Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord

This is the temple chapter for the Ezra Taft Benson manual. The life section focuses on the example of temple-going that his parents set for him. Section one focuses on all the wonderful things that temples stand for and can remind us of. Section two focuses on the relationship between the temple ordinances, receiving the fulness of the priesthood, and exaltation by referring to several scriptures about Adam’s life. Section three focuses on the blessings gained through temple attendance. Section four deals with encouraging members to do temple work for deceased individuals. Section five focuses on teaching children about the temple so that they will be excited to go. Section six focuses on returning to the temple over and over to gain a better understanding of the ordinances and increase our flow of revelation.

Logan, Utah Temple

Logan, Utah Temple

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“High on the Mountain Top” (Hymns #5 and #333)

“What Was Witnessed in the Heavens” (Hymns #11)

“Rise, Ye Saints, and Temple Enter” (Hymns #287)

“Turn Your Hearts” (Hymns #291)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns #300)

Videos

“Strength Beyond My Own”

“Time Well Spent”

“Temples Are a Beacon”

“Endowed With Power”

“Why Mormons Build Temples”

Object Lessons

Get two envelopes; put a picture of the temple on one envelope. Put cut-outs (paper dolls? magazine people?) of family members in each envelope. Seal shut the envelope with the temple picture. All the while, talk about the one family going to the temple and the other not going. Then dump both envelopes containing families upside down. The family in the envelope that was not sealed will fall out all over the place. The family in the sealed envelope, will be all together.[1]

Have a talent contest to see who can comb their hair without bending their elbows or talk on a cell phone without touching it? Ask two sisters to eat a candy bar without bending their elbows. What’s the punch line? It can’t be done, unless they help each other. Our ancestors need us as much as we needed them. Together, we save each other.[2]

Further Reading

David A. Bednar: “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” CR, October 2011

Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012

Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” CR, April 2014

First Presidency Letter: Names Submitted for Temple Ordinances

Terryl L. Givens: “The Heavenly Logic of Proxy Baptism”

Terryl L. Givens: Latter-day Saint Temples in Context: Restoration, Romanticism, Anthropology and Passibility

Quotes

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Temples are an unyielding witness that goodness will prevail. President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), First Counselor in the First Presidency, once said, “Every foundation stone that is laid for a Temple, and every Temple completed … lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness.”

While each temple increases the influence of righteousness in the earth, the greatest blessings, of course, come to those who actually attend the temple. There we receive further light and knowledge and make solemn covenants that, if followed, help us walk in the path of discipleship. In short, the temple teaches us about the sacred purpose of life and helps us get our true physical and spiritual bearings.[3]

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley: The Lord has made it possible for us in these holy houses to receive our own [ordinances]. Then we have the opportunity and responsibility of extending these same blessings to those who have passed on without the privilege. But in the very process there comes into our own lives a refinement of character, together with increased spirituality. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that although many on the other side may not receive the ordinances done for them here, those who perform these ordinances will be blessed in the very process of doing so.[4]

I hope that everyone gets to the temple on a regular basis. . . . If we are a temple-going people, we will be a better people, we will be better fathers and husbands, we will be better wives and mothers. I know your lives are busy. I know that you have much to do. But I make you a promise that if you will go to the House of the Lord, you will be blessed; life will be better for you. Now, please, please, my beloved brothers and sisters, avail yourselves of the great opportunity to go to the Lord’s house and thereby partake of all the marvelous blessings that are yours to be received there.[5]

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith: The greatest responsibility resting upon us is to look after our dead.— they without us cannot be made perfect.[6]

2007-04-1040-elder-richard-g-scott-590x332-ldsorg-articleRichard G. Scott: Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost….

Father in Heaven wants each of us to receive both parts of the blessing of this vital vicarious work. He has led others to show us how to qualify. It is up to you and me to claim those blessings.

Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received.[7]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts: While the Gospel is preached in the spirit world, it appears from all that can be learned upon the subject, that all the outward ordinances, such as baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, anointings, sealings, etc., etc., must be performed vicariously here upon the earth for those who accept the Gospel in the world of spirits. This is the work that children may do for their progenitors, and upon learning this, the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers; and the fathers in the spirit world, learning that they are dependent upon the actions of the posterity for the performance of the ordinances of salvation, their hearts are turned to the children; and thus the work that was predicted should be performed by Elijah—turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children—was accomplished in restoring the keys of knowledge respecting the salvation for the dead.[8]

John A. Widtsoe

John A. Widtsoe

John A Widtose: It is a great promise that to the temples God will come, and that in them man shall see God. What does this promised communion mean? Does it mean that once in a while God may come into the temples, and that once in a while the pure in heart may see God there; or does it mean the larger thing, that the pure in heart who go into the temples, may, there, by the Spirit of God, always have a wonderfully rich communion with God? I think that is what it means to me and to you and to most of us. We have gone into these holy houses, with our minds freed from the ordinary earthly cares, and have literally felt the presence of God. In this way, the temples are always places where God manifests himself to man and increases his intelligence. A temple is a place of revelation.[9]

Come Unto Christ

In the manual, President Benson is quoted as teaching that “The temple ceremony was given by a wise Heavenly Father to help us become more Christlike.” There are several ways in which I can see that that works. First, going to the temple is one way to follow Christ’s example. I know that LDS temples today are not exactly the same as the Jewish temple of Christ’s time, but it is still significant that the Christ went to that sacred ground often. Many of the stories of his time in Jerusalem center on experiences and teachings in the temple. He cleansed the temple because “the zeal of thine [God’s] house hat eaten me up.” (John 2:17.) When He came to visit the Nephites, it was at the temple in the land Bountiful. So, in a way, Christ could be said to be a frequent temple attender.

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Second, the ordinances of the temple point to Christ. It is not my place to reveal too much about the ordinances since, as Elder Steven Snow once said, “We hold those things sacred, and we don’t feel that that should be talked about, and we feel that’s blasphemous when others have published that material online.”[10]  The ordinances do, however, relate the significance in the Atonement by outlining the context of that sacrifice in the Plan of Salvation, and driving home the significance of the Atonement in our lives through symbolism and imagery. As Bruce L. Olsen said at the San Diego Temple on one occasion, “the Savior and His atonement are found on every turn in the temple and are the foundation of each ordinance.”[11] One pamphlet from a temple open house also states that, “Everything done in the temple . . . is done in the name of Jesus Christ because the Savior and His atoning sacrifice make possible every hope and blessing of the temple,” and that the endowment features “the central role of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of all God’s children.”[12]

Third, the temple teaches to live the kind of life that Christ lives. At the heart of saving ordinances are covenants that bind us to live commandments that bring us closer to God. In the temple, we “make sacred promises of honesty, chastity, and service to God and to others” which “become anchors of stability in daily living and pathways to God’s eternal blessings.”[13]  These covenants are a way in which the Lord tutors us “step-by-step . . . to become like Him.”[14] Again this is reinforced by some of the imagery and symbolism of the temple ceremonies. Hugh Nibley pointed out parallels in early Christian writings about washings and anointings: “[The washing] is followed by an anointing, which our guide [Cyril] calls ‘the antitype of the anointing of Christ himself,’ making every candidate as it were a Messiah. . . . Furthermore, the candidate was reminded that the whole ordinance ‘is an imitation of the sufferings of Christ,’ in which ‘we suffer without pain by mere imitation his receiving of the nails in his hands and feet: the antitype of Christ’s sufferings.’”[15] The main focus of this part of temple ordinances is not to literally become Christs, but to help us remember to live Christ-like lives and take part in the Divine attributes.

There is much in temple work to turn our minds to Christ and to help us to follow His example in our daily lives.

San Diego Temple

San Diego Temple

A Deeper Look

Recently, I’ve seen a small uproar in the Mormon community over the potential portrayal of a Mormon character in a TV series. What has been the biggest concern is that the character is to be introduced in a scene where he is seen in temple garments the whole time. We as Latter-day Saints tend to keep quiet about the specifics of temple worship because they are sacred to us, and such a portrayal is a violation of the sacred. Such secrecy on the parts of Mormons, however tends to lead towards concerns by those not of our faith, since silence is often linked to the sinister. If they don’t want it known, it might be reasoned, it must be because it is too terrible for potential recruits or outsiders to know about. I have heard people worry about animal sacrifices, sexual content, covenants to do harm to non-Mormons or overthrow the US government,[16] blood oaths to not reveal temple information on pains of gruesome deaths,[17] and so on. In response, many Mormons have adopted the mantra, “sacred, not secret,” emphasizing that we keep quite because of the sacred nature of the covenants, but that anyone can partake in them once they are in a position to understand the ceremonies as a sacred experience in proper context (i.e. as faithful members of the Church). They do not have the same meaning and power outside of proper context and for those who do not view them as sacred.

