Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods—Their Peculiarities and Jurisdiction—Building Temples—Gathering to Be Sanctified—Union and Blessing Its Results

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Discourse by Elder Orson Pratt, delivered in the New Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Sunday Afternoon, May 13, 1877.

I will read a few passages contained in a modern revelation, given through the prophet Joseph Smith, on the 22nd and the 23rd days of September, 1832—

And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, throughout all their generations, which priesthood also continueth and abideth forever with the priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifested.

And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.

Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;

But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fullness of his glory.

Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the holy priesthood also;

And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel.

It is not my design this morning to speak very lengthily, but it is my great desire, during the time I may speak, that I may have the faith and prayers of all the Latter-day Saints present, and of every person who desires to be edified and instructed. It is also my desire that I may have a portion of the Holy Spirit to rest upon me, that the words which I may speak may be instructive and edifying to those who hear. That is the object of speaking, the object of hearing—to be edified.

From the passages I have read, we learn that God, in all ages of the world, has had a Priesthood on the earth, that is, a Priesthood after the order of his Son, sometimes called the Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek; and that connected with this Priesthood, in all dispensations, there is a lesser Priesthood, called sometimes the Priesthood after the order of Aaron, or the Aaronic Priesthood, which is merely an appendage to the higher Priesthood of Melchizedek; in other words, it is included in the Priesthood of Melchizedek. It is more especially called the lesser Priesthood, because those holding it, and being in possession of no higher authority, can only obtain a certain portion or measure of the blessings that the Lord has in store for his people; it can proceed so far and no farther; it is limited in its nature, its power, its ordinances and its ministry. But when combined with the higher Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, it then can receive all the blessings that are ordained of the Almighty to be bestowed upon his people in any dispensation. Like unto the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is everlasting in its nature, not given for time alone, to be exercised here for a few years upon the earth and then cease, but it continues forever, with the Priesthood which is after the holiest order of God.

The higher Priesthood after the order of the Son of God, we are told, in a modern revelation, holds the power to commune with the Church of the Firstborn that are in heaven, and that too not in a spiritual sense alone; or, as some would infer, to commune with them without receiving any revelation, to commune with them without beholding their personages; but in the literal sense, even the same as one man communes with another. It holds not only the power of the ministration of holy angels to be seen personally, but also the power of beholding the face of God the Father, that through the power and manifestations of the spirit of God and of his angels we may be prepared to enter into the presence of God the Father in the world to come, and enjoy continual communion with him, and be crowned with the glory of the celestial kingdom, to stand in our place and calling to all eternity, in connection with all those who hold the Priesthood in the eternal worlds.

The Priesthood of Aaron, being an appendage to the higher Priesthood, has power to administer in temporal ordinances, such as that of baptism for remission of sins, the administration of the Lord’s Supper, and in attending to temporal things for the benefit of the people of God. Among the privileges that are granted to this lesser Priesthood is to hold communion with holy angels that may be sent down from heaven.

In the early days of this Church the Lord, through a revelation, set forth the various appendages of the higher Priesthood, the duties of its several offices and their callings; also how they should officiate, and what ordinances they were permitted to administer, and what was not permitted to be administered by those holding it.

