The Temple, the Gateway to Exaltation
“Chapter 20: The Temple, the Gateway to Exaltation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor, 183
We are here to cooperate with God in the salvation of the living [and] in the redemption of the dead. 1
From the Life of John Taylor
Because of increasing persecution in Nauvoo, the Prophet Joseph Smith feared that he might not live to see the Nauvoo Temple completed. Wanting to be sure that he conferred the needed keys and knowledge upon others, he prepared a room above a store in Nauvoo where he could administer temple ordinances to a select few. 2 Among those chosen was John Taylor, who had been particularly interested in temple ordinances from the time those principles were first revealed to the Church. From this and other experiences, President Taylor developed an understanding of and appreciation for the temple and the ordinances performed there.
While speaking at the dedication of the Logan Utah Temple site, President Taylor shared with the congregation the feelings he experienced when he visited the St. George Utah Temple, the first temple completed in the Utah Territory:
“When I visited that holy Temple, accompanied by my brethren who were with me, we experienced a sacred thrill of joy and a solemn, reverential sensation. As we entered its sacred portals, we felt that we were standing on holy ground, and experienced, with one of old, ‘Surely this is the house of God, and the gate of heaven.’ [See Genesis 28:17.] That is not simply a metaphorical expression, but a reality, for it is in that House, and it will be in the House to be built on this ground, that the most sacred ordinances of God are to be performed, which are associated with the interest and happiness of the human family, living and dead. I felt to rejoice in my heart that we had been thus far successful in the building of one temple to the name of our Father and God.” 3
In addition to understanding the importance of the temple, President Taylor knew that the number of temples and those who administered in them would continue to grow as God’s plan was carried out. While showing the Salt Lake Temple construction site to a visitor from another country, President Taylor prophesied of the great increase in the number of temples in the world: “We expect to build hundreds of them yet, and to administer in them in carrying out the work of God.” 4
Teachings of John Taylor
God is interested in the exaltation of the dead as well as the living.
There was a great and comprehensive plan designed by the Almighty in his economy connected with the salvation of the human family who are his children, for he is the God and the Father of the spirits of all flesh. It means that He is interested in their welfare, in their prosperity, in their happiness, and in all that pertains to their exaltation in time and throughout the eternities that are to come. Being thus interested, and so little of the gospel having been revealed in the different ages, and so much of the power of darkness and iniquity having prevailed among men, it was necessary that something should be done for the dead as well as the living. God is interested in the dead as well as the living. 5
We are here to cooperate with God in the salvation of the living, in the redemption of the dead, in the blessings of our ancestors, in the pouring out of blessings upon our children; we are here for the purpose of redeeming and regenerating the earth on which we live, and God has placed his authority and his counsels here upon the earth for that purpose, that men may learn to do the will of God on the earth as it is done in heaven. This is the object of our existence; and it is for us to comprehend the position. 6
We are living, as I have said, in an important day and age of the world. … [God] has reserved us for the latter days, that we may perform that work which He decreed from before the foundation of the world. If there have been any blessings enjoyed by men in former dispensations of the world, they will also be given to you, ye Latter-day Saints, if you will live your religion and be obedient to the laws of God. There is nothing hidden but what shall be revealed, says the Lord. He is prepared to unfold all things; all things pertaining to the heavens and the earth, all things pertaining to the peoples who have existed, who now exist or will exist, that we may be instructed and taught in every principle of intelligence associated with the world in which we live or with the Gods in the eternal worlds. 7
We build temples for the exaltation of all mankind.