There is value in this approach. It is a way to teach that the temple rites are not sinister, just something we want to keep apart from the world. Recently, however, I read some writings by Richard L. Bushman (an eminent Mormon historian) that achieves that same end by turning the phrase “sacred, not secret” on its head, which I thought I would share. He wrote:

With remarkable skill, Joseph Smith and his successors adopted practices that set these buildings apart from all other spaces. They achieved a separation of the sacred from the profane like the one that like the one that Mircea Eliade sees as the point of every church in the modern city.

“For a believer, the church shares in a different space from the street in which it stands. The door that opens on the interior of the church actually signifies a dissolution of continuity. The threshold that separates the two spaces also indicates the distance between two modes of being, the profane and the religious. The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes to worlds—and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.”

Before the Manhattan temple was completed in 2003, a few score people were allowed to walk through the rooms. The spaces were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames and trim still missing. Carpets were not laid, no paintings were on the walls, scaffolding was still up. And yet these observers, dressed in their Sunday best as instructed, walked in silence through the rooms, many with arms folded. Already before the dedication, the temple aura was there.

After each temple’s dedication, the full array of measures for sacralizing the temple spaces goes into effect. No one enters the Mormon temple unless they have been interviewed by their bishop to determine their elemental worthiness. Eliade notes the importance of thresholds to sacred spaces: “They are symbols and at the same time vehicles of passage from the one to the other.” At the thresholds of Mormon temples, a man in white clothing stands to examine each person’s credentials. After entering, temple-goers change from street cloths into white temple clothing. Everywhere in the temple they speak in hushed tones. The rooms themselves are spotless, cleaned thoroughly every week. The religious scholar Jonathan Z. Smith says that “taking care” is one sing of a sacred space.

Perhaps as important as anything, Latter-day Saints pledge not to speak of the temple ceremonies outside its walls. Sometimes Mormons, a little embarrassed by this prohibition, say the ceremonies are sacred, not secret. But it is probably just as true to say: the ceremonies are sacred because they are secret. The full temple ritual can be read on the web, like so much other information these days, but the availability of the ceremony, or lack of it, to the curious public is not the point. What matters to Mormons is that the participants in the temple ritual refrain from speaking of it. The restraint on discussion outside the temple hallows both the rituals and the spaces in which they are performed.[18]

Brigham City, Utah Temple

Brigham City, Utah Temple

I have pondered a lot on why temples are so important and what gives them power. Sometimes I’ve asked myself: Why do we have to put so much time and effort and money into building temples rather than just going to mountain tops as was often done in the Bible? Why do we talk so much about feeling the Spirit and receiving revelations in the temple and what enables it to be a place where that can take place better than elsewhere? It almost seems as though it’s a magic place where things out of the ordinary take place, but why would that be so?

A faithful Latter-day Saint might be tempted to say that it is so because it was dedicated to be so by priesthood power. While I believe that is part of it, I do not believe that that is the whole answers to the question. To me, the temples are sacred and powerful because we make them so. It is largely the state of mind, the emotional and spiritual preparation and expectation that we have going in, and the actions and attitudes we take while in the temple that turn it into a sacred space where we can commune with God. The walls of the temple exist both as a literal and a figurative threshold—a boundary that keeps what is going on inside separated from both the world and the worldly things. Once we cross that threshold, we change into cloths that are specific in color to the temple, speak in whispers rather than normal tones, and take place in ordinances only performed in the temple. All these indicate that it is something different from everyday life. Creating that threshold and expecting sacred space on the inside of that boundary likewise creates sacred space within our mind while we are in the temple, opening ourselves up to the power of the experience. This is heightened by practices sometimes done by Mormons to prepare for entering the temple prior to actually being there by listening to sacred music on a day in which one intends to attend the temple, fasting, prayer, scripture study, and so on. Speaking of what goes on inside the temple only inside the temple is another expression of that boundary and the creation of sacred space, as indicated by Richard L. Bushman. It is a way to keep the ordinances separate, special, and unmixed with the worldly. As he wrote, “The ceremonies are sacred because they are secret.”

Salt Lake Temple Image courtesy LDS.org

Salt Lake Temple
Image courtesy LDS.org

As another way of looking at the same idea, there was an old article by Hugh Nibley in which he spoke of ancient temples across the world and observed that:

In his recent study of a primitive Egyptian temple complex, Egyptologist Philippe Derchain declares that “one can almost compare the ancient Egyptian temple to a powerhouse where diverse energies are converted into electric current or to a control room where, by the application of very little effort … one can safely produce and distribute energy as needed along the proper power lines.” (Le Papyrus Salt 5825 [Brussels: Memoirs of the Royal Academy], vol. 58 [1965], p. 14.) Such powerhouses were not confined to Egypt; we find them everywhere, in the Old World and the New.

