Joseph F. McConkie, “The Preparation of Prophets,” in The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, ed. H. Donl Peterson and Charles D. Tate Jr. (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 1–12.
Chapter 5: The Preparation of Prophets
Joseph F. McConkie
Joseph F. McConkie was an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University when this was published.
The constitution of the kingdom of God is not a document. The authority by which the Church operates is not to found on scrolls of parchment or plates of metal. If it be a “true and living church” then of necessity it must have a “true and living constitution,” and so it does. God is our constitution and his words our law. As to earthly matter God chooses a prophet to stand in his stead and for all practical purposes the prophet so chosen becomes our constitution. He alone exercises the keys of the kingdom, and he alone has the right to receive revelation for the whole Church. Such is the order of the kingdom of God in our dispensation and in all past dispensations.
With the obvious exclusion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the central figure of the kingdom of God is the prophet that presides over it, and the central figure of each dispensation is the prophet called to stand at its head. This paper will focus on the nature of the call and training given the prophets who have presided over each of the major gospel dispensations. Though a host of revelations have attended the restoration of the gospel, the Pearl of Great Price is the primary source for such a study. Significantly, it contains a restored text or an inspired revision of the extant King James text from the six previous dispensations, along with Joseph Smith’s account of the opening of the heavens and the beginnings of the restoration of the gospel in this dispensation. Each of these texts supplies us with knowledge about the nature of the call and training of the dispensation heads which we would not otherwise have. The meridian dispensation may be the exception, though the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew 24 certainly clarifies the nature of the charge given by Christ to the Twelve to take the gospel to all the nations of the earth.
My purpose will be to identify experiences common to the dispensation heads and to conclude how those experiences might constitute a pattern to be followed by the Saints. The areas of special interest will be as follows: (1) the divine call and conferring of priesthood; (2) the bestowal of keys; (3) a ritual endowment; (4) a panoramic vision; (5) foreordination; (6) the ministration of angels; and (7) the manifestation of God. The dispensations under consideration are Adam’s, Enoch’s, Noah’s, Abraham’s, Moses’, Jesus Christ’s, and Joseph Smith’s.
The Divine Call and Conferring of Priesthood
“We believe,” wrote the Prophet Joseph Smith, “that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof’ (A of F 5). Such is the system in our dispensation, but what of past dispensations? The Bible as we presently have it, particularly the Old Testament, has little to say on such matters. The first 2500 years of man’s history as recorded in the Bible pass without our even being able to find the word “priesthood.” Its first usage comes only after Moses has lead the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 40:15). The Book of Mormon is not of great help either. This should not be of particular concern to the student of the scriptures, for it must be understood that all scriptural records are fragmentary. To emphasize one thing is of necessity to neglect another. God did not intend that either the Bible or the Book of Mormon serve our dispensation as a priesthood and church government manual. Nonetheless, it is helpful to see the continuity of the principles of priesthood and church government manifest in the various dispensations of time. We have three primary sources for such knowledge: (1) revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants dealing with the authority restored to us from the ancients, (2) texts in the Pearl of Great Price, and (3) statements from the Prophet Joseph Smith. A meaningful picture unfolds when we weave the three together. For example, in Moses 6:26–27 we read of Enoch’s being called to the ministry by the voice of the Lord from the heavens. No hint is given that the priesthood or the laying on of hands was a necessary part of his call. It was some years later in a revelation on priesthood that Joseph Smith was told that “Enoch was twenty-five years old when he was ordained under the hand of Adam; and he was sixty-five and Adam blessed him” (D&C 107:48). Thus we obtain an understanding of the past as we do of the future—line upon line, precept upon precept.
From Joseph Smith we learn that Adam obtained the priesthood and its keys “in the Creation, before the world was formed, as in Genesis 1:26, 27, 28. He had dominion over every living creature. He is Michael the Archangel, spoken of in the Scriptures” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 157; hereafter TPJS). In Doctrine and Covenants 107:41–52 we have the revealed account of the conferring of priesthood upon a series of patriarchs by the laying on of hands from the days of Adam to Noah. In Doctrine and Covenants 84:6–16 we are told that Moses received the priesthood “under the hand of his father-in-law, Jethro,” whose priesthood is then traced through the generations back to Adam. This same revelation tells us that Abraham received his priesthood from Melchizedek, which priesthood is also traced to father Adam. It is obvious from Sections 84 and 107 that those professing priesthood in ancient times were expected to be able to trace their line of authority to Adam and from Adam to God.
