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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 14: "Hastening Family History and Temple Work"

I would like to open this study article with an observation I made in the commentary on this lesson found at mormonbasics.com. The commentary on the lesson begins with this quote: “Surely the Lord will support us if we use our best efforts in carrying out the commandment to do family history research and temple work.” Isn’t it odd that any of us might even wonder if the Lord will help us in doing our family history research or in doing our temple work? We do it on His commandment. If the Lord has ordered that it be done and that we do it on peril of our own salvation, does it not make sense that He will be opening doors for us to assist us in accomplishing this great work? God never commands anything that is not accomplished. If he says this work must be done, then every necessary thing will be made available to us to accomplish His work.

Then and Now

It is important to draw attention to the difference between what we faced in doing our family histories 30+ years ago and what we have to look forward to today. Here is a sample of the kind of work involved in doing genealogy (family history) work of yesteryear. This quote refers to President Hunter.

 “In 1972, while he was in Europe on a Church assignment, he and his wife, Claire, visited places in Denmark where his ancestors had lived. In one of the villages, they found the church where President Hunter’s great-grandfather Rasmussen had been christened and where the family had worshipped. This experience deepened President Hunter’s appreciation for his maternal ancestors. He made similar visits to areas of Norway and Scotland where other ancestors had lived. ...
We would go to [the] cousin’s home. He would get the ledgers from the trunk, and soon the dining room table would be covered with family group sheets. “If one of the family members wanted to make sure they had the right information for their own research, they would call or write Dad to verify the facts because they knew he would have it right. The work he did was prodigious.”

I can remember seeing those who did family history the old fashioned way. Their tables were piled high with group sheets and ancestral charts, binders, photo books, written histories, etc. They had trunks and trunks devoted to storing all they had amassed over years of travel, writing, and sharing of information. Small wonder there was generally only one or two members of an extended family who ever did the work. It had to become an obsession in order to do it.

To get information was sometimes costly, and it always took a lot of time. You had to write handwritten letters to archivists, relatives, parishes, graveyards, record keepers, etc. Then you had to wait for weeks, just hoping for a response. If you had the money, you could hire someone to do all the traveling and legwork for you.

With the updates in the family history center President Hunter put in place during his time working in that department for the church, we now have everything available to us online. My wife, with her heart condition, can sit at home, and with just a computer in front of her, has amassed more than 50,000 names. She is able to use the records that have been scanned and placed online by the Church and find thousands of members of the extended family who were previously “lost” because they were not direct-line descendants.

She submits names to the temple to be done by the hundreds. When our youth go to do baptisms for the dead, she can provide them with all the names the ward needs for that trip to the temple. The changes President Hunter began in the area of family history have, within just 30 years or so, revolutionized our ability to find our ancestors.

This ability to do research for ancestors and perform all the saving ordinances for their salvation is unique to this dispensation of time. None of our ancient ancestors had this blessing available to them. The primary work of this dispensation is missionary work—the gathering about which every other dispensation has prophesied. Family history work is our missionary work for our kindred dead. Temple work is our ability to perform their saving ordinances on their behalf. What a glorious opportunity to work with the Savior as saviors on Mount Zion!

The Privilege of Participation

There are those who do primarily family history work. There are those who do almost exclusively temple work. Each group loses out on key blessings by not performing both halves of the work.

 “... there are some members who engage in temple work but fail to do family history research on their own family lines. Although they perform a divine service in assisting others, they lose a blessing by not seeking their own kindred dead as divinely directed by latter-day prophets.”

President Hunter then compares only doing one or the other of the two parts of redeeming the dead—family history work/temple work—to a comment made by a bishop of his about fasting vs. the giving of a fast offering. Just as the law of the fast consists of two parts, so too does the work of redeeming the dead.

I recall an experience of a few years ago that is analogous to this condition. At the close of a fast and testimony meeting, the bishop remarked, “We have had a spiritual experience today listening to the testimonies borne by each other. This is because we have come fasting according to the law of the Lord. But let us never forget that the law consists of two parts: that we fast by abstaining from food and drink and that we contribute what we have thereby saved to the bishop’s storehouse for the benefit of those who are less fortunate.” Then he added: “I hope no one of us will leave today with only half a blessing.”

The Relationship between the Living and the Dead

We often focus our efforts on getting temples built because of the blessings temples provide. We are able to enter these sacred buildings and have our saving ordinances performed that will allow us to be sealed together as families for eternity.

The growth and faithfulness of a community of Saints are measured in part by their ability to gain access to a temple nearby. Getting a temple in your country or city is a landmark event. That means the Saints have been faithful and active, paying their tithes and offerings, and the work is progressing well in their area. The temple serves to boost the blessings available to the Saints for all their dedication to the Lord. The presence of temples increases the presence of the Holy Ghost as well.

Do we ever consider that for all the thousands of times (hopefully) you will go through the temple in your lifetime, you only directly benefit yourself the first time you go through? Each and every time you go through after that is the first time through for someone else.

Measure the greatness of your personal blessings by thinking of it in this way. The name for whom you go through a session in the temple gets to go through only one time. Hopefully, they get to attend from the other side of the veil, but possibly not. You, on the other hand, get repeated exposure to the sacred covenants that provide the eternal blessings to those for whom you serve in the temple services.

Because we are able to go through the temple time and time again, we get extended time in the Lord’s house. We feel of His presence and that of the Spirit. We gain the comfort and Sprit that are available only in His house. The temple becomes a refuge for us, a place to go and receive inspiration and revelation for our individual lives. That blessing would not be available to us if we were only allowed to enter the temple doors once in our lifetime.

By repeatedly serving those who cannot perform these ordinances for themselves, we receive extra blessings. We gain spiritual and emotional strength. We draw closer to God. Temples are critical not just to our ancestors, but to our own success in these latter days.

 “... President Brigham Young said: “We have a work to do just as important in its sphere as the Savior’s work was in its sphere. Our fathers cannot be made perfect without us; we cannot be made perfect without them. They have done their work and now sleep. We are now called upon to do ours; which is to be the greatest work man ever performed on the earth” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 406).

As great as the blessing of the temple and family history work is to our ancestors, the blessings are even greater for us who do the work. By searching out our ancestors, then performing the work of salvation for them, we become as much the beneficiary as is the person we search out. The difference is, they receive that blessing only once. We receive that blessing time and time again as we continue to do the saving work for ancestor after ancestor.

The Sense of Urgency

We tend to get comfortable about our work in finding our dead and getting their work done. President Hunter points out in the lesson that people are dying at a far faster rate than we are able to do the work. This means we are constantly falling behind. The Lord requires us to hasten the work and not grow weary in doing this great work of salvation. I leave you this week with Doctrine and Covenants 127:4.

"Let the work of my temple, and all the works which I have appointed unto you, be continued on and not cease; and let your diligence, and your perseverance, and patience, and your works be redoubled, and you shall in nowise lose your reward, saith the Lord of Hosts."
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