Following is the full text of Elder Nelson's Church Educational System fireside address at Salt Lake University Institute.
Thank you, President Porter, for your kind introduction, and thank you, choir, for your beautiful music. You do well! I would like to invite Sister Nelson to stand beside me briefly, so that you can see what a sweet lady I married. We are delighted to be with all of you—and grateful to be with each other. Not far from here we first met and fell in love. We graduated from this university and, with her great encouragement and support, I completed medical school here. We have happy memories of our university days here, including our first two years of married life. Our temple marriage has since been blessed with ten children and fifty-four grandchildren, a few of whom are also in attendance here tonight. Would our family members please stand for a moment? Thank you, family, and thank you, dear Dantzel.
Broadcasting tonight from near the University of Utah campus symbolizes the global scope of Church membership. Young adults are participating from all parts of the world. Thanks to each of you for coming.
My topic tonight is the temple. I would like to help you delve deeply into its doctrine, to explore the heights of its glory, and to grasp its eternal significance.
Before doing so, however, I would like to bring greetings from President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson, President James E. Faust, and my brethren of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We trust you; we love you.
The Power of Personal Testimony
Your presence here indicates your faith in our Heavenly Father and in His Beloved Son. To know them and to love them should be your paramount goal. The Lord declared, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3).
With firm faith in God, you can better understand the timeless nature and significance of His holy work. It is ancient, broad, and comprehensive.
Before the Foundation of the World
God's work did not begin in the Sacred Grove in New York. It did not begin in Bethlehem. It did not begin even in the Garden of Eden. Scriptures repeatedly refer to plans made before the foundation of the world. Then Jesus was prepared to be Savior of this world (see John 17:24; 1 Peter 1:19-20; Alma 22:13; Moses 5:57; JST, Genesis 5:43; 14:31).
Before the foundation of the world:
- Joseph Smith was foreordained to be the Prophet of the Restoration (see D&C 127:2) to usher in this last dispensation (see D&C 27:13; 124:41; 128:18; 138:47-48).
- Choice men were foreordained to bear the priesthood of God (see Alma 13:3; D&C 132:28; Abraham 3:22-23).
- The divine role of women was defined—that they might bear children and thus "fulfil the promise" given by Heavenly Father "for their exaltation in the eternal worlds" and to glorify God (D&C 132:63).
- You and other elect spirit children were chosen to establish and direct His work among people upon the earth (see Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 1:4; D&C 138:53; Abraham 3:23).
- And before the foundation of the world, provision was made for the redemption of those who should die without a knowledge of the gospel (see D&C 124:33, 41; 128:5). This work was to be done in temples of the Lord during this dispensation of the fulness of times (see D&C 124:41).
Temples in Antiquity
Temples are not new. "Whenever the Lord has had a people on the earth who will obey his word, they have been commanded to build temples. . . . The tabernacle erected by Moses was a type of portable temple,1 since the Israelites were traveling in the wilderness" (Bible Dictionary, "temple," 781). The Old Testament is replete with references to ordinances, covenants, and even the clothing of the temple (see, for example, Exodus 28-29; Leviticus 8).
The best known biblical temple was built in Jerusalem in the days of Solomon. President Hinckley recently told us that Solomon's Temple was smaller than any of our temples today. The Lord personally accepted that holy house (see 2 Chronicles 7:12). It was partially destroyed in 600 b.c.
Almost a hundred years later it was restored by Zerubbabel. This structure was damaged by fire in 37 b.c., and subsequently reconstructed by Herod. He enlarged and leveled the Temple Mount and rebuilt the second temple.
This was the temple known by Jesus. He was there as a child when His anxious mother could not find Him (see Luke 2:43, 49).
At the first cleansing of the temple, Jesus called it "my Father's house" (John 2:16; see vv. 13-16). At the second cleansing, Jesus called it "My house" (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17). Finally, as the temple was further desecrated, Jesus called it "your house . . . left unto you desolate" (Luke 13:35)—a prophecy fulfilled when it was destroyed in a.d. 70.
Several years ago, Sister Nelson and I were in Jerusalem being guided through recent excavations in a tunnel to the left of the present "wailing wall" of the old temple. In that tunnel we saw Jewish rabbis praying for the day that the third temple would be built in Jerusalem. We were told that someone had asked Israel's famous archeologist, Yigael Yadin, what would they do in the temple if rebuilt. His reply: "I don't know. Ask the Mormons. They'll know."
From the Book of Mormon we know that Nephi built a temple "after the manner of the temple of Solomon," only it was less ornate (2 Nephi 5:16).
"From Adam to the time of Jesus, ordinances were performed in temples for the living only. After Jesus opened the way for the gospel to be preached in the world of spirits, . . . work for the dead, as well as for the living, has been done in temples" (Bible Dictionary, "temple," 781).
