Priesthood, "the Power of the Living God" (Heber J. Grant Lesson 11)

You men, most of you here, and many listening in, know that the man who stands at the head of the Melchizedek Priesthood-in fact of all the Priesthood of the Church-is the President of the Church. He presides here tonight and I conduct under his direction. He is an ideal model, an exemplar to all of us. He often quotes, and in his life exemplifies, the admonition of Isaiah:

. . . be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.

—Isaiah 52:11

I should like to make a few observations on the responsibility of all whom God has honored by permitting them to act for Him. There is need for courage and constancy in the midst of perilous and ominous world conditions. As I read of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, I am inspired by the courage and faith which enabled him to carry on in spite of persistent and bitter persecution throughout his lifetime. When in Liberty Jail, where he spent many months, in 1839, he felt that he had suffered about all that mortal man could endure. In an inspired appeal he prayed:

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?

—Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-3

And the Lord answered, with the understanding born of experience:

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

—Doctrine and Covenants 121:7, 8

In the 121st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants we have one of the most beautiful of all revelations:

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson-

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

—Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-37

Brethren of the priesthood, let us never exercise unrighteous dominion. Let us honor the priesthood in our own homes, in our attitudes toward our wives and children, for there as elsewhere "when the Spirit is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man." The Spirit will not always strive with man but we should always strive to retain His Spirit in our homes, in our businesses, in all that we undertake to do.

We must cleanse and purify our bodies and souls, and try to be worthy to be called the sons of God and to hold the Holy Priesthood. I read on:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile-

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

—Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-42, 45-46

I never tire of reading or hearing this scripture because it is the direct word of the Lord to the men who hold the priesthood, telling us how to honor it, how to officiate under it, warning all against unrighteous dominion. 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.

True worth is in being, not seeming,

In doing each day that goes by,

Some little good, not in the dreaming,

Of great things to do by and by.

Whatever men say in their blindness,

And in spite of the fancies of youth,

There's nothing so Kingly as kindness,

And nothing so Royal as truth.

Let us never

. . . undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, . . .

—Doctrine and Covenants 121:37

The late President Joseph F. Smith wrote, "There is no office growing out of this Priesthood that is or can be greater than the Priesthood itself. It is from the Priesthood that the office derives its authority and power. No office gives authority to the Priesthood. No office adds to the power of the Priesthood, but all offices in the Church derive their power, their virtue, their authority, from the Priesthood. The President of the Church carries on as President by virtue of his Priesthood."

And now to you brethren who preside in the Church, I should like to say a word-presidents of stakes, presidents of missions, bishops of wards, all who preside in any capacity-we urge you to recognize and use your counselors. You will notice through all the organization of the Church our Father in Heaven has provided that each presiding officer shall have two counselors. We regret that occasionally we hear of a stake president, a mission president, a bishop or some presiding officer, who arrogates to himself the honors which belong to the office he holds, who presides in a "one man" dictatorial way, forgetting his counselors, neglecting to counsel with them, and thereby assuming all the honors of the presidency or bishopric and taking upon himself all the responsibility for decisions in which his counselors should share. There is wisdom and safety in counsel. Honor those with whom and over whom you preside. That we honor the priesthood and the offices in it applies not only to our attitudes toward those who preside over us but toward those over whom and with whom we preside. Let us preside with kindness, consideration, and love.

Now, brethren, we who are assembled here tonight and in 320 other places should form a great bulwark against Communism and its attendant evils. The efficiency of our opposition to them depends upon the way we honor our priesthood and place ourselves in a position to seek and obtain God's help in fighting evil. Communism is of the Devil. Communism started when the Devil was cast out of heaven because of his rebelling against the will of his Father that men should have their free agency. Satan and his emissaries would rob men of their priceless freedom. We do not wish tonight to enter into a long discussion of this evil but it is well that all men know that the Church and the leaders of the Church stand squarely against Communism.

To emphasize this I refer to what President Grant, President Clark, and President McKay wrote some time ago:

"The Church does not interfere, and has no intention of trying to interfere, with the fullest and freest exercise of the political franchise of its members, under and within our Constitution. . .

"But Communism is not a political party nor a political plan under the Constitution; it is a system of government that is the opposite of our Constitutional government, and it would be necessary to destroy our Government before Communism could be set up in the United States."

