First Presidency Message

The Importance of the Priesthood

By President N. Eldon Tanner

First Counselor in the First Presidency

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    It is a great privilege to hold the priesthood of God. We know that we are spirit children of God and thereby should realize that our potential is unlimited if we will just magnify the office we have in the priesthood. (See D&C 84:33)

    A father’s counsel

    I was made conscious of the priesthood for the first time just before I was ordained a deacon. My father happened to be bishop of the ward at that time, and he told me the importance of the priesthood. He said to me, “My boy, I hope you’re the kind of man,” he honored me by calling me a man when I was twelve years of age, “the kind of man that the Lord would appreciate holding the priesthood.” He told me what the Lord would expect of a young man holding the priesthood—expect him to keep the Word of Wisdom strictly, and as he progressed, to keep himself morally clean in every way. “You must not be part of the world,” he said. “You must honor that priesthood, magnify your calling (See D&C 84:33), be an example, be not afraid to let people know that you are for or against something, defend right wherever you are, and you will find as you go through life that the men who criticize you, who ridicule you, who do not support you outwardly, will respect you and have great confidence in you if you will do what the Lord would have you do holding the priesthood.”

    Individual responsibility

    President McKay when he was incapacitated said to me several times, “Whenever you go out amongst a group of our members, tell them, remind them, to remember who they are, and then act accordingly. Tell them that they have an individual responsibility.” An individual responsibility is the ability to stand up wherever you are and let the world know that you have a testimony of the gospel, and that you are determined to live up to it, whether you are out with a girl at night or whether you are out with the boys on the campus, whether you are out on a fishing trip, or wherever it may be, let those people know who you are and “act accordingly.” You’ll never regret it.

    Importance of the priesthood

    I would like to tell you how important this priesthood is. The Lord thought it was important enough to have it restored here upon the earth and have the Church reestablished. He thought it so important that he sent John the Baptist to come and restore the Aaronic Priesthood. Now John said as he met these two young men that he had been sent by Peter, James, and John—he was sent under their direction. He said, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (D&C 13.) How important it is! The priesthood of Aaron holds the keys of the ministering of angels and of the gospel of repentance and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. To think that a young man can perform those things, those ordinances as a member of the Aaronic Priesthood. Later, Peter, James, and John came and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon them. Now that’s how important the priesthood is.

    And then we read in the Doctrine and Covenants what we refer to as the priesthood covenants: “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods,” I wish you would pay attention to this, “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining of these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies … (D&C 84:33. Italics added.) What a tremendous promise. All you have to do is to be faithful and magnify your calling as the Lord would have you do it.

    We have sitting behind me here today, President Kimball. He is a great example of one whose body is renewed through keeping these covenants. I don’t know how many of you know of his condition when they found that he had cancer of the throat and they had to remove most of his vocal organs, and it was impossible for him to speak.

    I remember attending a general conference when I was president of the stake up in Canada and meeting President Kimball with two or three others. He said, (whispering) “Hello, I can’t speak to you.” In other words, “Hello, President Tanner, I can’t speak to you.” He could not speak at all so that you could hear him any more than just a bare whisper. They didn’t know whether he’d ever be able to speak again, but he was blessed by the priesthood, and he was able to speak. Then later on, just a few years ago, they found that he had what they thought to be further cancerous growth in his organs, and they wanted to operate. But he called the priesthood to pray over him, to bless him, anoint him, and to administer to him. Now notice that it was the priesthood whom he called. It wasn’t because it was President Lee and Eldon Tanner; it was because of the priesthood we held. He was given a blessing, and it wasn’t necessary for him to have that operation.

    Then later on he had a heart condition, and I think President Kimball won’t object to me telling just a little of the details. He was so seriously ill that he felt that something had to be done. Dr. Russell Nelson (noted Utah heart surgeon) was his doctor. He told him that his chances were about fifty-fifty. But if he didn’t have the operation, he couldn’t expect to live many months, but if he did, there was greater hope. We discussed it in President Lee’s office for some time. Finally, President Kimball said, “I think I should be operated on.” I said, “President Kimball, you’ve made the right decision, I’m sure.”

    Then he asked to be administered to by President Lee and myself. We administered to him and Dr. Nelson said, “To be operating on the President of the Council of the Twelve, an apostle of God, is a great, great responsibility, the greatest I’ve ever had.” And he said, “President Kimball is going to have a double operation.” At that time he was the only one in history I believe who had undergone, or was going to undergo, a double heart operation at that age. And Doctor Nelson said, “I’d like to have a blessing by the priesthood that I might be guided and directed and do the things that will help to save his life.”

    Now, brethren, does the priesthood mean anything to you? It doesn’t mean anything to you unless you live worthy of it. So whether you are a boy twelve years of age, or whether you are seventy years of age, wherever you are, live worthy of the priesthood. Honor that priesthood. Thank the Lord that you are a bearer of the priesthood, and pray night and morning, every day, with a determination that you will do those things which the Lord would have you do. And I want to assure you that you will be happier, you will be more successful, you will be more loved and respected, and the Lord will be pleased with you if you do that which he has asked you to do.

    Let us do those things which will make us happy and successful and will prepare ourselves to go back into his presence, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.