The President of the High Priesthood of the Church
“Chapter 25: The President of the High Priesthood of the Church,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 221
We are to sustain and hearken to the President of the Church, who holds the keys of the holy priesthood and leads God’s Church on earth.
From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith was sustained as the sixth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a special conference on 10 November 1901. This new assignment fulfilled a prophecy of President Lorenzo Snow that Joseph F. Smith would become President of the Church. 1
Called as an Apostle by President Brigham Young in 1866 and having served as a Counselor to four Church Presidents—Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow—President Smith often bore witness “to the divine authority … to the integrity, to the honor, to the purity of life, to the intelligence, and to the divinity of the mission and calling” of these servants of God. 2
For 17 years he served valiantly as Church President, with great meekness and devotion. He told the Saints, “I cut no figure personally in this work, and I am nothing except in the humble effort to do my duty as the Lord gives me the ability to do it.” 3
He testified that the Church is divinely directed: “I want to say to you that there never was a time since the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when a man led the Church, not for one moment. It was not so in the days of Joseph; it was not so in the days of Brigham Young; it has not been so since; it never will be so. The direction of this work among the people of the world will never be left to men. It is God’s work.” 4
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
God Himself leads His work and His people.
God has established all things in their order. The house of God is a house of order, and not a house of confusion. In this house God himself is the Supreme Head, and he must be obeyed. Christ is in the image and likeness of his being, his Only Begotten Son, and he stands as our Savior and our God. … Next unto God and Christ, on the earth is placed one unto whom the keys of power and the authority of the holy Priesthood are conferred, and unto whom the right of presidency is given. He is God’s mouthpiece to his people, in all things pertaining to the building up of Zion and to the spiritual and temporal salvation of the people. 5
No man will lead God’s people nor his work. God may choose men and make them instruments in his hands for accomplishing his purposes, but the glory and honor and power will be due to the Father, in whom rests the wisdom and the might to lead his people and take care of his Zion. I am not leading the Church of Jesus Christ, nor the Latter-day Saints, and I want this distinctly understood. No man does. … Remember that God leads the work. It is his. It is not man’s work. If it had been the work of Joseph Smith, or of Brigham Young, or of John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, or Lorenzo Snow, it would not have endured the tests to which it has been subjected. 6
Honor and praise be unto [the President of the Church,] that instrument in the hands of God of establishing order in the midst of uncertainty, and certain rules by which we know our bearings. 7
Three presiding high priests stand at the head of the Church on earth.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, constitute the Godhead and the matchless governing quorum over all the creations of the Father. Three men stand at the head of the Church on the earth … men whose only thought is to do good to all mankind, whose greatest care is for the welfare of the people of the Lord, and whose constant endeavor is to unite them and cause them to labor, each in his place and calling, to help build up Zion. 8
The Lord in the beginning of this work revealed that there should be three high priests to preside over the High Priesthood of his Church and over the whole Church. (Doctrine and Covenants 107:22, 64, 65, 66, 67, 91 and 92.) He conferred upon them all the authority necessary to preside over all the affairs of the Church. They hold the keys of the house of God and of the ordinances of the gospel, and of every blessing which has been restored to the earth in this dispensation. This authority is vested in a presidency of three high priests. They are three presidents. The Lord himself so calls them. (Doctrine and Covenants section 107:29.) But there is one presiding president, and his counselors are presidents also. 9
Presiding over the entire church is a council called the first presidency, consisting of a president and two counselors, next to whom are the twelve apostles, equal in authority to the first presidency, though subject to and acting under their direction. 10
The presiding officer of The Church may be and should be spoken of and addressed as “President;” this is true also of the counselors in the First Presidency, for each of them is a president as the Lord hath said (Doc. & Cov. 107:22, 24, 29); but it is not proper to speak commonly of the President of the Church, and [it is] incorrect to address him, as “Prophet,” “Seer,” or “Revelator,” though these exalted titles are specifically his, and belong also to each of his counselors, to each of the Twelve. … These are designations of spiritual powers and functions, and are of too sacred a character to be employed as common appellations. 11
There is always a head in the Church, and if the Presidency of the Church are removed by death or other cause, then the next head of the Church is the Twelve Apostles, until a presidency is again organized of three presiding high priests who have the right to hold the office of First Presidency over the Church; … and it is the duty of the Twelve Apostles to proceed at once, in the manner that has been pointed out, to see that the First Presidency is reorganized, so that there may be no deficiency in the working and order of the Priesthood in the Church. 12
The President of the High Priesthood holds the keys of the holy priesthood.
