(This article was adapted from The Pillars of Zion series. To receive your free PDF copies of Portrait of a Zion Person, click here.)
When was the last time you read the oath and covenant of the priesthood? Would it surprise you that this covenant is often called the Covenant of Exaltation? In this four-part series, we will review the priesthood covenant that opens the door to eternal life for both worthy men and worthy women.
Our agreements in the oath and covenant of the priesthood are faithfulness, obtaining the Aaronic Priesthood and Melchizedek Priesthood, and magnifying our calling in the priesthood. Additionally, we agree to receive Christ and his Father and live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Although this discussion applies initially to worthy men, faithful women, as we will see, take part in this covenant with their husbands. Therefore, women should become conversant with priesthood principles.
Our leaders have said that the purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood centers on obtaining eternal life. We receive the priesthood by covenant and with the Father’s immutable oath. Inasmuch as the covenant of baptism is renewed in the covenant of the sacrament, the covenant of the priesthood is renewed in the temple ceremonies. Failure to make the covenant of the priesthood or neglecting to keep the covenant after we have received it brings severe penalties and tragic consequences. But if we are trying to do our best we need not fear; embedded in the covenant is God‘s promise that he will sustain us, help us live the covenant, and bless us with success.
The priesthood comes to us by the Father’s invitation. We are “called by this holy calling,” Alma taught, “and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God.” The Father offers us the priesthood through his authorized servants. That fact alone is evidence that we have been chosen and called by God. Our responsibility is to qualify by becoming worthy of the honor.
The Apostle Paul taught, “No man taketh this honour unto himself but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” And the fifth Article of Faith declares, “We believe 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.”
To be chosen and called of God, to receive his authority, power, and name to speak authoritatively as would God, to have the power to do what God would do, and to act in the capacity of the Savior are honors without equal. That the Father seeks us out, chooses and calls us, and offers us the covenant of the priesthood, and then swears his covenantal promise with an oath are indications of his anxiousness to bestow upon us exalted blessings.
Moreover, by offering us the priesthood, he is furthering his work: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. He knows that the quality of immortality called eternal life can be achieved only by our receiving and living worthily of the oath and covenant of the priesthood. No wonder then that Elder McConkie called the priesthood covenant “the covenant of exaltation.”
The oath and the covenant of the priesthood are set forth in Doctrine and Covenants 84:33-44:
For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; for he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood. Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved. But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come. And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you.
And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
This covenant, like all other covenants, contains if-then clauses: If we fulfill our obligations, then the Father will fulfill his oath-guaranteed! Here are our covenantal promises:
If We Are Faithful . . .
Faithfulness or righteousness is the first promise that we make in the oath and covenant of the priesthood. Abraham is a model of faithfulness; he made himself good so that he could do good. Therefore, he worked to make his righteousness equal to his desire to receive the priesthood.
Righteousness not only qualifies a man to receive this honor, but it also is the principle upon which the priesthood functions: “The rights of the priesthood . . . cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” Without righteousness, “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.
The requirement of righteousness is self-evident. By receiving the priesthood, we receive the Lord‘s name, and therefore we are called to become models of him whose name we bear. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, said President Joseph Fielding Smith, we are commissioned to represent him. We who hold the holy priesthood must live lives and do all things as the Lord would do them if he were personally present. Elder McConkie wrote, “[Melchizedek Priesthood holders] pray and minister in the place and stead of their Master.” That is, we become the hands, arms, and voice of Jesus Christ. For example, Edward Partridge was told by the Lord, “I will lay my hand upon you by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon.” In a similar manner, priesthood holders are the arms of Jesus Christ: “And their arm shall be my arm.” Likewise, the Lord emphasizes his willingness to support us when we, through the priesthood, minister in his name and thus become his voice: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
Clearly, faithfulness empowers us to fulfill our priesthood commission. That is essential. While priesthood authority is conferred upon us at the time of ordination, priesthood power comes only when priesthood authority is exercised in righteousness. Being good precedes doing good.
If We Obtain the Aaronic and the Melchizedek Priesthoods . . .
