The Temple and the Atonement
Sacrifice for temples early in church history
Now go with me back to a place called Kirtland, Ohio, and recall the time when the people were asking "Why, O why when we hardly have enough for hominy and milk do we have to build a temple? What is a temple? And why at such great cost?" At one point the prophet replied, "Even the Angel Gabriel couldn't explain it to you now, the why of temples. But have faith and continue and the Lord will make it plain." Alma 32:21-22 Faith in things hoped for of things unseen. He first wants us to believe in his word.
Well, according to the late Elder John A. Widtsoe, the cost of that temple, using the measuring rod of the widow's mite—meaning, what they had proportional to what they gave—the Kirtland Temple cost more per capita than any building in American religious history.
Sacrificial faith was needed to build it; sacrificial faith is what Jesus demonstrated in his atonement. Sacrificial faith is what is required of us today.
Why must we show sacrificial faith? – To prove to him our commitment and diligence.
One Sunday when the prophet was speaking to a congregation he pointed to the unfinished Kirtland temple, which at the time was only about 4 feet off the ground. He pointed to it and said, “The lord has commanded us to build that temple, we want to build it. But we have not the means to do so. There are people in this city who have the means, but they will not let us have them. What should we do with such people? I say, damn them”, and then he sat down. Now you have to realize that the word damn in Joseph Smith’s vocabulary isn’t the same as what it means in popular parlance. To be damned is to be stopped in all your progress, and nothing stops you faster than a narrow heart. So he sat down and so the next day several people came forward with their means.
The question is how often do we need to be counseled and persuaded before we choose to serve and sacrifice? Are we anxiously engaged? How do we do it?-Sacrifice in service
There were many who did sacrifice willingly. One such man was a convert from New York named John Tanner. There was a time in the middle of construction of the Kirtland temple a foreclosure was threatened because of our poverty as a church; they would have taken out of our hands the unfinished temple. This man, John Tanner came forward and paid the money that kept it going.
The Kirtland temple was an unprecedented sacrifice! All that sacrifice was met, with an unprecedented outpouring of the Lord's Spirit.
At its completion and dedication, there was such a joyful feeling and the people went from house to house to visit each other. They would share their experiences. Many saw visions and angels and a glow around the temple as if it were on fire. Then they would give blessings to each other. One of them wrote in his journal that he thought the Millennium had come. He thought all temptation and all trial was past, even the desire for sin.
The prophet had to stand up on one occasion and say, in effect, "Brothers and sisters, this is all of God, but the opposite will come. There will be new onslaughts of trial." To the twelve he said specifically, "God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and, if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God."
That was all too prophetic. Within months there were new apostasies and bitterness: One-half of the saints who were at the time faithful fell away. Six members of the Twelve also apostatized. Of the remaining six, four had times of trouble and disaffection. The wrench came. Of the twelve, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball were the only ones who did not wavier and yet the sacrifice was just as difficult for them.
Our scriptures tell us, after great trials, come the blessings. On the other side of that, after great blessings come further trials. It seems to be the nature of life. You can all testify from your own experience.
Why must it be that way?
It must be so, as to prove our faith. If we are not proved or like gold seven times tried in the fire we are not ready for the Celestial Kingdom. Some ask, but why? Why must it be so hard? Well isn’t anything worth having worth working for? People must learn all about dentistry through university and training before they become dentists. As well, children of God must learn all about the plan of salvation through the gospel and get training through service and sacrifice in faith before they become exalted.
Are we up to the task? Will we do what it takes to become exalted?
Yet, after all their sacrifice we were driven out of Ohio. They tried three different times in Missouri to dedicate places for temples, but they were never able to get a shovel into the ground to start building.
Does anyone know where those three places were?
They dedicated sites in Independence, in Adam-ondi-Ahman and in Far West. It wasn’t until Nauvoo, after having been through many trials and even prison for some of them including Joseph and Hyrum were they able to undertake the actual construction of a temple.
