From the Life of Joseph F. Smith
At the August 1907 dedication service of the Uintah Stake Tabernacle in Vernal, Utah, President Joseph F. Smith told the assembled Saints that he would not be surprised if a temple were built in their midst someday.1 In November 1997 the remodeled tabernacle was dedicated as the Vernal Utah Temple, the 51st temple of the Church.
Joseph F. Smith’s life and ministry were closely tied to temple work. His personal experiences began in Nauvoo in the winter of 1845–46 when his mother and her sister, Mercy R. Thompson, “were much engaged in the work going on in the temple.” President Smith said later, “It was there that my father’s children were sealed to their parents.”2 He was present at the laying of the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple in 1853 and at the dedication of the temple in 1893. In anticipation of the dedication, he said: “For forty years the hopes, desires, and anticipations of the entire Church have been centered upon the completion of this edifice. … Now that the great building is at last finished and ready to be used for divine purposes, need we say that we draw near an event whose consummation is to us as a people momentous in the highest degree?”3 He served as president of the Salt Lake Temple from 1898 to 1911, nine of those years while he was President of the Church.
President Smith participated in the dedications of the St. George, Logan, and Manti Temples. In 1913 he dedicated the site for the sixth temple of the Church in Cardston, Alberta, Canada; and in 1915 he dedicated the land in his beloved adopted homeland, Hawaii, for the first temple outside North America. He recognized, however, that the Church was merely on the threshold of temple building: “I foresee the necessity arising for other temples … consecrated to the Lord for the performance of the ordinances of God’s house, so that the people may have the benefits of the house of the Lord without having to travel hundreds of miles for that purpose.”4
Teachings of Joseph F. Smith
Temples are for the performance of sacred, saving ordinances.
We are engaged in temple work. We have built four temples in this land, and we built two temples in the eastern country before we came here. During the lifetime of the Prophet Joseph Smith one of the two was built and dedicated, and the foundation of the other was laid and the walls had well progressed when he was martyred. It was finished by the efforts of the people under the most trying circumstances, and in poverty, and was dedicated unto the Lord. The ordinances of the house of God were administered therein as they had been taught to the leading authorities of the Church by the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. … The same gospel prevails today, and the same ordinances are administered today, both for the living and for the dead, that were administered by the Prophet himself, and delivered by him to the Church.5
We hope to see the day when we shall have temples built in the various parts of the land where they are needed for the convenience of the people; for we realize that one of the greatest responsibilities that rests upon the people of God today is that their hearts shall be turned unto their fathers, and that they shall do the work that is necessary to be done for them in order that they may be joined together fitly in the bond of the New and Everlasting Covenant from generation to generation.6
The temples are not open to the public. They are for the performance of sacred ordinances, having in view the salvation of the living and the dead. The principal ceremonies are baptisms, endowments, marriages, sealings. … Much of this work, that in behalf of the dead, is of a vicarious character. With the Latter-day Saints there is hope of salvation for those who have departed this life without obeying the gospel, if they will yield obedience to its requirements in the other world, the place of departed spirits. The gospel will be preached to them by servants of the Lord who have entered into paradise, and they who manifest faith and repent there can be baptized for here, receiving in like manner other ministrations, to the end that they may be exalted and glorified.7
No man can enter into the Kingdom of God but by the door and through the means that Jesus Christ has offered to the children of men. … Not a soul that has ever lived and died from off the face of this earth shall escape a chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. If they receive it and obey it, the ordinances of the gospel will be performed for and in their behalf, by their kindred, or their posterity in some generation of time after them, so that every law and every requirement of the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be carried out, and the promises and requirements fulfilled for the salvation of the living and also for the salvation of the dead.8
The man or woman, therefore, among the Latter-day Saints, who does not see the necessity for the ordinances of the House of God, who does not respond to the requirements of the gospel in all its rites and ordinances, can have no proper conception of the great work which the Latter-day Saints have been called upon to perform in this age, nor can he or she enjoy the blessing that comes from the virtue of obedience to a law higher than that of man.9
Let no one treat lightly the ordinances of the house of God.10
We are not living only for the few miserable years that we spend on this earth, but for that life which is interminable; and we desire to enjoy every blessing throughout these countless ages of eternity, but unless they are secured to us by that sealing power which was given to the Apostle Peter by the Son of God, we cannot possess them. Unless we secure them on that principle, in the life to come we shall have neither father, mother, brother, sister, wife, children, nor friends, nor wealth nor honor, for all earthly “contracts, covenants, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, connections, and associations,” [see D&C 132:7] are dissolved in the grave, except those sealed and ratified by the power of God.11
Let us enter the temple with faithful determination to carry out the will of God.
A certain man … came with his recommendation from the Bishop … and desired the privilege of being baptized for a number of his dead, and as he came properly recommended, he received the privilege. He was baptized for his dead. Then he was permitted to go forward and perform other ordinances in their behalf. As soon as the work was done he announced his determination to withdraw from the Church. Now, I rather admired that poor fellow, because he was determined to do all he could for his dead friends before he deprived himself of the privilege of doing it. Some one may say, “Will that labor be accepted of the Lord?” Well, perhaps it will, so far as the dead are concerned, the record is kept and the ceremony was performed according to the law that God has instituted. Everything was done in the proper way, and under the direction of the proper authority, therefore why should it not be all right so far as the dead are concerned? But how much credit will that man obtain for what he did? Not much. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” [Mark 8:36.]
