Marveling at "the magnitude of the power that lies within this tremendous body" of the priesthood, President Gordon B. Hinckley warned Sunday, May 3, that individual priesthood power can be lost through unrighteousness.
President Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, was one of three General Authorities who spoke at the annual Priesthood Commemoration Fireside observing the 163rd anniversary of the restoration of the priesthood. Originating in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the fireside was carried live by satellite to priesthood congregations in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. It was rebroadcast later that evening over KBYU-TV, in Provo, Utah.President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the fireside. In addition to President Hinckley, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Stephen D. Nadauld of the Seventy spoke. (Please see separate stories of their speeches on page 7.) Elder Nadauld is second counselor in the Young Men general presidency.
President Ezra Taft Benson viewed the fireside by television from his apartment, it was announced.
A combined Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood chorus from the Bountiful, Woods Cross and Val Verda Utah regions, directed by John A. Morgan and accompanied by Richard Elliott, provided music. The invocation was given by Timothy Marsden, elders quorum president in the Woods Cross Utah East Stake. Gregory Fowler, a deacon in the Sandy Utah West Stake, gave the benediction.
In his address, President Hinckley cited Wilford Woodruff's description of a priesthood meeting in Kirtland, Ohio, in April 1834. On that occasion, all of the brethren who held the priesthood gathered in a small cabin. President Hinckley contrasted that with the nearly 1 million holders of the Aaronic Priesthood and 900,000 holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood today.
"Kirtland, then the major location of the Saints, was a small place. Now, 158 years later, we have become a mighty congregation spread over the earth."
Though they speak various languages and salute different flags, brethren of the priesthood "are bound together by the cord of the brotherhood of the gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "Each is a man upon whose head hands have been laid and each has received a bestowal of divine authority.
"I am told that we now have members in 138 different political entities. Think of that. In every place where this work has been planted, it has been necessary to establish a priesthood base on which to build. In some places it has begun with the father of a family who gathered his wife and children about him to worship on the Sabbath day. From such small beginnings have grown strong congregations, eventually becoming wards and stakes of Zion."
Quoting the words of the Lord in D&C 1, President Hinckley said: "He is here speaking of the priesthood, His priesthood. This is the objective of our work, that every man might speak in His name.
"The sad and regrettable thing, my brethren, is that all of those who have been ordained to the priesthood have not kept faith with the authority bestowed upon them. They have continued to hold in name an office in the priesthood, but because of indifference or transgression, they have lost the power to act in that office. All of us, every one of us, ought to acknowledge that such a thing could happen to any of us unless we are constantly on the alert to keep our lives in harmony with the principles of the gospel."
He mentioned Oliver Cowdery and Thomas B. Marsh, great Church leaders who left the Church over trivial matters, although Oliver Cowdery did eventually return.
"I have seen in my own time men who were strong and powerful advocates of this great cause, men who bore the priesthood with dignity and power. But in some cases they became careless, in other cases they fell into transgression, and in yet other instances became proud and headstrong."
He quoted D&C 121:34-36, emphasizing that the "powers of heaven which are associated with the priesthood `cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.' "
"I desire to emphasize, brethren, that although we may continue to hold the office, we may lose the power," he said. "Many men seem to think that because they have been ordained, the priesthood is theirs in perpetuity to exercise as they choose. They feel they can break a covenant and a commandment here and there, and sin in this way or that, and yet still have within themselves the power of the priesthood and that God will ratify that which they speak in His holy name, and in the name of the Redeemer. This becomes mockery, and I believe that in such an exercise they take the name of God in vain. They profane the name of His Beloved Son. They desecrate the sacred gift which came through ordination, and the authority of which they have lost because of transgression."
Among the most clever enemies of the Lord's work are men who once were ordained to the priesthood but because of their behavior lost all authority they might have kept, he said. "And it is verily true that having been left unto themselves, they kick against the pricks, they persecute the saints and they fight against God." (D&C 127:38.)
"Brethren, I do not wish to be negative. But I lift a warning voice to all, men and boys, to shun sin. Transgression is incompatible with divine authority. Avoid pornography as you would avoid the plague. Avoid sexual sin of any degree or kind. Shun dishonesty and deceit. I plead with you to rein in any element of pride or vain ambition. I ask you to look into yourselves to see that there is no attitude of dominion or compulsion over your wives or your children. . . ."
President Hinckley expressed the hope that all would "leave this meeting, wherever you may be with a firm resolve to live more worthy of membership in this great royal society, different from every other society on the face of the earth."
He invoked the charge given by David to his son, Solomon: "Be thou strong, therefore, and shew thyself a man," and "walk in his ways, to keep his statues, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies. . . ." (1 Kings 2:2-3.)