Within this vast congregation of priesthood bearers assembled here and throughout the world sit several generations — tens of thousands of sons, fathers, grandfathers, even great-grandfathers — all of whom have faith in Christ, seek to keep His commandments, and desire to serve Him.
Some are part of a long tradition of priesthood men stretching back in time. Others are the very first men in their respective families to bear the priesthood of God. But all have the opportunity — and responsibility — either to create or to continue a chain of worthy men who honor the priesthood and render service in the kingdom, thereby linking families together from generation to generation. It is your individual link in that priesthood chain of which I would speak tonight.
In each dispensation faithful men have been given the priesthood to further the Lord's purposes. The scriptures recount the passing of priesthood authority from prophet to prophet, beginning with Adam.
We are figuratively part of that priesthood chain stretching back to the beginnings of the earth. However, each of us is now literally engaged in the critical task of creating our own strong priesthood link so as to be joined with our own forefathers and to our own posterity.
If one fails to obtain or to honor the Melchizedek Priesthood, his link will be missing, and eternal life will be unattainable (see D&C 76:79; 84:41–42). Hence, our great effort as a church to teach the message of the Restoration to all who are willing to listen and to prepare all who are desirous for the blessings of the priesthood and the temple.
Our privilege to bear the priesthood of God tonight has its beginnings in our premortal existence. The prophet Alma explained that men ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood on earth have been "called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling" (Alma 13:3).
The Lord has long intended you to be a creator or a continuer of the chain of faithful bearers in your priesthood family. It was your faith and wise exercise of free agency — in the premortal existence and here in mortality — which permitted you to receive the "holy calling" of the priesthood.
The Prophet Joseph Smith stated in 1844, "Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 365).
Thus, whether as the first in your family or as the fifth generation to hold the priesthood, we have each come to earth with a personal heritage of faithfulness and foreordination. Such knowledge gives us a firm resolve to always honor the priesthood and thereby to create or continue a multigenerational family in the Church and in the celestial kingdom.
We often define priesthood as the power and authority to act in the name of God upon the earth. But service to our Savior, our family, and our fellowman also defines our priesthood. The Savior intends that we exercise our priesthood primarily for the benefit of others. We cannot bless or baptize ourselves, nor provide the ordinances of the temple to ourselves. Rather, every priesthood bearer must rely upon others to lovingly exercise their priesthood authority and power to help each of us progress spiritually.
I was able to learn the importance of priesthood service not only by observing my grandfather, father, and brother magnify their callings but also from the brethren in my ward who were priesthood models to me.
As a newly ordained teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood, my first home teaching companion was Henry Wilkening, a high priest nearly 60 years my senior. He was a German immigrant, a shoemaker by trade, small in stature, but an energetic and faithful shepherd to the families assigned to us. I trotted behind him (for he seemed to walk and to climb stairs much faster than I could) during our monthly visits, which took us into sobering environments new to my sheltered experience. He expected me to present part of each lesson and to make all the appointments, but mostly I listened and watched as he aided brothers and sisters with various spiritual and social, economic and emotional needs previously unknown to me as a 14-year-old.
I began to realize how much good could be done by a single faithful priesthood bearer. I watched Brother Wilkening forging a strong priesthood link for himself through his loving service to those families in need — and to me in my youth.
The many priesthood men I observed while growing up taught me that providing priesthood service to others is not dependent upon a particular title or specific calling or formal position in the kingdom. Rather the opportunity arises from and is inherent within the fact that one has received the priesthood of God.
President J. Reuben Clark Jr. wisely taught at the April 1951 general conference: "In the service of the Lord, it is not where you serve but how. In [T]he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines" (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 154).
When we serve righteously with all our heart, whatever the responsibility apportioned to us, we are strengthening our priesthood link and connecting it ever more securely to those who have preceded and who will follow us.
I bear solemn testimony of the Savior's divinity and atoning sacrifice and of the restoration of His priesthood which we are privileged to bear — and pray that every son and father participating in this meeting will determine this night to serve the Lord by faithfully honoring the priesthood and firmly connecting his personal link to the priesthood chain which will bind him, his forefathers, and his posterity together throughout eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.