The application of this to the man who is seeking to obtain privileges in the house of the Lord under false pretense, is this: Men who are trying to deceive God by pretending to be what they are not, in order that they may steal privileges and blessings from the house of God, will not be benefited in the long run. If we desire to receive the blessings and ordinances of the house of God, let us receive them in honest hearts, and let us enter into that house with a faithful and honest determination to carry out the will of God in all these things, not temporarily, but to do as He commands us all the days of our lives. So long as we continue in the enjoyment of the right spirit, these blessings will remain with us, and we shall be acknowledged of God as His children; and only when we depart from the right way and fail to do our duty, will God withdraw His spirit from us and leave us to ourselves. …
If I felt in my heart that I had wronged one of my brethren; or disobeyed any of the laws of God; or that I had dishonored any member of the Church, or any man that presides over me in the Church of God, I should feel that it was my duty to go and make it right before I go into that house. … If I have done you any wrong; if I have robbed you of any right; if I have not been true to my promise with you; or if I have done anything that has in any measure debased me in the sight of God or my brethren, I ought to go and try to make reparation before I attempt to go into the house of God. Yet I would not want to do this simply for the purpose of going into that house. I should want to do it because it is my duty to do it; and in order that I might be worthy to go there, and stand at any time after in sacred places before the Lord, I ought to make all things right with any brother that I may have wronged.
I ought to show honor to those unto whom honor is due. I ought to honor God my Heavenly Father, now, and from this time, henceforth, and forever. That is the principle upon which I should do right, make recompense and settle difficulties. I have heard of brethren associated together in family ties, as well as in the bonds of the new and everlasting covenant, who are at variance with each other, with bitter feelings existing in their hearts, one toward the other, and neither will humble himself to go to the other and acknowledge his faults, or to try to bring about a reconciliation, each one magnifying the weaknesses of his neighbor, and at the same time unmindful of his own faults and weakness. Yet … if they were denied the privilege of going into the house of God, they would feel that a great wrong had been done them.
But let me ask you, Are such men worthy to go there? Is a man that has bitterness in his heart towards his neighbor and will not forgive him nor seek reconciliation, worthy to go into the house of God? And yet you cannot deny him. There will be hundreds go there in this condition, in spite of all that we can do or say. Can they expect God will be present with them, and that His glory will shine upon them? Do not deceive yourselves. When we are worthy, God will manifest Himself unto us. When we are prepared, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall know Him. And we shall be known as we are, too. But this will be when we are worthy, and not until then.12
Be true to the covenants you make in the house of the Lord.
In regard to our religion, or our eternal covenants, we have no compromise to make, nor principles to barter away; they emanate from God and are founded upon the rock of eternal ages; they will live and exist when empires, powers and nations shall crumble and decay; and with the help of the Almighty we will guard sacredly our covenants and maintain our interests and be true to our God, while time exists or eternity endures.13
Now, the Lord bless you, and in the name of the Lord I bless you—this congregation, the covenant people of the Lord, just as truly as ancient Israel were the covenant people of God, for you have entered into the solemn covenant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that you will keep the commandments of God, that you will eschew evil and wickedness. You know what you have done; you know the nature of the covenants you have entered into before God and witnesses and before the angels of heaven; and, therefore, you have entered into the bond of the new and everlasting covenant and are indeed the covenant people of God in the latter days.14
As the Lord has helped me in the past to be true to my covenants, that I have entered into with Him and with you, … so by His help and by His blessing I propose to be true throughout the future of my life, whether I am permitted to live long or short; it matters not to me. While I live, I hope to be a true man, an honest man, a man who can face all mankind and, at last, who can stand before God, the Judge of the quick and the dead, and not quail for what I have done in the world.
… I pray you to be true to your covenants; be true to those covenants that you made in the waters of baptism, to those covenants you made in the house of the Lord, and true to every righteous obligation that devolves upon you. To be Latter-day Saints, men or women must be thinkers, and workers; they must be men and women who weigh matters in their minds, men and women who consider carefully their course of life and the principles that they have espoused. Men cannot be faithful Latter-day Saints unless they study and understand, to some extent at least, the principles of the gospel that they have received. … When people understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will see them walking straightforward, according to the word of the Lord, and the law of God, strictly in accordance with that which is consistent, just, righteous, and in every sense acceptable to the Lord, who only accepts of that which is right and pleasing in His sight; for only that which is right is pleasing unto Him.15
Suggestions for Study
Why do we build temples? What blessings do we receive when we attend the temple and keep the covenants we make there? (See also D&C 109:10–23.) How do you feel when you attend the temple?
In what ways do people sometimes “treat lightly the ordinances of the house of God”?
What does it mean to you to “enjoy every blessing throughout these countless ages of eternity”? How do temple ordinances help us do this? How can temple attendance help us keep in our minds “the solemnities of eternity”? (D&C 43:34).
What does it mean to be worthy to go to the house of God? What can we do to better prepare ourselves to attend the temple? Why can we not “steal privileges and blessings from the house of God”?
What do you feel is required of you to be true to the covenants you have made in the temple?
What can we do to meet President Smith’s challenge to be “thinkers, and workers”?
How can we show honor to the house of God? How can parents help their children learn to honor the temples?
Uintah Stake Historical Record: 1905–1909, Quarterly Conference, 25 Aug. 1907, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 246.
Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 197.
In James R. Clark, comp, Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 3:241–42.
In Conference Report, Apr. 1901, 69.
Gospel Doctrine, 470.
Gospel Doctrine, 471.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:249–50.
“Latter-day Saints Follow Teachings of the Savior,” Scrap Book of Mormon Literature, 2 vols. (n.d.), 2:561–62.
Gospel Doctrine, 213.
Gospel Doctrine, 5.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 11 Nov. 1873, 1.
Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, 21 Mar. 1893, 2; paragraphing added.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 2:346–47.
In Messages of the First Presidency, 4:186.
In Conference Report, Oct. 1910, 3–4.