[Editor: This is the sixth article in a series of excerpts from Jeffrey M. Bradshaw’s new book, entitled “Temple Themes in the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood.” Links to the full series are found at the end of this article. Color and black-and-white editions of the book are available on Amazon.com and at selected LDS Bookstores (including EbornBooks, BYU Bookstore, and the FAIR LDS Bookstore). An iBooks version is can be purchased from the Apple iBookstore, and a pdf version is available at www.templethemes.net]
… 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 anyone is enabled to secure the fulness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Elohim in the eternal worlds.
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being able to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.
Although this statement is frequently quoted in official Church publications, the reference to “key words, the signs and tokens” is not explained. The sacred nature of these things prohibits any discussion of specific symbolism. However, it may be helpful for the modern reader to understand the general meaning of these terms in related contexts, which would have been much more familiar to those in Joseph Smith’s time than they are in our day.
Before continuing, we observe that what matters in such tests for knowledge is not merely the requirement to remember the details of the instructions one has received, but, in addition, the expectation that one be sincerely engaged in the process of mastering the life lessons associated with them. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us that, in the day of final judgment, it will not be enough to merely have gone through the outward motions of keeping the commandments and receiving the ordinances—the essential question will be what we have ourselves become during our period of probation.
Hugh Nibley further elaborates, explaining that, for the same reason, the saving ordinances, as necessary as they are, in and of themselves “are mere forms. They do not exalt us; they merely prepare us to be ready in case we ever become eligible.”In the end, our eligibility for entrance into the presence of God rests not only on the presumption that we have received the saving ordinances, but also on the results of the process of sanctification, being predicated on the righteous exercise of agency coupled with the atoning power of Jesus Christ.
“Key words ”have been associated with temples since very ancient times. Throughout the ancient Near East, including Jerusalem, “different temple gates had names indicating the blessing received when entering: ‘the gate of grace,’ ‘the gate of salvation,’ ‘the gate of life’ and so on,” as well as signifying “the fitness, through due preparation, which entrants should have in order to pass through [each one of] the gates.”
Nibley further explained: “The importance of knowing the names of things and giving those names when challenged is more than the mere idea of the password; it is… nothing less than… ‘the law which makes of the name a veritable attribute of the thing named.’” In other words, to pass through each gate, one was expected not only to know something, but also to be something.
This same principle is at work in the sacrament prayer, where the Saints learn that they must not only “always remember” and be “willing to take upon [themselves] the name of Jesus Christ,” but, in addition, must ultimately become ready to doso in actuality if they are to receive every blessing to which they are entitled.
Each one who enters the celestial kingdom will receive a “white stone, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” The “white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17 will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known,” just as the earth will become to its inhabitants “a Urim and Thummim… whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest.”
Thus, by the same means that reveals to the saints what they are to become in “life eternal” through knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, they will also recover a knowledge of who they were before the world was.
In ancient times, the name of the Lord was invoked in as part of covenant-making. Indeed, Truman G. Madsen proposes that the idea that the “proper use of the name YHWH constitutes a covenant between Israel and her God” may be the reason behind the third of the Ten Commandments. Thus, the commandment that one must not take the name of the Lord in vain is concerned with more than common profanity. More profoundly, it applies to those who do not keep the covenants by which they have bound themselves to God, thereby making a mockery of the One whose name was invoked at their making.
In Jerusalem, the final “gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter,” very likely referred to “the innermost temple gate,” where those “seeking the face of the God of Jacob” would find the fulfillment of their temple pilgrimage.