Here is a definition of electricity:
‘A fundamental form of energy observable in positive and negative forms that occurs naturally (as in lightning) or is produced (as in a generator) and that is expressed in terms of the movement and interaction of electrons.’
Do you understand that? I understand most of the words individually but I don’t have a clue what the whole sentence means. I take electricity for granted – I expect that when I press the light switch that the light will come on but I have no idea how it works. I DO know that my life would be very different if we could not use electricity. Our modern society and way of life would not be possible without electrical power.
I am told that electricity functions according to certain laws, or principles, and that failure to follow those laws can result in loss of electrical power or even in physical harm. I have had personal experience of the consequences of not abiding by these laws having on several occasions touched live electric cables and received an electric shock as a consequence.
I now want to compare electricity and priesthood. The Church website tells us that the word priesthood has two meanings.
‘First, priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end.’
Joseph Smith said:
“The Priesthood is an everlasting principle, and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.
The definition of priesthood continues:
‘Second, in mortality, priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.’
Again, I understand what all the words mean but I can’t really grasp the concept. I do know that priesthood power is similar to electricity: without it, we would be deprived of great blessings. Without the priesthood there would be no priesthood blessings, no baptisms, no sacrament, no temple marriage. The Church as we know it could not exist without the priesthood.
However, it is bigger even than this: The Church website goes on to say:
‘Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” ( Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).’
So without the priesthood there would be no creation, no Universe, no immortality and no exaltation.
Just as laws or principles govern electricity, they also govern the priesthood, and failure to adhere to them can result in a loss of priesthood power. Misuse of priesthood power can even result in serious spiritual consequences.
The Lord said:
“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” (D&C 121:41).
“That [the rights of the priesthood] may be conferred upon [men], it is true; but when [they] undertake to cover [their] sins, or to gratify [their] pride, [their] vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, … the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man” (D&C 121:37).
An important concept in relation to priesthood is the concept of keys. In the ancient world keys were a symbol of authority. We use the word in relation to the priesthood to refer to the authority to exercise the priesthood. For example, the Bishop holds certain priesthood keys of the priesthood for this ward. I have authority as a priesthood holder to baptise and to bless the sacrament but I can only perform those ordinances with the permission of the Bishop.
It is through the keys of the priesthood, God directs and correlates his work. Elder Boyd K. Packer told the following story to illustrate that the keys of the kingdom belong to the President of the Church:
“In 1976 an area general conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Following the closing session, President Kimball expressed a desire to visit the Vor Frue Church, where the Thorvaldsen statues of the Christus and of the Twelve Apostles stand. . . .
“To the front of the church, behind the altar, stands the familiar statue of the Christus with his arms turned forward and somewhat outstretched, the hands showing the imprint of the nails, the wound in his side clearly visible. Along each side stand the statues of the Apostles. Peter at the front on the right side of the church, and the other Apostles in order. It is not a large building, and these beautiful statues make an impressive sight indeed. . . . “I stood with President Kimball, Elder Rex Pinegar, and President Bentine, the stake president, before the statue of Peter. In his hand, depicted in marble, is a set of heavy keys. President Kimball pointed to them and explained what they symbolized. Then, in an act I shall never forget, he turned to President Bentine and with unaccustomed sternness pointed his finger at him and said with firm, impressive words, ‘I want you to tell every Lutheran in Denmark that they do not hold the keys! I hold the keys! We hold the real keys and we use them every day.’
While Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating the Book of Mormon they came across verses such as 3 Nephi 11:21:
‘I give unto you power that ye shall baptise this people when I am again ascended into heaven’ (3 Nephi 11:21).
Joseph and Oliver realised that in 1829 there was no one in the world who had legitimate authority from Jesus Christ to baptise. They went into the woods close to Joseph’s home in Harmony, Pennsylvania and prayed to ‘enquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that [they] found mentioned in the translation of the plates (JSH1:68). What followed is recorded in D&C section 13:
The keys and powers of the Aaronic Priesthood are set forth.
1 Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
In Joseph Smith – History we read:
70 He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.
71 Accordingly we went and were baptized. I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me—after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood—for so we were commanded.
In the footnotes to verse 71 of Joseph Smith- History we have Oliver’s account, part of which says:
The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon Him in a fervent manner, aside from the abodes of men, condescended to manifest to us His will. On a sudden, as from the midst of eternity, the voice of the Redeemer spake peace to us, while the veil was parted and the angel of God came down clothed with glory, and delivered the anxiously looked for message, and the keys of the Gospel of repentance. What joy! what wonder! what amazement! While the world was racked and distracted—while millions were groping as the blind for the wall, and while all men were resting upon uncertainty, as a general mass, our eyes beheld, our ears heard, as in the ‘blaze of day’; yes, more—above the glitter of the May sunbeam, which then shed its brilliancy over the face of nature! Then his voice, though mild, pierced to the center, and his words, ‘I am thy fellow-servant,’ dispelled every fear. We listened, we gazed, we admired! ’Twas the voice of an angel from glory, ’twas a message from the Most High! And as we heard we rejoiced, while His love enkindled upon our souls, and we were wrapped in the vision of the Almighty! Where was room for doubt? Nowhere; uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!
Oliver here gives us the additional information that before John the Baptist appeared Joseph and Oliver heard Jesus Christ speaking peace to them. B. H. Roberts comments interestingly on the different narrative styles of Joseph and Oliver:
‘It may be well at this point to call attention to the singular and important fact that the Prophet, neither in his narrative of the above really great and dramatic event, nor in any of those great visions and revelations which precede or follow it, stops to comment or grow eloquent over the importance of an administration or the grandeur of an occasion.’
We don’t know exactly when Joseph received the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood but we believe it was some time in June 1829 but D&C 27:12-13 tells us that they were received from Peter, James and John:
And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them;
13 Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulnessof times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth;
A man named Addison Everett, in a letter to Oliver B Huntington described the events surrounding the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood as told to him by Joseph Smith:
‘[Joseph Smith] said that at Colesville, New York, in 1829, he and Oliver were under arrest on a charge of deceiving the people. When they were at the justice’s house for trial in the evening, all were waiting for Mr. Reid, Joseph’s lawyer. While waiting, the justice asked Joseph some questions, among which was this: “What was the first miracle Jesus performed?”
Joseph replied, “He made this world, and what followed we are not told.”
Mr. Reid came in and said he wanted to speak to his clients in private and that the law allowed him that privilege, he believed. The judge pointed to a door to a room in the back part of the house and told them to step in there. As soon as they got into the room, the lawyer said there was a mob outside in front of the house. “If they get hold of you they will perhaps do you bodily injury; and I think the best way for you to get out of this is to get right out there,” pointing to the window and hoisting it.
They got into the woods in going a few rods from the house. It was night and they traveled through brush and water and mud, fell over logs, etc., until Oliver was exhausted. Then Joseph helped him along through the mud and water, almost carrying him.
They traveled all night, and just at the break of day Oliver gave out entirely and exclaimed, “Oh, Lord! Brother Joseph, how long have we got to endure this thing?”
They sat down on a log to rest, and Joseph said that at that very time Peter, James and John came to them and ordained them to the apostleship.
They had sixteen or seventeen miles to go to get back to Mr. Hale’s, his father-in-law’s, but Oliver did not complain any more of fatigue. ‘
I believe that because the Lord has blessed us as Latter-day Saints with the priesthood, he expects more from us. Just as we have learned little by little over time to harness and use the power of electricity, so we need to learn to use the power of the priesthood to bless lives.