A story of the faith of Joseph Smith
So they come Nauvoo, at the time it was called commerce, it was pretty much a swamp which led to many of them contracting malaria. It was all they could get. They had very little money because of having suffered many trials and persecutions. They get to Nauvoo and there’s a Mr. White there who is willing to sell them his farm for $2500. $500 needed as down payment and the balance one year hence. Joseph and the brethren talk about the offer, and the brethren say, “we can’t buy it for lack of money.” Joseph takes out his purse, empties it contents and gives to one of the brethren a half dollar, which he declined. Joseph urged him to take it. He then gave the rest of the brethren a similar amount, which left him penniless. Joseph then said, “Brethren, now you all have money, and I have none, but the time will come when I will have money and you will have none.” Then he said to Bishop Knight, “You go back and buy the farm.” Bishop Knight went back to Mr. White but learned that in the mean time he had raised the price $100. So he returned to Joseph without closing the deal. Joseph again sent him and said, “You buy the farm!” When he returned White had raised the price another hundred so he came back without closing the deal. The third time, Joseph commanded him to buy the farm and told him, “Do not come back until you have done it.” When he went back, White had raised it another hundred, but this time he closed the bargain. The next morning, Joseph and the brethren sat down with Mr. White at the agreement table. They still had no money for a down payment. The papers were put out and then Joseph moves away from the table and puts his head down as if in thought. Just then a man drives up in a carriage, comes to the door and says, “Is there a Mr. Smith here?” “Yes says Joseph”, and goes to the door. “Good morning Mr. Smith, I’m on speculation today, I want to buy some land, I thought I would come and see you.” Joseph then pointed to some land he owned. The man said, “I can’t go with you today to see it, but do you want any money this morning?” Joseph replied, “Yes, I would like some!” “How much” says the man. “Five hundred dollars.” The man walked into the house emptied a sack of gold and counted out five hundred dollars. He then handed Joseph another hundred and said, “Mr. Smith I make you a present of this.” Joseph laughed at the brethren and said, “You trusted in money, I trusted in God, now I have money and you have none!”
Now that’s faith that the lord will provide if we sacrifice. We all know how much they all sacrificed and suffered, especially Joseph.
So they settled in and begin right away to build the Nauvoo temple. It took everyone’s time and energies for nearly three years. And how long was it actually used? Less than six weeks after its formal dedication. It cost them about a million dollars. That’s genuine sacrifice!
How could the Prophet have led them to make this tremendous sacrifice for just six weeks? That temple was ripped as it were from its roots, destroyed by fire and then a cyclone. Then they made the rough trip west. They came across the plains into the Salt Lake valley. There was one tree in that valley and it was dead, and the day after they arrived, Brigham went forward and with his cane said, "Here we will build a temple of our God." I can only imagine what some of the saints were thinking. It stands there today. It took forty years to build it. Three other temples were finished before it was.
Why all this effort? – The ordinances of the temple are the most important and most crucial things for our eternal life. In them lies the deepest answers and purpose of our life. There consequences are eternal.
Well early in Nauvoo he introduced the doctrine of baptism for the dead. He said, "This is your privilege: You can go into the waters of baptism for your loved ones." He added another phrase, "and for those whom we have much friendship for."
The instant reaction to that sermon was that people rushed down to the Mississippi river (the temple wasn't finished, and the font wasn't finished), and began baptisms for about a hundred people. No witnesses, no records, women were baptized for men, men for women, and the Prophet literally had to run down to the river and say, "Wait, wait, we have to do this in order."
It’s this kind of desire I want to emphasize. What about those you truly love? Do you want to bring to them the same blessings you have received?
The prophet died before the Nauvoo temple was finished. How or when did he confer all the keys, authorities, powers and instruction of the ordinances of the temple?
The last charge meeting! We could do a whole lesson on that meeting. March 26 1944. He rolled off the responsibility to the twelve. He particularly commissioned Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff with the truths of the temple endowment and gave them the responsibility to put it in order so it could be presented in the temple. There’s an actual audio recording of Willford Woodruff from 1893 I believe. They brought the first kind of recorder know to them, to him and he began to speak into it by bearing his testimony. In that testimony he referred to the charge that Joseph Smith had given him. He said “That charge is still ringing in my ears.” I’ve heard that audio over and over again. It’s very scratchy and hard to make out, but there is an amazing abiding spirit in it. They did it. They fulfilled the charge. We are the blessed recipients.
Aside from work for the dead, and aside from our own privileges, the temple is a place of learning and the only place for some kinds of learning that go directly to our spirits, to our core, to our very depths. "A house of learning" says section 88.
How is it a house of learning? – We are given instruction in a place so close to God that he can teach us intimately through his spirit, the simplest truths and the deepest mysteries.
Elder John A. Widtsoe, in an article titled "Temple Worship," says, "The endowment is so richly symbolic that only a fool would attempt to describe it; it is so packed full of revelations to those who exercise their strength to seek and see, that no human words can explain or make clear the possibilities; the endowment which was given by revelation can best be understood by revelation."