The book of Genesis says nothing of Noah’s ordination to the priesthood, while the book of Moses tells us that “the Lord ordained Noah after his own order” (Moses 8:19). It is Doctrine and Covenants 107:52 that provides the detail—Noah was ordained to what we know as the Melchizedek Priesthood when he was only ten years of age, the ordinance being performed by his grandfather Methuselah. From the book of Moses we are further told that Noah was commanded to go forth and declare the gospel “even as it was given unto Enoch,” thus sustaining the idea that Enoch had a dispensation of the gospel independent of Adam, even though he had been ordained by Adam (Moses 8:19; emphasis added).
We have also been told that before the day of Melchizedek the priesthood was known as “the Holy Priesthood, after the order of the Son of God” (D&C 107:3). Men who inherit eternal life are described in modern revelation as “priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son” (D&C 76:57). Such language was common to Book of Mormon prophets who spoke of having been “ordained after the manner of his holy order,” or “after the order of the Son” (2 Nephi 6:2; Alma 13:1). This emphasis on priesthood as a holy order also finds expression in the Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:27–29, where we learn that Melchizedek was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch. It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God; And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed in his name.
The thrust of all this is simply that with priesthood comes order, system, and organization. Priesthood, for instance, must be conferred by the laying on of hands, the laying on of hands being an orderly, observable, and documentable experience. Both Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery affirmed that such was the case when John the Baptist restored the ancient order of the Aaronic or Levitical Priesthood (JS—H 1:68; see also Messenger and Advocate 15–16). The principle having been established, Joseph Smith would reason on such matters as follows:
Now taking it for granted that the scriptures say what they mean, and mean what they say, we have sufficient grounds to go on and prove from the Bible that the gospel has always been the same; . . . and the officers to officiate, the same; and the signs and fruits resulting from the promises, the same: therefore, as Noah was a preacher of righteousness he must have been baptized and ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of the hands, etc. (TPJS 264).
In ordaining others to the priesthood, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery would have used the pattern established when they received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. It will be recalled that Adam testified that “this same Priesthood, which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also” (Moses 6:7). As the priesthood would be the same, the order associated with the priesthood would also be the same.
The Bestowal of Keys
For the Lord’s house to remain a house of order, there must be a system to assure that the priesthood not be used improperly by man. That authority which disciplines and controls the priesthood is known to us as the keys of the priesthood. By definition, keys are the governing power (Abr., Facsimile No.2, Fig. 2), or “the right of presidency” (D&C 68:17; 107:8, cf. 15, 76). Keys are held by those at various levels of church government who are in positions of presidency. For example, the prophet or president of the Church holds all of the keys of the kingdom and therefore presides over the Church and specifies the manner in which the priesthood and its authority is used. No ordinances or priesthood functions are of efficacy, virtue, or force unless they are performed under his direction or that of those upon whom he has conferred keys. Further, when the keys of the priesthood are lost, the right to use the priesthood is lost also.
Given the importance of the keys of the priesthood to the functioning of the kingdom of God, it is a matter of some interest how sparingly they are referred to in ancient scripture. There are no references to “keys” in the Book of Mormon and only a single verse in the Old Testament. Isaiah spoke of the “key of the house of David” being placed upon the shoulder of the Messiah and of his having the power to open that which no one else could open and to shut that which no one else could shut (Isaiah 22:22).In the New Testament, we have record of Christ giving that same authority to Peter and the Twelve (Matthew 16: 19; John 20:22–23).
Concerning the keys held by Adam, Joseph Smith tells us that he held “the keys of the universe” (TPJS 157). In a revelation given in March of 1832, Adam is said to have the “keys of salvation,” which he is to exercise under the direction of the Savior (D&C 78:16). Joseph Smith stated that whenever the gospel, the priesthood, or its keys have been revealed, such has been done under the direction of Adam (TPJS 157). God set the ordinances to be the same forever and appointed Adam “to watch over them, to reveal them from heaven to man, or to send angels to reveal them,” he said (TPJS 168). All heavenly ministrants act under the direction of Adam, who in turn acts under the direction of the Lord.
