The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
As a youth it was always impressive that the sisters memorized and could recite the Young Women’s Theme on demand with confidence and clarity. Sitting in the front row of a stake youth fireside, a speaker decided to make a point and see if any of the young men could recite the oath and covenant of the priesthood with the same confidence. I was chosen at random to come up to the front of the fireside and give it a try. And,…. it was a disaster. I remember trying to recall roughly the verses in D&C 84 that we generally refer to as the oath and covenant of the priesthood. As I stumbled through some of the verses, the fireside speaker made a great point of how we should know this and it should be committed to memory.
What I didn’t understand at the time is that I was mistaken to believe that the oath and covenant of the priesthood was contained in D&C section 84. It wasn’t my fault, my whole life when I was taught this. In all of my priesthood and Sunday School lessons, whomever was teaching through the lesson would also stumble through verses 33-41 and try to explain the oath and covenant. As a youth, and later into my adult years, I always felt it was odd that no one really knew what the oath and covenant was, especially myself.
Later in life a discovery was made. D&C 84 did not contain the oath and covenant of the priesthood, it was only referring to the oath and covenant. This made so much sense because those verses have power in them and teach great principles, but an oath and covenant it is not. But where could I find the actual oath and covenant?
When we refer to the temple endowment we should all be very clear that it is a priesthood endowment. We are receiving covenants, key words, tokens, signs, and being clothed in the robes of the holy priesthood.
The Aaronic portion of the endowment does not come with an oath. But the culmination of the presentation of the endowment in the Melchizedek order, one receives an oath through the veil. The oath is an oath that God makes with us. It is the oath of eternal life and all of the blessings that come with being prepared to receive all that he has.
We should also understand that the endowment is not limited to that portion of temple ordinances that we traditionally call “the endowment”. It begins with our washings and anointings, and ultimately culminates with our receiving the marriage sealing and finally the second anointing. It is all an endowment.
The Purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood
Although one function of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to provide a government structure for the outward work of God, it is not the ultimate purpose. The order of Melchizedek is fulfilling a pattern that brings you into the presence of God while in the flesh (D&C 84: 19-24). The temple endowment is a a drama which we both receive under covenant signs, names, keywords, and tokens pertaining to and preparatory to parting the veil in this life. It is the purpose and promise of this Holy Order. Those that fulfill these patterns receive actual priesthood.
The veil of the temple represents the blessing and pattern of the priesthood. It does not represent death. It represents the calling and election made sure and second comforter blessings. As we have learned that priesthood is a pattern and an order, the pattern of the priesthood is taught to us in the temple. We receive it by covenant, and in order to receive those blessings and a priesthood endowment in reality, we must fulfill the actual pattern we learn in the temple.
Just as Joseph Smith taught that water baptism is only half a baptism, similarly we should acknowledge that a physical endowment is only half an endowment. We must conform to the pattern and receive in revelation what we ritualistically dramatize in the temple. It is an incredible blessing to have the priesthood endowment. But we need to avoid the mistake of believing we have received an actual endowment when in reality we have just been shown the pattern.
Receiving the calling and election made sure is the purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood. If we are not understanding this blessing, and seeking it, then we have failed to understand the priesthood and even the purpose of the restored gospel. Consider carefully this teaching from Joseph Smith:
“Compare this principle once with Christendom at the present day, and where are they, with all their boasted religion, piety and sacredness while at the same time they are crying out against prophets, apostles, angels, revelations, prophesying and visions, etc. Why, they are just ripening for the damnation of hell. They will be damned, for they reject the most glorious principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and treat with disdain and trample under foot the key that unlocks the heavens and puts in our possession the glories of the celestial world. Yes, I say, such will be damned, with all their professed godliness. Then I would exhort you to go on and continue to call upon God until you make your calling and sure for yourselves, by obtaining this more sure word of prophecy, and wait patiently for the promise until you obtain it, etc” (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 200–2 and History of the Church, 5:387–90).
Brigham Young taught the following on this subject:
“For us to think that we have an inheritance on the earth is folly, unless God has declared, and sealed it upon us, by revelation, that we shall never fall, never doubt, never come short of glorifying him or of doing his will in all things. No person, unless he is in the possession of this blessing, has the least right to suppose that he has an inheritance on the earth” ( Brigham Young. JD 17: 118).
In other words, we are not in possession of eternal life until we receive from God the blessings and assurances of eternal life.
Receiving the Priesthood
So, how does one receive the priesthood? It is not received through an ordination. The ordination is a calling to a man to enter into and fulfill an order that endows him with rights, priviliges and powers. It is not the priesthood itself. What an ordination accomplishes is the right to officiate in outward ordinances (without any guarantee of power), and it is an invitation to fulfill the pattern of the Holy Order.
