Chapter 4: The Quorum of the First Presidency

“Chapter 4: The Quorum of the First Presidency,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual (2016)

“Chapter 4,” Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual

Chapter 4

The Quorum of the First Presidency


On March 18, 1833, the First Presidency was formally organized with the Prophet Joseph Smith as President and Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams as counselors (see History of the Church, 1:334; see also D&C 81; 90, including section headings). Subsequent revelations gave further information concerning the First Presidency, which today functions as the Church’s highest priesthood quorum, with the “right to officiate in all the offices in the church” (D&C 107:9; see also D&C 124:126).

The Quorum of the First Presidency consists of the President and usually, but not always, two counselors. The counselors are most often, but not always, selected from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These “three Presiding High Priests … form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church” (D&C 107:22). Upon them rests the responsibility of directing the kingdom of God on the earth (see D&C 90:12–16). The Lord emphasized the significance of the First Presidency when He declared, “Whosoever receiveth me, receiveth those, the First Presidency, whom I have sent, whom I have made counselors for my name’s sake unto you” (D&C 112:20).

This chapter will help increase your knowledge of how the First Presidency presides over and directs the work of the Lord on the earth.



A Forerunner of the First Presidency in the New Testament Church

the original First Presidency, 1833

Established in March 1833, the original First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included Joseph Smith, President (center); Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor (left); and Frederick G. Williams, Second Counselor (right).

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught that the forerunner for our latter-day Quorum of the First Presidency is found in the New Testament organization of the Church of Jesus Christ:

“The fact that Peter, James, and John were separated from the other apostles and given special authority, was the forerunner of the quorum of the First Presidency in our day. It should be perfectly clear from what is written that these three apostles formed such a presidency. … It is very apparent to Latter-day Saints that these three were a Presidency due to the fact that all three came to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and conferred upon them the Melchizedek Priesthood” (Seek Ye Earnestly [1970], 207–8; emphasis added).


Establishing the First Presidency

The following chart identifies some of the events in the establishment of the First Presidency:



April 6, 1830

The Church was organized, with Joseph Smith “called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church”; Oliver Cowdery “was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church” (D&C 20:2–3).

November 11, 1831

The Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 107:59–100; verses 64–66 discuss the “President of the High Priesthood of the Church” (see Robin Scott Jensen, Robert J. Woodford, and Steven C. Harper, eds., Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books, facsimile ed., vol. 1 of the Revelations and Translations series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman [2009], 216–19).

January 25, 1832

“Joseph Smith was sustained and ordained President of the High Priesthood” at a conference of elders, high priests, and Church members at Amherst, Ohio (D&C 75 section heading; see also D&C 82 section heading; History of the Church, 1:243, footnote).

March 1832

The Prophet Joseph Smith received revelation about the future role of the First Presidency (see D&C 81:1–2). “The revelation … should be regarded as a step toward the formal organization of the First Presidency, specifically calling for the office of counselor in that body and explaining the dignity of the appointment” (D&C 81 section heading).

April 26, 1832

During a “general council of the Church” in Jackson County, Missouri, “Joseph Smith the Prophet was sustained as the President of the High Priesthood, to which office he had previously been ordained” (D&C 82 section heading).

March 8, 1833

The Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 90, “a continuing step in the establishment of the First Presidency” (section heading). In this revelation the Lord indicated that Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were to serve as counselors in the First Presidency (see verse 6).

March 18, 1833

Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were set apart as counselors in the First Presidency. The Prophet Joseph Smith recorded: “Elder Rigdon expressed a desire that himself and Brother Frederick G. Williams should be ordained to the offices to which they had been called, … according to the revelation given on the 8th of March, 1833. Accordingly I laid my hands on Brothers Sidney and Frederick, and ordained them to take part with me in holding the keys of this last kingdom, and to assist in the Presidency of the High Priesthood, as my Counselors” (in History of the Church, 1:334).

March 28, 1835

The Prophet Joseph Smith received the revelation found in Doctrine and Covenants 107:1–58, further defining the First Presidency as the presiding quorum of the Church: “Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church” (D&C 107:22).


The Authority of the First Presidency

The members of the First Presidency are the Presiding High Priests over the entire Church. As such, the First Presidency is the final mortal authority on all matters. The Lord indicated the extent of their authority when He declared:

“Again, verily, I say unto you, the most important business of the church, and the most difficult cases of the church, inasmuch as there is not satisfaction upon the decision of the bishop or judges, it shall be handed over and carried up unto the council of the church, before the Presidency of the High Priesthood.