Joseph Smith also taught us that Enoch held the “presidency of a dispensation” (TPJS 170). The power that Enoch had with God is evidenced by the promise given him that the Lord would justify all his words, and mountains flee at his command, rivers turn from their course, and he would walk in the presence of God (Moses 6:34). The language of the promise is similar to that given to Nephi, son of Helaman, when the Lord conferred upon him the keys of the kingdom (see Hel. 10:5–11). Joseph Smith explained that the keys of the presidency of the Church went from Adam through the generations to Lamech and from Lamech to Noah who was Gabriel.
Thus we behold the keys of this Priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah and He talked with him [Noah] in a familiar and friendly manner, that He continued to him the keys, the covenants, the power and the glory, with which He blessed Adam at the beginning; and the offering of sacrifice, which also shall be continued at the last time; for all the ordinances and duties that ever have been required by the Priesthood, under the directions and commandments of the Almighty in any of the dispensations, shall be had in the last dispensation (TPJS 157, 171).
We have no direct statement in scripture or from Joseph Smith that Abraham held keys, but it would be difficult to imagine that he didn’t, since we received keys from his dispensation (D&C 110:12). We could hardly suppose that the Lord would reveal himself to Abraham making a special covenant with him while another presided over him as the president of the Church. Prior to his translation and that of his city, we know that Melchizedek presided over Abraham, conferred priesthood upon him, and subsequently gave additional blessings and authority to him (JST Genesis 14:25–40). Only after the ascension of Melchizedek, would Abraham become the presiding officer of God on earth. As to the keys of his dispensation, we are only told that Elias (presumably a messenger) restored them (see TPJS 335–36). That Moses held keys is a matter of scriptural record, for he restored those keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland temple (D&C 110:11). He also conferred those same keys upon Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (TPJS 158). John the Baptist, who bestowed the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood on the heads of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, announced himself to be acting under the direction of “Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek” (JS—H 1:72). Shortly thereafter, these meridian Apostles who held the “keys of the kingdom, which belong always unto the Presidency of the High Priesthood” (D&C 81:2), conferred them upon Joseph and Oliver (D&C 27:12–13).
A Ritual Endowment
Before the Church was even a year old, the Lord instructed the elders to go to Kirtland, Ohio, where they were to be “endowed with power from on high” (D&C 38:32). In Kirtland, a house was to be built for the purpose of giving this instruction and power to those whom the Lord had chosen (D&C 95:8). In order to receive this endowment of heavenly power, they were to sanctify themselves, for in this holy place they were “to be taught from on high” (D&C 43:16). The blessings of knowledge and power to be given the elders before they commenced again their efforts to gather Israel were to be the same as those promised to the meridian Twelve by Christ. It will be recalled that he commanded them to tarry in Jerusalem until they had been “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), whereafter he sent them forth to witness of him among all nations and peoples (Acts 1:4–5; cf. D&C 95:9).
Because of the sacred nature of such a heavenly endowment, we would not expect to find it detailed in the scriptures. Still, frequent allusions are made to it. From the book of Abraham we learn that Adam received this endowment while he was still in the Garden of Eden, and that these same truths and powers were shared by “Seth, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, and all to whom the Priesthood was revealed” (Abr. Facs. No.2, Fig. 3). That ritual washings and anointings might be administered to the children of Israel, Moses was commanded to build a portable tabernacle that Israel could take with them in the wilderness. He was also told that a temple was to be built in the land of promise that “ordinances might be revealed which had been hid from before the world was” (D&C 124:38).
It is evident that this holy endowment of washing and annointings was to be administered on holy ground, a “chosen” place for the instruction and blessing of a “chosen” people. The early elders of our dispensation were required to travel to Kirtland; those of Jesus’ day were to “tarry in Jerusalem.” Adam received it in Eden, which is referred to by Ezekiel as “the holy mountain of God” (Ezekiel 28:13–16), and Moses was commanded to lead his people to the “mountain of God” or Sinai, as it is known to us (Ex. 3:1; cf. 4:27). Here Moses “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence” (D&C 84:23–24). Enoch, who was preaching at the place of Mahujah, was commanded of the Lord to go to mount Simeon so the Lord could speak to him. Having ascended the mount, Enoch said, “I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory; And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face” (Moses 7:3–4). Enoch was then shown the panoramic vision of earth’s future history, a matter to which we will yet come. Moses in like manner was caught away in the spirit “to an exceeding high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence” (Moses 1:1–2).
