Cover image via Gospel Media Library.
Voices of the Restoration: The Kirtland Temple
One of the often-used skills in scripture study is taking the “them, there and then” of what you read and applying it to the “me, here and now” of today. In other words, put yourself in the shoes of those who walked and lived the actual stories you read.
For example, place yourself in the shoes of Enos the son of Jacob. Enos let the words of his father sink deep into his heart and prayed throughout the day and night in a wrestle to know whether the gospel of Jesus Christ was true. Have you ever had the words of a prophet or parent sink deep into your heart? If so, you can relate to Enos, his feelings and the miracle of the manifestation given to him after his wrestle with God. Relating to scriptures to our own lives is powerful.
As you read D&C 109-110, how can you take the “them, there and then” of 1836 and bring it into the “me, here and now” of 2021?
Let’s imagine you were seated in the Kirtland temple on March 27, 1836 for the dedication of the temple. As such, you would likely have been seated in one of the 60 handcrafted wooden pews of the lower auditorium in the temple. With almost 1,000 people admitted into the session, you would be seated as close together as possible. Children were seated on their parent’s laps.
Sylvia Cutler Webb wrote, “The house was so crowded the children were mostly sitting on older people’s laps; my sister sat on Father’s, and I on my mother’s lap…. I was privileged to be there.”
Everyone in attendance had been asked to be clean physically—having bathed, washed their clothes and wearing their Sunday best, and spiritually—having repented, done their best to reconcile to the Lord, repent and approach the meeting with clean hands and pure hearts. Joseph had told them, “Be prepared in your hearts, be faithful in all things…. We must be clean every whit.”[i]
If you made it inside the temple, you were likely among the 1,000 saints who lined up beginning at 7 am for the 9 am service. Others, hundreds, who could not get inside the temple were directed to a nearby schoolhouse or remained outside near the open temple windows hoping to glean whatever they could hear.
Seated inside, you face the pulpit. In the temple there were two sets of elevated pulpits (or you could call them alters) with one set in the lower auditorium on the first level and the other set on the second level. The pulpit you are facing has a drop-leaf table in front of it for preparing the sacrament. The initials MPC for Melchizedek presiding council and other designating initials are engraved in gold letters on the curved panels of the pulpits. Behind you, in the back of the room was a second pulpit representing the Aaronic priesthood.
Almost everyone in attendance has given almost everything, all their living and effort to the construction of the temple. Heber C. Kimball, after arriving in Kirtland and seeing the saints attempting to build such a building in their extreme poverty, would say, “The church was in a state of poverty and distress, in consequence of which it appeared almost impossible that the commandment [to build the temple] could be fulfilled, at the same time our enemies were raging and threatening destruction upon us.”[ii]
For four years, you and the saints have labored. Labor that could have been directed to your own home, farm and family. Daniel Tyler recalled, “How often I have seen those humble, faithful saints of the Lord, after toiling all day in the quarry, or on the building…retiring to their homes with a few pounds of corn meal…and the corn meal [and a little milk] was all that they and their families had to subsist upon.”[iii]
No doubt, you feel as if you are bringing not only a sacrifice of time, work and worldly means to place on the alter in front of you, but also your willingness to obey and effort to personally be clean as commanded by revelation. You have been told that this will be a day of Pentecost.
As you sit, waiting for the meeting to begin, the miracles that have already happened in the building of the temple run through your mind. A few months earlier, Elder Roger Orton “saw a mighty angel riding upon a horse of fire, with a flaming sword in his hand, followed by five others, encircle the house, and protect the saints, even the Lord’s anointed, from the power of Satan and a host of evil spirits, which were striving to disturb the Saints.”[iv]
Evil men and women had tried to stop the saints in their efforts. Persecution, ridicule and harassment was typical throughout the construction. In fact, it seemed to increase in its intensity the closer the time came to completion.
However, your focus remains on the miracles that brought you to this place rather than the hardships you’ve endured. The temple design was given in vision, building supplies were miraculously found, financing secured, health of workers restored, manifestations of the spirit given, and perhaps most of all, the satisfaction that the impossible had been accomplished. The impossibility of building a house to the Lord in extreme poverty and also becoming a godly people had in fact, happened.