We receive the priesthood as we fulfill the pattern of the covenants of the priesthood. We do not receive actual priesthood unless we both receive the covenants through the endowment and then fulfill them and receive the revelatory manifestations related to those covenants.
Until we have received it from the mouth of God, we have yet to receive in reality to oath of the priesthood (Genesis 14 JST).
The oath and covenant of the priesthood is the calling and election made sure.
Let’s go back to what we usually consider the oath and covenant of the priesthood in D&C 84. Consider this verse:
“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” (D&C 84: 41).
This is to become a son of perdition. In order to become a son of perdition one must have their calling and election made sure. This verse points to the fact that the oath oath and covenant of the priesthood is the promise of eternal life.
This is also the great and last promise of the Lord.
“That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation; that I may fulfil this promise, this great and last promise, which I have made unto you, when I will” (D&C 88: 75).
The oath of the priesthood is the oath God makes to us of the promise of eternal life.
I’ve heard though out my life that the doctrine of making your calling and election sure is a mystery and not part of the gospel basics. If this is the case, then we have no gospel at all. All of what we do is preparatory for this capstone blessing. Without an eye view towards this and understanding this doctrine, all of our baptisms, sacraments, covenants and doctrine is for naught. It all comes together in one great whole. Those who reject this doctrine reject the purpose of the restored gospel. They (probably unknowingly) reject the temple endowment.
When we carefully consider the oath we receive in the temple and how it relates to our posterity this teaching of Joseph Smith clarifies this supernal blessing.
“Make your calling and election sure go on from grace to grace untill you obtain a promise from God for yourselves that you shall have eternal life, this is eternal life to know God and his son Jesus Christ, it is to be sealed up unto eternal life and obtain a promise for our posterity. Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, this is the power of Elijah to seal or bind or turn the hearts of the fathers to their children sealed against all sin but the sin of sheding innocent blood and the Sin against the holy ghost” (Words of Joseph Smith, 334).
Women and Priesthood
One of the great Latter-Day questions is do women hold the priesthood? A variety of teachings and perspectives have been offered on this question along with, in my estimation, a lot of false doctrine and traditions.
Women receive the oath and covenant of the priesthood in the temple in the exact same way as men do. They are clothed in the robes of the holy priesthood preparatory to officiating in the ordinances of the Holy Priesthood. They receive the complete endowment of priesthood separately from their husband. They receive it as an individual and not in conjunction or derivative of their husbands. They receive the oath of the covenant at the veil and are prepared to enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, and finally receive the fullness of the priesthood in the second anointing ordinance.
Sisters are not ordained to offices of the priesthood through the laying on of hands. There are reasons for this that will be explored in subsequent essays. But it should be understood that the oath and covenant of the priestood is received through covenant and the reception of an oath, not ordination. Ordination is an invitation and authorization to officiate in outward ordinances – which rights are appendages to the priesthood, not the priesthood itself.
The priesthood is the pattern of covenants fulfilled that bring you into the order of those that are brought into the presence of the Lord while in the flesh.
Sisters are brought into the exact same order as the brothers. They have different roles within that order and do not carry the same covenant obligations, such as coming clean from the blood and sins of their generation, but the order of the priesthood is to come into the presence of the Lord. If we confuse priesthood as just God’s system of government, or the “authority of God delegated to man” we are going to distort the priesthood, falsely believing it is an organization just made for men to provide leadership, conduct outward ordinances, and unfortunately oftentimes usurping unrighteous dominion. This is the inverse of what the Lord has intended for his Holy Priesthood.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is an order of individuals, both men and women, that have claimed the blessings of eternal life in mortality, and therefore are endowed with power to bring their families into the same order.
Men and Women’s roles and obligations will be further explored in future essays.
Bruce R. McConkie Teachings on Priesthood and the Calling and Election Made Sure
Finally, I thought I would post a long excerpt from Elder McConkie that captures the power and significance of this doctrine. As a conclusion to this essay I thought his words crystalize the invitation and obligation to receive the calling and election made sure.
“It follows that the priesthood is the power, authority, and means that prepares men to see their Lord; also, that in the priesthood is found everything that is needed to bring this consummation to pass. Accordingly, it is written: “The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” (D&C 107:18-19.)”The keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church”! Clearly no spiritual blessing is available to mortal man on earth that can compare with personal communion and converse with the Gods of heaven. Such attainments on the part of the prophets of old are the very things that set them apart above all their fellows. Keys open doors; keys are the directing and controlling power where priestly things are concerned.