Children of the Covenant
As we read of temples, we also learn of covenants that God has made with faithful followers—His "children of the covenant" (3 Nephi 20:26; see v. 25; Acts 3:25). Some four thousand years ago, God made a covenant with Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his seed (see Genesis 17:7; 22:18; Abraham 2:9-11). It was reaffirmed with Isaac (see Genesis 26:1-4, 24) and again with Jacob (see Genesis 28; 35:9-13; 48:3-4). The thread of that covenant is woven throughout the entire fabric of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon (see title page). That covenant has been divinely renewed in this dispensation as part of the restoration of all things (see D&C 124:58).
Prophets have long known that the Abrahamic covenant was to be fulfilled only "in the latter days" (1 Nephi 15:18). That's our day! (see D&C 110:12-16). We are those covenant people! What does that really mean? Let us learn together from selected scriptures.
Please turn with me to the book of Mosiah, chapter 5. I quote from verse 7: "Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters."
In 3 Nephi 20:25-26, Jesus is speaking: "Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham: And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
"The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant" (see also Moroni 7:32).
In our holy temples, we literally receive those blessings once promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Restoration of Temples and Sealing Authority
In the Restoration, temple work received a very high priority. The first revelation from a ministering angel pertained to this doctrine. Recorded in the second section of the Doctrine and Covenants, it is an echo of the fourth chapter of Malachi. Moroni foretold the coming of Elijah, who would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers (see Malachi 4:5-6; D&C 2:1-2).
Elijah did come, on 3 April 1836, on Easter Sunday, at the beginning of Passover. He came to the Kirtland Temple to confer keys of sealing authority, precisely as prophesied by the angel Moroni (see D&C 110:14-16).
In the temple, ordinances are administered through which the power of God is manifest (see D&C 84:20). Without those ordinances and the authority of the priesthood, "the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh" (D&C 84:21).
The entablature on modern temples reads, "Holiness to the Lord" (see Exodus 28:36; 39:30). Those words describe the building, yes. They also describe the ordinances and covenants of the temple and the people who worship within its walls.
Temples of the Restoration
The Kirtland Temple was a preparatory temple. It stands today as a monument to the faith of the people who built it. Later, when the Saints reached Illinois, the Lord once again asked His people to build a temple. Why?
Turn with me to section 124, verse 29: "For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead—
"For this ordinance belongeth to my house (v. 30).
Verse 32 carries this stern warning: "If you do not these things . . . ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God."
Verses 40-41: "Let this house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;
"For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times."
In verse 47 we see another warning: "If you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord."
I now turn to section 128. The chapter heading notes that this was received as an epistle. Why was the Prophet writing a letter to the Saints instead of addressing them directly? He was in seclusion. He was being hunted by angry mobs. He couldn't even go home. He was sequestered in the home of his friend, Edward Hunter. Listen to these wondrous words, written under the roof of Edward Hunter's house.
Verse 1: "I now resume the subject of the baptism for the dead, as that subject seems to occupy my mind, and press itself upon my feelings the strongest, since I have been pursued by my enemies."
Verse 15: "These are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect."
Skipping to verse 18: "The earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children. . . . Baptism for the dead . . . is necessary . . . that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place. . . . Things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed . . . in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times."
The Saints obeyed. They built the temple in Nauvoo. You know the history of that monumental and matchless undertaking. Some six thousand Saints received their endowments and sealings before they had to leave and lose their temple. Now it stands again—rebuilt in all its majesty—as a very busy temple.
Some thirty years after the exodus from Nauvoo, the St. George Temple was finished. It was the first temple in which vicarious ordinances for the dead were carried out on an organized scale.
At the dedication of the St. George Temple, on 1 January 1877—the very year that President Brigham Young died—he said:
"What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, 'We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come? . . .' What would they whisper in our ears? Why, if they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears, if we could but realize the importance of the work we are engaged in. All the angels in heaven are looking at this little handful of people, and stimulating them to the salvation of the human family. . . . When I think upon this subject I want the tongues of seven thunders to wake up the people" (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe , 403-4; see also D&C 138:47-50).
In 1894 President Wilford Woodruff instructed members of the Church: "We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it. . . . This is the will of the Lord to this people" (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham , 157).
The purpose of family history work is to obtain the names and data of our ancestors so that temple ordinances can be performed in their behalf.
President Woodruff declared that Brigham Young "did not receive all the revelations that belong to this work; neither did President Taylor, nor has Wilford Woodruff. There will be no end to this work until it is perfected" (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 154).
Doctrine and Covenants section 138 is the crowning jewel of the remarkable ministry of President Joseph F. Smith. As you know, it was received the month before President Smith passed away. In that unique circumstance, he was still in the world but could see into the next world. It is dated October 1918.
I'll begin at verse 11: "I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
"And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality;
" . . . These had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
"I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.
"They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death. . . .
"While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives. . . .
"And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance" (vv. 11-12, 14-16, 18-19).
