President Harold B. Lee told the following story about the Salt Lake Temple: “When the great Salt Lake Temple was being planned, Truman O. Angell, the architect, was asked to write an article … and give the people of the Church something of an idea what the temple, when completed, would look like. … Among other things, he referred to something that you will find on the west end of the temple. … Underneath the center spire on the west end, near the tabernacle, you will find what is referred to in the star constellations as the Dipper. You will note that the pointers of the Dipper are looking up towards a bright star which we usually call the North Star. When Truman O. Angell described what would be found in that place, he said, ‘This was to signify that through the priesthood the lost may find their way.’”
President Lee then emphasized, “Through the priesthood and only the priesthood may we, as the sons and daughters of God, find our way back home.”1
Teachings of Harold B. Lee
What is the priesthood?
There are two concepts that over the years have been expressed in defining the meaning of priesthood. One is that priesthood is the authority given by our Heavenly Father to man to authorize him to officiate in all matters pertaining to the salvation of mankind upon the earth. The other concept is expressed by another meaningful thought that priesthood is the power by which God works through man.2
The priesthood of God is here and has been handed down since the restoration of the Church through messengers who were sent to restore that authority that the ordinances of salvation might be administered to all the faithful of the earth. The priesthood of God holds the keys of salvation.3
The Master told Peter and the other apostles of a power beyond that of man which he called the “keys of the kingdom of heaven,” and by this power he said, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19.) That power and authority, by which holy ordinances are administered, is known as the holy priesthood and is always to be found in the Church of Jesus Christ in every dispensation of the gospel upon the earth.4
[The priesthood] is the authority to administer in the ordinances according to the pattern which [the Lord] had revealed. This power … is the right delegated to man by the Lord to act in His name for the salvation of the souls of men. …
One of the purposes of [the] higher priesthood was to administer in the ordinances, to give to mankind that knowledge of God which the Master declared was necessary and which the Apostle Paul, in speaking of the organization of the Church, said was necessary to come to “the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.” [Ephesians 4:13.] And again there is that power of the lesser priesthood to officiate in other ordinances, such as these young men so beautifully administering to and passing the sacrament this evening. The Aaronic Priesthood, the Lord said, is the priesthood “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,” [D&C 13:1] and the law of carnal commandments. And so … the priesthood [is] necessary for the express purpose of giving power to those called to administer in the ordinances necessary to achieve the salvation the Lord has designed for His purpose.5
The Lord does reign in the midst of his Saints through his priesthood, which he delegates to man.6
How should the priesthood be used?
In a great revelation we know as the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, given through the inspiration of the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said some very significant things. He said the priesthood could only be controlled upon the principles of righteousness, and that if we were to use our priesthood office improperly “to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion … the Spirit of the Lord is grieved.” (See D&C 121:37.) …
The penalty if we do use our priesthood unrighteously is that the heavens withdraw themselves and the Spirit of the Lord is grieved. When we lose the Spirit, our priesthood authority is taken from us and we are left to ourselves “to kick against the pricks,” when we are being irritated by the admonitions and instructions of our leaders. Then we begin to persecute the saints, which means criticize, and finally to fight against God, and the powers of darkness overtake us if we do not repent and turn from that evil course. [See D&C 121:37–38.]
The qualities of acceptable priesthood leadership are also carefully defined in this revelation. One is to preside over the Church with patience and long-suffering, with gentleness and meekness, with love unfeigned. If one must discipline and reprove with sharpness, he must do it when moved upon by the Holy Ghost and then show forth afterwards an increase of love, lest the one whom he has reproved would think him to be an enemy. [See D&C 121:41–43.] In all our priesthood callings we must never forget that the business of the church and kingdom of God is to save souls, and that all over whom we preside are our Father’s children, and He will aid us in our endeavors to save every one.
There is a classic example of how our Lord would have us minister to those who need our aid. When Peter and John, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, approached a man who had never walked and who was at the gates of the temple begging alms, instead of giving him money, the apostle Peter, you will remember, said to him, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6.)
Then followed a significant statement in the record of that incident. Peter took him by the right hand and lifted him up. [See Acts 3:7.] Remember that it wasn’t enough for Peter to command him to walk; he then took him by the hand and lifted him up.
