jewish homes; he came rather to a temple of the Saints and to his legal administrator on earth, a descendant of Joseph and Ephraim. There Elijah bestowed keys of inestimable worth.

Meaning of the Restored Keys

In his first appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1823, Moroni quoted numerous passages from the Old and New Testaments. The Prophet said that Moroni quoted Mal. 4:5–6 but gave a different rendering from that in the King James Version: “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” (D&C 2:1; JS—H 1:38; emphasis added). The Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery already had been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood and had been given apostolic power and commission as early as 1829. How was it, then, that Elijah would reveal the priesthood? The answer is that Elijah was sent in 1836 to reveal keys of the priesthood and sealing powers that had not yet been fully understood and were not yet fully operational in this dispensation. Elijah restored the keys whereby families, organized in the patriarchal order through the powers just delivered by Elias, could be bound and sealed for eternity.

Elijah came to “plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers” whereby the “hearts of the children [should] turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2; JS—H 1:39; emphasis added). The Spirit of the Lord witnesses to faithful Latter-day Saints of the central place of eternal marriage and of the sublime joys associated with the everlasting continuation of the family. Through temples, the Lord’s promises to the fathers—the promises pertaining to the gospel, the priesthood, and eternal increase (see Abr. 2:10–11; D&C 132:30–31)—are extended to all the faithful Saints of all ages. The hearts of the children turn to the ancient fathers because the children are now participants in and recipients of the blessings of the fathers. Being profoundly grateful for such privileges, members of the Church (motivated by the Spirit of the Lord) also find their hearts turning to their more immediate fathers, and do all within their power (through family history research and attendant temple work) to ensure that the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are enjoyed by ancestry as well as posterity. “If it were not so [that is, if Elijah had not come], the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his [Christ’s] coming” (D&C 2:3; JS—H 1:39).

Why? Because the earth would not have accomplished its foreordained purpose—to establish on its face a family system patterned after the order of heaven. If there were no sealing powers whereby families could be bound together, the earth would never “answer the end of its creation” (D&C 49:16). It would be as if it were wasted and cursed, for all men and women would be forever without root or branch, without ancestry or posterity. However, because Elijah came with the proper priesthood keys, all other ordinances for the living and the dead (baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, washings, anointings, endowments, sealings, and so on) have real meaning and are of efficacy, virtue, and force in eternity (see D&C 132:7).13

To summarize, let us again reference the words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie regarding the faithful: “When he is married in the temple for time and all eternity, each worthy member of the Church enters into the same covenant the Lord made with Abraham. This is the occasion when the promises of eternal increase are made, and it is then specified that those who keep the covenants made there shall be inheritors of all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All of this is made possible because of the ministry of two holy beings from dispensations past—Elijah and Elias.

“Elijah brought back the sealing power so that marriages and other ordinances that are bound on earth shall be eternally sealed in the heavens. Those married by this authority are husband and wife in this life, and they so remain in the life to come, if they are true and faithful in all things. … Elias restored the great commission, given of God to Abraham our father, whereby the seed of Abraham has power to gain eternal blessings forever through eternal marriage; that is, Elias restored the marriage discipline that had eternal efficacy, virtue, and force in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. …

“The promises are the provisions of the Abrahamic covenant whereby the seed of the ancient patriarchs are entitled to receive the priesthood, the gospel, and eternal life (including celestial marriage). We are the children, and after we receive these blessings for ourselves, our attention turns almost by instinct to the well-being of our ancestors who died without a knowledge of the gospel. We are Abraham’s seed, and they were Abraham’s seed … through Jacob, and through the house of Israel. It thus becomes our privilege, on the basis of salvation for the dead, to search out our ancestors—to whom the same blessings have been promised as have come to us—and to make these blessings available to them through the vicarious ordinances of the house of the Lord.”14

The ordinances associated with the ministry and bestowal of keys by Moses, Elias, and Elijah, culminating in temples of the Lord, are the capstone blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the consummation of the Father’s work: they provide purpose and perspective for all other gospel principles and ordinances. More than any other work in this Church, these keys and powers and covenants and ordinances link us with the ancient Saints; we thereby have sealed upon us the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

Joseph Smith, Descendant of the Patriarchs

In speaking of the angel Moroni, the Prophet Joseph Smith stated: “This messenger proclaimed himself to be an angel of God, sent to bring the joyful tidings that the covenant which God made with ancient Israel was at hand to be fulfilled, that the preparatory work for the second coming of the Messiah was speedily to commence; that the time was at hand for the Gospel in all its fulness to be preached in power, unto all nations that a people might be prepared for the Millennial reign. I was informed that I was chosen to be an instrument in the hands of God to bring about some of His purposes in this glorious dispensation.”15

Joseph of old prophesied of his latter-day namesake that would be raised up by the Lord to bring the people of the last days to the knowledge of the covenants which the Lord had made with the ancient fathers (see 2 Ne. 3:7; compare 1 Ne. 13:26). Indeed, the name Joseph is a blessed and significant name. Whether taken from the Hebrew word Yasaf, which means “to add,” or from the word Asaph, meaning “to gather,” one senses that the latter-day seer was destined to perform a monumental labor in regard to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in the final dispensation. Truly, the tribe of Joseph was foreordained to “push the people together from the ends of the earth” (D&C 58:45; see also Deut. 33:17).

In a revelation received on 6 December 1832, the Savior said: “Thus saith the Lord unto you, with whom the priesthood hath continued through the lineage of your fathers—for ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God—therefore your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began” (D&C 86:8–10).

