The Aaronic Priesthood
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“The Aaronic Priesthood,” Tambuli, June 1987, 45

The Aaronic Priesthood

From an address delivered in the priesthood session of general conference, October 1981.

I want to tell you about the unseen power of the Aaronic Priesthood. A boy of 12 is old enough to learn about it. As you mature you should become very familiar with this guiding, protecting power.

Some think that unless a power is visible it cannot be real. I think I can convince you otherwise. Do you remember when you foolishly put your finger in that light socket? While you did not see exactly what surely you felt it!

No one has ever seen electricity, not even a scientist with the finest instruments. However, like you they have felt it. And we can see the results of it. We can measure it, control it, and produce light, and heat, and power. No one questions that it is real simply because he cannot see it.

Although you cannot see the power of the priesthood, you can feel it, and you can see the results of it. The priesthood can be a guiding and protecting power in your life. Let me give you an example.

After President Wilford Woodruff joined the Church he desired to serve a mission.

“I was but a Teacher,” he wrote, “and it is not a Teacher’s office to go abroad and preach. I dared not tell any of the authorities of the Church that I wanted to preach, lest they might think I was seeking for an office” (Leaves from My Journal, Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882, p. 8).

He prayed to the Lord, and without disclosing his desire to any others, he was ordained a priest and sent on a mission. They went to the Arkansas Territory.

He and his companion struggled through a hundred miles of alligator-infested swamps, wet, muddy, and tired. Brother Woodruff developed a sharp pain in his knee and could go no further. His companion left him sitting on a log and went home. Brother Woodruff knelt down in the mud and prayed for help. He was healed and continued his mission alone.

Three days later he arrived in Memphis, Tennessee, weary, hungry, and very muddy. He went to the largest inn and asked for something to eat and for a place to sleep, although he had no money to pay for either.

When the innkeeper found he was a preacher, he laughed and decided to have some fun with him. He offered Brother Woodruff a meal if he would preach to his friends.

A large audience of the rich and fashionable people of Memphis gathered and were quite amused by this mud-stained missionary.

None would sing or pray, so Brother Woodruff did both. He knelt before them and begged the Lord to give him His Spirit and to show him the hearts ot the people. And the Spirit came! Brother Woodruff preached with great power. He was able to reveal the secret deeds of those who came to ridicule him.

When he was finished, no one laughed at this humble holder of the Aaronic Priesthood. Thereafter he was treated with kindness (see Leaves From My Journal, pp. 16–18).

He was under the guiding, protecting power of his Aaronic Priesthood. The same power can be with you as well.

Let me teach you some very basic things about the Aaronic Priesthood.

It “is called the Priesthood of Aaron, because it was conferred upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations” (D&C 107:13).

The Aaronic Priesthood goes by other names as well. Let me list them and tell you what they mean.

First, the Aaronic Priesthood is sometimes called the lesser priesthood.

“Why it is called the lesser priesthood is because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances” (D&C 107:14).

This means that the higher priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood, always presides over the Aaronic, or the lesser, Priesthood. Aaron was the high priest, or the presiding priest, of the Aaronic Priesthood. But Moses presided over Aaron because Moses held the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The fact that it is called the lesser priesthood does not diminish at all the importance of the Aaronic Priesthood. The Lord said it is necessary to the Melchizedek Priesthood (see D&C 84:29).Any holder of the higher priesthood should feel greatly honored to perform the ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood, for they have great spiritual importance.

I have, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, passed the sacrament. I assure you I have felt honored and humbled beyond expression to do what some might consider a routine task.

The Aaronic Priesthood is referred to as the preparatory priesthood. This, too, is a proper title because the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men to hold the higher priesthood, for missions, and for temple marriage.

I have thought it very symbolic that John the Baptist, a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, prepared the way for the coming of the Lord in ancient times. He came also to restore the Aaronic Priesthood to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to prepare for the coming of the higher priesthood. The Lord Himself said that there “hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11).

You would do well to watch your fathers and your leaders, to study how the Melchizedek Priesthood works. You are preparing to join the elders, seventies, high priests, and patriarchs and to serve as missionaries, quorum leaders, bishoprics, stake leaders, and as fathers of families.

A few of you who are now deacons, teachers, and priests will one day be Apostles and prophets and will preside over the Church. You must be prepared.

It is indeed correct to call the Aaronic Priesthood the preparatory priesthood.

Let me teach you some important principles of the priesthood. When you receive the Aaronic Priesthood, you receive all of it. There are three kinds of authority relating to your priesthood. You should understand them.

First, there is the priesthood itself. The ordination you received carries with it the overall authority to perform the ordinances and to possess the power of the Aaronic Priesthood.

Next, there are offices within the priesthood. Each has different privileges. Three of them—deacon, teacher, and priest—may be conferred upon you when you are in your teenage years. The fourth office, that of bishop, may come to you when you are mature and worthy to become a high priest as well.

The deacon is to watch over the church as a standing minister (see D&C 84:111; D&C 20:57–59). The quorum consists of twelve deacons (see D&C 107:85).

The teacher is to “watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them” (D&C 20:53). The teachers quorum numbers 24 (see D&C 107:86).