Following the requirement of righteousness is the requirement of receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek orders of the priesthood. Both of these two orders of the priesthood are received by covenant, but only the Melchizedek Priesthood is received with the Father’s oath. The covenant regarding the Aaronic Priesthood is that we promise to forsake the world, magnify our calling, minister to God‘s children by preaching, teaching, and giving service, and by obeying God’s commandments. In return, the Lord promises to magnify us in the Aaronic Priesthood and to prepare us in every way to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. This is the covenant of the Aaronic or preparatory priesthood.
The covenant regarding the Melchizedek Priesthood is that we promise to live faithfully to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods’ covenants, magnify our calling, obey the commandments, be an example of Jesus Christ, serve as the Lord would serve, “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 84:44), and marry in the temple for time and eternity. In return, the Father promises us with an oath that he will give us all that he has, which by definition is eternal life. This is the Lord’s promise of exaltation, godhood, eternal marriage, and endless posterity.
We receive these two priesthoods for various common and some diverse reasons. For example, both priesthoods carry the responsibilities of preaching, teaching, expounding, exhorting, and, in the case of Aaronic Priesthood priests, the responsibilities of baptizing and administering the sacrament-these by delegation of the apostles. Both priesthoods carry the responsibilities of inviting all people to come unto Christ, and to watch over the Church by visiting, exhorting, and strengthening the members. But only the Melchizedek Priesthood “confirm[s] the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost; and to take the lead of all meetings.”
The Aaronic Priesthood holds “the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.” This priesthood has the power to prepare us, or a person to whom we are ministering, for the higher, exalting ordinances of the gospel. Both priesthoods are received for the purposes of personal salvation and the salvation of others: “for your sake, and not for your sake only, but for the sake of the whole world.”
The scripture reads, “[the Melchizedek Priesthood] administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.” That is, the high priesthood has two grand purposes: (1) to administer the gospel, meaning to preside, and to administer the covenants and ordinances of salvation; and (2) to stand in the presence of God, and receive personal revelation directly from him. “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness [i.e., the power to become Godlike] is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; for without this [the power to become Godlike] no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”
Moreover, the high priesthood is the “power and authority of God” that allows us “to minister to other beings to bring about their happiness.” The high priesthood is the power to become saviors on Mount Zion for both the living and the dead, and to receive and administer the blessings of “endless lives.”
In the next part of this series, we will discuss magnifying one’s priesthood calling, which differs from callings in the priesthood.
This article was adapted from The Pillars of Zion series. To receive your free PDF copies of Portrait of a Zion Person, click here. Would you like to help our Internet missionary project? Click here: www.gospelideals.org. And LIKE us at www.facebook.com/gospelideals.
 McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 312-13.
 D&C 84:33.
 Eyring, “Faith and the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” 61-64.
 Alma 13:6.
 Hebrews 5:4.
 Articles of Faith 1:5.
 Moses 1:39.
 McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 312-13.
 Abraham 1:2.
 D&C 121:36-37.
 Abraham 1:18.
 Smith, “Our Responsibility As Priesthood Holders,” 49.
 McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 379.
 D&C 36:2; emphasis added.
 D&C 35:14.
 D&C 1:38; emphasis added.
 Nelson, “Personal Priesthood Responsibility,” 44; emphasis added.
 We note here that the Melchizedek Priesthood encompasses the Aaronic Priesthood. If a man is ordained only to the Melchizedek Priesthood, it is correct to understand that he can also function in the Aaronic Priesthood and enjoy those blessings.
 McConkie, “The Doctrine of the Priesthood,” 32; D&C 131:1-4.
 McConkie, “The Doctrine of the Priesthood,” 32; D&C 131:1-4.
 D&C 20:38-39, 40.
 D&C 20:44. Note: Priests may take the lead in meetings in the absence of an elder (see D&C 20:49).
 D&C 107:20.
 D&C 84:48.
 D&C 84:19.
 D&C 84:20-22.
 Riddle, “The New and Everlasting Covenant,” 231.
 Obadiah 1:21.
 Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 322.