(This article was adapted from my eight-book series on Zion. Meridian readers can receive a free PDF copy of the first book. (Click here to receive your FREE BOOK.)

 In this series of five articles on the Constitution of the Priesthood, we will discuss:

  • Why Many are Called But Not Chosen
  • The Marriage of the King’s Son
  • Called and Chosen for Eternal Life
  • Distinctions Between Those Who Are Called and Chosen
  • The Rights of the Priesthood

According to the Constitution of the Priesthood, “many are called, but few are chosen.”[i] What is the “Call”? Who are the “Chosen”? How do the “Called” qualify to become the “Chosen”?

Zion people are the “few,” who live celestial laws in the telestial environment of Babylon. Zion people are the elect who are invited to the marriage of the Lamb and who attend joyfully dressed in holy garments. Zion people are the “chosen,” meaning “chosen for eternal life.”[ii] Zion people fully embrace the oath and covenant of the priesthood, the objective of which is to bring us to the point that we can be “chosen” and receive all the blessings that the Father offers us in that covenant.

To be chosen from among those who are called depends upon our magnifying our calling. Then when we have proven faithful, the announcement will come that we have been elected, that is selected for eternal life.

Joseph of Egypt—A Zion Person

Joseph of Egypt is an example of someone who was called and then chosen (elected) by embracing the principles of Zion, that is, by worthily living the new and everlasting covenant and the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Commenting, Kent P. Jackson and Robert L. Millet, wrote,

Joseph chose righteousness and the Lord chose him; this redounded to the everlasting blessing of all his literal and spiritual posterity. The far-sighted Pharaoh recognized something in this stalwart slave not found in most ordinary men—i.e., the attributes of godliness. Said he, ‘Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the spirit of God is?’ Without waiting for the answer, he turned to Joseph, ‘Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than you.’[iii]

The question posed by Pharaoh concerning Joseph could be asked of us: “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the spirit of God is?”

If we enter into the new and everlasting covenant and keep it in every respect, the covenant will lead to our eventually being chosen for eternal life. This announcement is conveyed in a variety of ways, but it always involves the voice of God through the Holy Ghost. The Lord said: “I speak unto you with my voice, even the voice of my Spirit.”[iv]

Called to Eternal Life

Elder McConkie wrote, “As is well known, many are called to the Lord’s work but few are chosen for eternal life. So that those who are chosen may be sealed up unto eternal life, the scripture says: ‘It shall be manifest unto my servant, by the voice of the Spirit, those that are chosen; and they shall be sanctified.’ (D&C 105:36.) They are chosen by the Lord, but the announcement of their calling and election is delivered by the Spirit.”[v]

Therefore, the call goes out to all who enter the new and everlasting covenant, a few respond to the call, which distinguishes them from the “many,” and eventually, through faithfulness, the announcement of the surety of that calling and chosen-ness (election) will be delivered by the voice of the Spirit.

Imagine the President of the Church issuing a directive that all the Saints should give diligent heed to become designated as the “few” by striving to make their calling and election sure. Such a call was given by the dispensation leaders of both the meridian of time and the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Peter admonished the ancient Saints to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance [into the celestial kingdom] shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”[vi] And Joseph Smith exhorted the Saints, “Oh! I beseech you to go forward, go forward and make your calling and your election sure; and if any man preach any other Gospel than that which I have preached, he shall be cursed.”[vii]

Because these appeals were universally given by the presidents of the Church, we should perhaps rethink our position and consider the calling and election made sure as an attainable event in our gospel progression, one that is as important as receiving the ordinances of the temple or eternal marriage.

In a landmark article called “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” President Ezra Taft Benson invoked God’s blessings upon us that we would seek and receive every blessing associated with Elijah so that our callings and election could be made sure.[viii]

Perhaps we should cease considering this event beyond our mortal reach and begin to study and pursue it with careful diligence. In the final analysis, the “few” who are called and elected to eternal life may well be those who have received the revelation that their calling and election has been made sure; and in a broader sense, these “few” might actually total an even greater number of people, whose salvation has been guaranteed without their having thought to ask if it is so.  

Abiding Zion’s Celestial Law in Babylon’s Telestial Setting 

The challenge of convincing the saints, who professed to be Zion people, to live the celestial laws of Zion weighed continually upon Joseph Smith’s mind. His purpose seemed to be riveted upon creating a Zion people, who would be defined by their overcoming Babylon and ultimately becoming a nation of priests and kings unto God.[ix]

In a speech given to the Relief Society in 1842, the Prophet admonished the sisters to live up to their covenants; strive for the unity that is found in Zion; become separate from Babylon; and become virtuous, holy, and thus “select”—chosen. The purpose of God, he said, was to make a Zion, as in Enoch’s day—a holy kingdom of priests.