“And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church.

“And after this decision it shall be had in remembrance no more before the Lord; for this is the highest council of the church of God, and a final decision upon controversies in spiritual matters” (D&C 107:78–80; emphasis added).

President Stephen L Richards (1879–1959) of the First Presidency explained that the First Presidency has the authority to interpret doctrine:

“Who is entitled to interpret the doctrine of the Church … ? I am sure that upon serious reflection there is no real difference of opinion on this question among the members. It is so well established by the revelations which we have received and the practice of the Church that the President and his Counselors are invested with this authority that I cannot believe any member will seriously dispute it. In the language of the revelation they, the Presidency, are constituted ‘a quorum … to receive the oracles for the whole Church’ [D&C 124:126]. They are the supreme court here on earth in the interpretation of God’s law.

“In the exercise of their functions and delegated powers they are controlled by a constitution, a part of which is written and a part of which is not. The written part consists in authenticated scripture, ancient and modern, and in the recorded utterances of our latter-day prophets. The unwritten part is the spirit of revelation and divine inspiration which are appertinent to their calling” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1938, 115–16; emphasis added).


The Preeminence of the President of the Church

President Joseph F. Smith and counselors

President Joseph F. Smith (center) and his counselors, John R. Winder (left) and Anthon H. Lund (right)

On March 8, 1833, the Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that the counselors in the First Presidency are “equal with [the President] in holding the keys of this last kingdom” (D&C 90:6). The President of the Church, however, presides over this priesthood quorum and directs the work of his counselors.

Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that the President of the Church directs the work of the First Presidency:

“Joseph Smith was given two counselors, the three forming the First Presidency of the Church. (March 18, 1833.) This was preceded in March 8, 1833 by a revelation declaring that ‘Through you [Joseph Smith] shall the oracles be given to another, even unto the Church’ [D&C 90:4]. The preeminence of the President of the Church was maintained. The question as to whether the Counselors held the same power as the President was soon debated among the people. What could the Counselors do without direct appointment from the President? These questions were answered in a meeting on January 16, 1836. The Prophet there said, ‘The Twelve are not subject to any other than the First Presidency … and where I am not, there is no First Presidency over the Twelve’ [in History of the Church, 2:374; italics added]. In other words were the President taken, the Counselors would have no authority. The Counselors do not possess the power of the President and cannot act in Church matters without direction and consent of the President” (Joseph Smith: Seeker after Truth, Prophet of God [1951], 303; emphasis added).


The First Presidency Presides over the Church

First Presidency, 2008

President Thomas S. Monson (seated) and his counselors, Henry B. Eyring (left) and Dieter F. Uchtdorf (right), 2008

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) noted the governing position of the First Presidency:

“We have in the Church of Jesus Christ today the quorum of the First Presidency, separate from the Council of the Apostles. It is under the direction of the First Presidency that the apostles act in all matters in the priesthood and in the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie [1956], 3:152; emphasis added).

As “the highest council of the church of God” (D&C 107:80), the First Presidency leads the Church with inspired judgments regarding all matters, both spiritual and temporal. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) taught:

“By revelation the President of the Church has been provided with counselors [see D&C 107:78–80]. …

“The supreme governing power of the Church is vested in the President with his counselors. The First Presidency preside over all councils, all quorums, and all organizations of the Church, with supreme appointing power and power of nomination [see D&C 107:9]. These powers of appointment, nomination, and presiding may be delegated by the First Presidency to others whom they may choose and whom the people sustain to represent the presidency in the government of the Church.

“The First Presidency are the living oracles of God and the supreme adjudicators [decision makers] and interpreters of the law of the Church. They supervise the work of the entire Church in all matters of policy, organization, and administration. No part of the work of the Church is beyond their authority” (“The First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1966, 978).

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency said:

“The First Presidency have the ultimate responsibility for the affairs of the kingdom of God on the earth. Of them the Lord has said:

“‘Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church. …

“‘And the Presidency of the council of the High Priesthood shall have power to call other high priests, even twelve, to assist as counselors; and thus the Presidency of the High Priesthood and its counselors shall have power to decide upon testimony according to the laws of the church’ [D&C 107:22, 79]” (“Responsibilities of Shepherds,” Ensign, May 1995, 47).