The Priesthood in general is the authority given to man to act for God. Every man ordained to any degree of the Priesthood, has this authority delegated to him.
But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood. 13
All the keys and authority and power pertaining to the government of the Church and to the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood are centered in the presiding officer of the Church. There is no business nor office, within the Church, that the President of the Church may not fill, and may not do, if it is necessary, or if it is required of him to do it [see D&C 107:9]. He holds the office of patriarch; he holds the office of high priest and of apostle, of seventy, of elder, of bishop and of priest, teacher and deacon in the Church; all these belong to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they can officiate in any and in all of these callings when occasion requires. 14
Never is there but one appointed at a time to hold the keys of the kingdom of God pertaining to the earth. While Christ remained on the earth he held them; but when he departed, he committed them to Peter, he being the president or chief of the apostles; and it was his right to direct and to receive revelation for the Church, and to give counsel to all the brethren. After Satan and wicked men had prevailed against the Church, crucified the Savior and killed the apostles, the keys of the kingdom were taken from the earth. … From the time that the keys of this Priesthood were taken from the earth until they were received by Joseph Smith, no man ever possessed that Priesthood, nor the keys thereof, with authority to build up the Zion of God, and prepare a church or people for the second coming of Christ. 15
The Doctrine and Covenants makes it very clear that while each officer in the Church has a right to officiate in his own standing, “the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the Church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things.” (Doctrine and Covenants, section 107:8.)
Further, in the same revelation verses 65 and 66, we are told:
“Wherefore it must needs be that one be appointed of the High Priesthood to preside over the Priesthood, and he shall be called President of the High Priesthood of the Church:
“Or in other words, the Presiding High Priest over the High Priesthood of the Church.” 16
The leading fact to be remembered is that the Priesthood is greater than any of its offices; and that any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood may, by virtue of its possession, perform any ordinance pertaining thereto, or connected therewith, when called upon to do so by one holding the proper authority, which proper authority is vested in the President of the Church, or in any whom he may designate. Every officer in the Church is under his direction, and he is directed of God. He is also selected of the Lord to be the head of the Church, and so becomes, when the Priesthood of the Church (which includes its officers and its members), shall have so accepted and upheld him. (Doctrine and Covenants, section 107:22.) 17
The President is appointed to receive revelations for the entire Church.
The Lord has also appointed one man at a time on the earth to hold the keys of revelation to the entire body of the Church in all its organizations, authorities, ordinances and doctrines. The spirit of revelation is bestowed upon all its members for the benefit and enlightenment of each individual receiving its inspiration, and according to the sphere in which he or she is called to labor. But for the entire Church, he who stands at the head is alone appointed to receive revelations by way of commandment and as the end of controversy. Assisted by his counselors, he presides over the whole Church in all the world; thus the First Presidency hold the right to give authoritative direction in all matters that pertain to the building up and government and regulation of the body. 18
The Latter-day Saints hold as a principle of their faith, that … the President of the Church is recognized as the only person through whom divine communication will come as law and doctrine to the religious body; that such revelation may come at any time, upon any subject, spiritual or temporal, as God wills; and, finally, that, in the mind of every faithful Latter-day Saint, such revelation, in whatsoever it counsels, advises or demands, is paramount. 19
The moment an individual rises up assuming the right to control and to dictate, or to sit in judgment on his brethren, especially upon those who preside, he should be promptly checked, or discord, division and confusion will be the result. Every man and woman in this Church should know better than to yield to such a spirit; the moment that such a feeling presents itself to them they should rebuke it, as it is in direct antagonism to the order of the Priesthood, and to the spirit and genius of this work. We can accept nothing as authoritative but that which comes directly through the appointed channel, the constituted organizations of the priesthood, which is the channel that God has appointed through which to make known his mind and will to the world. 20
It would be absolutely inconsistent, unreasonable and absurd to suppose that after God had called one man and appointed him to this work, that He should pass him by and go to somebody else to accomplish the same purpose. No sensible person would accept for one moment such a proposition. To seriously contemplate any such idea would be charging the Almighty with inconsistency, and with being the author of confusion, discord and schism. The Kingdom of God never could be established on earth in any such way. 21
If [the President of the Church] should become unfaithful, God would remove him out of his place. I testify in the name of Israel’s God that He will not suffer the head of the Church, him whom He has chosen to stand at the head, to transgress His Laws and apostatize; the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away. Why? Because to suffer a wicked man to occupy that position, would be to allow, as it were, the fountain to become corrupted, which is something He will never permit. 22
God will honor and magnify His servants.