The Prophet Joseph Smith was a descendant of Abraham, a “pure Ephraimite.”16 By actual lineage he had a right to the gospel, the priesthood, and eternal life (see Abr. 2:8–11). President Brigham Young declared on one occasion: “You have heard Joseph say that the people did not know him; he had his eyes on … blood-relations. … His descent from Joseph that was sold into Egypt was direct, and the blood was pure in him. … He had the sole right and lawful power, as he was the legal heir to the blood that has been on the earth and has come down through a pure lineage. The union of various ancestors kept that blood pure. There is a great deal the people do not understand, and many of the Latter-day Saints have to learn all about it.”17 President Young also taught: “It was decreed in the counsels of eternity, long before the foundations of the earth were laid, that he, Joseph Smith, should be the man, in the last dispensation of this world, to bring forth the word of God to the people, and receive the fulness of the keys and power of the Priesthood of the Son of God. The Lord had his eyes upon their progenitors clear back to Abraham, and from Abraham to the flood, from the flood to Enoch, and from Enoch to Adam. He has watched that family and that blood as it has circulated from its fountain to the birth of that man. He was foreordained in eternity to preside over this last dispensation.”18

Thus, the Prophet Joseph Smith became a “father of the faithful” to all in this last dispensation, the means by which they could be identified, gathered, organized as family units, and sealed forevermore into the house of Israel to their God. Joseph Smith Sr., the Patriarch to the Church, blessed his son as follows: “A marvelous work and a wonder has the Lord wrought by thy hand, even that which shall prepare the way for the remnants of his people to come in among the Gentiles, with their fulness, as the tribes of Israel are restored. I bless thee with the blessings of thy Fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and even the blessings of thy father Joseph, the son of Jacob. Behold, he looked after his posterity in the last days, when they should be scattered and driven by the Gentiles.”19 The Lord declared, “As I said unto Abraham concerning the kindreds of the earth, even so I say unto my servant Joseph: In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed” (D&C 124:58). Further: “Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them. This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham” (D&C 132:30–31).

Through the Prophet Joseph Smith—the latter-day descendant of Joseph and Ephraim—the Lord has made available all of the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to all who will join the Church and prove worthy of the blessings of the temple. In November 1831, the Lord referred to a significant “blessing upon the head of Ephraim and his fellows” (D&C 133:34). Remember that Ephraim received the birthright over the tribes of Israel. In the last days it has been the leadership responsibility of the tribe of Ephraim to take the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. Thus, in compliance with the Lord’s covenants and promises made to the fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and in compliance with the birthright blessing given to Ephraim to preside in Israel, the gospel and all of its covenantal powers were literally restored to a literal descendant of Ephraim, one who by right and covenant then could begin the dispersal of that gospel and its priesthood powers, ordinances, and covenants to the ends of the earth.

Jehovah’s plea through Isaiah that the people of the covenant become a light to the nations and that they might be his “salvation unto the end of the earth” (see Isa. 49:6) is thus realized through the restoration of the gospel. Our patriarchal blessings mean what they say—we are entitled by lineage or through conversion to the promises made to the fathers.

A Covenant People

“We are a covenant people,” President Gordon B. Hinckley explained, “and that is a very serious matter. When this work was restored and the Lord set forth the purposes for that Restoration, He said that one reason for the Restoration was that His everlasting covenant might be established, or reestablished.”20 Latter-day Saints should therefore read the book of Genesis with a careful eye, for we know that God’s covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the promises made to the fathers—was not completely fulfilled as the Old Testament era closed or even with the coming of the Messiah to earth in the meridian of time (see D&C 27:10; D&C 98:32).

Nephi declared that all the kindreds of the earth could not be blessed, as promised to the ancient patriarchs, unless God “shall make bare his arm” or reveal his power in the last days. “Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel” unto those who live in the final dispensation (see 1 Ne. 22:8–11).

As the people of the covenant, we have been called as heralds of salvation—called to deliver these glad tidings and to take the message of the restored gospel of the Lord to all nations. As the people of the covenant, we are expected to walk with fidelity and devotion, to hold up the ensign or standard of truth in a world that desperately needs eternal truths. Such is our challenge, our glory, or our condemnation.


  1. History of the Church, 2:320.

  2. Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (1978), 285–86.

  3. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 59–60, 168, 264, 308.

  4. “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 9.

  5. Bruce R. McConkie, “The Ten Blessings of the Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov. 1977, 34.

  6. The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (1980), 245; spelling and capitalization modernized.

  7. Teachings, 322–23.

  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection (1970), 88; see alsoAbr. 2:8–11.

  9. Smith, The Way to Perfection, 72–73.

  10. Teachings, 274.

  11. Teachings, 158.

  12. The Millennial Messiah (1982), 264; emphasis added.

  13. See Teachings, 172; see also Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:115–28.

  14. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (1985), 508–509.

  15. History of the Church, 4:536–37 (the Wentworth letter).

  16. Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe (1941), 322.

  17. Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, July 1920, 107.

  18. Discourses of Brigham Young, 108.

  19. Quoted in Joseph F. McConkie, His Name Shall Be Joseph (1980), 103.

  20. “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 3.

  • Robert L. Millet is dean of religious education and professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

Paintings by Keith Larson

The Lord appeared unto Abraham and said: “Arise, … for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name” (Abr. 2:6).

On Sunday, 3 April 1836, after Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery knelt in prayer in the new Kirtland Temple, there came Elijah the prophet, who now “stood before us” (D&C 110:13). (Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett.)

Joseph Smith by Alvin Gittins