It seems that since these revelations were given, the Church, during its history, has passed through a variety of circumstances, wherein a perfect organization according to the rules and laws, as laid down by modern revelation, has not been entered into. Circumstances always did more or less to alter the condition of the people. Some, by virtue of their Priesthood have officiated, without being set apart, in certain callings that pertain to those who should be selected and set apart for that purpose. Let me here say, for the benefit of those who have not studied the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church, that if we have literal descendants of Aaron, they have the birthright, through their obedience to the Gospel of the Son of God, to the bishopric, which pertains to the lesser Priesthood. It is the presiding authority over the lesser Priesthood; they have the right to claim it, and to all the keys and powers pertaining to it, they have the right to be ordained and set apart to that calling and to officiate therein, and that too without the aid of two counselors. That is what we are taught in modern revelation. But as we have none at present, to our knowledge, that belong to the seed of Aaron, that has the right to this by lineage, the Lord has pointed out that those who are ordained to the higher Priesthood have the right, by virtue of this higher authority, to administer, when set apart by the First Presidency, or under their direction and according to their instruction, as Bishops to officiate in the Presidency of the lower Priesthood. This order has been followed ever since the Lord revealed these things to this Church. A Bishop must be ordained to the high Priesthood, and by authority of that Priesthood he may be set apart as a Bishop to preside over the lesser Priesthood, to exercise the functions thereof, with the exception of one condition, that is, he must have two counselors ordained from among the high Priests of the Church. These three persons must officiate in relation to all the ordinances that pertain to the lesser Priesthood, and to administer in temporal things, having a knowledge of them by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, as we are taught in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.

Now what I wish to say in relation to this matter is this—In some portions of our Territory, instead of this organization having been carried out in all its perfection, we have acted, in some few instances, for the time being, by appointing a person to take that position, when he had not been previously set apart to that special calling. We might refer to persons in some few of our settlements, both north and south, who have acted as Bishops by virtue of appointment only, and not ordination.

I understand now that the Spirit of the Lord has manifested unto the President of the Church, who is the proper authority, for the Twelve to go forth and set in order and organize more perfectly the various Branches that are located throughout all the Territory, and in the adjoining Territories. And no doubt those few who are acting in the Bishopric without being ordained will receive their ordination, and there may be many changes, in order to introduce, in all its perfection, as far as we have knowledge and understanding, a more perfect organization throughout the Church in these mountains.

The object of this perfect organization is that we may be entitled to greater blessings therefrom; that we may be entitled to a greater fullness of the Holy Spirit; that everything may be dictated according to the mind and will of God, not only in spiritual things, but also in regard to our temporal matters; and also that every person may know his place, that his duties may be assigned to him, and by knowing what is required, that all may the more diligently seek after the Holy Ghost to direct them in their positions and callings, and have more faith, more assurance before God, to obtain confidence before the heavens, and before the brethren, in order that their ministry may benefit the people. You are well aware that we have been taught, for these many years, the great necessity of establishing a union in the midst of this people. Although we are the most united people upon the face of the earth, of which we have any knowledge, yet we are far from that perfection of unity which should characterize the Saints of the Most High God.

I can see, in this order which the President has laid before us, a beauty, a consistency, a plan which the Lord has revealed that will entitle the Latter-day Saints to greater blessings and privileges through which that union will be brought about which we have so long desired in our hearts.

We preach and declare to all people that God has raised up a kingdom to prepare the way before the coming of Christ. We declare to all men, wherever our missionaries go, that this is the grand preparation for the coming of our Lord and Savior to reign on the earth. When he does come, that part of the prayer which he taught us to utter will be fulfilled, namely, “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” Were we permitted to have the veil removed, according to the hymn just sung, namely that “the veil should be rent in twain,” and were we to behold the order that exists in yonder heavens in the midst of celestial hosts, we should there see a perfect union—no dissensions, no bitterness of feeling, no difference of ideas or opinion in regard to their duties, but all understanding as one, and all moving as one body to fulfill and accomplish the purposes of Jehovah.

Now, his will must be done on the earth as is done in heaven, in order that that prayer which has been offered up by his people ever since it was revealed, may be fulfilled to the very letter. Hence the great necessity of the Latter-day Saints preparing themselves by being united, even as the hosts of heaven are. For remember that the Apostle Paul says, “that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on the earth; even in him.” If then the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn are to come down out of heaven to dwell on the earth, how important it is that the Latter-day Saints should be prepared to join this grand company, being united as they are, having no feeling of dissension, no division in their midst, no evil or corruption of any nature; no covetousness, no feeling of individuality in regard to wealth, but having all upon the altar ready to subserve the purposes of the Most high in building up his kingdom upon the earth.