What are the Mysteries of Godliness? - The ordinances of the temple and their deepest symbolic meaning.
"O, I beseech you," says Joseph Smith, "go forward and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of godliness." It is a commandment.
Why are we to search in the house of God?
Because the temple is dedicated to that purpose, because there we make covenants to be true to what we understand, not just learning out of curiosity but absorbing into our souls what we need to understand. And there we covenant to keep these sacred things sacred.
Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail, "The things of God are of deep import and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind O man if thou wilt lead a soul into salvation must search into and contemplate the darkest abyss and the broad expanse of eternity, thou must commune with God."
The desire to serve is driven by what principle? - Love
There is an intimate, spiritual connection with our ancestors. You can feel it in the temple. You feel it when you read their stories. It is by their sacrifices that we enjoy our freedom today. The sacrifice of the early saints prepared the way, and the men and women of war who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. We are bound to them and them to us. Now, how can we sacrifice to give them freedom? The freedom they never got to enjoy. Perhaps we are here to respond, by serving in the temple and doing for them what they can not do for themselves. We owe them; they sacrificed everything so that we could have all that we have. In the temple soul meets soul, thought meets thought, love meets love.
We do not fully comprehend what a blessing these ordinances are to them. Joseph Smith taught, that at the resurrection, they will fall at the feet of those who have done their work, kiss their feet, embrace their knees, and manifest the most exquisite gratitude.
Do we understand the deepest secret? Joseph taught “The love of family is the deepest secret of all!” Our feelings may surprise us when we reach the other side and all things are brought to our remembrance.
Brother Brigham Young was once approached by two sisters, each of whom wanted a divorce. I paraphrase his response: "If you could only see your husband as he will be in the glorious resurrection, this very husband you now say you despise, your first impulse would be to kneel and worship him." He said the same thing to husbands who had "fallen out of love" with their wives. Those are mighty words.
Who will receive it?
Wilford Woodruff who dedicated the Salt Lake Temple taught that "there will be few if any who will not receive the ordinances of the temple when they are performed for them."
Elder John W. Taylor, while attending the Manti Temple dedication, concluded that only one in ten would refuse the ordinances. He added, "how many who are kept in prison are not ready to come out?"
I’ve heard some say ignorantly; well, their work will all be done in the millennium so we don’t need to worry so much now. They’ve missed the point all together!
Imagine a loved one choking and you have the ability to help them. How long would you let them suffer? How long will we make our ancestors wait in prison? We must seek out this principle of love. This is what the atonement is all about. Love! He suffered for us so we don’t have to. He had the ability and power to save us and he did it.
What does he ask of us in return? Mat 22:36-39
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself
How can we love God and our neighbors in the temple? - By performing their necessary sacred ordinances.
The temple is also the most practical of places. Melvin J. Ballard taught that each one of us should be willing to take to the temple our worst problems, and he was talking about hard, down-to-earth, even physical problems. You pray, you fast. But if you don't get your answer, he said, I'll tell what to do: go to the house of the Lord, and in the silence of those precincts, as you are serving others, the Lord will bless you.
We are promised that in the temple the Lord's name will be put upon us. It means at root that we become his. The answer to "Who am I?" can never be complete unless it answers "Whose am I?" You are the son or daughter of a king. The Father himself. Through the ordinances you are begotten spiritually through his Son. You become heir to his throne.
To receive him fully is to receive the fullness of his atonement. Think about it—the at-one-ment that Jesus Christ wrought by the shedding of his own blood. The atonement was, and is, to enable us to overcome through his grace and healing power three things: Ignorance, sin, and death. The temple is then a matter of life and death.
The temple is many things: a house of faith, a house of study, a house of learning, a house of order, a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of glory. But surrounding all of those, it is a house of love. None of us receives enough love in this world, none of us. We're all in a measure love-starved and love-anxious. The Father and the Son call us to come in the spirit of sacrifice and be surrounded by that holy environment which embraces us in love.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft I would have gathered you, as a hen gathereth her chicks and ye would not."
I testify that temples have been built by the sacrifice of our friends and loved ones to enable us to reach them to be their saviors on Mount Zion. As well to help us reach the deepest part of ourselves. The lord has sacrificed himself for all, and is our savior through his atonement. I testify that in the house of the Lord, he, the Lord himself will manifest himself in mercy and in love and give us the fullness of those blessings we all earnestly yearn for. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.