From the organization of the Church to the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith was the period of laying the foundation of the work of God. In a revelation given to the Prophet Brigham Young the Lord explained that Joseph laid the foundation for the work of God:
Therefore, marvel not at these things, for ye are not yet pure; ye can not yet bear my glory; but ye shall behold it if ye are faithful in keeping all my words that I have given you, from the days of Adam to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Jesus and his apostles, and from Jesus and his apostles to Joseph Smith, whom I did call upon by mine angels, my ministering servants, and by mine own voice out of the heavens, to bring forth my work;
Which foundation he did lay, and was faithful; and I took him to myself. (D&C 136:37-38)
The last years of the Prophet’s life in Nauvoo finalized the laying of the foundation of the work of God. The Nauvoo period was like the last phase of putting a 500 piece puzzle together without the aid of the picture on the box top. There were many segments of the gospel that had been revealed, but they did not yet all fit together. The gospel picture began to develop just as several people working on different portions of a puzzle and large segments begin to develop, then at the very end they all fit together making a beautiful picture. So far the saints had bits and pieces of the plan of salvation by way of revelation and ordinances. However, in Nauvoo they all started to fit together into a beautiful eternal picture. The doctrinal picture of the eternal nature of man, the family, the earth, Zion, and God was completed in Nauvoo.
Some of the important doctrines and ordinances introduced during the Nauvoo period will be reviewed in the remainder of this article.
The Kirtland Temple served as an introductory temple where the Lord revealed important keys and introduced a minimal endowment which could be likened to the initiatory work done in the temples today. This ordinance was only given to the men and not their wives. However, in Nauvoo the Lord introduced the full endowment as we know it today. The Prophet feared that he might died before the Nauvoo temple was completed, so he introduce the endowment to several men in the upper room of his store in Nauvoo. After the Prophet had introduced the full endowment he recorded the following in his journal:
Wednesday, 4.-I spent the day in the upper part of the store, that is in my private office * * * in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation. (May 4, 1842.) 1
Here the Prophet explains that the ancient order has now been instituted in the last days. It is in the endowment that we learn the sacred and Holy Order of the Son of God and that our progression is absolutely dependent on the Atonement of Christ. From the endowment it is understood that we progress because of our willingness to covenant, to keep the commandments, to establish the kingdom of God on the earth, and to build Zion.
The Fullness of the Priesthood
The Lord promised the Prophet that he would reveal to him the fullness of the priesthood, “For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood” (D&C 124:28). The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the fullness of the priesthood as follows:
Those holding the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood are kings and priests of the Most High God, holding the keys of power and blessings. In fact, that Priesthood is a perfect law of theocracy, and stands as God to give laws to the people, administering endless lives to the sons and daughters of Adam. 2
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said this about the fullness of the Priesthood:
Holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood have power to press forward in righteousness, living by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God, magnifying their callings, going from grace to grace, until through the fulness of the ordinances of the temple they receive the fulness of the priesthood and are ordained kings and priests. Those so attaining shall have exaltation and be kings, priests, rulers, and lords in their respective spheres in the eternal kingdoms of the great King who is God our Father.” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 425.) Those of whom John is here writing had already gained their rank and status as kings and priests, as have many also in the dispensation of the fulness of times. “John said he was a king. (Teachings, p. 375.) 3
President Ezra Taft Benson taught the following about the fullness of the priesthood:
When our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God.
To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.
Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, “Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moses 6:67.) 4
The Lord let the saints know that this ordinance was coming early in the history of the Church.
In the revelation known as “The Vision” the Lord explains the requirements to enter into the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom:
And again we bear record–for we saw and heard, and this is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just-
They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given-
That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;
And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.
They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.
