[Editor: This is the tenth article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Links to the full series can be found at the end of the article. Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore. Downloadable articles and a pdf version of this book are available at www.templethemes.net]
Author: In discussing temple matters, I have tried to follow the model of Hugh W. Nibley, who was, according to his biographer Boyd Jay Petersen, “respectful of the covenants of secrecy safeguarding specific portions of the LDS endowment, usually describing parallels from other cultures without talking specifically about the Mormon ceremony. This approach earned him a great deal of trust from both General Authorities and from Church members” (B. J. Petersen, Nibley, p. 354). For Nibley’s views on confidentiality as it relates to temple ordinances, see, e.g., H. W. Nibley, On the Sacred and the Symbolic, pp. 553-554, 569-572.]
“The Elect of God”: What Does It Mean to Have One’s “Calling and Election Made Sure”?
In previous articles, we have examined the significance of each of the phrases of D&C 84:34, a key verse in the passage describing the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood:
They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
The ordinance of the endowment portrays the process of the Saints becoming “the sons of Moses and of Aaron,” and the sealing ordinance of celestial marriage symbolizes their becoming “the seed of Abraham.” The phrase “the church and kingdom“ refers to the blessings of the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, belonging to one who is made a “king and a priest unto God, bearing rule, authority, and dominion under the Father.”[i] Correspondingly, worthy women may receive the blessings of becoming queens and priestesses.[ii]
Continuing with this description of the required sequence of temple blessings, in this article we will examine the phrase “the elect of God.“In the language of scripture, to be “elect” is to be “chosen.” The scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith[iii] refer to the blessing of election as having one’s calling[iv] and election made sure[v] or as having received the “more sure word of prophecy”[vi](i.e., “a man’s knowing that he is sealed up to eternal life”[vii]).
The knowledge received by this means is something even more than a personal vision or visitation of Jesus Christ or a testimony from heaven that He is the Son of God.[viii] Specifically, those who have received the fulness of the priesthood and who have afterward demonstrated their determination to serve God “at all hazards”[ix] eventually will be privileged to hear the solemn oath from the Father Himself that they shall obtain the fulness of the joys of the celestial kingdom forever and ever.[x] For example, although Abraham previously had received the blessings of patriarchal marriage, and then had been made a king and a priest under the hands of Melchizedek,[xi] Abraham’s “election sure” came only afterward, when he demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.[xii]
Whether or not one receives “the more sure word of prophecy”[xiii] in this life or in the hereafter, it is certain that the unique form of knowledge received by this means is a prerequisite for exaltation, since we are told elsewhere in scripture that it is “impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”[xiv] As a warning to those who may fail to live up to the ultimate privileges of the priesthood-namely the assurance of the blessings of exaltation in the eternal worlds-the Lord instructed:[xv] “there are many called, but few are chosen.”
The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
Man and Deity enter into the covenant of the priesthood, but only the Lord, meaning the Father, swears the oath. This same oath, by which one enters the Church of the Firstborn[xix] and receives the knowledge of his “election sure”-and to which allusion is made throughout scripture[xx]-is perhaps most clearly expressed in Psalm 110:4:[xxi]
The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
Here, then, are two irrevocable acts … to give powerful encouragement to us, who have claimed his protection by grasping the hope set before us. That hope we hold. It is like an anchor for our lives, an anchor safe and sure. It enters in through the veil, whose Jesus has entered on our behalf as a forerunner, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
The Woman at the Tomb and the Ascension, ca. 400
Alluding to the blessings of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, the author of Hebrews assures the Saints of the firmness and unchangeableness of God’s promises.The “two irrevocable acts” mentioned are “God’s promise and the oath by which He guarantees that promise.”[xxiv] By this scripture, we are meant to understand that so long as the we hold fast to the Redeemer, who has entered “through the veil on our behalf… as a forerunner,” we will remain firmly anchored to our heavenly home, and the eventual realization of the promise “that where I am, there ye may be also.”[xxv] There is also undoubtedly the sense that “Jesus, the high priest, [stands] behind the veil in the Holy of Holies to assist those who [pass] through.”[xxvi] “The anchor would thus constitute the link that extends’ or reaches’ to the safe harbor of the divine realms… providing a means of access by its entry into God’s presence.