The Importance of Counselors in the First Presidency

First Presidency, 2005

President Gordon B. Hinckley (center) and his counselors, Thomas S. Monson (left) and James E. Faust (right), 2005

Elder William R. Walker of the Seventy taught that the First Presidency is the model that other presidencies in the Church should follow:

“Every one of us who serve in presidencies anywhere in the Church should look to the First Presidency as our pattern and the example that we seek to follow as we carry out our stewardships. We should strive to be like them and to work together in love and harmony as they do.

“President Gordon B. Hinckley often spoke of the importance of counselors. He said, ‘The Lord put [counselors] there for a purpose’ (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 94).

“President Hinckley further instructed us: ‘Every morning except Monday, the First Presidency meets, when we are in town. I call on President [James E.] Faust to present his business and we discuss it and make a decision. Then I call on President [Thomas S.] Monson to present his business and we discuss it and make a decision. Then I present the items which I wish to present and we discuss them and make a decision. We work together. … You can’t be a one-man operation in a presidency. Counselors—what a wonderful thing are counselors. They save you from doing the wrong things, they help you to do the right things’ (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 95; see also “In … Counsellors There Is Safety,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 48–51).

“A counselor to President Joseph F. Smith once described how the First Presidency deliberated: ‘When a case came before [the President of the Church] to judge, he and his counselors would talk it over and give it their careful consideration until they came to the same conclusion’ (Anthon H. Lund, in Conference Report, June 1919, 19; italics added).

“That should be our pattern in presidencies.

“The revelations teach us to make our decisions in quorums and presidencies ‘in all righteousness, in holiness, and lowliness of heart, meekness and long suffering, and in faith, and virtue, and knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and charity’ (D&C 107:30).

“The Lord has given us the pattern” (“Three Presiding High Priests,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 39; emphasis added).


The Counselors Carry On the Work of the First Presidency If the President Is Ill

President Gordon B. Hinckley alone at general conference

Because of President Spencer W. Kimball’s and President Marion G. Romney’s illness, President Gordon B. Hinckley sometimes sat alone at general conference.

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained how the work of the First Presidency continues even when the President of the Church is ill or unable to perform his duties:

“When the President is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two Counselors together comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency. They carry on with the day-to-day work of the Presidency. In exceptional circumstances, when only one may be able to function, he may act in the authority of the office of the Presidency as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 102, verses 10–11” (“God Is at the Helm,” Ensign, May 1994, 54; emphasis added).

Three and a half years earlier, President Gordon B. Hinckley shared his personal experience as a counselor to two Church Presidents who became ill for a prolonged period of time:

“During the time that President Kimball was ill, President Tanner’s health failed and he passed away. President Romney was called as First Counselor, and I as Second Counselor to President Kimball. Then President Romney became ill, thus leaving to me an almost overwhelming burden of responsibility. I counseled frequently with my Brethren of the Twelve, and I cannot say enough of appreciation to them for their understanding and for the wisdom of their judgment. In matters where there was a well-established policy, we moved forward. But no new policy was announced or implemented, and no significant practice was altered without sitting down with President Kimball and laying the matter before him and receiving his full consent and full approval.

“In such circumstances when I would go to visit him, I always took a secretary who kept a detailed record of the conversation. I can assure you, my beloved brethren, that I never knowingly moved ahead of my file leader, that I never had any desire to move out ahead of him in Church policy or instruction. I knew that he was the appointed Prophet of the Lord in that day. Even though I, too, had been sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator, along with my Brethren of the Twelve, I knew also that none of us was the President of the Church. I knew that the Lord prolonged the life of President Kimball for purposes known to the Lord, and I had perfect faith that this prolonging of life was for a reason under the wisdom of Him who has greater wisdom than any man.

“In November 1985, President Kimball passed away, and President Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Council of the Twelve, was unanimously sustained as the President of the Church and prophet, seer, and revelator. He chose his counselors, and I give you the assurance that we have worked together harmoniously and well, and it has been a great and wonderfully rewarding experience.

“President Benson is now ninety-one years of age and does not have the strength or vitality he once possessed in abundance. Brother Monson and I, as his counselors, do as has been done before, and that is to move forward the work of the Church, while being very careful not to get ahead of the President nor to undertake any departure of any kind from long-established policy without his knowledge and full approval” (“In … Counsellors There Is Safety,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 50).


