“The Spirit of God,” chapter 21 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 21: “The Spirit of God”
After reconciling with his brother, Joseph focused again on finishing the temple. While modest compared to the soaring cathedrals of Europe, the temple was taller and grander than most buildings in Ohio. Travelers on the road to Kirtland could easily spot its colorful bell tower and gleaming red roof peeking above the treetops. The sparkling stucco walls, vibrant green doors, and peaked Gothic windows made it a stunning sight.1
By the end of January 1836, the inside of the temple was nearly completed, and Joseph was preparing church leaders for the endowment of divine power the Lord had promised to give them. No one knew for sure what the endowment would be like, but Joseph had explained that it would come after he had administered symbolic washing and anointing ordinances to men ordained to the priesthood, as Moses had washed and anointed the priests of Aaron in the Old Testament.2
The Saints had also read New Testament passages that offered insight into the endowment. After His Resurrection, Jesus had counseled His apostles not to leave Jerusalem to preach the gospel until they were “endowed with power from on high.” Later, on the day of Pentecost, Jesus’s apostles received this power when the Spirit descended upon them like a rushing wind, and they spoke in tongues.3
As the Saints prepared for their endowment, they anticipated a similar spiritual outpouring.
On the afternoon of January 21, Joseph, his counselors, and his father climbed the stairs to a loft in the printing office behind the temple. There the men symbolically washed themselves with clean water and blessed each other in the name of the Lord. Once they were cleansed, they went next door to the temple, where they joined with the bishoprics of Kirtland and Zion, anointed each other’s heads with consecrated oil, and blessed one another.
When it was Joseph’s turn, his father anointed his head and blessed him to lead the church as a latter-day Moses, pronouncing on him the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph’s counselors then laid their hands on his head and blessed him.4
When the men completed the ordinance, the heavens opened and Joseph saw a vision of the future. He beheld the celestial kingdom, its beautiful gate blazing before him like a circle of fire. He saw God the Father and Jesus Christ seated on glorious thrones. The Old Testament prophets Adam and Abraham were there as well, along with Joseph’s mother and father and his older brother Alvin.
Seeing his brother made Joseph wonder. Alvin had died soon after Moroni’s first visit, and he had never had a chance to be baptized by proper authority. How could he inherit celestial glory? Joseph’s family had refused to believe that Alvin was in hell, as a preacher once suggested, but his eternal fate remained a mystery to them.
While Joseph marveled at the sight of his brother, he heard the voice of the Lord say, “All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God.”
The Lord explained that He would judge all people by their works and the desires of their hearts. People in Alvin’s situation would not be damned for lacking opportunities on earth. The Lord also taught that small children who died before reaching the age of accountability, like the four infants Joseph and Emma had buried, would be saved in the celestial kingdom.5
After the vision closed, Joseph and his counselors anointed the members of the high councils of Kirtland and Zion, who had been waiting prayerfully in another room. As the men received the ordinance, more visions of heaven unfolded before them. Some saw angels, and others beheld the face of Christ.
Filled with the Spirit, the men prophesied of things to come and glorified God long into the night.6
Two months later, on the morning of March 27, 1836, Lydia Knight sat shoulder to shoulder with other Saints in the temple’s lower court. All around her, people squeezed together as ushers packed more people into the pews. About a thousand Saints were already in the room, and many more were crowding the front entrances, hopeful the doormen would let them in.7
Lydia had visited the temple a few times since her marriage to Newel four months earlier. She and Newel had occasionally gone there to hear a sermon or lecture.8 But this visit was different. Today the Saints had assembled to dedicate the temple to the Lord.
From her seat, Lydia could watch church leaders take their places behind the three rows of ornately carved pulpits at both ends of the room. In front of her, on the west end of the building, were pulpits for the First Presidency and other leaders in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Behind her, along the east wall, were pulpits for the bishoprics and Aaronic Priesthood leaders. As a member of the Missouri high council, Newel sat in a row of box seats beside these pulpits.