In the “Secrets of Enoch” we have an account of Enoch’s being taken unto the presence of the Lord. In this instance, the Lord instructs Michael to “[go] and extract [Enoch] from the earthly clothing. And anoint him with the delightful oil, and put [him] into the clothes of [My] glory.” This having been done, Enoch records, “I gazed at myself, and I had become like one of the glorious ones” (2 Enoch 22:8–10 in Charlesworth). In another Enoch manuscript, an account is given of Enoch’s being taken again into the heavenly court, clothed with the garments of glory, and invited to sit upon the heavenly throne. He had a crown placed upon his head, and was called “‘the lesser YHWH’ [Jehovah] in the presence of his whole household” (3 Enoch 12:2–5 in Charlesworth).
The Panoramic Vision
Closely associated with the high mountain experience and the ritual endowment in which the prophetic participants are “taught from on high” is the idea of a magnificent panoramic vision in which the purpose of earth life and its history is revealed. The perspective thus enjoyed seems most appropriate for those prophets called to head the various gospel dispensations and through them to be a part of the understanding had by the faithful of their day. Father Adam, we are told, made such prophecy to his righteous posterity in the general conference of the Church held at Adam-ondi-Ahman. Of that meeting we are told that “Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation” (D&C 107:56–57). Enoch recorded Adam’s prophecies and we have the promise that in a future day, when faith has increased, they will be made known to the Latter-day Saints.
Not only did Enoch record Adam’s prophetic description of earth’s history, but he also had the experience of being clothed in the spirit of prophecy. The Lord “told Enoch all the doings of the children of men” (Moses 7:41). Enoch saw Noah and the wickedness and destruction of his day, the meridian of time and the coming of the Son of Man in the flesh, and the manner in which he would be lifted up and slain. He saw our day and described the opening of the heavens, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the manner in which the gospel would “sweep the earth as with a flood” (Moses 7:62) in the great day of gathering. He also saw the building of the New Jerusalem and the return of his own city to share the society of those in the millennial day (Moses 7:21–67).
The book of Moses describes Noah as a prophetic man (Moses 8:16) but does not detail any prophecies other than those concerning the flood. However, the Joseph Smith Translation tells us that Noah received a manifestation from the Lord in which he learned of events attending the last days and of the millennial era in which the city of Enoch would return. Noah saw the “general assembly of the church of the first-born . . . come down out of heaven, and possess the earth” (JST Genesis 9:23).
Abraham tells us that he “talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another” and the Lord told him of the creations of God. Then the Lord “put his hand upon mine eyes, “Abraham said, and “I saw those things which his hands had made, which were many; and they multiplied before mine eyes, and I could not see the end thereof” (Abr. 3:11–12). Abraham also saw and learned much by the use of the Urim and Thummim (Abr. 3:1). In the Joseph Smith Translation we are told that “Abram looked forth and saw the days of the Son of Man” (JST Genesis 15:12). Christ confirmed in the New Testament that Abram had seen his day (John 8:56). We will yet consider Abraham’s great vision of the pre-existence and its heavenly councils.
The first chapter of Moses records the classic account of a dispensation head receiving the panoramic vision. Moses “beheld the world upon which he was created; . . . and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created” (Moses 1:8). Preparatory to his commission to write an account of the creation, Moses was shown the earth, “yea, even all of it; and there was not a particle of it which he did not hold, . . . And he beheld also the inhabitants thereof, and there was not a soul which he beheld not” (Moses 1:27–28).
There could be little question but that the same panoramic vision shown to Adam, Enoch, Abraham, and Moses would be shown to Christ. From the JST we know that he was taken in the spirit “up into an exceeding high mountain,” and shown “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them” (JST Matthew 4:8). From a revelation given to Joseph Smith, we learn that Peter, James, and John were shown the manner in which the earth would be transfigured in that glorious day when it “will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (A of F 10). This vision was granted to them as a part of their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration (D&C 63:20–21). Though we know but little of what took place on that occasion, it is obviously apart of the high mountain and ritual endowment motif. The events associated with the transfiguration included the ritual assent, the mountain or temple, white raiment, heavenly messengers, conferring power and authority, the manifestation of the destiny of the earth, the cloud or veil, the voice of the Father, and the charge to sacred silence (Matthew 17:1–9; see also McConkie 118–45).
As to Joseph Smith and the First Vision, we know that he learned much that he was forbidden to write at that time (JS—H 1:20). We also know that he “saw many angels in this vision” (Jessee 75–76). Those angels were not faceless and were there for a purpose. It seems a reasonable assumption that their number would have included the other prophets of whom we speak in this paper, the dispensation heads who would yet become the Prophet’s tutors in the restoration of all things.