According to the Prophet, we must overcome all difficulties that we might encounter. Though the soul be tried, the heart faint, and the hands hang down, we must not retrace our steps; there must be decision of character. When instructed, we must obey that Voice and observe the laws of the Kingdom of God, so that the blessings of heaven may rest down upon us. All of us must learn to act in concert, or nothing good could ultimately be done, and we should move and act according to the principles of the ancient Priesthood. Hence the Saints should become a select people, separate from all the evils of the world—choice, virtuous, and holy. The Lord was going to make of the Church of Jesus Christ a kingdom of Priests, a holy people, a chosen generation, as in Enoch’s day, having all the gifts of the Spirit.[x]

At another time Joseph said, “I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.


How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.”[xi] 


Decidedly, it is difficult to step away from Babylon and its allurements. “Even if we try to leave Babylon,” wrote Elder Maxwell, “some of us endeavor to keep a second residence there, or we commute on weekends.”[xii] But leave Babylon, we must. Zion lies in the opposite direction, and soon, straddling the ever-widening gulf between Babylon and Zion will become impossible and we will have to jump to one side or the other. The unavoidable truth is that leaving Babylon is the sacrifice we make and the price we pay for eternal life. Upon this decision we create a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Former BYU religion instructor, Rodney Turner, writes,

One reason many are called and few are chosen is that they fail the test—which is to live celestial principles in a telestial setting. Insofar as circumstances permit, we are expected to do the eternally natural thing under unnatural conditions. . . . However, we can take heart from the fact that those things which call for sacrifice and sheer grit in mortality will be accomplished with ease and unmitigated joy in eternity. But first we must demonstrate our love of righteousness by practicing it in adversity. Doing the easy and the convenient thing proves nothing, for it does not call for effort, self-denial or any strength beyond our own. Only after we have been tried successfully in the refining fires of human weakness and worldly opposition can we abide the eternal burnings of celestial glory—for ‘our God is a consuming fire.’[xiii]

The End-Purpose of Our Calling

As we have mentioned, our calling, which was first extended to us in the premortal world, has always been the call to eternal life. In this life, we are called to eternal life again when we enter the new and everlasting covenant through baptism.[xiv] Then we are called once more to eternal life when we enter into the oath and covenant of the priesthood. S. Brent Farley says, “Alma repeatedly associates the word called or calling with the priesthood itself (as contrasted with particular priesthood assignments), teaching that men are ‘called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God.’ (Alma 13:6.)”[xv]

All priesthood callings point us toward our being chosen for eternal life, but they do not guarantee that reward. That supernal blessing depends upon our giving “diligent heed to the words of eternal life.”[xvi] President James E. Faust wrote, “We are called when hands are laid upon our heads and we are given the priesthood, but we are not chosen until we demonstrate to God our righteousness, our faithfulness, and our commitment.”[xvii]

Elder Neal A. Maxwell gives an elegant explanation of why many are called but few are chosen: “It makes sense to me that the Lord would choose out of the world those who are (or who could become) different from the world and, therefore, could lead the world to a different outcome. We must be different in order to make a difference.”[xviii] Zion people comprise the few who are different and they who make a difference.

To that end, we are commanded to magnify our singular calling: the call to eternal life. Magnification of our calling exceeds obeying the commandments, which are means and not ends to achieving the glory of Zion. President Kimball taught,

The faithful in the priesthood are those who fulfill the covenant by ‘magnifying their calling’ and living ‘by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.’ (D&C 84:33, 44.) Far more seems to be implied in these requirements than token obedience—far more is needed than mere attendance at a few meetings and token fulfillment of assignments. The perfection of body and spirit are implied, and that includes the kind of service that goes far beyond the normal definition of duty. ‘Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.’ (D&C 121:34.)[xix]

Ultimately, to magnify our priesthood calling, which is the call to eternal life, is to marry in the temple and thereby enter into the order of the Gods; it is to achieve exaltation and inherit eternal lives.[xx] Clearly, these statements point to the magnificent end-purpose of the new and everlasting covenant and the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Those few who respond to their calling are those who will be chosen for eternal life.

Next week: Distinctions between Those Who Are Called and Chosen

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[i] D&C 121:34–46.

[ii] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 482.

[iii] Jackson and Millet, Studies in Scripture, 3:69; quoting Genesis 41:38, 40.

[iv] D&C 97:1.

[v] McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 270.

[vi] 2 Peter 1:10–11.

[vii] Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 366.

[viii] Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” 6.

[ix] Exodus 19:5–6. Note: Women become priestesses and queens unto their husbands.

[x] Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 202.

[xi] Smith, History of the Church, 6:184–85; emphasis added.

[xii] Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light, 47.

[xiii] Turner, Woman and the Priesthood, 235; emphasis added.

[xiv] D&C 55:1.

[xv] Farley, “The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” 42–43.

[xvi] D&C 84:43.

[xvii] Faust and Bell, In the Strength of the Lord, 394.

[xviii] Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple, 55.

[xix] Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 496.

[xx] D&C 132:24.