Looking Toward the Temple

By Elder John A. Widtsoe (1872–1952)

Of the Council of the Twelve

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    From writings by Elder Widtsoe on temple worship

    The temple is a house or home of the Lord. Should the Lord visit the earth, he would come to his temple. We are of the Lord’s family. We are his children begotten in our preexistent life. Hence, as the earthly father and mother and their family gather in the family home, so the worthy members of the Lord’s family may gather as we do in the house of the Lord.

    The temple is a place of instruction. Here the principles of the gospel are reviewed and profound truths of the kingdom of God are unfolded. If we enter the temple in the right spirit and are attentive, we go out enriched in gospel knowledge and wisdom.

    The temple is a place of peace. Here we may lay aside the cares and worries of the outside, turbulent world. Here our minds should be centered upon spiritual realities, since here we are concerned only with things of the Spirit.

    The temple is a place of covenant, which will help us live righteously. Here we declare that we will obey the laws of God and promise to use the precious knowledge of the gospel for our own blessing and the good of man. The simple ceremonies help us to go out from the temple with the high resolve to lead lives worthy of the gifts of the gospel.

    The temple is a place of blessing. Promises are made to us, conditioned only upon our faithfulness, which extend from time to eternity. They will help us to understand the nearness of our heavenly parents. The power of the priesthood is thus given us in new and large measures.

    The temple is a place where ceremonies pertaining to godliness are presented. The great mysteries of life, with man’s unanswered questions, are here made clear: (1) Where did I come from? (2) Why am I here? (3) Where do I go when life is over? Here the needs of the spirit from which all other things of life issue are held of paramount importance.

    The temple is a place of revelation. The Lord may here give revelation, and every person may receive revelation to assist him in life. All knowledge, all help come from the Lord, directly or indirectly.

    Though he may not be here in person, he is here by his Holy Spirit and by earthly men holding the priesthood. By that Spirit they direct the Lord’s work here on earth. Every person who enters this sacred place in faith and prayer will find help in the solution of life’s problems.

    It is good to be in the temple, the house of the Lord, a place of priesthood instruction, of peace, of covenants, of blessings, and of revelation. Gratitude for this privilege and an eager desire to posses the spirit of the occasion should overflow in our hearts.

    The temple, with its gifts and blessings, is open to all who conform to the requirements of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each person who is worthy may apply to his or her bishop for a recommend to enter the temple.

    The ordinances performed here are sacred; they are not mysterious. All who accept and live the gospel and keep themselves clean may partake of them. Indeed, all faithful members of the Church are invited and urged to make use of the temple and to enjoy its privileges. It is a sacred place in which holy ordinances are given to all who have proved themselves worthy to partake of its blessings.

    Whatever the gospel offers may be done in a temple. Baptisms, ordinations to the priesthood, marriage, and sealings for time and eternity for the living and the dead, the endowment for the living and the dead, gospel instruction, councils for the work of the ministry, and all else belonging to the gospel are here performed. Indeed, in the temple the whole gospel is epitomized.

    It is not to be expected that the temple ceremonies can be comprehended, in full detail the first time a person “goes through” the temple. Therefore, the Lord has provided means of repetition. Temple work must be done first by each person for himself; then it may be done for one’s dead ancestors or friends as frequently as circumstances will allow. This service will open the doors of salvation for the dead and will also help fix upon the mind of the living the nature, meaning, and obligations of the endowment. By keeping the endowment fresh in mind, we shall be better able to perform our duties in life under the influence of eternal blessings.

    The ceremonies of the temples are comprehensively outlined in the revelation known as Section 124, verses 39–41, of the Doctrine and Covenants: “Therefore verily I say unto you, that your anointings, and your washings, and your baptisms for the dead, and your solemn assemblies, and your memorials for your sacrifices by the sons of Levi, and for your oracles in your most holy places wherein you receive conversations, and your statues and judgements, for the beginning of the revelations, and foundation of Zion, and for the glory, honor, and endowment of all her municipals, are ordained by the ordinance of my holy house, which my people are always commanded to build unto my holy name.