The priest is to “preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, and visit the house of each member” (D&C 20:46–47). The priests quorum numbers 48. The bishop is the president of the priests quorum (see D&C 107:87–88).

You always hold one of these offices. When you receive the next higher office, you still retain the authority of the first. For instance, when you become a priest, you still have authority to do all that you did as a deacon and teacher. Even when you receive the higher priesthood, you keep all of the authority, and can act in the offices of, the lesser priesthood.

The late Elder LeGrand Richards, who was Presiding Bishop of the Church for fourteen years, often said, “I’m just a grown-up deacon.”

There is no set form of wording for your ordination. It includes the conferring of the priesthood, the giving of an office, and also a special blessing.

The offices are a part of the priesthood, but the priesthood is greater than any of the offices within it.

The priesthood is yours forever unless you disqualify yourself through transgression.

When we are active and faithful, we begin to understand the power of the priesthood.

There is one other kind of authority that comes to you if you are set apart as a quorum president. You then are given keys of authority for that presidency.

You receive the priesthood, and the office you hold within the priesthood (deacon, teacher, and priest), by ordination. You receive the keys of presidency by setting apart.

When you become a deacon, your father may, and generally should, ordain you; or another who holds the proper priesthood could do it.

If you are called as president of your quorum, your bishopric would set you apart. You can receive the keys of presidency only from those who have received them.

Unless your father is in the bishopric, he would not have those keys.

These keys of presidency are temporary. The priesthood, and the offices within it, are permanent.

One more thing: You can receive the priesthood only from one who has the authority and “it is known to the church that he has authority” (D&C 42:11).

The priesthood cannot be conferred like a diploma. It cannot be handed to you as a certificate. It cannot be delivered to you as a message or sent to you in a letter. It comes only by proper ordination. An authorized holder of the priesthood has to be there. He must place his hands upon your head and ordain you,

That is one reason why the General Authorities travel so much—to convey the keys of priesthood authority. Every stake president everywhere in the world has received his authority under the hands of one of the presiding brethren of the Church. There has never been one exception.

Remember these things. The priesthood is very, very precious to the Lord. He is very careful about how it is conferred, and by whom. It is never done in secret.

I have told you how the authority is given to you. The power you receive will depend on what you do with this sacred, unseen gift.

Your authority comes through your ordination; your power comes through obedience and worthiness.

Let me tell you how one of my sons learned obedience. When he was about deacon-age, our family went to visit his grandfather in Wyoming. My boy wanted to start training a horse he had been given. It had been running wild in the hills.

It took nearly all day to round up the horses, get them to the corral, and then tie up my son’s horse with a halter and rope.

I told him that his horse must stay tied there until it settled down; he could talk to it, carefully touch it, but he must not, under any circumstance, untie it.

We finally went in for our supper. He quickly ate and rushed back out to see his horse. Presently I heard him cry out. I knew what had happened. He had untied his horse. As the horse pulled away from him he instinctively did something I had told him never, never to do. He looped the rope around his wrist to get a better grip.

As I ran from the house, I saw the horse go by. My boy could not release the rope; he was making great leaping strides to try and keep up with the galloping horse. And then he fell down! If the horse had turned to the right, our son would have been dragged out the gate and into the hills and would certainly have lost his life. But the horse turned to the left, and for a moment slowed down—just long enough for me to loop the rope around a fence post and to free my son.

Then came a father-to-son talk! “Son, if you are ever going to control that horse, you will have to use something besides your muscles. The horse is bigger than you are, it is stronger than you are, and it always will be. Someday you may ride your horse if you train it to be obedient, a lesson that you must learn yourself first.” He had learned a very valuable lesson.

Two summers later we went visiting again to look for his horse. It had been running all winter with the wild herd. We found them in a field down by the river. I watched from a hillside as my son walked carefully to the edge of the field. The horses moved nervously away. Then he whistled. His horse hesitated, then left the herd and trotted up to him.

My son had learned that there is great power in things that are not seen, such unseen things as obedience.

Just as obedience to principle gave him power to train his horse, obedience to the priesthood has taught him to control himself.

Throughout your life you will belong to a quorum of the priesthood; your brethren will be a strength and a support to you,

More than that—you will have the privilege of being a support to them.

Much of what I have told you about the Aaronic Priesthood applies to the Melchizedek Priesthood as well. The names of the offices change, more authority is given, but the principles remain the same.

Power in the priesthood comes from doing your duty in ordinary things: attending meetings, accepting assignments, reading the scriptures, keeping the Word of Wisdom.

President Woodruff said: “I traveled thousands of miles and preached the Gospel as a Priest, and, … the Lord sustained me and made manifest His power in the defense of my life as much while I held that office as He has done while I have held the office of an Apostle. The Lord sustains any man that holds a portion of the Priesthood, whether he is a Priest, an Elder, a Seventy, or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling and does his duty” (Millennial Star, 28 Sept. 1905, p. 610).

John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood with these words:

“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13).

You—our deacons, teachers, and priests—have been given sacred authority. May the angels minister unto you. May the power of the priesthood be upon you, our beloved young brethren, and upon your sons throughout the generations ahead. I bear witness that the gospel is true, that the priesthood holds great power, a guiding, protecting power for those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood.

“Moses Calls Aaron to the Ministry,” painting by Harry Anderson