“[xxvii] Just as Jesus was “exalted… above the entire created order-to the heavenly throne at God’s right hand,” so “humanity will be elevated to the pinnacle of the created order.”[xxviii] And as the Son received “all the glory of Adam,”[xxix] so “his followers will also inherit this promise if they endure… testing.”[xxx]
Though [the Saints addressed by Peter[xxxii]] might hear the voice of God and know that Jesus was the Son of God, this would be no evidence that their election and calling was made sure,[xxxiii] that they had part with Christ, and were joint heirs with Him. Then they would want that more sure word of prophecy,[xxxiv] that they were sealed in the heavens and had the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Then, having this promise sealed unto [us is] an anchor to the soul, sure and steadfast. Though the thunders might roll and lightnings flash, and earthquakes bellow, and war gather thick around, yet this hope and knowledge would support the soul in every hour of trial, trouble, and tribulation. Then knowledge through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the grand key that unlocks the glories and mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…
Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and election sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it.
Misconceptions Relating to the Doctrine of Election
How is one’s calling and election made sure? As an example of misunderstanding on the doctrine of election, we note the mistaken conclusion that one’s calling and election are made sure through the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood, without also requiring a separate personal affirmation by the Father. A key to the correct understanding of this idea is D&C 131:5, which explains that “the more sure word of prophecy” (which is equated elsewhere to the “election sure”[xxxv]):
… means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy through the power of the Holy Priesthood.
The words of an earlier discourse by Joseph Smith[xxxvi] clarify the meaning of this verse, and make it evident that the “seal” referred to has two parts, both of which are necessary in order to to make one’s election “sure.” How then is this “seal” to be accomplished? Specifically, the Prophet taught that it must be “done by this sealing power”-i.e., the sealing power held by authorized priesthood holders-“and the other Comforter”-i.e., the personal ministry of the Father and the Son.[xxxvii] While certain men have been given power to seal up Saints to eternal life when so moved by the spirit of revelation,[xxxviii] the scope of such power extends only to the first part of this seal. Regarding the second part-the oath or “more sure word of prophecy”[xxxix] whereby one’s election is divinely confirmed-the Prophet Joseph Smith said:[xl]
There is one Comforter [i.e., the Holy Ghost] and another Comforter [i.e., the Second Comforter] to abide with you forever, [to] reach to things within the veil, [so that you may] know that you are sealed. If you get it, it will stand by you forever… “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you,”[xli] abide with you forever, [and] seal you up to eternal life.
… let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, “Son, thou shalt be exalted.”
When the Lord has fully proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter…[xliii]
… [W]hen any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him… and even He will manifest the Father unto him…
Are the blessings of having one’s calling and election made sure unconditional? The answer is no-neither the ordinance that confers the fulness of the priesthood by which one is sealed up by authorized servants of the Lord to eternal life, nor the subsequent oath of the Father that confirms one’s election sure should be understood as promising exaltation unconditionally. With regard to being “sealed up to eternal lives,” Elder Heber C. Kimball stated:[xliv]
Some will come with great zeal and anxiety, saying, “I want my endowments; I want my washings and anointings; I want my blessings; I wish to be sealed up to eternal lives….” What good will all this do you, if you do not live up to your profession and practice your religion? Not as much good as for me to take a bag of sand and baptize it, lay hands upon it for the gift of the Holy Ghost, wash it and anoint, and then seal it up to eternal lives, for the sand will be saved, having filled the measure of its creation; but you will not, except through faith and obedience.
Even with respect to those who have both received the fulness of the priesthood, and then have become the elect of God by His personal word, the Prophet made it clear that no power in earth or heaven can protect an individual against his committing the unpardonable sin.[xlv] Indeed, he taught that to have the “heavens… opened” (i. e., to experience “a direct heavenly vision on the order of the blessings attending the visitation of the Second Comforter”[xlvi]) and then to “deny Jesus Christ” is precisely what it means to become a “son of perdition”:[xlvii]
All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all[xlviii] except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him.[xlix] He has got to say that the sun does not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an enemy.
You cannot save such persons; you cannot bring them to repentance; they make open war, like the devil, and awful is the consequence.
This is the same situation described in D&C 84:41, when it says that “whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.”