One Example of the Day-to-Day Activities of the First Presidency

Church Administration Building

The offices of the members of the First Presidency are in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 1979, President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982), who served as a counselor to four Presidents of the Church, described in detail the day-to-day operations of the First Presidency at that time. Although schedules may vary with each administration, and some of the details have changed, his description gives a good understanding of the many responsibilities of the First Presidency:

All matters pertaining to the administration of the Church come under the direction of the First Presidency, and the affairs are generally divided into three categories:

“First, those administered directly by the First Presidency; second, ecclesiastical matters administered by the Twelve under the direction of the First Presidency; and third, temporal affairs administered by the Presiding Bishopric, as assigned to them by the First Presidency.

“Let me list some of the things administered directly by the First Presidency: area conferences; solemn assemblies; budgeting, educational, historical, and personnel departments; temples; auditing; the Coordinating Council; and the welfare services. …

“… In regularly scheduled meetings, the First Presidency meet every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at 8 a.m. with a secretary who makes a complete record of all procedures. These discussions include the correspondence which has been addressed to the First Presidency—which contains almost everything from questions about pierced ears to appeals from decisions of excommunication by the stake presidency and high council. There are questions about dress and grooming standards, hypnotism, Sabbath observance, scripture interpretation, sensitivity training, sealings, complaints against the local officers, reincarnation, donation of body parts to science or to others, cremation, transplants, legal matters, ad infinitum.

“Their decisions also involve the selection of new temple presidencies, when and where new temples should be built, and other matters to be discussed when meeting with the Council of the Twelve Apostles and with the Presiding Bishopric. They also plan solemn assemblies and area conferences held throughout the world.

“Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. they meet with the Expenditures Committee. … This is where heads of different departments present their expenditure requirements for consideration, and allocations are made. Examples include requests by the Physical Facilities Department for acquisition of lands and of buildings such as stake or ward houses, mission homes, visitors centers, and so on, and discussions of the costs of maintenance. Also, the Presiding Bishopric presents requests for expenditures involving welfare projects.

“Wednesday First Presidency meetings are used for hearing reports from heads of different departments that come directly under the First Presidency, such as the Historical, Personnel, and Public Communications departments. Appointments for important visitors are also scheduled for Wednesday mornings where possible. …

“Once a month on Wednesdays the First Presidency meets with the Combined Church Board of Education and Board of Trustees to deal with all matters affecting universities and colleges, institutes and seminaries, and other Church schools. Also, on one Wednesday each month they meet with the Coordinating Council. … Here they discuss and decide on policies, procedures, and questions of administration to see that all divisions of responsibility are properly clarified and coordinated. Following this, they meet with the Welfare Services Committee. …

“On Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. they join with the Council of the Twelve in the upper room of the [Salt Lake Temple], where the Twelve have been convened since 8 a.m. It is in this room that the leadership of the Church has been directed by the Lord since the temple was completed. Here one experiences a special spiritual feeling, and at times senses the presence of some of these great leaders who have gone on before. Portraits of the twelve Presidents of the Church, and also of Hyrum, the Patriarch, hang on the walls. There are also paintings of the Savior at the Sea of Galilee where he called some of his apostles, and others portraying his crucifixion and his ascension. Here we are reminded of the many great leaders who have sat in this council room, and under the direction of the Lord great decisions were made.

“As the First Presidency enters this room at ten o’clock on Thursday mornings, we shake hands with all members of the Twelve, then change to our temple robes. We sing, kneel in prayer, and then join in a prayer circle at the altar, after which we change to our street clothes.

Jesus teaching His Apostles

When Jesus asked Peter, “Lovest thou me more than these?” (John 21:15), it illustrated the sacrifice the Apostles make in behalf of the Church.

“After discussing the minutes of the previous meeting, we consider such matters as the following: approval of changes in bishoprics as recommended by stake presidents—previously discussed in the meeting of the Twelve … ; changes in stake, ward, mission, and temple organizations throughout the Church, including boundaries and officers; officers and administration of auxiliary organizations; matters brought in by the heads of different departments; and our reports of stake conferences and other activities during the week, such as funerals, speaking engagements, and so forth. It is in this body that any change in administration or policy is considered and approved, and it then becomes the official policy of the Church. …

“On the first Thursday of every month the First Presidency meets with all the General Authorities—the members of the Twelve, the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric. In this meeting all are advised of any changes in programs or procedures and instructed in their duties or responsibilities. The President calls on members to bear their testimonies, after which we all dress in our temple clothes, partake of the sacrament, and have a prayer circle with all members present participating. At the conclusion of the prayer all, other than the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, are dismissed, and those remaining change to their street clothes and carry on with the regular business of the Thursday meetings. A recording secretary makes a report of all that is said and done.