Thus, through the priesthood the door may be opened and the way provided for men to see the Father and the Son. From all of this it follows, automatically and axiomatically, that if and when the holy priesthood operates to the full in the life of any man, he will receive its great and full blessings, which are that rending of the heavens and that parting of the veil of which we now speak.
Truly, as Paul said of holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood who magnified their callings, thus qualifying to receive all of the blessings held in store for such faithful persons: “Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels”; that is, the heavens are opened unto you, and as with Enoch and Moses and the brother of Jared, nothing is withheld from your view and understanding. “Ye are come . . . To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect”; that is, you are in communion with the faithful of all ages past who now mingle together in a state of exaltation, you see God who is the Judge of all, and you commune with the departed spirits of the just. “Ye are come . . . To Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel”; that is, you see Jesus, by the sprinkling of whose blood, as it were, salvation comes. Having so taught, Paul issues this warning: “See that ye refuse not him [the Lord] that speaketh.” (Heb. 12:22-25.) Rather, accept the priesthood and let it operate in your life to the full until all these blessings flow to you as they flowed to those of old who magnified their callings.
All of the holy prophets and righteous men of old held the holy Melchizedek Priesthood. This “priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years. . . . And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.” God is known in and through and because of the priesthood; without it he would remain unknown. Through the priesthood the Holy Ghost is given to men, which Comforter is sent forth to bear record of the Father and the Son; also, through the priesthood men are able to progress in spiritual things until they gain personal communion with Deity. “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof,” the revelation continues, “the power of godliness 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 no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” That is to say, in and through the holy priesthood, including all the laws and rites that go with it, the power of godliness, or in other words the power of righteousness, is brought to pass in the lives of men.
Without these priesthood laws and powers, God’s power and glory would not be revealed to man on earth. Without them they would not see the face of God, for if they did, his glory would destroy them. Sinful men cannot see the face of God and live. (JST Ex. 33:20.)”Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also.” (D&C 84:17-26.) What a calamity!
Because they did not use the priesthood for the purpose for which it was given—and it was given that they might sanctify themselves so as to “behold the face of God”—the Lord withdrew the very priesthood itself. Israel, as a people, was left with the preparatory gospel only, with the law of Moses. Her people were denied what they might have had because they did not magnify their callings in the priesthood. A little thoughtful reflection will cause us to conclude that there are those in latter-day Israel who are not striving to use the Melchizedek Priesthood for the purpose for which it was given any more than did our ancient ancestors. Again—what a calamity!However sad it is that Israel (except for isolated groups and occasional instances) failed to use the holy priesthood to sanctify themselves so as to be able to see the face of God and live, it is refreshing to know that there were other peoples in other places who did take advantage of these blessings when they were offered to them. From Alma’s great discourse on the higher priesthood we learn: “There were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish; Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceeding great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.” Though Israel failed to sanctify themselves and enter into the rest of the Lord, others did; others by faith and righteousness attained the fulness of the glory of God.
And note how many were so involved: “There were many, exceeding great many.”After having recited what others had obtained through righteousness, Alma exhorted his own people in these words: “My brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.” (Alma 13:10-13.) Along this same line, the Prophet Joseph Smith said to his brethren, the elders of latter-day Israel: “It is the privilege of every elder to speak of the things of God; and could we all come together with one heart and one mind in perfect faith the veil might as well be rent today as next week, or any other time, and if we will but cleanse ourselves and covenant before God, to serve him, it is our privilege to have an assurance that God will protect us.” (Teachings, p. 9.)
In November 1831, the Lord said to the little flock of elders so far ordained in his newly established latter-day kingdom: “It is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual. For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God. Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind. Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected. Let not your minds turn back; and when ye are worthy in mine own due time, ye shall see and know that which is conferred upon you by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 67:10-14.) That which had been conferred upon them by the prophet was the power to see the Lord. The name of that power is the Melchizedek priesthood. Many of these first elders in the kingdom did qualify in due course, while they yet dwelt in the flesh, to see the face of their King. How much spiritual progress we have made in the Church since the day of this revelation may be measured in terms of the number of the elders of Israel for whom the veil has been rent and who have seen the face of Him whose we are.
All Christendom knows, or should know, that the ancient apostles were special witnesses of the Lord’s name; that they saw him after he rose from the dead; that he spent forty days with them as a resurrected being, teaching them all things that it was expedient for them to know pertaining to his kingdom. Those who believe the Book of Mormon are aware that, as with the Twelve in Jerusalem, so with the Twelve on the American continent: they were all witnesses of the Lord—they all felt the nail marks in his hands and feet; they all thrust their hands into his side. There is general awareness in the Church that the latter-day Twelve hold the same office, possess the same priesthood and keys, and bear the same witness of the divine Sonship of him who redeemed us as did their predecessors in days of old. It is true that the witness of the Holy Ghost is sure and absolute and that a man can know with a perfect knowledge, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God who was crucified for the sins of the world. This unshakeable certainty can rest in his soul even though he has not seen the face of his Lord. But it is also true that those who have this witness of the Spirit are expected, like their counterparts of old, to see and hear and touch and converse with the Heavenly Person, as did those of old.