I wish you would read the rest of it yourselves and see what the stand of the First Presidency was at that time and I think I can authoritatively say to you that the position of the First Presidency has not changed since that time.

But brethren, beware that you do not become extremists on either side. The degree of a man's aversion to Communism may not always be measured by the noise he makes in going about and calling everyone a Communist who disagrees with his personal political bias. There is no excuse for members of this Church, especially men who hold the priesthood, to be opposing one another over Communism; we are all unalterably opposed to it but we must be united in our fight against it. Let us not undermine our Government or accuse those who hold office of being soft on Communism. Furthermore, our chapels and meeting houses should not be made available to men who seek financial gain or political advantage by destroying faith in our elected officials under the guise of fighting Communism. We call upon the priesthood of the Church to stand together with a solid front against everything that would rob men of their God-given freedom.

I leave again my testimony with you that I know that God lives, and that Jesus is the Christ. From the center of my heart I bear witness to that fact, and that Joseph the Prophet was ordained and set apart and called as the leader of this great dispensation. I bear witness to the fact that our beloved President today holds all the keys and authority given to Joseph Smith, and that he is the mouthpiece of God on earth today. We honor and sustain him.

God help you brethren and all of us to remain true to the end, true to Him, true to our country and its institutions, and true to the truth, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

—General Priesthood Meeting, April 7, 1962

(Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965], 191.)

Oscar W. McConkie on Righteousness and the Priesthood

Righteousness results from obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. The Lord said to those whom he had called to his priesthood," . . . if ye do whatsoever I command you . . . whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:14, 16.)

No person is wholly righteous. However, by walking in the light of the gospel and obeying the celestial law to the extent of one's ability, one may attain a high degree of righteousness. In the beatitudes Jesus said: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." (Matthew 5:6.)

God is the very embodiment of righteousness. "Righteousness" is one of his names. Christ is sometimes called Son of Righteousness. (2 Nephi 26:9; 3 Nephi 25:2; Ether 9:22.) The state of righteousness is a state of godliness.

There is an inseparable blessing between righteousness and the powers and blessings of the priesthood.

Two of the great functions of the priesthood are to learn and to teach of God and his ways. With direct reference to priesthood offices the Lord says, "I am your lawgiver. . . . I say unto you, teach one another according to the office wherewith I have appointed you." (D&C 38:22-23.) Priesthood quorums and functions provide the means of instruction and teaching one another. The priesthood further "holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. . . . And without . . . the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh." (D&C 84:19-21.)

". . . let every man esteem his brother as himself." (D&C 38:24.) This is an important part of priesthood function. We are brethren, children of the same Father, members "of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19.) Priesthood concept and practice should develop brotherly love.

From the same scriptural text we read," . . . practice virtue and holiness before me." (D&C 38:24.) Priesthood is more than precept; it is also example. Teaching, learning, and loving are not enough. All of this must be translated into action. This, too, is priesthood function. Priesthood is given to us to the end that we shall act out God's purposes.

To further these ends, we are organized into units, or quorums, so we can act in concert, be more effective, and accomplish more righteousness.

To further these ends, we are organized into units, or quorums, so we can act in concert, be more effective, and accomplish more righteousness.

The practice of holiness and power is the practice of priesthood. God's initial priesthood fiat still holds forth:

That every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;

To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every hand, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world. (Inspired Version, Genesis 14:30-31.)

This is what Jesus was talking about when he said to those whom he had called to priesthood callings, "The works that I do shall ye do also; and greater works than these shall ye do . . . in my name." (John 14:12-13.)

In 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith expressed in prayer his soul-felt yearnings: "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea, thy pure eye, behold from the external heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants. . . . Remember thy suffering saints, O our God. . . ." The answer from the Lord was sure: "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment." (D&C 121:1, 2, 6, 7.) Then came one of the most sublime revelations on priesthood ever recorded:

How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latterday Saints.

Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?

Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

That they might be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by longsuffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:33-46.)

No man fully understands priesthood. It is eternal, "having neither beginning of days, nor end of life." (Hebrews 7:3.) Its power is without bounds. (Matthew 28:18.) Finite mind cannot comprehend infinite and eternal priesthood. God, in his goodness, magnifies man. He gives him his priesthood, and, as we shall see, through it he makes available to man "all that my Father hath." (D&C 84:38.)

(Oscar W. McConkie, Aaronic Priesthood [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 5.)

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com