As you sit awaiting the meeting to begin, it’s likely you reflect on the increased level of conversion and commitment that you’ve found in your life as a result of the sacrifices made over the last four years in Kirtland. Later that day, you will sing “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”
No doubt, the temple dedication on March 27 was spirit-filled because their sacrifice and hardships had been so arduous and trying. You see, when we give more we appreciate more. I believe the “me, here and now” lesson for us is this: we often must keep our covenants by sacrifice. That is the path to godliness. And godliness is the objective of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And for the saints in 1836, it was through their sacrifice they became more godly. As they became more clean, charitable and godly, they could then see and feel what it was like to live and think like Jesus Christ.
Contrast their life with ours today. Nowadays it seems we live in a GPS society.
Think about a GPS. We turn on GPS and it gives turn-by-turn directions and we don’t have to give it a deliberate thought. We don’t have to think about where is north or south, we don’t have to imagine where our intended location is in the city. GPS has taken the thinking out of the driving process. Likewise, so many things in our modern life have become this easy. We want instant entertainment, instant google answers, and this conditions us to expect all the complexities of life reduced to a simple search result.
But the truth is, life doesn’t work that way. We don’t learn or grow in that type of environment. Our Heavenly Father, who knows us from the beginning, understands that building a temple, going on Zion’s camp, stretching our limits, and giving up worldly things creates godliness within us. And that is the objective of life.
At 9 am the brethren are in place on the pulpit and the meeting begins. After Sydney Rigdon speaks, hymns are sung, and sustaining’s made, you return in the afternoon and Joseph Smith reads he dedicatory prayer as revealed to him and recorded in D&C 109.
In that prayer, Joseph would ask God to accept the temple and the “workmanship of their hands” in obedience to the commandment received from Jesus Christ to build a temple. He asks that the saints would be found worthy in the sight of the Lord, to secure a fulfillment of the promises that:
- God’s glory may rest upon his people and upon his house
- That the house may be sanctified and consecrated to be holy
- And that God’s presence may be in this house.
- And that all people who shall enter shall feel God’s power
Then the prophet says, “We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.”
How would you feel? That this temple, built by your hands was in fact the house in which Jesus Christ would appear personally? It was to be a home for the angels of heaven. It would be the endowment house for elders who would later convert thousands of saints in Canada and England.
In 1836, these ordinances and endowments would be given to many saints. On March 30, a solemn assembly was held in the temple. On this occasion, Joseph Smith, the presidency, the seventies, high councils, bishops and their quorums were in attendance. The ordinance of the washing of the feet was conducted. Joseph gave messages and instruction throughout the day. Joseph then declared that the elders were now prepared to go forth and preach the gospel. Many elders left the next day.
On Easter Sunday, April 3, 1836, one week after the dedication, the leaders of the church were gathered together in the temple. After administering the sacrament, Joseph and Oliver retired to the pulpit area and with the curtains drawn began to pray.
It is then that Jesus Christ appears to them above the pulpit described in D&C 110 as on a “work of pure gold.” Then, Jesus Christ accepted the temple and the offering of the saints, “Let the hearts of your brethren rejoice, and let the hearts of all my people rejoice, who have, with their might, built this house to my name. For behold, I have accepted this house and my name shall be here and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.”
Then, one of the most important events of this, the final dispensation in God’s kingdom took place. The restoration of the keys for the work of the last days.
Moses appears and bestows upon Joseph Smith the keys of the gathering of Israel. Then, Elias bestows the keys of the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham. Then, Elijah comes and brings the sealing keys of the holy priesthood. The keys to seal ancestors and families together across time. The keys to destroy the devastating effects of death and to create a link in the hearts of fathers to children and children to fathers.
Why are these rights that were restored called “keys?” One definition of keys is “a means of gaining access to or understanding something.” For example, you can open locked doors with keys. Also, if you have the key to an exam, you have the insights and answers. Perhaps what the Lord was restoring was the authority to begin in earnest the gathering of Israel and unlocked the insights and answers that would come forth by his angels and his spirit to facilitate that great work.
Another definition of key is “the means of operation” like a key on a keyboard. If we want a computer to work properly we must use the right key. Likewise, if we want the gathering of Israel to unfold in God’s way and timing, we must rely on the keys. We must be willing to follow the guidance of those who have been set apart by those holding those keys.
All of these definitions of “keys” are vitally important. Too often we think our way is the right way. Sometimes we seek to go about achieving the end goal in what seems like the world’s way. But what was restored on earth on April 3, 1876 were keys, the means to gain access to the power of restoration, the gospel of Abraham and its promises, and the sealing power. Access to the power and understanding to do things in the Lord’s way. This is why following the prophet is so essential. He holds the keys to this power and understanding.