We have no better text to establish the doctrine of foreordination than the vision given Abraham in which he was shown the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born (Abr. 3:22–23).
We find a beautiful amplification of this principle in Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead. In a vision of the world of departed spirits, President Smith saw Joseph Smith, his own father Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and others, of whom he said: “I observed that they were also among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:53, 55–56).
Christ, of course, is the classic illustration of one called and chosen before his birth. He was described to Moses as the “Beloved and Chosen from the beginning” (Moses 4:2), and to Abraham as the one who responded to the Lord’s question in the Grand Council, “Whom shall I send?” by saying “Here am I, send me” (Abr. 3:27). In that heavenly setting, Adam was known to us as Michael the archangel (D&C 27:11; 128:21). Enoch in his panoramic vision was “told . . . all the doings of the children of men,” and he “saw Noah and his family . . . and from Noah, he beheld all the families of the earth” (Moses 7:41–42, 45). Joseph of Egypt prophetically identified Moses and the Prophet Joseph Smith by name and by the heavenly commission given them (JST Genesis 50:33–34). The books of Moses and Abraham along with other revelations of the restoration clearly establish the doctrine of pre-earth life and the attendant foreordinations given the noble and great ones.
The Ministration of Angels
Angels taught Adam the gospel. Following the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, God saw that it was expedient that man should know concerning the things whereof he had appointed unto them; Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory. And they began from that time forth to call on his name; therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world; and this he made known unto them according to their faith and repentance and their holy works (Alma 12:28–30).
To Joseph Smith the Lord said:
I, the Lord God gave unto Adam and unto his seed, that they should not die as to the temporal death, until I, the Lord God, I should send forth angels to declare unto them repentance and redemption, through faith on the name of mine Only Begotten Son (D&C 29:42).
One of the best known stories in the book of Moses is that of the angel inquiring of Adam as to why he was offering sacrifices. Finding that Adam did not understand the symbolic nature of the ritual that he was performing, the angel explained that it was a similitude of the atoning sacrifice that would yet be made by Christ to rectify the effects of the fall (Moses 5:6–7). “And thus,” the book of Moses tells us, “the Gospel began to be preached, from the beginning, being declared by holy angels sent forth from the presence of God, and by his own voice, and by the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Moses 5:58).
Angels continue to minister to men. We are told that Enoch “beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion (Moses 7:27). When the priests of Pharaoh attempted to offer Abraham as a human sacrifice, his life was spared by the intervention of Jehovah, whom he described as the “angel of his presence” (Abr. 1:15–16). Stephen tells us that Moses and others received their dispensations of the gospel at the hands of angels (Acts 7:53). The Joseph Smith Translation tells us that Moses “was ordained by the hand of angels to be a mediator of this first covenant” (JST Gal. 3:19).
Joseph Smith and another restoration at the hand of angels. The system of declaring the gospel as established in the days of Adam and the dispensing of priesthood and its keys as witnessed in the various gospel dispensations finds its climax in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Joseph Smith was instructed at length by angels from the presence of God and made no pretense to any power or authority that he did not receive at the hands of those who held that authority anciently. The very system of the restoration has been one which binds the prophets and righteous men of all ages into one grand brotherhood and the Saints of all dispensations into one great family. John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, addressing them as his “fellow servants” (D&C 13:1); Moses appeared to restore the keys to gather the family of Israel (D&C 110:11); and Elias appeared from Abraham’s dispensation to restore the authority by which we might enjoy a continuation of seed through celestial marriage (D&C 110:12); Elijah came with the sealing power, that our hearts might turn to our ancient fathers, and with the assurance that those in the world of the spirits looked after us and our doings with the greatest interest (D&C 110:13–16).
All who held keys from the time of Adam came “declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope” (D&C 128:21). “Which power you hold,” the Lord said in 1837, “in connection with those who have received a dispensation at any time from the beginning of the creation; For verily I say unto you, the keys of the dispensation, which ye have received, have come down from the fathers, and last of all, being sent down from heaven unto you” (D&C 112:31–32).
The Manifestation of God
Save Christ only, none have been more honored of God than Adam, the Ancient of Days and father of all. At the great council held at Adam-ondi-Ahman three years previous to Adam’s death, the Lord appeared and “administered comfort unto Adam, and said unto him: I have set thee to be at the head; a multitude of nations shall come of thee, and thou art a prince over them forever” (D&C 107:54–55). So great was the righteousness of Enoch and his people that the Lord came and dwelt with them (Moses 7:16). “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, as did also his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Moses 8:27). Abraham testified that he “talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another” (Abr. 3:11). Moses “was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain, And he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses; therefore Moses could endure his presence” (Moses 1:1–2). So fully were the words of the Father known to Christ that he could testify, ‘The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).
