Church History Lesson 25 (D&C 84;121)
This week’s lesson is a topical one, taken from two different periods of Church history. Section 84 was given at Kirtland, when the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods were being organized for the first time into quorums. It contains much information about their respective duties. Section 121 was given while the Prophet Joseph Smith languished in Liberty Jail and was pondering how and why some great priesthood leaders had apostatized.
THE REVELATION ON PRIESTHOOD (D&C 84)
This section was given through the Prophet Joseph Smith on September 22–23, 1832, at the Whitney store in Kirtland, Ohio, at a time when many missionaries were returning to Kirtland from their missionary labors. It was received in to parts:
— vv. 1– 41 Were apparently received on September 22nd.
— vv. 42–120 Were received on the 23rd (Note the shift from 3rd to 1st person in v. 42).
Teachings in this revelation apply not only to those missionaries, but to all who serve in the Lord’s kingdom, male or female. It sheds great light on priesthood functions, and Joseph Smith designated it as a “revelation on priesthood.”
This is the first revelation received after Joseph and Emma and young Julia moved from Hiram on September 12 into their new quarters above the Whitney store. It appears that the Prophet pursued his re-translation of the Bible and while doing so he received most of these revelations in the upper southeast corner room in the Whitney store.
The Lord placed the labors of the early latter-day missionaries in perspective by declaring the purposes for which they were laboring (D&C 84:2–5).
* “Generation” in this context means this present dispensation (v. 4).
* The Lord is speaking of the temple in Zion, that is, Jackson County, Missouri (v. 4). The Lord later excused the Saints from building that temple because the mobs prevented it (D&C 124:49–51) and because the Saints at that time had not kept the commandments as they should (D&C 105:1–9).
* The day will come, however, when the holy city of God will be established in Jackson County, Missouri, and the temple will be filled with the glory of God as envisioned by the prophets (3 Nephi 20:22; 21:23–25; Ether 13:3–4, 6–8).
* “A cloud shall rest upon it” means the Lord will be there, just as he was in the tabernacle in the wilderness when the cloud rested upon it during the day (v. 4).
* Between the beginning of verse 1 (“and the sons of Moses”) and verse 31 (“therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses (D&C 84:1–31). . . “), the Lord gives an explanation of the priesthood line of authority for Moses, going back to Adam. From this we learn, among other things, that Abraham was ordained by Melchizedek (v. 14).
The Powers of the Two Priesthoods: (vv. 19–22).
1. Holds the keys of the ministering of angels (D&C 84:26).
2. Administers the preparatory gospel (D&C 84:26), including:
a. Faith 84:19)
c. Baptism for remission of sins
d. The law of carnal commandments
3. Officiates in temporal matters (D&C 20:46–59).
2. Holds the keys of the mysteries of the kingdom (D&C 107:19).
? Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It is impossible for men to obtain the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom or the knowledge of God, without the authority of the priesthood. Secular learning, the study of the sciences, arts and history, will not reveal these vital truths to man. It is the Holy priesthood that unlocks the door to heaven and reveals to man the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. It is this Divine Authority which makes known the knowledge of God! Is there any wonder that the world today is groping in gross darkness concerning God and the things of his kingdom? We should also remember that these great truths are not made known even to members of the Church unless they place their lives in harmony with the law on which these blessings are predicated. (D&C 130:20–21).”1
3. Necessary to see God and live (D&C 107:19; 84:22).
* Following the time of Moses the greater priesthood was withdrawn from the people as a whole because of their unrighteousness (vv. 23–28). Only the Aaronic priesthood continued among the tribe of Levi, John the Baptist being the last to receive it before the ministry of Christ.
* In D&C 84:31–32, the Lord continues the thought he had begun in verse 1. Without the parenthetical insertion, the sentence would read, “And the sons of Moses, according to the Holy priesthood . . . shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice”.
* This specific offering will be performed by worthy priesthood bearers in the temple to be constructed in Jackson County, Missouri. Till then, we make other offerings:
— Service to others and in the Church
— Acceptable records of temple work for our dead (D&C 127:9 and 128:24)
— “A broken heart and a contrite spirit” (D&C 59:8).
* D&C 84:33–34 explains how faithful priesthood bearers who magnify their callings can become “the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham. . . and the elect of God” (v. 34).
THE OATH AND COVENANT OF THE PRIESTHOOD
The Importance of this Oath and Covenant
* The oath and covenant of the priesthood is one of the most important covenants in the entire gospel (D&C 84:33–44).
* Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “There is no exaltation in the Kingdom of God without the fullness of the priesthood, and every man who receives the Melchizedek priesthood does so with an oath and a covenant that he shall be exalted.”2
* Carlos E. Asay said, “Of all the holy agreements pertaining to the gospel of Jesus Christ, few, if any, would transcend in importance the oath and covenant of the priesthood. It is certainly one of the most sacred agreements, for it involves the sharing of heavenly powers and man’s upward reaching toward eternal goals.”3
What the Priesthood Holder Promises
* To be “faithful unto the obtaining [of] these two priesthoods,” which suggests worthiness to be ordained (v. 33).
* To magnify our callings (v. 33). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “It does not matter what office we hold as long as we are true and faithful to our obligations. One office is not greater than another, although for administrative reasons one priesthood holder may be called to preside over and direct the labors of another. . . . We are called upon to magnify our callings in the priesthood and to do the work which goes with the office we receive. And so the Lord says, in the revelation on priesthood: ‘Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; . . . that the system may be kept perfect’ (D&C 84:109–110).”4
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “We magnify our priesthood and enlarge our calling when we serve with diligence and enthusiasm in those responsibilities to which we are called by proper authority. . . . We magnify our calling, we enlarge the potential of our priesthood when we reach out to those in distress and give strength to those who falter. . . .We magnify our calling when we walk with honesty and integrity.”5
* To “give diligent heed” suggests a serious effort to understand and live the gospel (v. 43).