“… Friday at 9 a.m. the Presiding Bishopric meets with the First Presidency to give reports and discuss matters affecting the administration” (“The Administration of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 45–48; emphasis added).


Doctrinal Interpretation Is the Right and Responsibility of the First Presidency

President George Albert Smith and his counselors

President George Albert Smith (center) and his counselors, J. Reuben Clark Jr. (left) and David O. McKay (right)

The First Presidency is the final authority for doctrinal interpretation in the Church. President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) explained:

Doctrinal interpretation is the province [function] of the First Presidency. The Lord has given that stewardship to them by revelation. No teacher has the right to interpret doctrine for the members of the Church” (“The Gospel Teacher and His Message,” in Charge to Religious Educators, 2nd ed. [1982], 51–52; emphasis added).

Elder L. Tom Perry (1922–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that other General Authorities also look to the First Presidency for doctrinal interpretation:

“The Lord surely understood the need to keep His doctrines pure and to trust their interpretation to only one source. Of course, we are all admonished to study and gain as much knowledge as we can possibly obtain in this life. We are encouraged to discuss and exchange ideas with one another to further our understanding. However, the Lord has only one source for the declaration of His basic fundamental doctrines. Even as General Authorities of the Church, we are instructed, ‘In order to preserve the uniformity of doctrinal and policy interpretation, you are asked to refer to the Office of the First Presidency for consideration [of] any doctrinal or policy questions which are not clearly defined in the scriptures or in the General Handbook of Instructions.

“In this way, conflict and confusion and differing opinions are eliminated” (“Heed the Prophet’s Voice,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 19).

President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency declared:

“Who is to declare the doctrine of the Church? It is well established by revelation and practice that the current President of the Church and his counselors have the keys to declare the doctrine of the Church. The investiture of this authority comes from revelation. The Presidency are constituted ‘a quorum … to receive the oracles for the church’ (D&C 124:126)” (“The Abundant Life,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 9).


What the First Presidency Says Is Scripture

First Presidency, 1970

President Joseph Fielding Smith (seated) with his counselors, N. Eldon Tanner (left) and Harold B. Lee (right), 1970

President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) of the First Presidency taught that the First Presidency speaks the words Jesus Christ would declare if He were here in person:

“Today the Lord is revealing his will to all the inhabitants of the earth, and to members of the Church in particular, on the issues of this our day through the living prophets, with the First Presidency at the head. What they say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here in person. This is the rock foundation of Mormonism. … When the Prophet Joseph Smith was asked what the difference was between the Latter-day Saint Church and the sectarian churches of the world, he said, ‘We have the Holy Ghost,’ by which he meant that by the power of the Holy Ghost the will of our Father is revealed to the minds of the leaders of this Church. So I repeat again, what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed, even as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures. Those who follow this course will not interpret what they say as being inspired by political bias or selfishness; neither will they say that the brethren are uninformed as to the circumstances of those affected by their counsel; or that their counsels cannot be accepted because they are not prefaced by the quotation, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’

“Those … who will through mighty prayer and earnest study inform themselves as to what these living prophets say, and act upon it, will be visited by the spirit of the Lord and know by the spirit of revelation that they speak the mind and will of the Father” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 90; emphasis added).


Church Members Are to Sustain the First Presidency

The scriptures teach that “the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church” uphold the First Presidency (D&C 107:22). We have a sacred obligation to sustain the First Presidency of the Church.

While serving as a counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith, President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) spoke about how the counselors in the First Presidency and all Church members sustain the President of the Church:

“As I thought of the role of President Tanner and myself as his counselors, I thought of a circumstance in the life of Moses, when the enemies of the church in that day were just as they are in this day. They were threatening to overcome and tear down and to stop the work of the church. As Moses sat upon a hill and raised the rod of his authority, or the keys of his priesthood, Israel prevailed over their enemies; but as the day wore on, his hands became heavy and began to droop at his side. And so they held up his hands so they would not be weakened and the rod would not be lowered. He would be sustained so that the enemies of the church would not prevail over the saints of the Most High God. (See Exod. 17:8–12.)