When Elijah the prophet appeared to Joseph Smith, he committed to him the keys of this dispensation; and hence we are at work building temples. … There are ordinances associated behind these things that go back into eternity; and forward unto eternity; … that are intended for the welfare, the happiness, and exaltation of mankind; for those who are living and those that are dead and for those that will live hereafter, pertaining both to our progenitors and our posterity. And that is one of those keys that have been turned. 8
Why do we build temples? Because Elijah conferred certain keys which he held upon Joseph Smith. And when he laid his hands upon elders conferring on them the holy priesthood, they carried the principles imparted by Elijah to Joseph to you and to others. … And by and by as the church began to gather together, we began to talk about building temples in which to receive and to administer ordinances which had been revealed unto Joseph Smith, pertaining to the interest of the living and the dead and necessary to our salvation and exaltation in the kingdom of our God, as well as for those for whom we administer. And we have not only talked about it but have done considerable in that direction. 9
We have now finished this [the Logan Utah] temple, and some people inquire, what is it for? For many things: that our sealings and ordinances may be performed in a manner that will be acceptable before God and the holy angels; that whatsoever is bound on the earth according to the laws of the eternal priesthood shall be bound in the heavens; that there may be a connecting link between the living and the dead, between those who have lived, all those ancient fathers of which I have spoken who are interested in the welfare of their posterity; that there may be a royal priesthood, a holy people, a pure people, a virtuous people on the earth to officiate and operate in the interests of the living and the dead; not looking so much after themselves, but after God, after the work of God, and after the accomplishment of those things which God has designed to be carried out in the dispensation of the fulness of times [see D&C 128:18] when all things are to be united in one, and that they may be prepared to operate with the priesthood in the heavens in the redemption of the inhabitants of this world from the days of Adam unto the present time. 10
We must be worthy to enter the holy temple of God.
People desirous to go and attend to ordinances in these houses, must have a recommendation from their bishop. … Then when they have obtained this recommendation from the bishop, it must be endorsed by the president of the stake. … This is quite an ordeal for many men to go through. For men and women who are upright, virtuous, and honorable, it is [a] very simple matter; there is no difficulty in their way at any time. But to those who have been careless of their duties, who have departed from the laws of God, and who have tampered with, or violated the ordinances of the gospel—to such people it is a critical time.
However, there is something far more difficult than that yet to come. That is only a starting point in these matters. The things that are ahead are a great deal more difficult to accomplish. What are they? The time will come when we shall not only have to pass by those officers whom I have referred to—say, to have the sanction and approval of our bishop [and] of the president of the stake … , but we are told in this book (The Doctrine and Covenants) that we shall have to pass by the angels and the Gods. We may have squeezed through the other; we may have got along tolerably well, and been passed and acted upon, and sometimes a “tight squeeze” at that. But how will it be when we get on the other side, and we have the angels and the Gods to pass by before we can enter into our exaltation? If we cannot pass, what then? Well, we cannot, that is all. And if we cannot, shall we be able to enter into our exaltation? I think not. 11
You may deceive the Bishop and you may deceive the President of the Stake, and you may deceive the General authorities of the Church, but you cannot deceive the Lord Jesus Christ nor the Holy Ghost. You know yourselves better than anybody else and if there is anything wrong in you, now is the time to repent and make yourselves square with the Lord; and if you do not repent, the time will come when you will be humbled, and the higher up you get the greater will be your fall. 12
We have a responsibility to be saviors on Mount Zion.
We are here to prepare to live, and to teach our children how to live after us; and to teach the world the same lesson if they will only receive it. We know that our spirits existed with the Father before we came here. We know that we are immortal as well as mortal beings, and that we have had to do with another world as well as this. We know that the world abounds with corruption; but it is our business to keep ourselves from it, and to progress in virtue, truth, integrity and holiness.
