A person usually enters the temple the first time to receive what is called the endowment. After receiving the endowment, a person then is able to be married in the temple, which in temple terminology is called being sealed.
Since Latter-day Saints do not discuss in detail the ordinances of the temple outside of the temple, how may an appropriate overview be given to interested members and friends? Fortunately, leaders who have been Presidents of the Church or who have been members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have given perceptive, helpful summaries.
It was through the Prophet Joseph Smith in the nineteenth century that the Lord restored again to earth the holy ordinances of temple covenants and blessings. The following recollection of President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency describes the intense interest that members of the Church had in the 1840s when the blessings of the temple were again made available to mankind:
“When the Prophet Joseph [Smith] first communicated that the Lord had revealed to him the keys of the endowment, I can remember the great desire there was on every hand to understand something about them. When the Prophet would speak about his desire to complete the temple in order that he might impart unto his fellow servants that which God had delivered to him, a thrill went through the congregation and a great desire for this filled their hearts” (Gospel Truth, Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, 2 vols., comp. Jerreld L. Newquist, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1974, 1:228).
An overview of the endowment was given by Elder James E. Talmage, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and a prominent scholar:
“The Temple Endowment, as administered in modern temples, comprises instruction relating to the significance and sequence of past dispensations, and the importance of the present as the greatest and grandest era in human history. This course of instruction includes a recital of the most prominent events of the creative period, the condition of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, their disobedience and consequent expulsion from that blissful abode, their condition in the lone and dreary world when doomed to live by labor and sweat, the plan of redemption by which the great transgression may be atoned, the period of the great apostasy, the restoration of the Gospel with all its ancient powers and privileges, the absolute and indispensable condition of personal purity and devotion to the right in present life, and a strict compliance with Gospel requirements. …
“The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King—the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions.
“No jot, iota, or tittle of the temple rites is otherwise than uplifting and sanctifying. In every detail the endowment ceremony contributes to covenants of morality of life, consecration of person to high ideals, devotion to truth, patriotism to nation, and allegiance to God. The blessings of the House of the Lord are restricted to no privileged class; every member of the Church may have admission to the temple with the right to participate in the ordinances thereof, if he comes duly accredited as of worthy life and conduct” (The House of the Lord, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1968, pp. 83–84).
Another insight regarding the endowment was given by Elder John A. Widtsoe, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a widely known university president and scientist. Elder Widtsoe wrote:
“The endowment given to members of the Church in the temples falls into several divisions. First, there is a course of instruction relative to man’s eternal journey from the dim beginning towards his possible glorious destiny. Then, conditions are set up by which that endless journey may be upward in direction. Those who receive this information covenant to obey the laws of eternal progress, and thereby give life to the knowledge received. Finally, it is made clear that a man must sometimes give an account of his deeds, and prove the possession of divine knowledge and religious works. It is a very beautiful, logical and inspiring series of ceremonies” (A Rational Theology, 7th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1965, pp. 125–26).
President Brigham Young succinctly described the endowment from a different perspective. He observed that the endowment will prove to be vital for us after we leave mortality:
“Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 416).
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often speak of the influence temple covenants and ordinances have in their lives. How might one who has not been to the temple best sense this influence? Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, President of the Church in the 1970s, wrote the following:
“If we go into the temple we raise our hands and covenant that we will serve the Lord and observe his commandments and keep ourselves unspotted from the world. If we realize what we are doing, then the endowment will be a protection to us all our lives—a protection which a man who does not go to the temple does not have.
“I have heard my father say that in the hour of trial, in the hour of temptation, he would think of the promises, the covenants that he made in the House of the Lord, and they were a protection to him. … This protection is what these ceremonies are for, in part. They save us now and exalt us hereafter, if we will honor them. I know that this protection is given for I, too, have realized it, as have thousands of others who have remembered their obligations” (Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, July 1930, p. 103).
To endow is to enrich, to give to another something long-lasting and of much worth. To Latter-day Saints, the blessings of the endowment are as a pearl of great price in their lives, giving endless support and strength, unlimited inspiration and motivation.