* To “live by every word . . . of God” (v. 44) means a willingness to be obedient to whatever the Lord commands in scripture or through the word of his priesthood leaders.
What the Lord Promises
* We are “sanctified by the Spirit” meaning we becoming holy and pure (v. 33). This cleansing by the Holy Ghost, which truly makes us Saints, is also called a “baptism of fire” (D&C 20:41).
* “The renewing of their bodies” refers to the time when those who have lived the celestial law will be resurrected with celestial bodies (D&C 88:28–29) (v. 33). But this promise can also apply during mortality.
* Becoming “the sons of Moses and of Aaron” means that priesthood bearers are entitled to the power & blessings of the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthood (v. 34).
* “The seed of Abraham” are entitled to all the blessings promised to his posterity (Abraham 2:9–11) (v. 34).
* We become the “elect of God,” meaning we belong to the “church and kingdom” of God and become worthy of exaltation through the magnification of priesthood callings (v. 34). For example, the Lord described those who would be exalted as “the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76:54).
* We “receive the Lord” as we accept the message and ordinances of the gospel from the Lord’s servants, we also receive the Lord (v. 36).
* We will receive “all that [the] Father hath,” eternal life being “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7) (v. 38). President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The word ‘receive’ in these sentences has deep meaning. To receive in this connection seems to mean more than merely to accept casually, but to magnify and develop and make effective. To receive the servants might mean to accept calls and responsibilities and to serve well and faithfully; to receive the Lord would mean loving him and obeying all his commandments; to receive the Father would mean to leave nothing undone toward arriving at personal perfection; and all this means exaltation and eternal life, for the promise is the kingdom and ‘all that my Father hath.’ A moment’s reflection will remind us of the infinite knowledge, power, dominion, kingdoms, exaltations, and joy offered to us here in an oath and covenant which the Father cannot break. If we measure up fully we are guaranteed limitless blessings!”6
* The consequences for breaking or avoiding this covenant (D&C 84:41–42). Elder Marion G. Romney said, “Now, I do not think this means that all who fail to magnify their callings in the priesthood will have committed the unpardonable sin, but I do think that priesthood bearers who have entered into the covenants that we enter into—in the waters of baptism, in connection with the law of tithing, the Word of Wisdom, and the many other covenants we make—and then refuse to live up to these covenants will stand in jeopardy of losing the promise of eternal life.”7
THE DOCTRINE OF THE PRIESTHOOD (D&C 121)
Section 121 was given while the Prophet Joseph Smith languished in Liberty Jail after many former priesthood leaders had apostatized. It addresses the difference between one who has been “called” and one who has been “chosen.”
Priesthood Authority, Power and Keys
* Why “many are called, but few are chosen” because of worldliness and ego (D&C 121:34–35). Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Those who hold the priesthood must never forget that they have no right to wield priesthood authority like a club over the heads of others in the family or in Church callings. . . . Any man who . . . seeks to use the priesthood in any degree of unrighteousness in the Church or in the home simply does not understand the nature of his authority. priesthood is for service, not servitude; compassion, not compulsion; caring, not control.”8
* It is the “nature and disposition” of men to exercise unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39–40).
* The source of priesthood power and how it may be lost (D&C 121:34–38). Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Power in the priesthood comes from doing your duty in ordinary things: attending meetings, accepting assignments, reading the scriptures, keeping the Word of Wisdom.”9 H. Burke Peterson said, “When we learn to be led by the Spirit, then the priesthood authority we have will become priesthood power, the power to change lives for the better, to cause miracles to happen in the lives of boys and girls and fathers and mothers.”10
Righteous Priesthood Leadership
* The way in which righteous priesthood should be exercised: (D&C 121:41–45).
— Gentleness and meekness(Humility).
— Love unfeigned(Genuinely felt affection).
— Kindness(Not anger or abuse).
— Pure knowledge(Knowing the facts).
— Reproving “betimes”(Correcting immediately when needed).
Elder Hugh B. Brown said, “I should like to say to you fathers tonight that our conduct in our homes determines in large measure our worthiness to hold and exercise the priesthood, which is the power of God delegated to man. Almost any man can make a good showing when on parade before the public, but one’s integrity is tested when ‘off duty.’ The real man is seen and known in the comparative solitude of the home. An office or title will not erase a fault nor guarantee a virtue.”11
* The promises to those who bear their priesthood worthily (D&C 121:45–46).
— Self-confidence bestowed by the Spirit
— “Garnish” in 1832 meant to permeate, as spices do when they are mixed with food. An understanding of righteous priesthood principles
— The constant presence of the Holy Ghost
— An everlasting dominion (exaltation in the Celestial kingdom).
* President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “It has been my privilege on various occasions to converse with Presidents of the United States and important men in other governments. At the close of each such occasion I have reflected on the rewarding experience of standing with confidence in the presence of an acknowledged leader. And then I have thought, what a wonderful thing, what a marvelous thing it would be to stand with confidence—unafraid and unashamed and unembarrassed—in the presence of God. This is the promise held out to every virtuous man and woman.”12
1. Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. [1946–1949], 1:338.
2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1970, 58.
3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 56; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 43.
4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 91–92; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 26–27.
5. In Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 63; or Ensign, May 1989, 48–49.
6. The Miracle of Forgiveness, 123–124.
7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1972, 112; or Ensign, July 1972, 99.
8. In Conference Report, Oct. 1993, 105; or Ensign, Nov. 1993, 78.
9. Ensign, Nov. 1981, 33.
10. Ensign, Nov. 1974, 70.
11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1962, 88.
12. In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 66; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 73.