Verse 48: "Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the temples of the Lord in the dispensation of the fulness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the sealing of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming."2
Verse 51: "These the Lord taught, and gave them power to come forth, after his resurrection from the dead, to enter into his Father's kingdom, there to be crowned with immortality and eternal life."
Temples catalyze that crown! How grateful we are for this knowledge!
May I digress a moment to relate an amusing experience we had a few years ago. Sister Nelson and I had the privilege of taking President and Sister Spencer W. Kimball to an activity. Our five-year-old son was with us. I asked him to tell President Kimball about the picture he had on the wall of his bedroom. Our son dutifully replied, "It's the temple." (The President had fostered this practice.)
President Kimball, with his global perspective, asked, "Which temple?"
That completely stumped our little boy, with his limited perspective. He thought a minute and then replied, "Why, the marriage temple, of course." President Kimball gave a broad smile.
President Howard W. Hunter said in 1994, the year before he passed away: "I . . . invite the members of the Church to establish the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of their membership and the supernal setting for their most sacred covenants. . . . I would hope that every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend, even if proximity to a temple does not allow immediate or frequent use of it" (in Jay M. Todd, "President Howard W. Hunter: Fourteenth President of the Church," Ensign, July 1994, 5).
President Gordon B. Hinckley has reaffirmed that hope. He has also expanded temple and family history work exponentially. In May 1999 he launched the FamilySearch™ Internet service. It is now averaging 14 million hits from more than 131,000 visitors—every day. From the Pedigree Resource File, a component of that endeavor, we are receiving an income of more than a million names per month, all lineage-linked.
When President Hinckley was called to serve in the First Presidency in 1981, how many temples did we have in the Church? 19! Now we have 114. More are under construction, and others have been announced.
Personal Preparation for the Temple
To each young adult I emphasize that the temple can bless you—even before you enter it. By maintaining a standard of moral conduct high enough to qualify for a temple recommend, you will find inner peace and spiritual strength. Now is the time to cleanse your lives of anything that is displeasing to the Lord. Now is the time to eliminate feelings of envy or enmity and seek forgiveness for any offense.
Recently the First Presidency issued a letter to priesthood leaders regarding the optimum time for members to receive a temple recommend. From it I quote:
"Single members in their late teens or early twenties who have not received a mission call or who are not engaged to be married in the temple should not be recommended to the temple for their own endowment. They can, however, receive a Limited-Use Recommend to perform baptisms for the dead. The desire to witness temple marriages of siblings or friends is not sufficient reason for a young adult to be endowed" (12 Nov. 2002).
Please note that this instruction applies to singles in their "late teens and early twenties." We hope that a few years later, the younger will become older—married or established in a stable manner—that will allow temple worship to be a high priority all throughout life.
Before you enter the temple for the first time, participation in a ward Temple Preparation Seminar will be helpful. So will reading a new booklet that your bishop will provide, Preparing to Enter the Holy Temple [pamphlet, 2002].3 These will help you understand the magnificence of the ordinances and covenants of the temple.
Plan now to be married in the temple and conduct your courtship with the temple in mind. When you kneel with your companion at the altar of a holy temple, you do so as equal partners. You become an eternal family unit. Anything that might erode the spirituality, love, and sense of true partnership is contrary to the will of the Lord. Fidelity to these sacred ordinances and covenants will bring eternal blessings to you and to generations yet unborn.
Physical Bodies Are Our Personal Temples
Our physical bodies have also been declared as temples of God. Paul said, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16 ).4
We constantly care for our bodies as our very own temples—created for our eternal purpose and potential. Our temples of flesh and our spirits are both blessed by the ordinances and covenants of a dedicated temple.
Hour of Urgency and Opportunity
The urgency of vicarious temple work was stressed in a letter from the First Presidency dated 11 March 2003. Addressed to all Church members, they said that "millions of our ancestors have lived upon the earth without receiving the benefit of temple ordinances. . . .
"All of the ordinances which take place in the House of the Lord become expressions of our belief in that fundamental and basic doctrine of the immortality of the human soul."
My beloved brothers and sisters, our day was foreseen by our Master: "This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; . . . saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
As we are His people, we may "inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, . . . powers, dominions, . . . exaltation and glory in all things" (D&C 132:19).
This is our legacy. This is our opportunity. In this most glorious time in all human history, I testify that God lives. Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church. President Gordon B. Hinckley is His prophet. I so testify and leave my love and blessing with each of you, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. Scriptures describe it as a "tent of the testimony" (Numbers 9:15) and as a "tabernacle of testimony" (Exodus 38:21).
2. That terminology appears three times in the scriptures. The others are in Doctrine and Covenants 2:3; Joseph Smith—History 1:39.
3. This booklet is also used as the student manual in the Temple Preparation Seminar (item no. 36793).
4. See also 1 Corinthians 6:19. Even the body of Jesus was described in scripture as His personal temple (see John 2:19-21).