What a tremendous sight to look out at this Conference Center filled to capacity and think of the buildings all over the world filled with the priesthood. Probably this would be the largest gathering of the priesthood in the history of the Church. I would imagine that would be true because we continue to grow every year.
My first brush with the priesthood was when I was baptized. I was baptized in an irrigation canal in the little town of Oakley, Idaho. I was with my friends on the bank of that irrigation canal. We had on our bib swimming suits, which consisted of bib overalls with the legs cut out so you wouldn’t sink and holes cut in the pockets. We had never seen a swimming suit made out of knit or of other fabric. My father came out from the First Ward meetinghouse with his counselors. He was carrying a chair, and he put the chair on the side of the irrigation ditch. My father said, “David, come on over here; we’re going to baptize you.”
I dove in the canal and swam over to the other side, shivering. It was in September and a little cold, and young boys get the shivers, you know, when you have only bib overalls on. My father got down into the canal. As I remember, he didn’t take his shoes off or change anything but was just in his regular clothes. He showed me how to hold my hands, and then he baptized me. After I came up out of the water, we both crawled up on the bank of the canal. I sat in the chair, and they put their hands on my head and confirmed me a member of the Church. After that I dove in the canal and went over on the other side and joined my friends.
This was my first experience, really, with the priesthood.
I would remind you that the priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man. Let me say that again: The priesthood is the power and authority of God delegated to man. Here in these assemblies tonight, we have those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, the lesser priesthood, and then the Melchizedek Priesthood, the higher priesthood. Isn’t it interesting to visualize how the Lord and His Heavenly Father, in setting up the plan of salvation, organized it so that men could be worthy enough and could be honored to hold the priesthood and join in the large army of men necessary to bring about the eternal purposes of our Heavenly Father, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man—mankind everywhere? What a mighty group that would entail!
A few years after I had been baptized, becoming better acquainted with some duties in the Church, I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood. My father, who had baptized me, had died in the meantime with a heart attack, so the bishop conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon me and ordained me to the office of a deacon. I remember that I had a wonderful feeling about that as he conferred the priesthood upon me, that I now had responsibilities and would be accountable for my actions and would have things to learn to do as I would progress through life. I did have a special feeling that I now was a little different, that I wouldn’t be exactly the same as friends who did not hold the priesthood or people that you would meet out in the world. I now had some responsibilities, things we would learn on Sundays in church as we would sit around the old coal stove down in the basement of the meetinghouse.
On Saturdays, we would clean out the church, fill the coal buckets with coal, and see that the building was ready for Sunday meetings. We had things to do in the lesser priesthood, in all the temporal affairs of the ward—collecting fast offerings and doing duties for the bishop. He and other leaders would teach us about the Aaronic Priesthood and the office of a deacon, then a teacher, and then, of course, a priest as we would advance in the priesthood. It seemed to me that I was developing an interesting understanding, a vision of the work to be done, and that I personally had some responsibility, even though I was just a young boy in a little country town. There was something very important about it.
When I was 11 years old, my father died, and at his funeral I was very touched as I heard the people speaking about what a kind man he had been. At the cemetery as they were lowering the casket down in the grave and starting to throw those shovels full of dirt and rocks down on the casket, I stood watching, thinking he was my hero, and I wondered what would ever happen to me having lost my father. I saw good men exercising the priesthood and doing what was right—the men who had helped in digging the grave and taking care of things—and I saw a good man push a five-dollar bill back into the hands of my mother, who had offered him some money for helping to dig the grave. He pushed that money back towards my mother and said, “No, you keep it because you will need this later on.”
And so, I would like to declare to all of you in these assemblies tonight, in the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood, isn’t it interesting in the wisdom of our Heavenly Father and His Son, in putting all of these things together, how in the lesser priesthood we learn to do the temporal chores? We’ll have temporal duties, learning in a humble, simple way those things that need to be done. This will teach us of service and of living the commandments of the Lord, preparing us so that we someday will be advanced to the Melchizedek Priesthood, with all of the majesty and the eternal glory that that entails.