[This] is not the work of man but of God Almighty; and it is His business to see that the men who occupy this position are men after His own heart, men that will receive instructions from Him, and that will carry out the same according to the counsels of His will. 23
[God’s] priesthood will ever be found to be composed of the right men for the place, of men whose backs will be fitted for the burden, men through whom he can work and regulate the affairs of his Church according to the counsels of his own will. And the moment that individuals look to any other source, that moment they throw themselves open to the seductive influences of Satan, and render themselves liable to become servants of the devil; they lose sight of the true order through which the blessings of the Priesthood are to be enjoyed; they step outside of the pale of the kingdom of God, and are on dangerous ground. 24
God will honor and magnify his servants in the sight of the people. He will sustain them in righteousness. He will lift them on high, exalt them into his presence, and they will partake of his glory forever and ever. 25
I bear my testimony to the divine authority of those who have succeeded the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presidency of this Church. They were men of God. … I can bear testimony to the integrity, to the honor, to the purity of life, to the intelligence, and to the divinity of the mission and calling of Brigham [Young], of John [Taylor], of Wilford [Woodruff], and of Lorenzo [Snow]. They were inspired of God to fill the mission to which they were called, and I know it. I thank God for that testimony and for the Spirit that prompts me and impels me towards these men, toward their mission, toward this people, toward my God and my Redeemer. 26
My brethren and sisters, my business, my duty, is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen from the dead and sitting enthroned in power, glory and majesty on the right hand of his Father, our God. … I must do the best I can, the best I know how, for those whom God has entrusted to my care. I must also do my duty toward the people of God to whom He has willed that I should be a humble minister and teacher of the Gospel. 27
It is the Lord’s work, and I plead with you not to forget it. I implore you not to disbelieve it; for it is true. All that the Lord said concerning this latter-day work will come to pass. The world cannot prevent it. … God is at the helm, and he will lead his people to victory. 28
Whenever, if ever, I say a word that is acceptable to God, whenever I speak His truth, it is by the presence and influence of His Spirit, and it is to His honor and to His glory that I do it. I never have taken any honor unto myself. I want no honor; I claim none except that of being a member of the Church of Christ, the honor of having a standing unsullied, undefiled, unshaken, and immovable, in the kingdom of my God and His Christ. 29
It is the kingdom of God or nothing, so far as I am concerned. I cut no figure personally in this work, and I am nothing except in the humble effort to do my duty as the Lord gives me the ability to do it. But it is the kingdom of God. What I mean by the kingdom of God is the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Jesus Christ is the king and the head. 30
Suggestions for Study
• Who leads the Church? Why is it important for us to understand that “no man will lead God’s people nor his work”?
• What blessings are promised to the members of the Church when they faithfully follow the President of the Church? (See also D&C 21:4–6.) In what ways have you been blessed by following the counsel of the living prophets?
• How can you sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their work?
• What do the “exalted titles” of prophet, seer, and revelator mean? To whom do these titles apply? What is the proper way to address or speak of the President of the Church?
• What are the keys of the priesthood? What does it mean to sustain the President of the Church as the only person on earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?
• Why is it vital to know that only the President of the Church is appointed to receive revelation for the entire Church? How can we guard against believing false prophets and false revelations?
• Why can we be assured that the President of the Church will always lead us according to God’s will?
10. In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 4:248.