They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things–
They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;(emphasis added)
And are 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 76:50-57)
The Prophet felt that once the fullness of the priesthood had been restored all the powers of earth and hell could never prevail against it. 5
Eternal Marriage and Eternal Increase
It was in Nauvoo that the doctrine of eternal marriage began to be clearly taught to the most faithful of the saints. The sealing powers revealed to the Prophet in the Kirtland Temple are now used to seal husbands and wives together forever. Under these circumstances the eternal couple can now continue by having eternal increase (posterity) in the world to come. Two scriptures best portray these conditions:
In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase. (D&C 131:1-4)
And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones, or principalities, or powers, or things of name, whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.
For whatsoever things remain are by me; and whatsoever things are not by me shall be shaken and destroyed.
Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.
Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.
For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. (D&C 132:13-17)
From these scriptures it is understood that those who are married eternally become like God and have an eternal kingdom with eternal increase.
Man Can Become a God and Man is Eternal in His Nature
One of the first doctrines lost in an apostasy is the doctrine of pre-earth life. One can easily see why Satan would want this doctrine gone. If man does not understand that he is as eternal as God is then it would be impossible for man to believe that he could become like God. God would be eternal in his nature and man would be finite, and never the twain would meet. It would defy logic to teach that a finite being could ever become infinite. In the “King Follett Discourse”, delivered at the April 1844 General Conference, the Prophet beautifully wove these two doctrines together. The following are excerpts from the “King Follett Discourse” showing how the prophet approached this subject:
We Must Comprehend God to Comprehend Ourselves
If a man learns nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep, and does not comprehend any of the designs of God, the beast comprehends the same things. It eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, unless we are able to comprehend by the inspiration of Almighty God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into a more lofty sphere and a more exalted understanding than what the human mind generally aspires to.
God Was Once as We Are
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,-I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form-like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.
Learn How God Came to Be God
In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see.
God was Once a Man Like Us
These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. 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, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.
Learn How to Become Gods Ourselves
Here, then, is eternal life-to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me.
To be a Joint Heir With God and Christ is to Become What They Are
These are the first principles of consolation. How consoling to the mourners when they are called to part with a husband, wife, father, mother, child, or dear relative, to know that, although the earthly tabernacle is laid down and dissolved, they shall rise again to dwell in everlasting burnings in immortal glory, not to sorrow, suffer, or die any more; but they shall be heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. What is it? To inherit the same power, the same glory and the same exaltation, until you arrive at the station of a God, and ascend the throne of eternal power, the same as those who have gone before. What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds come rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children. It is plain beyond disputation, and you thus learn some of the first principles of the Gospel, about which so much hath been said.
God Did Not Create the Mind of Man
I have another subject to dwell upon, which is calculated to exalt man; but it is impossible for me to say much on this subject. I shall therefore just touch upon it, for time will not permit me to say all. It is associated with the subject of the resurrection of the dead,-namely, the soul-the mind of man-the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don’t believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. I will make a man appear a fool before I get through; if he does not believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.
Man is a Self-existing Being
We say that God himself is a self-existent being. Who told you so? It is correct enough; but how did it get into you heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. God made a tabernacle and put a spirit into it, and it became a living soul. (Refers to the old Bible.) How does it read in the Hebrew? It does not say in the Hebrew that God created the spirit of man. It says “God made man out of the earth and put into him Adam’s spirit, and so became a living body.”
Man is Co-eternal with God
The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal (co-eternal) with God himself. Know that my testimony is true; hence, when I talk to these mourners, what have they lost? Their relatives and friends are only separated from their bodies for a short season: their spirits which existed with God have left the tabernacle of clay only for a little moment, as it were; and they now exist in a place where they converse together the same as we do on the earth.
That Which Has a Beginning May Have an End
I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.
One Eternal Round
I want to reason more on the spirit of man; for I am dwelling on the body and spirit of man-on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man-the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.