This, therefore, is the purpose of this more perfect organization which is being introduced among the Branches throughout the Territory of Utah; it is to entitle us to these great blessings promised in the word of God. It is not only to build a Temple, but many Temples, as the case may require. This is not the only duty of the Latter-day Saints, although this duty is one of great importance. But then is it not of still greater importance that we, as a people, when these Temples are built, and finished, and dedicated, should be prepared to enter into the courts of the same, to go in there with a perfect oneness and union of feeling? Can we expect in these holy Temples, which are to be dedicated and set apart to the name of the Lord, to receive the blessings promised in Temples, unless we are a people of one heart and one mind? I think not. I read, in one of the revelations contained in this book of Doctrine and Covenants, that when God commanded a Temple to be built in Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, he made this promise—“Wherefore,” said the Lord, “I commanded the people of that county, and the people around about in the settlements, to build a Temple unto my name, and inasmuch as my people build a Temple unto my name, and suffer no unclean thing to enter into it, that it be not defiled, behold I will come into it; I will be there, and my glory shall be there. And it shall come to pass, that every soul that shall come into that Temple, who is pure in heart, shall see my face.” This is one of the promises and privileges pertaining to the High Priesthood, after the order of the Son of God. This is one of the blessings, ordained for all dispensations from the earliest period to the closing up of the last dispensation of the fullness of times; that is, in all those dispensations the righteous were to be blessed with the powers, and keys, and blessings of the High Priesthood. For this purpose, they were to build Temples to his name. In these Temples, if they were pure in heart, they would have this privilege of beholding the face of God and without this Priesthood and the ordinances thereof, no man in the flesh could behold the face of God the Father and live.

We have accomplished a great work thus far. I feel, in connection with my brethren, to rejoice exceedingly in the work that the Lord our God has performed in the earth, through us his people. Truly he hath fulfilled that prophecy given in 1830—“The decree hath gone forth from the Father, that mine elect shall be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth to one place upon the face of the land.” This revelation was given before there was any gathering of the Latter-day Saints. You are my witnesses, and you are also witnesses to yourselves that the Lord has fulfilled this to the very letter. His elect from the four winds have come by thousands, and by tens of thousands, and have gathered to one place upon the face of this land. What has been the object of this gathering? It is to learn more perfectly of the ways of God, which we could not have learned in a scattered condition; in our native countries, while mixed up with the wicked and self-righteous. We are now partly isolated; and we have come from the ends of the earth, that by our united faith we may accomplish that which we could not have done by our own individual faith alone.

By and by, when this people shall have sanctified themselves before the Lord, and organized according to the laws and commandments of God, having been taught by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and by his servants that minister in their midst, carrying out the counsels and teachings they receive, they will become like unto one body, as it is written in the parable contained in the Book of Mormon, that the Lord will prune the vineyard, or take some of the branches away and graft them into another branch, etc.; he will make a change of the branches; he will prune the trees and dig about them, that the roots and the tops thereof may be kept equal. Understand that the roots and the tops thereof shall be made equal, so that the tops and branches may not overcome the roots by taking strength unto themselves. Why? That the tree may bring forth that fruit which is the most precious unto the Lord.

Therefore he is gathering us here, that we may become like unto one body, being sanctified, and become, as another revelation says, “as fair as the sun, as clear as the moon, that the banners of my people may be terrible unto all the nations of the earth.” Why terrible? Because of the power of the Lord which will be in the midst of his people, because of the manifestations of heaven unto his people, because the nations will hear that God is indeed in the midst of Zion. They will hear all these things, and the wicked will fear and tremble. They will fear because of their iniquity; fear and tremble, because of their wickedness; fear and tremble, because they have supported all manner of wickedness and corruption, division and strife, and abominations of every kind in their midst. Therefore restfulness will seize upon them, and they will know of a surety that the Lord God is in the midst of the people of Zion, that his power is there, that his spirit is there, and that he manifests himself there in great glory. Amen.

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