So must we, in dealing with our faltering saints, not be merely priesthood holders who criticize, scold, and condemn. We must, like the apostle Peter, take them by the arm, encourage them, and give them a sense of security and respect for themselves until they can rise above their difficulties and can stand on their own feet.
That is the way the priesthood of God can bring salvation and fellowship to those who are weak, that they may become strong.7
Our success … will be measured in part by our capacity to love those whom we seek to lead and to serve. When we truly love others it can eliminate the bad motives that often prevail in human relationships. When we truly love others we will act in their eternal interests and not to meet our own ego needs.8
How can priesthood holders “be about [their] Father’s business”?
As a young boy of twelve years, Jesus, after having been found in the temple by Joseph and Mary, in response to their inquiry asked a significant question: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49.) What did he mean by His Father’s business?
In another revelation the Lord gave meaning to that young boy’s question. To the elders of the Church assembled in Kirtland, Ohio, He impressed upon them their great responsibilities as holders of the sacred priesthood office of elder. “Wherefore,” said he, “as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.” (D&C 64:29.)
When one becomes a holder of the priesthood, he becomes an agent of the Lord. He should think of his calling as though he were on the Lord’s errand. That is what it means to magnify the priesthood. Think of the Master asking each of you, as this young boy did of Joseph and Mary, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? Whatever you do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.9
When we officiate in the name of the Lord, as holders of the priesthood, we are doing it in the name and in behalf of our Heavenly Father. Priesthood is the power by which our Heavenly Father works through men. …
… I am afraid that some of our elders do not understand this, that when they are officiating as elders of the Church … or as high priests, it is as though when they perform the ordinance, the Lord through them is acting upon the heads of those for whom they minister. I have often thought one of the reasons why we are not magnifying our priesthood is because we don’t understand that as holders of the priesthood, He is working through us by the power of the holy priesthood, and I would wish that we could all have that feeling, and so teach our young people what it means to hold the priesthood and to magnify it.10
What does it mean to have hands laid upon your head? Let me take you to the thirty-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants and read to you a verse that you may have skimmed over and haven’t seen the significance of. This is a revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet to Edward Partridge, the first Presiding Bishop. This is what the Lord said: “And I will lay my hand upon you [Edward Partridge] by the hand of my servant Sidney Rigdon, and you shall receive my Spirit, the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which shall teach you the peaceable things of the kingdom” (D&C 36:2).
Do you see what He is saying—that whenever you perform a service by the authority of your priesthood it is as though the Lord were placing His hand on that person by your hand in order for you to bestow the blessings of life, of health, of priesthood, or whatever it may be. And whenever we exercise our priesthood, we are doing it as though the Lord were there with us, and through us, helping us to perform that ordinance.11
Now, to you who are male members of the Church: You have a right to hold what is called the priesthood of God. … Some have hands laid upon their head to receive this power and this authority, but never receive it. And why can’t they receive it? The Lord has told us two things: because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and second, they aspire so much to the honors of men (see D&C 121:35). Will you think back to those of your acquaintance and see why it is that some fall by the wayside in spiritual matters, and you will find the answer in one of those two things. Either their hearts were set so much upon the things of this world—was it money? was it social position? was it things in the educational world?—or were they aspiring so much to the honors of men that they couldn’t be bothered with things in the Church. Yes, if you would be leaders in the Church and hold these … privileges, you must pay the price.12
Brethren, in your hands is given a sacred trust not only to have the authority to act in the name of the Lord, but to so prepare yourselves as clean and pure vessels so that the power of Almighty God may be manifested through you as you officiate in the sacred ordinances of the priesthood. Never take your priesthood into places where you would be ashamed to have the President of the Church see you.13
We must say, “Because I am a holder of the priesthood of the living God, I am a representative of our Heavenly Father and hold the priesthood by which He can work through me; I can’t stoop to do some of the things that I might have done otherwise because of my fellowship with the priesthood of God.” …
Brethren, we look to you to carry the banner of the holy priesthood of God. … Let us have our eyes fixed on the eternal value of things, with an eye single to the glory of God, and say each to himself, that “from now on, God being my helper, I am not going to engage in any activity unless it helps me to move myself further toward that goal of eternal life, eventually to return back to the presence of my Heavenly Father.”14
Brethren of the priesthood, when you are called to a position, you fathers in the home, you have a right to have the blessings of the priesthood, and you have a right to have the revelations of the Spirit to guide and direct you if you are living so that the Lord can open the windows of heaven to you and give you direction in the specific callings to which you are called. Brethren, in order to receive that, you have to live for it. You have to qualify.15
Remember those marvelous promises of the Lord to you if you would be full of charity to all men and “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:45–46.)