We came here to be saviors. “What, saviors?” “Yes.” “Why, we thought there was only one Savior.” “Oh, yes, there are a great many. What do the scriptures say about it?” One of the old prophets, in speaking of these things, says that saviors shall come up upon Mount Zion [see Obadiah 1:21]. Saviors? Yes. Whom shall they save? In the first place themselves, then their families, then their neighbors, friends and associations, then their forefathers, then pour blessings on their posterity. Is that so? Yes. …
We are desirous of blessing our posterity. We read of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, before they left the world, calling their families together, and under the inspiration of the spirit of prophecy and revelation putting their hands upon their heads and pronouncing certain blessings upon them, which should rest upon their posterity through every subsequent period of time. We have the same gospel and priesthood, and the same light and intelligence, and we are after the salvation and exaltation of our families that shall come after us, as they were, and we are seeking for God’s blessings to be poured upon their heads as they were. And if our fathers have died in ignorance of the gospel, not having had an opportunity to listen to it, we feel after them, and we go forth and are baptized for them, that they may be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God with us. 13
When Jesus came, He came to do a work in many particulars similar to that in which we are engaged, and when He got through with His work here, He stood as the Savior of the world, and of the human family. He came to preach the Gospel to the poor, to open the prison doors to those that were imprisoned, to set them at liberty, and to proclaim the acceptable hour of the Lord, etc. This was a work connected with the people who lived at the time of the flood and were destroyed and kept in prison until the Lord should see proper to extend manifestations of His mercy to them. Hence, as we read, “Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit; by which also he went and preached to the spirits in prison: which sometime were disobedient when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” [See 1 Peter 3:18–20.] He having finished His work upon earth for the living, went and performed a work for the dead; as we are informed, “He went and preached to spirits in prison that had sometime been disobedient in the days of Noah.”
It is reserved for us to do a work for those who have passed away who have not obeyed or had the Gospel in their lifetime. We are here to do a work connected with the redemption of the dead. When the Temple was commanded to be built in Nauvoo, after the Temple had been built in Kirtland, and after so many keys had been turned, and after so many manifestations, visions and ministrations had been had, yet it was said then that there was not a place upon the earth in which to perform the ordinance of baptism for the dead, and Joseph was commanded to build a house for that purpose. 14
Many who have gone behind the veil are waiting for us to fulfill our duties.
The work we are engaged in is greater than we can generally conceive of. Our actions and operations now are connected with the past, with the present and with the future. Napoleon, on a certain occasion, told his army when in Egypt, that there were forty generations looking down upon them. But the heavenly hosts are looking down upon us. The Priesthood which has administered in the various generations and under the various dispensations, from the commencement of the world, have their eyes upon us; our brethren, with whom we have been associated here upon the earth and who are now behind the veil, have their eyes upon us. The myriads of dead that have slept in the silent tomb without a knowledge of the gospel have their eyes upon us, and they are expecting us to fulfil the duties and responsibilities that devolve upon us to attend to, in which they are interested.
All the holy priesthood—the ancient patriarchs, prophets and apostles and men of God who have lived in the different generations are looking upon us and expecting us to fulfill the great and important requirements of Jehovah in regard to the welfare and the redemption of the world: the salvation of the living and dead. God, our Heavenly Father, and his son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, are also looking down upon us, and expect us to be faithful to our covenants. 15
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
• What does it mean to you to be able to “cooperate with God in the salvation of the living [and] in the redemption of the dead”? How do you feel as you take the opportunity to bless your own ancestors through temple work?
• What was Elijah’s purpose when he appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple? (See also D&C 110:13–16.) What blessings are now available to us because of the keys that Elijah restored?
• Why is it important to be honest in our temple recommend interviews? What blessings are promised to us when we go worthily to the temple? (See also D&C 97:15–17.) How have you experienced these blessings? What can we do to prepare children and youth to be worthy to enter the temple?
• In what ways can we be “saviors on Mount Zion”? Why is our service critical to the salvation of those who have died?
• How do you feel when you consider that “the heavenly host are looking down upon us … expecting us to fulfill [our] duties and responsibilities”? What are our duties and responsibilities regarding temple and family history work? How can you improve in your temple and family history work?
• Read D&C 135:3. How does the Prophet Joseph’s role in restoring temple work increase your understanding of this verse?
• Why do we need to go to the temple often? What does the temple mean to you personally? How can we increase the influence of the temple in our own lives and in the lives of our families?
12. Quoted in Matthias F. Cowley, “The Spirit of Discernment Manifested,” in N. B. Lundwall, comp., Temples of the Most High (1941), 104.