Oliver Cowdery, the Associate President of the Church, who held the keys of the kingdom jointly with the Prophet Joseph Smith, having received them from holy angels sent to earth for that very purpose, was appointed to give the apostolic charge to the first quorum of apostles called in this dispensation. Speaking by the spirit of inspiration and by virtue of visions he had received, Elder Cowdery set forth, in the spirit of pure inspiration, the nature of the apostolic office and what is expected of those who hold it. We shall quote those portions of his charge which deal with the obligation that rests upon all members of the Council of the Twelve to see the face of Him whose witnesses they are.
In a special charge to Elder Parley P. Pratt, we find these words: “The ancients . . . had this testimony—that they had seen the Savior after he rose from the dead. You must bear the same testimony; or your mission, your labor, your toil, will be in vain. You must bear the same testimony that there is but one God, one Mediator; he that hath seen him, will know him, and testify of him.”In the general charge to all of the Twelve, Elder Cowdery said: “It is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven to yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven.”Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid his hands upon his disciples, why not in latter days? . . .”The time is coming when you will be perfectly familiar with the things of God. . . . You have our best wishes, you have our most fervent prayers, that you may be able to bear this testimony, that you have seen the face of God. Therefore call upon him in faith in mighty prayer till you prevail, for it is your duty and your privilege to bear such a testimony for yourselves.” (History of the Church, 2:192-98.)
Few faithful people will stumble or feel disbelief at the doctrine here presented that the Lord’s apostolic witnesses are entitled and expected to see his face, and that each one individually is obligated to “call upon him in faith in mighty prayer” until he prevails. But the Twelve are only a dozen in number. There are seldom more than fifteen men on earth at a time who have been ordained to the holy apostleship, which brings us to another statement made by Elder Cowdery in his apostolic charge: “God does not love you better or more than others.” That is, apostles and prophets do not gain precedence with the Lord unless they earn it by personal righteousness. The Lord loves people, not office holders. Every elder is entitled to the same blessings and privileges offered the apostles. Indeed, an apostle is an elder; such is the title by which he is proud to be addressed. The priesthood is greater than any of its offices. No office adds any power, dignity, or authority to the priesthood. All offices derive their rights, virtues, authorities, and prerogatives from the priesthood.
It is greater to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood than it is to hold the office of an elder or of an apostle in that priesthood. The Lord loves his priesthood holders, all of whom are given the same opportunity to do good and work righteousness and keep the commandments. All of the elders in the kingdom are expected to live the law as strictly as do the members of the Council of the Twelve, and if they do so live, the same blessings will come to them that flow to apostles and prophets.
Apostles and prophets are named as examples and patterns of what others should be. The Quorum of the Twelve should be a model quorum after which every elders quorum in the Church might pattern its course. For instance, before long there will be a great sacrament meeting at which the Lord Jesus himself will partake of the sacrament. Others who will be in attendance and who will partake of the sacrament also will be Moroni, Elias, John the Baptist, Elijah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph the son of Jacob, Peter, James, and John, and Michael the archangel who is Adam. These are the ones who are listed by name in the revelation. They shall all be there. The immediate impression arises what a marvelous meeting this will be, to have the Lord Jesus and all these holy prophets in attendance. Such an impression is of course proper.But those named are listed merely to illustrate and dramatize what is to be.
After naming them as the ones with whom the Lord will partake of the sacrament, the revelation says, “And also with all those whom my Father hath given me out of the world.” (D&C 27:5-14.) In other words, every faithful person in the whole history of the world, every person who has so lived as to merit eternal life in the kingdom of the Father will be in attendance and will partake, with the Lord, of the sacrament.I repeat: apostles and prophets simply serve as patterns and examples to show all men what they may receive if they are true and faithful. There is nothing an apostle can receive that is not available to every elder in the kingdom. As we have heretofore quoted, from the Prophet’s sermon on the Second Comforter: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what he will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.” (Teachings, p. 149.) It follows that everything stated by Elder Oliver Cowdery in his charge to the apostles could also be given as a charge to all elders. Every elder is entitled and expected to seek and obtain all the spiritual blessings of the gospel, including the crowning blessing of seeing the Lord face to face” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, Chapter 31, p.575-595).