Will every child of mothers and fathers who are sealed in celestial marriage receive the same blessing as their parents? The following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith, as recorded in the Documentary History of the Church, implies that the blessings of faithful parents are always transmitted to their children:[l]
When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother.
Reading this statement in context, however, shows that the Prophet’s intended meaning was different than its common interpretation in two respects. First, the “seal… put upon the father and mother” he was referring to was not the marriage sealing but rather the “sealing [of] the blessing [of] the everlasting covenant, thereby making their calling and election sure.”[li] Prior to the marriage sealing of Benjamin F. Johnson to his wife, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained the difference between these two kinds of seals:[lii]
… there were two seals in the Priesthood. The first was that which was placed upon a man and a woman when they made the [marriage] covenant and the other was the seal which allotted to them their particular mansion.
The second problem with the common interpretation of the Prophet’s statement about the salvation of children of parents who are sealed is due to the fact that the most complete account of the sermon was not available to the church historians at the time they compiled an amalgamated version of the Prophet’s words from the notes of Willard Richards and William Clayton. In the more full set of notes taken by Howard and Martha Coray, Joseph Smith is shown to have qualified his statement about the salvation of children of parents who had received the second sealing to make it conditional upon the obedience of the children:[liii]
… when a father and mother of a family have entered into [the fulness of the priesthood[liv]], their children who have not transgressed[lv] are secured by the seal wherewith the parents have been sealed. And this is the oath of God unto our Father Abraham, and this doctrine shall stand forever.
Clearly this is a more reasonable and consistent doctrine: if it were not for such a conditional, the concept would contradict significant doctrines taught by Joseph Smith, not the least of which would be a contradiction of his Article of Faith that “men will be punished for their own sins.”[lvii]
We have no record of any relevant teachings by Joseph Smith except what is cited above. Though subsequent Church leaders have differed in their emphasis on various aspects of this subject, they are in agreement on the fact that parents who honor their temple covenants are in a position to exert great spiritual influence on their children, over time.[lviii] Faithful members of the Church should find comfort in knowing that they can lay claim to promises of divine guidance and power, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and the privileges of the priesthood, in their efforts to help family members secure exaltation in God’s kingdom.
The Gate of Heaven
The “strait gate”[lx] of baptism[lxi] and the “narrow… way”[lxii] of discipleship[lxiii] to which Jesus referred in the Sermon on the Mount culminate in a final entry point that leads to the presence of the Father. We are instructed to approach that entry point with a very specific “three-fold petition,”[lxiv] namely:[lxv]
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it [meaning the final barrier that separates us from the Father] shall be opened unto you:
To whom is this instruction being given? It is clear from the context provided by the preceding verse,[lxvi] as well as by the teachings of President John Taylor,[lxvii] that it these instructions are not meant for the world at large, but rather for the Saints who have received the covenants that, if kept, sanctify them in preparation for celestial glory. At that final barrier, there will be a conversation between these Saints and the Father where the name of the Lord will be invoked as part of the qualifications for entry into the Divine Presence. However, the scripture is clear that “not every one” that comes to that place will be admitted to the presence of the Father. Jesus taught:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
“How is it that the Lord has not known them? The Hebrew word “know” [yada] has a broad range of meanings. One of them is covenantal.”[lxviii] The Lord “knows” only those individuals who have received and, with the help of His redeeming grace,[lxix] kept all of His covenants.[lxx] Elder Bruce R. McConkie further explains:[lxxi]
Jesus is saying: “Ye never knew me so fully as to be sealed up unto eternal life with your callings and elections made sure, and since you did not magnify your callings in the priesthood, you shall be cast out and be as though I never knew you.
By way of analogy to the Jewish law that specified that an “advocate cannot represent a client whom he or she does not know personally,”[lxxii] Jesus is saying that He cannot act as a Mediator for such a person, and that if, on the day of final judgment[lxxiii] they are found to have “[wasted] the days of [their] probation,”[lxxiv] they must therefore be “cast out” from His presence. Clearly, as John Bunyan expressed it, “there [is] a way to hell, even from the gate of heaven.”[lxxv]
Links to all of the articles in this series-
Part 2 “A Christ-Centered View“
Part 5 “What is the Endowment?”
Part 7 “The Meaning of the Atonement“
Part 13: “Weary Him Until He Blesses You”