Who better than Moses to restore the keys of the gathering of Israel? Moses was called and empowered with the rights and insights to lead God’s children to the promised land. Those same rights, insights and power were given to Joseph Smith and reside with Russell M. Nelson today. Moses may very well have an ongoing role in that great work even today.
We know very little about Elias. He apparently lived in the days of Abraham. But he restored the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham. A dispensation is a system of order, way of governing, the organization brought about for a particular time and purpose.
So, the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham includes a system of laws, promises and ordinances. The great Abrahamic covenant which promises eternal increase through celestial marriage and other blessings are part of the laws, promises and ordinances of the gospel of Abraham. Did these keys include authority to bring forth and administer temple ordinances? That seems appropriate.
Then, Elijah appears to Joseph and Oliver and tells them, “The time has fully come which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that Elijah should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse.”
“This sealing power bestowed upon Elijah, is the power which binds husbands and wives, and children to parents for time and eternity. It is the binding power existing in every Gospel ordinance. … It is by this power that all the ordinances pertaining to salvation are bound, or sealed, and it was the mission of Elijah to come, and restore it.”[v]
No wonder angels attended the events of that week. Orson Pratt would write, “God was there, his angels were there, the Holy Ghost was in the midst of the people, the visions of the Almighty were opened to the minds of the servants of the living God, the veil was taken off from the minds of many; they saw the heavens opened; they beheld the angels of God; they heard the voice of the Lord; and they were filled from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet with the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost….”
Joseph has already been given the apostolic keys from Peter, James and John. Now they were given the authorization to put those keys into full effect. It was now Joseph’s job to transfer those keys to the apostles and put them into action. Perhaps, this was Joseph’s last major undertaking as prophet. This event in 1836 may be one of the most significant in God’s work on this earth and in the plan of salvation.
The blessings given to the saints in the Kirtland temple, inspired and empowered the saints in a miraculous and incredible way. The Kirtland temple stands as a place where the saints were endowed with power from on high. There they received the promises of Jesus Christ.
It was from the temple, the appearance of Jesus Christ to accept their offering and the restoration of the keys that would enable the work of this final dispensation to begin with the rights, insights and authority necessary to roll forth and fill the whole earth.
So, what lessons can we learn from the events of 1836 and the dedication of the Kirtland temple? What are the “me, here and now” lessons for us today?
First, the Lord Jesus Christ keeps his promises and delights to bless and honor those who obey his word and strive to keep their covenants by sacrifice. The blessings given to the saints were remarkable and miraculous. And they extended beyond the events of Kirtland and 1836. They would empower them for the future events to lay the foundation of the church on the earth.
Second, there is learning and godliness found in the work of the Lord and in sacrificing for the work of the Lord. Be willing. Don’t turn away because of the apparent difficulty, or in the case of these saints, the impossibility of the task at hand.
Elder Maxwell said, “I am going to preach a hard doctrine to you now. The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him. And that hard doctrine lies at the center of discipleship.”[vi]
Third, the keys of the dispensation of the fullness of times have been restored. The rights, insights, power and heavenly alignment for the gathering of Israel, the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the sealing power are on the earth and used by those who have been called by authority. We have been endowed with power to do the work of Jesus Christ and as such we can sing and shout with the armies of heaven, “Hosanna to God and the Lamb! Let glory to them in the highest be given, Hence forth and forever amen and amen.”
These voices of the restoration: Jesus Christ, Moses, Elias, Elijah, Joseph and the hundreds of saints who testified of the events in the Kirtland temple speak to us today. My hope is that we can follow their voices and examples in our lives and honor their sacrifice through our efforts to live and do the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth today.
[i] History of the Church 2:309, as quoted in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, Karl Ricks Anderson, pg. 169.
[ii] History of the Church 1:450, as quoted in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, pg. 164.
[iii] Lorenzo Young, “Young’s Narrative,” in Fragments of Experience, 43; as quoted in Joseph Smiths Kirtland, 160.
[iv] History of the Church 2:386-87, as quoted in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, pg. 165.
[v] Joseph Fielding Smith, Elijah the Prophet and His Mission, 5.
[vi] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Insights from My Life, Ensign, August 2000, p. 9.