“I think that is the role that President Tanner and I have to fulfill. The hands of President Smith may grow weary. They may tend to droop at times because of his heavy responsibilities; but as we uphold his hands, and as we lead under his direction, by his side, the gates of hell will not prevail against you and against Israel. Your safety and ours depends upon whether or not we follow the ones whom the Lord has placed to preside over his church. …

“Let’s keep our eye on the President of the Church and uphold his hands as President Tanner and I will continue to do” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 153; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126–27).

President George Albert Smith (1870–1951), while serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained the obligation we have as we sustain the First Presidency:

“I rejoice today in being permitted to meet with you in this general conference and in being permitted to raise my hand to sustain those whom our heavenly Father has called to preside over us. It must be a source of strength to the President of this Church to look into the faces of thousands of honest men and women and observe them raise their hand in covenant with our Father in heaven, and sustain him in the office to which he has been called as president of this great Church. The obligation that we make when we raise our hands under such circumstances, is a most sacred one. It does not mean that we will go quietly on our way and be willing that the prophet of the Lord shall direct this work, but it means,—if I understand the obligation I assumed when I raised my hand—that we will stand behind him; we will pray for him; we will defend his good name, and we will strive to carry out his instructions as the Lord shall direct him to offer them to us while he remains in that position. So it is a power of strength that has been reared today to our beloved president … and his counselors, as we voted for them in this solemn assembly” (in Conference Report, June 1919, 40).

three mountain peaks

Like these peaks above Willard, Utah, the First Presidency are “as mighty pyramids of stone.”

President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles compared the members of the First Presidency to grand mountain peaks and encouraged Church members to sustain the First Presidency:

“North of [Salt Lake City] in the Wasatch Range stand three mountain peaks. The poet would describe them as mighty pyramids of stone. The center one, the highest of the three, the map would tell you is Willard Peak. But the pioneers called them ‘The Presidency.’ If you should go to Willard, look to the east, and up, way up, there stands ‘The Presidency.’

“Thank God for the presidency. Like those peaks, they stand with nothing above them but the heavens. They need our sustaining vote. It is sometimes lonely in those lofty callings of leadership—for their calling is not to please man, but to please the Lord. God bless these three great and good men” (“The Spirit Beareth Record,” Ensign, June 1971, 87).


Church Members Should Look to the First Presidency for Instruction

President Monson, other General Authorities

President Thomas S. Monson and members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles leaving the stand at the conclusion of a session of general conference

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught that “the Presidents or Presidency are over the Church; and revelations of the mind and will of God to the Church, are to come through the Presidency. This is the order of heaven, and the power and privilege of this Priesthood” (in History of the Church, 2:477; emphasis added). He also admonished Church members to “make yourselves acquainted with those men. … Look to the Presidency and receive instruction” (in History of the Church, 3:391).

Teachings of the First Presidency are readily available to Church members. Monthly Church magazines contain regular messages from members of the First Presidency. Similarly, messages from other General Authorities of the Church can be found through the Church website


Those Who Follow the First Presidency Will Never Go Astray and Shall Inherit Eternal Glory

President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) made the following promise to individuals who follow the counsel of the First Presidency:

“I testify that if we shall look to the First Presidency and follow their counsel and direction, no power on earth can stay or change our course as a church, and as individuals we shall gain peace in this life and be inheritors of eternal glory in the world to come” (“Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside,” Ensign, July 1972, 88).

Elder Mark E. Petersen (1900–84) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, after quoting this declaration by President Joseph Fielding Smith, pointed out that “other presidents before him also have said that if we follow the leadership of the First Presidency we shall never go astray nor apostatize from the truth” (The Salt and the Savor [1976], 29).

Points to Ponder

  • What are the blessings of the Church being organized with a First Presidency rather than a President serving alone?

  • What does it mean to receive the First Presidency (see D&C 112:20)? As a Church member, what can you do to better uphold the First Presidency by “confidence, faith, and prayer” (D&C 107:22)?

Suggested Assignments

  • List the responsibilities of the First Presidency as taught in the scriptures and commentary found in this chapter.

  • List the blessings promised to those who follow the First Presidency. Write a plan that will help you study the words of the First Presidency more frequently.

  • From the most recent general conference issue of the Ensign or Liahona, read the talks given by the members of the First Presidency. Highlight what they have said that applies particularly in your life.