As she waited for the dedication to begin, Lydia could also admire the beautiful woodwork along the pulpits and the row of tall columns that ran the length of the room. It was still early in the morning, and sunlight poured into the court through the tall windows along the side walls. Overhead hung large canvas curtains, which could be rolled down between the pews to divide the space into temporary rooms.9
When the ushers could squeeze no one else into the room, Joseph stood and apologized to those who were unable to find a place to sit. He suggested holding an overflow meeting in the nearby schoolroom on the first floor of the printshop.10
A few minutes later, after the congregation settled into their seats, Sidney opened the service and spoke with great force for more than two hours. After a brief intermission, during which almost everyone in the congregation stayed seated, Joseph stood and offered the dedicatory prayer, which he had prepared with the help of Oliver and Sidney the day before.11
“We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house,” Joseph said, “the workmanship of the hands of us, thy servants, which thou didst command us to build.” He asked that the missionaries might go out, armed with power, to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. He prayed for a blessing on the Saints in Missouri, for the leaders of the nations of the world, and for scattered Israel.12
He also petitioned the Lord to endow the Saints with power. “Let the anointing of thy ministers be sealed upon them with power from on high,” he said. “Put upon thy servants the testimony of the covenant, that when they go out and proclaim thy word they may seal up the law, and prepare the hearts of thy saints.” He asked that the Lord might fill the temple with His glory, like the rushing of wind the ancient apostles had experienced.13
“O hear, O hear, O hear us, O Lord,” he pleaded, “and answer these petitions, and accept the dedication of this house unto thee.”14
As soon as Joseph pronounced his final “amen,” the choir sang William Phelps’s new hymn:
The Spirit of God like a fire is burning;
The latter-day glory begins to come forth.
The visions and blessings of old are returning;
The angels are coming to visit the earth.15
Lydia felt the glory of God fill the temple. Rising to her feet with the other Saints in the room, she joined her voice with theirs as they shouted, “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to God and the Lamb!”16
After the temple dedication, manifestations of the Lord’s Spirit and power enveloped Kirtland. On the evening of the dedication, Joseph met with church leaders in the temple, and the men began to speak in tongues, as the Savior’s apostles had done at Pentecost. Some at the meeting saw heavenly fire resting on those who spoke. Others saw angels. Outside, Saints saw a bright cloud and a pillar of fire rest over the temple.17
On March 30, Joseph and his counselors met in the temple to wash the feet of about three hundred church leaders, including the Twelve, the Seventy, and other men called to missionary labor, much like the Savior had done with His disciples before His Crucifixion. “This is a year of Jubilee to us and a time of rejoicing,” Joseph declared. The men had come to the temple fasting, and he asked a few of them to purchase bread and wine for later. He had others bring in tubs of water.
Joseph and his counselors first washed the feet of the Quorum of the Twelve, then proceeded to wash the feet of the members of other quorums, blessing them in the name of the Lord.18 As the hours passed, the men blessed each other, prophesied, and shouted hosannas until the bread and wine arrived in the early evening.
Joseph spoke as the Twelve broke the bread and poured the wine. He told them their short stay in Kirtland would soon be over. The Lord was endowing them with power and would then send them on missions. “Go in all meekness, in sobriety, and preach Jesus Christ,” he said. He instructed them to avoid arguments over religious beliefs, urging them to stay true to their own.
“Bear the keys of the kingdom to all nations,” he told the apostles, “and unlock them, and call upon the seventies to follow.” He said the organization of the church was now complete and the men in the room had received all of the ordinances the Lord had prepared for them at that time.
“Go forth and build up the kingdom of God,” he said.
Joseph and his counselors went home, leaving the Twelve to take charge of the meeting. The Spirit again descended on the men in the temple, and they began to prophesy, speak in tongues, and exhort one another in the gospel. Ministering angels appeared to some men, and a few others had visions of the Savior.