Without the testimony that the Father and the Son had manifest themselves anew from the heavens, we could hardly make claim to a dispensation of our own, nor could we profess either the priesthood or the faith of the ancients. The priesthood is more than the authority to act in the name of God; it is the authority by which the righteous of all ages have opened the heavens, communed “with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn,” and enjoyed “the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:19).
Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fullness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also (D&C 84:23–25).
God has never had a people to whom he would not manifest himself; the very granting of the priesthood and its keys is the granting of that promise. Thus among the Lord’s people there have always been and must always be those who have talked with God “face to face, as one man talketh with another.” Joseph Smith stated it thus: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another” (TPJS 345).
1. The Pearl of Great Price, which would appear to the world to have come together almost by accident, contains a scriptural text representing each of the major gospel dispensations, the purity of which we would not otherwise have. These texts, particularly in concert with the Doctrine and Covenants and the discourses of Joseph Smith, establish the prophetic credentials of the prophets who stood at the head of these dispensations. Further, they bind the prophets and saints of all ages into one great brotherhood or family. As small as it is, no volume of scripture does more than the Pearl of Great Price to bind the various dispensations of the gospel together.
2. Even from the limited material we are able to review in a paper of this length, it is evident that there are experiences common to the preparation of prophets irrespective of the age in which they lived. From Adam to Joseph Smith the essence of their office and call has been the same. To know the prophet of one’s own age is to know the prophets of all ages. Conversely, the inability to recognize the prophet of one’s own age also prevents one, from truly seeing and understanding the office and call of the prophets of ages past. To understand the gospel of Jesus Christ in one age is to understand it in all ages. Only through the understanding of the spirit of revelation in our day can we comprehend the manner in which it functioned anciently. The man who can perform miracles has no difficulty in believing that the ancients performed miracles. The man who has entertained angels, or to whom the heavens have been opened and their chief citizen manifest, has no difficulty in understanding that experience as it was shared by his ancient counterparts. Adam, as we have seen, promised that the “same Priesthood which was in the beginning, shall be in the end of the world also” (Moses 6:7), and if the priesthood be the same then its doctrines, ordinances, and fruits must be the same also.
3. Christ and his prophets, particularly the dispensation heads, constitute the pattern to be followed by the Saints of all ages, that they too might stand in the presence of the Almighty. As the prophets have been trained, so their people are to be trained. Surely we do not have one system of salvation for Christ and the prophets and another for the rest of us. If Christ and the prophets must await God’s call, if they must be ordained by the laying on of hands, then how much more so do the rest of us who would be God’s servants? If Christ and the prophets can utilize their priesthood only under the direction of those holding the keys, what of all others professing priesthood? If God be no respecter of persons and if he consistently endows his prophets with power from on high, what of the others worthily seeking citizenship in his heavenly kingdom? Ought they not also to be invited into the place of the divine presence to be endowed with that same power? And what of the panoramic vision common to the prophets of whom we have read? Is it necessary only for our leaders to have a sense of perspective or are all of us invited to stand where they have stood and see as they have seen? Joseph Smith responded to such a question saying “. . . God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (TPJS 149). As the ancients knew of our prophet and of our day by revelation, so we have been invited to know of their prophets and of their day by revelation. And what of the doctrine of foreordination? Was it the province of Christ and prophets alone or did it extend to all who came to earth on God’s errand? And what of the ministering of angels and the appearance of God himself? Dare we say that those who strip themselves of jealousies and fears, humbling themselves before God, can rend the veil (see D&C 67:10)? Dare we suppose that all who have purified themselves might through “the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh . . . be able to bear his presence in the world of glory,” and that of his holy angels also (see D&C 76:118)? Surely we have been invited to follow Christ and his prophets for no other reason than that we might go where they have gone, experience what they have experienced, and receive those rewards which they have received.
Charlesworth, James H. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983, vol. 1.
Jessee, Dean C., comp. and ed. The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1984.
McConkie, Joseph Fielding. Gospel Symbolism. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985.
Messenger and Advocate 1 (October 1834): 15–16.
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Comp. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1961.