The ruins of such centers of power and control still comprise by far the most impressive remnants of the human past. Today the great plants are broken down and deserted; the power has been shut off. They mean nothing to us any more, because we don’t understand how they worked.

The most sophisticated electronic gadget in perfect working order is nothing in the hands of one who has never heard of electricity, and it would only frustrate even an expert if he found no power outlet to plug into. Perhaps the old powerhouses were something like that. And did they ever really work?

A great many people went to a lot of trouble for an unusually long time to set up these mysterious dynamos all over the world. What could they possibly have derived from all this effort? They must have gotten something, to have kept at it so long and so enthusiastically. . . .

The idea that divine power can be conveyed to men and used by them through the implementation of tangible earthly contrivances and that these become mere antique oddities once the power is shut off is surprisingly confirmed and illustrated by the Book of Mormon. Thus the Liahona and the Urim and Thummim were kept among the national treasures of the Nephites long after they had ceased their miraculous functions.

Before the finger of the Lord touched the sixteen stones of the brother of Jared, they were mere pieces of glass, and they probably became so after they had fulfilled their purpose. And the gold plates had no message to deliver until a special line of communication was opened by supernatural power.

In themselves these objects were nothing; they did not work by magic, a power that resided in the objects themselves so that a person has only to get hold of the magical staff, seal, ring, robe, book of Moses or Solomon or Peter in order to become master of the world. The aids and implements that God gives to men work on no magic or automatic or mechanical principle, but only “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … give unto them” (1 Ne. 16:28) and cease to work because of wickedness (see 1 Ne. 18:12). . . .

But what about all these ancient powerhouses—what would happen if they were restored? Nothing, in my opinion. They might be repaired and put in working order, but that would no more make them work than setting up a Liahona or Urim and Thummim, with all of the working parts in order, would enable us to use them. Without power from above, nothing will happen, for this is not magic.[19]

Solomon's Temple

Solomon’s Temple

Thus, drawing the idea to the modern temple, the buildings themselves are not magic but work “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … given unto them.” The Lord pours out the influence of His Spirit and gives power to the ordinances of the temple because they are done in the way He has directed and because we have created a sacred space in which we have mentally and spiritually prepared ourselves to receive certain blessings from above. Our reticence to speak of the rituals performed within the temple outside of the temple is just a way we express those feelings about the temple and give power to those buildings and the experiences we have inside.

[1] http://www.mormonshare.com/lds-object-lesson/families-can-be-sealed-together

[2] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1985-1987). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Temple Blessings,” Ensign August 2010, https://www.lds.org/liahona/2010/08/temple-blessings?lang=eng

[4] Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (SLC: Deseret Book Company, 1997), 622-623.

[5] Hinckley, Teachings, 624

[6] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 6051-6052). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[7] Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/the-joy-of-redeeming-the-dead?lang=eng

[8] B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 245.

[9] Widtsoe, John A. “Temple Worship.” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine12 (April 1921), 56

[10] Snow, Steven. Fireside, 10 November 2013, Logan, Utah. Cited from Chad L. Nielsen notes, in author’s possession.

[11] Bruce L . Olsen, San Diego Temple Coordinator Workshop, September 11, 2011.

[12] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012).

[13] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure.

[14] Bonnie D. Parkin, “With Holiness of Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 103.

[15] Cited in Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement (SLC: Deseret Book, 2000), 295-296.

[16] It must be acknowledged that during the 1800s, it was standard to pray for the Lord to take revenge on people who had been involved in Joseph Smith’s death. That is the closest thing I am aware of that could be taken this way. Such is no longer the case.

[17] Covenants are made to not reveal certain, very sacred parts of the endowment ceremony. In times past these did include symbolic punishments attached to each of these obligations, to emphasize that recipients would rather do such and such than reveal the information at hand. As time has gone on, references to punishments have been removed from the endowment ceremony while retaining agreements to not reveal certain information.

[18] Richard Lyman Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Creation of the Sacred,” in Jospeh Smith Jr.:  Reappraisal after Two Centuries, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Terryl L. Givens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 104-105.

[19] Hugh Nibley, “Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?” Ensign, September 1972.

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One thought on “Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord

  1. Pingback: Chapter 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord | Teachings of Presidents of the Church

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