Outpourings of the Spirit continued until the early morning hours. When the men left the temple, their souls were soaring from the wonders and glories they had just experienced. They felt endowed with power and ready to take the gospel to the world.19
One week after the dedication, on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, a thousand Saints again came to the temple to worship. After the Twelve administered the Lord’s Supper to the congregation, Joseph and Oliver lowered the canvas curtains around the uppermost pulpit on the west side of the lower court and knelt behind them to pray silently, out of sight from the Saints.20
After their prayers, the Savior appeared in front of them, His face beaming brighter than the sun. His eyes were like fire and His hair was like snow. Beneath His feet, the breastwork of the pulpit looked like it was pure gold.21
“Let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name,” the Savior declared, His voice like rushing water. “Behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy.”22 He urged the Saints to keep it sacred and confirmed that they had received the endowment of power.
“The hearts of thousands and tens of thousands shall greatly rejoice,” He declared, “in consequence of the blessings which shall be poured out, and the endowment with which my servants have been endowed in this house.”
Finally the Lord promised, “The fame of this house shall spread to foreign lands; and this is the beginning of the blessing which shall be poured out upon the heads of my people.”23
The vision closed around Joseph and Oliver, but instantly the heavens opened again. They saw Moses standing in front of them, and he committed the keys of the gathering of Israel to them so the Saints could take the gospel to the world and bring the righteous to Zion.
Elias then appeared and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham to them, saying all generations would be blessed through them and those who came after them.
After Elias departed, Joseph and Oliver had another glorious vision. They saw Elijah, the Old Testament prophet who ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.
“The time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi,” Elijah declared, referring to the Old Testament prophecy that he would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers.
“The keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands,” Elijah continued, “and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.”24
The vision closed, leaving Joseph and Oliver to themselves.25 Sunlight filtered through the arched window behind the pulpit, but the breastwork in front of them no longer shone like gold. The heavenly voices that had shaken them like thunder gave way to the muted stirrings of the Saints on the other side of the curtain.
Joseph knew the messengers had conveyed important priesthood keys on him. Later, he taught the Saints that the priesthood keys restored by Elijah would seal families together eternally, binding in heaven what was bound on earth, linking parents to their children and children to their parents.26
In the days that followed the dedication of the temple, missionaries left in every direction to preach the gospel, strengthened by the endowment of power. Bishop Partridge and the other Saints who came from Missouri headed west again with new resolve to build Zion.27
Lydia and Newel Knight also wanted to go west, but they needed money. Newel had spent most of his time in Kirtland working without pay on the temple, and Lydia had loaned almost all of her money to Joseph and the church when she first arrived in town. Neither regretted their sacrifice, but Lydia could not help thinking that the money she had loaned the church would have more than covered the cost of travel.
As they puzzled over how to pay for their journey, Joseph stopped by to see them. “So, Newel, you are about to depart for your western home,” he said. “Are you amply provided for?”
“We are rather cramped just now for means,” Newel said.
“I have not forgotten how generously you helped me when I was in trouble,” Joseph said to Lydia. He stepped out of the house and returned a short time later with more than the sum she had loaned him.
He told them to purchase what they needed to be comfortable on the journey to their new home. Hyrum also provided a team of horses to take them to the Ohio River, where they could catch a steamer all the way to Missouri.
Before the Knights left, they visited Joseph Smith Sr. so Lydia could receive a blessing from him. More than a year earlier, the Lord had called Joseph Sr. to be the patriarch of the church, granting him authority to give the Saints special patriarchal blessings, as Abraham and Jacob had done for their children in the Bible.
Placing his hands on Lydia’s head, Joseph Sr. spoke the words of the blessing. “Thou hast been afflicted much in thy past days, and thy heart has been pained,” he said to Lydia. “But thou shalt be comforted.”
He told her the Lord loved her and had given her Newel to comfort her. “Your souls shall be knit together, and nothing shall be able to dissolve them. Neither distress nor death shall separate you,” he promised. “You shall be preserved in life and go safely and speedily to the land of Zion.”28
Soon after the blessing, Lydia and Newel set out for Missouri, optimistic about the future of the church and Zion. The Lord had endowed the Saints with power, and Kirtland was flourishing beneath the towering steeple of the temple. The visions and blessings that season had given them a foretaste of heaven. The veil between earth and heaven seemed ready to burst.29