What must one do to qualify for the rights belonging to the Priesthood?
Priesthood authority becomes priesthood power on the criterion of righteousness. Then the vast body of priesthood rights are released; then the gifts of the Spirit begin to flow; then eternal life comes into view.
The Lord boils everything down to a single lesson, and we must learn that lesson if we hope that the priesthood will become a power and remain functional within us. The lesson is “that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”[i]
The priesthood “rights” that the Lord mentions are not “rites,” that is, those sacred ordinances and ceremonies necessary for salvation. Rather, these “rights” are privileges that flow from recognizing the source of priesthood power. This power can be accessed only by obedience to the laws of heaven where the power originates; this power comes by magnifying our priesthood calling and by living a life distinguished by persuasion rather than force, long-suffering rather than impatience, gentleness rather than harshness, meekness rather than pride, love unfeigned (not pretended or insincere) rather than contrived, and kindness rather than abusiveness.
Clearly, the priesthood is a lifestyle. The scripture states that if we will assume the true lifestyle of the priesthood, the Holy Ghost will distil upon us pure knowledge. It is pure knowledge that has the effect of aligning us, sincerely and with no devious motive, with the character of God.
The Right to Reprove for the Purpose of Salvation
Now we are in a position to have the right to the rights of the priesthood. One of those priesthood rights is the right to occasionally correct people for whom we have stewardships. We exercise that priesthood right by “reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”[ii]
Notice that this right guarantees us the companionship of the Holy Ghost in our stewardships. The influence of the Holy Ghost makes interactions with those in our stewardships experiences of love rather than experiences of discouragement and embarrassment. By exercising this right of the priesthood in occasional loving correction, we will help to increase faith, hope, and repentance in the corrected person. Then our relationship with that person will be strengthened, and we will come to be known by the hallmark priesthood characteristics of virtue and charity.[iii] So it is with all priesthood rights, which have the power to establish Zion in our lives.
“Inseparably Connected”-Righteousness and Priesthood Power
We need only scan the scriptures to glimpse the power of these priesthood rights. For example, these rights have the power to create and control the elements, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cast out evil spirits, to teach with the tongue of angels, to know the truth of all things, and to stand in the presence of God.
Before we can obtain these rights, as we have mentioned, we must first align our lives with the characteristics of God and the laws of heaven by which these rights are governed. If we should step away from this pattern, we risk severing the cord that binds us to the source of priesthood power. Again, the scripture reads “that the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”[iv]
If we are not experiencing the powers of heaven that flow from these priesthood rights, we might profit by first looking inward and realigning our lives with the Constitution of the Priesthood. Then we must repair the connection between heaven and us.
It should be clear by now that priesthood authority and priesthood power are distinct terms. Priesthood authority is granted upon ordination, but priesthood power is dependent upon our righteousness.[v] There are causes and effects at play. Unrighteous dominion is the ugly consequence of our undertaking to cover our sins, gratify our pride or vain ambitions, or to exercise control or compulsion upon other people in any degree of unrighteousness. Even the slightest inclination toward these evils results in priesthood cessation: “Behold, 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.”[vi] Of course, when the heavens withdraw, we can repent and the power of the priesthood will be restored.
Clearly, the priesthood is a way of life that Zion people follow. Taking upon us the oath and covenant of the priesthood demands that we separate from the philosophies of Babylon and exercise strict obedience to the laws that govern God‘s power. Thus, to the degree that we exhibit righteousness, we place ourselves in a position to have access to the “rights of the priesthood.”
Connecting to the True Vine
To access priesthood power through the rights of the priesthood is to be attached to the True Vine. Before his crucifixion, Jesus taught his apostles concerning their priesthood calling, which he said, they could not magnify without remaining connected to him. He called himself the True Vine, and he delineated them the branches. We must never lose sight of the fact that these men were priesthood holders, and they were receiving a significant priesthood lesson from the Master about the rights of the priesthood. Jesus taught:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every [branch] that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast [them] into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.[vii]
This metaphor has a variety of applications. For instance, a man who sanctifies himself has greater power in the priesthood than a man who does not; a man or woman who sanctifies himself or herself by honoring his or her temple covenants has greater power to ask for and receive blessings than a man or woman who does not; a husband and wife who sanctify themselves in the patriarchal order of the priesthood have greater power to bless their family than a couple who does not.
We, the branches, grow from the True Vine and draw our nourishment from it. We note with interest that in Jesus‘ metaphor the branches are already producing, but the Husbandman (the Father) wants them to produce more. Personalizing this, we might say that through ordination we received priesthood authority and are “producing” to a degree, but the Father wants to seek priesthood power through righteousness so that we can produce more.
To that end, God (the Husbandman) begins to prune-to “purge and purify”-us. We, the branches, must endure this purging and purifying process if we hope to gain greater strength in the priesthood and produce more fruit. To that end, the Husbandman cuts from us, the branches, anything that depletes our strength, and he carefully directs the process of growth so that we, the branches, can perform optimally.
