The Significance of Altars
The ancient Hebrew language offers some insight into the significance of altars. The word for "sacrifice" is zebakh; the word for "altar" is mizbeakh, meaning "(place of) sacrificing." At the altars in the Lord's temples today, worshippers covenant to sacrifice all they possess for the sake of the Lord's kingdom. At the heart of this kind of all-encompassing sacrifice is eternal life, as the Lectures on Faith explains:
Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice because he seeks to do his will, he does know, most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not, nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtain faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner, offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.3
Thus, the closer we come to God, the more we desire to do what He desires, the more nearly our prayers become "I don't care what I want, Lord; I only care what Thou wants." The nearer we approach God through mighty faith, the more desirous we are to give him everything we possess, every-thing we own and everything we are—time, talents, and resources—until we arrive at the point where we will give him the ultimate thing we have to give, the one and only thing that is truly ours (because everything else is already his): our individual agency, our will, our thoughts and desires, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give,' brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!
Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!4
Here is the great irony of this doctrine (and only in the temple do we get the complete picture): in the giving of everything we have, or may have, to God, we receive everything He has to give to us. That is hardly an even exchange. But that is the sure promise when our hearts and minds are of a celestial order.
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^1. Webster's New World Dictionary, s.v. "Contrite."
^2. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 669.
^3. Smith, Lectures on Faith, 6.7–8.
^4. Maxwell, "'Swallowed Up in the Will of the Father,'" Ensign, November 1995, 24.