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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull recently passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
Beyond the glorious new and everlasting covenant, the centerpiece of the Restoration is the Holy Priesthood. The oath and covenant of the priesthood has the power to both “call” and “choose” an individual to eternal life. But sadly few respond.
The Constitution of the Priesthood
President Stephen L Richards called Doctrine and Covenants 121:34–46 “The Constitution of the Priesthood.”[i] This is that constitution:
Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen?
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
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; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
This constitution contains some the greatest blessings and one of the harshest indictments pronounced by the Lord upon priesthood holders. Endowed women are not exempt. The denouncement, “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen,” applies equally to them. Anyone who has entered into the new and everlasting covenant and received the priesthood blessings of the temple should understand the principles contained in the Constitution of the Priesthood. Therefore, as with other sections of this book describing priesthood principles, women can benefit from the discussion.
In the Constitution of the Priesthood, the Lord divides the totality of priesthood holders into two groups: (1) those who respond to the call to eternal life,[ii] magnify their calling to eternal life, and thereafter obtain the promise of exaltation, and (2) those who neglect or reject the call to eternal life, take casually or ignore that calling, and forfeit exaltation.
There are only two choices, and each of us, male and female, belongs to one of those two groups. Why would “many” be placed in the second group? The Lord gives us the answer: “Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and [they] aspire to the honors of men.”[iii]
- Love of money!
- Love of power!
- Love of popularity, which is attention, recognition, and influence!
We could divide and define the groups as Zion people and Babylon people. Hugh Nibley taught that these two groups are mutually exclusive; they represent two ways that are heading in opposite directions. We cannot choose to belong to both.[iv] To attempt to do so summons the Lord’s ominous denouncement: “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man!”[v] This statement hangs over our heads like a sword. The implication is amen to the exaltation of that man!
A Satanic Strategy
Looking forward to our day, Nephi saw a frightening satanic strategy to carefully deceive men and women. Nephi saw Satan lulling us into supposed carnal security and thereby convincing us to abandon our birthright blessings, take our eyes off Zion, and quietly persuade us to sacrifice the promise of eternal life. Satan’s strategy was designed to trick us into minimizing our covenants, including the oath and covenant of the priesthood.
Satan’s tactic is one that he had employed anciently, one that he had taught to Cain. He has successfully used it ever since, convincing untold thousands that they can simultaneously focus on money and Zion. Because it is impossible to serve both God and mammon, Satan knows that he can thereafter dupe us into setting aside and abandoning our priesthood covenant, which will cause us to spiral downward into temporal and spiritual destruction.
Here is what Nephi foresaw in his words: “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.”[vi]
Few prophecies are repeated more often by Latter-day Saints. We quote this verse regularly in classes; we trumpet it from the pulpit; and yet many of us will fall into the devil’s snare, thinking that the scripture applies to others. If we are not careful, we will fail in our priesthood calling, forfeit Zion, and fall short of eternal life. The chosen few are not those who place the god of money, power, and recognition before the one true God. On the other hand, the prophesied result to the many who were called but not chosen will be “Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man!”
A Test of Loyalties
President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims of our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.”[vii]
To Moses, the Lord revealed our covenantal relationship to God: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. . . . Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”[viii]
These first three commandments allow no wiggle room; they demand our total allegiance to God. We are allowed no other affections before God—no idolizing, adoring, or worshipping anything or anyone in front of God, and no taking upon us his name and then dishonoring him by placing our loyalties elsewhere. In no uncertain terms, the Lord said we would not be held guiltless for such actions.
We cannot suppose that we can enter the priesthood covenant, replace it in our minds and hearts with other affections, and then receive a few stripes at the day of judgment and go on to inherit eternal life. God demands our total loyalty to at least the same degree that a wife demands total loyalty from her husband. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”
A common hypocrisy is to expect total loyalty from God while not returning total loyalty to him. Mortality is a perfect environment in which to test the depth of these loyalties. A pivotal test is the choice between God and mammon. Hugh Nibley explains that the Hebrew word, mammonmeans “financial activity of any kind.”[ix] The Savior warned that we cannot choose both: “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon.”[x] Some people try to simultaneously choose both God and mammon, but that defines them as mammon choosers, which categorizes them among the many who are called but not chosen.
Gospel writers Leaun G. Otten and C. Max Caldwell explained: “There are many brethren who are called and given the rights or authority of the priesthood, but few of them are also chosen for an inheritance of eternal life. Those who are to receive eternal lives must first learn and apply the fundamental principles upon which the priesthood must function.”[xi] One of the first principles on that list would be fierce loyalty to God.
Zion people are classified as the few who are both called and chosen, those who distinguish themselves from the “many” by choosing and serving God over mammon and remaining loyal to the end, enduring in the covenants “at all hazards.”[xii]
[i] Richards, Conference Report, Apr. 1955, 12.
[ii] McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 482.
[iii] D&C 121:35.
[iv] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 18–19.
[v] D&C 121:37; emphasis added.
[vi] 2 Nephi 28:21.
[vii] Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 349–50.
[viii] Exodus 20:3–7.
[ix] Nibley, Approaching Zion, 20–21.
[x] Matthew 6:24; 3 Nephi 13:24.
[xi] Otten and Caldwell, Sacred Truths of the Doctrine and Covenants, 2:305.
[xii] Smith, History of the Church, 3:379, 380.