    “And verily I say unto you, let his house be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people;

    “For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.” [D&C 124:39–41]

    In the temples all are dressed alike in white. White is the symbol of purity. No unclean person has the right to enter God’s house. Besides, the uniform dress symbolizes that before God our Father in heaven all men are equal. The machinist and the banker, the learned and the unlearned, the prince and the pauper sit side by side in the temple and are of equal importance if they live righteously before the Lord God, the Father of their spirits. It is spiritual fitness and understanding that one receives in the temple. All such have an equal place before the Lord.

    From beginning to end, going through the temple is a glorious experience. It is uplifting, informative. It gives courage. The candidate is sent forth with increased understanding and power for his work.

    The laws of the temple and the covenants of the endowment are beautiful, helpful, simple, and easily understood. To observe them is equally simple. It is marvelous, however, that the Prophet Joseph Smith, untaught in the ways of the world, could so place them in proper sequence in laying the foundation for human spiritual progress. This alone justifies our faith that Joseph Smith was guided by powers beyond those of mortal men.

    For those who enter into the temple service in faith, in full surrender to the will of the Lord, the day will be a glorious experience. Light and power will come to them to assist in all that the future years may require.

    Wherever one turns in the revealed gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and particularly in the temple, the conviction grows that the work of God is reestablished for his specific purpose in the latter days. Temple service is to aid and to help us in qualifying for this mighty work: … to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.)

    Temple Worship Eternally a Part of the Gospel. When Joseph Smith was commissioned to restore the gospel and to reestablish the Church of Jesus Christ, the building of temples and temple site in Independence, dedicated shortly after the organization of the Church; the building and completion of the Kirtland temple and the wonderful things that happened there; the building of the Nauvoo temple and the giving of endowments in the temple after the death of the Prophet; the dedication of other temple sites; and many revelations concerning temples, indicate, altogether, that the main concern of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the restoration of the gospel in these latter days was the founding, building, and completion of temples in which the ordinances “hid from before the foundation of the world” might be given. In fact, the Lord declared repeatedly to the Prophet that unless temples were built and used, the plan of salvation could neither be in full operation nor fully accomplished.

    Let me suggest that the reason why temple building and temple worship have been found in every age, on every hand, and among every people, is because the gospel in its fulness was revealed to Adam, and that all religious and religious practices are therefore derived from the remnants of the truth given to Adam and transmitted by him to the patriarchs. The ordinances of the temple insofar as then necessary were given, no doubt, in those early days, and very naturally corruptions of them have been handed down in ages. Those who understand the eternal nature of the gospel—planned before the foundations of the earth—understand clearly why all history seems to revolve about the building and use of temples.

    Eternal Nature of Man. To understand the meaning of temple worship, it is necessary to understand the plan of salvation and its relation to temple worship. The human race were “in the beginning with God,” and were created spiritual beings in a day before the arrival upon this earth. Mankind is here because of its acceptance of the plan of salvation, and satisfactory preexistent lives. We have won the right to be here; we have not been forced to come here; we have won our place upon the earth. We shall pass into another sphere of existence, and shall continue upward and onward forever and forever, if we obey the high laws of eternal existence.

    The plan of salvation for eternal beings involves the principle that God’s work with respect to this earth will not be complete until every soul has been taught the gospel and has been offered the privilege of accepting salvation and the accompanying great blessings which the Lord has in store for his children. Until that is done the work is unfinished.

    Men frequently ask when the last day shall come and when the earth shall go through its great change. Men attempt uselessly to figure out the dates of these coming events from the sayings of Daniel and the other prophets. We know that the Lord will come when we are ready to receive him; that is, when we have done the work he requires of us; not before, not later; but when the labor of the day has been accomplished, the present day will end and a new stage of action will be set. When the work assigned to the earth children has been done in accordance with the plan of salvation, the Lord will remember his promises, and the end of the earth, which is the beginning of a new day of advancement, will occur.

    We who travel the earth journey are working out an eternal problem. An endless journey is ours; the earth life is a fraction of it; the purpose is unending. And the temple is central to the journey and its purpose.

    Pictures copyright by the Corporation of the President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Counter for clothing distribution in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)

    One of two ordinance rooms in Tokyo Temple. (© LDS.)