For a while we, the branches, might look (and probably feel) pitiful and barren. We might not produce much fruit for a season. But the Husbandman knows that in time the purging and purifying procedure will cause us, the branches, to bring forth more than we have or ever could. Therefore, enduring the Husbandman’s purging process and remaining attached to Christ, the True Vine, are key elements in obtaining the rights and power of the priesthood.
Christ‘s promise is this: As long as we, the branches, remain in him and he in us, our nourishment and strength will never fail. “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”[viii] Think of the implications! To the degree that we are in him and he is in us, and to the degree that we submit to the Father’s process of purification and sanctification, the Lord promises us that we may draw strength from the True Vine, ask for priesthood power, and receive the blessings associated with the priesthood rights.
Amen to the Priesthood
Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”[ix] We should note here that no one could authoritatively utter the name of the Lord except those on whom the Lord has placed his name[x]-Melchizedek Priesthood holders.
It should go without saying, however, that just because we have been ordained to the priesthood and are going through the motions does not necessarily mean that we have or are doing so with power. As we have learned, by our actions we can sever ourselves from priesthood rights and power in the same way we can sever ourselves from the True Vine. Then priesthood power comes to an abrupt amen.
Hugh Nibley wrote, “Men can confer the powers of the priesthood upon others, it is true (D&C 121:37), but only God can validate that ordination, which in most cases he does not recognize: Hence many are called, but few are chosen’ (D&C 121:40). . . . The exercise of the powers of heaven in any degree of unrighteousness’ invalidates the priesthood-Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man’ (D&C 121:37). . . . The moment I even think of my priesthood as a status symbol or a mark of superiority, it becomes a mere hollow pretense. At the slightest hint of gloating or self-congratulation, the priesthood holder is instantly and automatically unfrocked.”[xi]
President John Taylor taught, “Do you think that God will give power to any man only to carry out his own contracted or selfish purposes? I tell you he never will, never, no never. . . . There is no priesthood of the Son of God that authorizes one man to oppress another or to intrude upon his rights in any way. There is no such thing in the category; it does not exist.”[xii]
The consequences for the poor conduct mentioned in the Constitution of the Priesthood (D&C 121:34-46) are dire: “behold, 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.”[xiii]
And it gets worse!
When the Spirit of the Lord withdraws from a man, “ere he is aware,” that is, before he even notices, he will be “left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.”[xiv] Thus, as if in a spiraling downward circle, that unrepentant man will become increasingly irritated with pure doctrine, he will find fault with those who remain true, and soon he will find himself powerless and on the outside, fighting against the God whom he had once purported to love and serve. It is a sad circumstance, the scripture says, but nevertheless it is “the nature and disposition of almost all men”-the many who are called-“as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen.”[xv]
An official statement from the First Presidency appeared in 1961:
It is the doctrine that those who hold this power and authority will be chosen for an inheritance of eternal life if they exercise their priesthood upon principles of righteousness; if they walk in the light; if they keep the commandments; if they put first in their lives the things of God‘s kingdom and let temporal concerns take a secondary place; if they serve in the kingdom with an eye single to the glory of God.
It is the doctrine that even though men have the rights of the priesthood conferred upon them, they shall not reap its eternal blessings if they use it for unrighteous purposes; if they commit sin; if the things of this world take preeminence in their lives over the things of the Spirit. It is a fearful thing to contemplate this priesthood truth: Behold, many are called to the priesthood, and few are chosen for eternal life.[xvi]
In an effort to call us away from danger and lift our sights to the glorious “rights of the priesthood,” Elder Charles W. Penrose said,
If we would only live up to the things that He has revealed to us; if we would be as pure and virtuous, and honest and upright, and conscientious and patient, and long-suffering and charitable as we are commanded to be in the revelations the Lord has given unto us in these latter times, we would be better prepared for the great things yet to be unfolded. . . . For we are called with a holy calling, and if we do not live up to our professions, it were better we had never made them.
Let us return to the Lord, and the Lord will return to us; his Spirit will be manifested in our midst to a still greater degree, and His gifts and blessings will abound. Our sick will be healed as in times past. We have seen the sick healed instantaneously. The lame have been made to walk, the dumb to speak, the blind to see and the deaf to hear, by the power of God through the administrations of the servants of God. The gifts of tongues, prophecy, dreams, faith, discernment, and every gift and blessing spoken of in the Bible.[xvii]
This article was adapted from the Pillars of Zion series. Click here to receive a free PDF copy of the first book. Follow our Internet missionary project: www.gospelideals.org. And LIKE us at www.facebook.com/gospelideals.
[i] D&C 121:36.
[ii] D&C 121:43.
[iii] D&C 121:41-45.
[iv] D&C 121:36.
[v] Nelson, “Personal Priesthood Responsibility,” 44.
[vi] D&C 121:37; emphasis added.
[vii] John 15:1-8.
[viii] John 15:8.
[ix] 3 Nephi 14:21; Matthew 7:21.
[x] Abraham 1:18.
[xi] Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, 535-36.
[xii] Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 20:262-63.
[xiii] D&C 121:37.
[xiv] D&C 121:38.
[xv] D&C 121:34-40.
[xvi] First Presidency Message, Improvement Era, Feb. 1961, 115.
[xvii] Penrose, Journal of Discourses, 20:297-98; emphasis added.