There is no Creation of Intelligence
Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement. 6
Nauvoo was an intense period both organizationally and doctrinally. By the time the Prophet was martyred the Lord had left standing sufficient knowledge so that man understood his beginning and divine potential. He left an organization and keys so that the Church could move forward and administer the ordinances and doctrines with confidence. The saints now knew the purpose of marriage and family on the eternal scale. They had been given the seed of understanding of their divine eternal nature from pre-earth life and their divine potential to become like God. The Prophet revealed the doctrine fast and furious and it would take years for the saints to sort through the Prophets teachings and to organize them into a coherent structure for the saints to understand and absorb. The saints would now view man, God, marriage, and eternity in an entirely different perspective from the rest of the religious organizations then existing.
The saints view the earth and the future Celestial Kingdom that they will inherit eternally with their families (D&C 38:17-20; 88:17-20). It is important for the true followers of Christ to make a connection between their love for their families and their love for establishing Zion. Zion is the name of the project that helps turn the earth into the Celestial Kingdom. Those who help with the project will inherit the earth with their families that they love. Those who refuse to consecrate and build Zion will be shocked when they find no inheritance and will be cut off with weeping and wailing (D&C 85:1-5, 9). All who have been to the temple know how serious the Lord is about building Zion. Marriage, the family, the Celestialization of the earth and godhood now fit together into one cohesive unit.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
The cause of God is one common cause, in which the Saints are alike all interested; we are all members of the one common body, and all partake of the same spirit, and are baptized into one baptism and possess alike the same glorious hope. The advancement of the cause of God and the building up of Zion is as much one man’s business as another’s. The only difference is, that one is called to fulfill one duty, and another, another duty; “but if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and if one member is honored all the rest rejoice with it, and the eye cannot say to the ear, I have no need of thee, nor the head to the foot, I have no need of thee;” party feelings, separate interests, exclusive designs should be lost sight of in the one common cause, in the interest of the whole.
The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory, “the dispensation of the fulness of times, when God will gather together all things that are in heaven, and all things that are upon the earth,” “even in one,” when the Saints of God will be gathered in one from every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue, when the Jews will be gathered together into one, the wicked will also be gathered together to be destroyed, as spoken of by the prophets; the Spirit of God will also dwell with His people, and be withdrawn from the rest of the nations, and all things whether in heaven or on earth will be in one, even in Christ. The heavenly Priesthood will unite with the earthly, to bring about those great purposes; and whilst we are thus united in one common cause, to roll forth the kingdom of God, the heavenly Priesthood are not idle spectators, the Spirit of God will be showered down from above, and it will dwell in our midst. The blessings of the Most High will rest upon our tabernacles, and our name will be handed down to future ages; our children will rise up and call us blessed; and generations yet unborn will dwell with peculiar delight upon the scenes that we have passed through, the privations that we have endured; the untiring zeal that we have manifested; the all but insurmountable difficulties that we have overcome in laying the foundation of a work that brought about the glory and blessing which they will realize; a work that God and angels have contemplated with delight for generations past; that fired the souls of the ancient patriarchs and prophets; a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family. (emphasis added) (May 2, 1842.) 7
1. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 237.
2. Ibid p. 322.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 3: 437.
4. Ezra Taft Benson, “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 8
5. “One of the major milestones, if not the major milestone, of the Latter-day work was to be the restoration of the fulness of the priesthood (D&C 124:28). The Prophet’s “mission…[was to] firmly [establish] the dispensation of the fullness of the priesthood in the last days, that all the powers of earth and hell [could] never prevail against it” (History of the Church, 5:140, or Teachings, p. 258).”
6. Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, compiled and edited by Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980], 305 – 306.
7. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 343-354.
8. Ibid p. 231-232
About the Author
Robert J. Norman was born and raised in Fresno, California. He married the former Carol Anderson. They are the parents of six children (3 sons, 3 daughters). He received his bachelors degree from Fresno State College and his masters and doctorate from Brigham Young University. Brother Norman has served in various Church callings including three stake presidencies and as president of the New Hampshire Manchester Mission from July 1992 to July 1995. He has been with the Church Education System since 1967. He is currently teaching at the L.D.S. Institute adjacent to the University of Utah.