Those Aaronic Priesthood years were interesting years in my life. I was always learning new things and always getting a little broader concept and feeling about the gospel and our responsibility in carrying this message out to all the world. In that process we learned to mingle with other people. Sometimes we have the feeling that people might not accept us because we have higher standards. There are things that we don’t do. We have the Word of Wisdom, which helps us to live a healthier life, a type of life that is conducive to our growing into manhood and having the standards and ideals and a way of living that most of the world would like to have. I found that if you live the way you should live, people notice it and are impressed with your beliefs, and then you have an influence on other people’s lives. When they find out that they don’t have to indulge in the smoking or the drinking or the pot, the drugs that are affecting the world so negatively, the fact that you don’t do that has an influence on those people.
Maintaining your standards qualifies you for marriage in the temple. Incidentally, this is the 173rd Annual General Conference of the Church, and for just a bit of trivia, my wife and I have been married 73 years. So the year we were married, the Church would have been holding the 100th annual conference. I can remember that as I was holding Ruby’s hand across the altar of the temple—listening to the words of the sealing ceremony—I had a special feeling in my heart, not only of the sacredness of it but of the responsibility I had to live as I should live, to take care of her and our children, and then our grandchildren, and then the other generations that would come along. I was determined to set an example of living the way a person can live in honoring the priesthood and our marriage covenant.
Tonight while we meet as priesthood holders, just think of the responsibility each one of us has as we consider what has to come about in this world—probably new things that we are not aware of today—after this war is over and things have been put back the way they should be. There’s so much for us to do. For us to do it, we need to be worthy of the priesthood that we have so that we can help in leading out as the Church moves on, perhaps in a broader way than we’ve ever done before. What a day that will be!
A few years ago, when I was in the navy during World War II, I received orders to report to the fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor. My family took me to Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, where I boarded the plane there, an old sea plane called a Pan-American clipper. On board that plane were some high-ranking medical officers going out to prepare and build up the hospital support because the battle of Tarawa would be taking place within a few weeks. Because of my rank, I was assigned to sleep in a sleeping bag out in the tail of that plane, where I could see the starboard engines as we were flying over San Francisco, which was under military blackout. It was black as we were flying out into the Pacific, and I thought the starboard engine on that old Pan-American plane was on fire. I couldn’t sleep as I watched it throughout the entire flight.
During that sleepless night I wondered about my own life and whether I had been living up to the opportunities that would be mine and the responsibility that would be mine as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood—the responsibility to be an example and to live the way I should so that I would be able to fulfill the calls that might come to me. In that sleepless night I took an inventory of myself, of my attitudes, wondering if I was doing all that I might. Even though I had always accepted my Church assignments, I wondered if I was fulfilling them with all of my heart, might, mind, and soul and living up to the responsibility, the blessing, that I received as a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood and what would be expected of any of us who received this blessing.
Looking back on that sleepless night, I thank the Lord for His blessings today and for all that I have had the opportunity to be involved in. I try always to live the gospel to the fullest, to do everything I am called on to do with all of my heart, might, mind, and strength, to fulfill any call that might come to me so I may be qualified to do whatever I might be asked to do someday.
On this night when we are honoring the priesthood, you young men of the priesthood, resolve to live the way you should. Don’t be caught up in some of the silly things that are going on in the world, but bear in mind what has been given to you. I will repeat again, priesthood is the power and authority delegated to man by our Heavenly Father. The authority and the majesty of it are beyond our comprehension.
I bear you my witness, my testimony, that this work is true. I’m glad to be able, in the twilight of my life, to stand and bear witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, as I have witnessed it all the days of my life from my baptism on until the present time. I love the Lord. I love our Heavenly Father and this work. I bear witness to the truthfulness of this work.
And to all of you priesthood leaders, live as you should. We are different, and it is not good for you to be like everybody else because you hold the priesthood of God, with those great promises and blessings and expectations of you.
This work is true. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.