Those inspired words were from the Lord, and I repeat them as a reminder to each of you of your responsibilities as holders of the priesthood and the great blessings which will be yours if you magnify your callings as servants of the Most High God.16
How are all Church members blessed as priesthood holders serve in righteousness?
The priesthood holders are in truth the watchmen upon the towers of Zion. You are they who are set to preside over any branch of the Church and to be alert to the dangers that beset the world, both the seen and the unseen. You are a few of the priesthood holders as the shepherds of the flocks, flocks of Church members everywhere. Your responsibilities are many. You must fellowship new members as they come into the Church; search out the honest seekers after truth and bring them in contact with the missionaries; be continually mindful of the needs of the fatherless and the widows. Particularly, to do that and to keep yourselves unspotted from the world, as the apostle James said, is “pure religion and undefiled.” (James 1:27.) You are to see that iniquity does not abound and to see that all members are motivated to become active in the Church. You are to teach correct principles in order that members, leaders, and teachers know how to govern themselves. …
You who are presiding authorities are charged with the responsibility to the flock, or the branches, districts, wards, or stakes over which you preside. You should be as fathers, carefully and constantly teaching fathers the responsibility of looking over their own families and extending themselves as called to the various responsibilities in the Church, to be defenders of the faith.17
The real strength of this church lies in the power and authority of the holy priesthood which our Heavenly Father has given to us in this day. If we exercise properly that power and magnify our callings in the priesthood, we will see to it that the missionary work shall go forward, that the tithing shall be paid, that the welfare plan shall prosper, that our homes shall be safe, and that morality among the youth of Israel shall be safeguarded.18
Some years ago I went to a stake conference where the Manti Temple is located down in southern Utah. It was a dark, stormy night and it was snowing. As we left our meetings and went to the home of the stake president, we stopped there in the car and looked up at the temple situated high on a hill. As we sat impressed by the sight of that beautifully lighted temple shining through the snowy and dark night, the stake president said something to me that was very meaningful. He said, “That temple, lighted as it is, is never more beautiful than in a storm or when there is a dense fog.” To understand the importance of that, may I say to you that never is the gospel of Jesus Christ more important to you than in a storm or when you are having great difficulty. Never is the power of the priesthood, which you hold, more wonderful than when there is a crisis in your home, a serious illness, or some great decision that has to be made, or there is a great threat of flood, or fire, or famine of some kind. Vested in the power of the priesthood, which is the power of Almighty God, is the power to perform miracles if the Lord wills it so, but in order for us to use that priesthood, we must be worthy to exercise it. A failure to understand this principle is a failure to receive the blessings of holding that great priesthood.19
Suggestions for Study and Discussion
How does the priesthood help us “find our way back home” to our Heavenly Father?
Why is it important for priesthood holders to remember that the priesthood should be used to save souls and minister to those in need? In the account found in Acts 3:1–9, how did Peter and John set an example of righteous use of priesthood power?
What can we learn from Doctrine and Covenants 121:41–44 about how priesthood holders should exercise the priesthood?
Why must priesthood holders be righteous if they are to give faithful priesthood service? According to President Lee, what is the penalty for failing to use the priesthood righteously?
As a priesthood holder, how can the knowledge that you are on the Lord’s errand help you magnify your priesthood callings?
How can sisters help priesthood holders to magnify their priesthood callings?
What are some particular ways in which your life has been blessed by priesthood power?
Be Loyal to the Royal within You, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (20 Oct. 1957), 1–2.
Stand Ye in Holy Places (1974), 251–52.
In Conference Report, Munich Germany Area Conference 1973, 8.
Decisions for Successful Living (1973), 123.
Address to Mutual Improvement Association, 1948, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1972, 64; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, 63.
Stand Ye in Holy Places, 253–55.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1996), 481.
Stand Ye in Holy Places, 255.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1973, 129; or Ensign, July 1973, 98.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 487–88.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 487.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 501.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 115, 120; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 97, 100–101.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 488.
Stand Ye in Holy Places, 256–57.
In Conference Report, Munich Germany Area Conference 1973, 68.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 486–87.
The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 488.