Chapter 17: Temple Work: Turning Our Hearts to Our Families and to the Lord

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011), 172–83


When we enter the house of the Lord worthily, we receive ordinances that help prepare us, our ancestors, and our descendants to dwell in God’s presence forever.

From the Life of Wilford Woodruff

When the Kirtland Temple was dedicated on March 27, 1836, Wilford Woodruff was serving a full-time mission in the southern United States. Three weeks later he heard of the events of the dedication and wrote in his journal that the news was “glorious in the first degree.”1 After he had completed his mission, he returned to Kirtland, arriving “on foot in a hard snowstorm.” He recorded, “We came in sight of the temple of the Lord before we reached the village, and I truly felt to rejoice at the sight as it was the first time that mine eyes ever beheld the house of the Lord built by commandment and revelation.”2

Wilford Woodruff’s love for temple work never faded. He participated in all phases of the work—from construction to dedication and from family history work to ordinance work for the dead. He also rejoiced in the temple ordinances he and his family members received for themselves.

President Woodruff spoke often of the time when he received the endowment. The Prophet Joseph Smith, sensing that his earthly ministry would soon come to an end, administered the endowment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Nauvoo, even before the temple was completed. President Woodruff testified: “Joseph Smith first made known to me the very ordinances which we give to the Latter-day Saints in our endowments. I received my endowments under the direction of Joseph Smith.”3

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later as President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff participated in a continuing effort to build temples. He assisted in the work at the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, and at temples in four cities in Utah: Logan, St. George, Manti, and Salt Lake City. He offered the dedicatory prayers at the temples in Manti and Salt Lake City.

The Salt Lake Temple, which was completed after 40 years of the Saints’ devoted labor, had special significance for President Woodruff. He first saw the temple in a detailed vision before the Saints reached the Salt Lake Valley.4 Four days after arriving in the valley, he was present when President Brigham Young was inspired to choose the temple site.5 Years before the temple’s completion, he had a dream in which he was given the key to the temple and was instructed by President Young to “let all into the temple who seek for salvation.”6 He was a tireless advocate for the completion of the temple, even during times of trial and persecution. And when the construction was finally completed in April 1893, he followed President Young’s instruction in the dream, organizing three weeks of dedicatory services to ensure that all the Saints would have an opportunity to attend.

After the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, President Woodruff emphasized the importance of the family in temple work. He said: “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it.”7 (To read the historical account behind this teaching, see pages xxxiii–xxxv in this book’s introduction.)

Family history materials

“We want the Latter-day Saints . . . to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers.”

In 1894, President Woodruff oversaw the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Utah, which led to the Church’s current worldwide effort to help people search out their ancestors. One hundred years later, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “Events of that historic year established family history research and temple service as one work in the Church.”8 These events were part of a continuing fulfillment of the prophecy that “the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers” (D&C 2:2; see also Malachi 4:5–6).

Because of President Woodruff’s many significant teachings on temple work, this is the first of two chapters on the subject in this book. This chapter focuses on the blessings of temple attendance and the eternal nature of the family, and chapter 18 focuses more on the work for the dead.

Teachings of Wilford Woodruff

We participate in temple work with heavenly joy, knowing that it helps prepare us, our descendants, and our ancestors to dwell in God’s presence.

There is no labor in which the Latter-day Saints feel more deeply interested than in the building and completing of temples.9

When I reflect upon the power we have had to erect Temples unto the name of the Most High God … and the privileges we have of going into those Temples and doing the work necessary for our own salvation and for the redemption of our dead as well, I rejoice greatly, and feel that we have been greatly blessed.10

The history of these Temples you have before you. You know the Prophets [Joseph and Hyrum Smith] were slain, and the Lord required the building of [the Nauvoo] Temple at the hands of the Saints before they were driven into the wilderness. There was a certain revelation given that inspired in a great measure the Elders of the Church of God to perform that work [see D&C 124:25–41]. They labored with all the power they possessed, and they accomplished that work. They went into that Temple and received ordinances and endowments before they left to go into the wilderness. These Temples that we have built … stand as a monument before God, angels and men, to the faith and works of the Latter-day Saints.11

It is evident that the Latter-day Saints appreciate the blessings to be obtained through this Temple work. … Our hearts are filled with gladness and we cannot refrain from praising our God and His goodness unto His people in permitting them, notwithstanding the opposition and many difficulties they have had to contend with, to erect such structures and to dedicate them, according to the pattern He has given for these sacred uses.

No right feeling Latter-day Saint can think upon this subject without being thrilled with heavenly joy for what God has done for us in our generation, furnishing us, as He has done, with every facility to prepare us, our posterity and our ancestors for that eternal world which lies beyond the present life. The Latter-day Saints are, in truth, a highly favored people, and praise to God should ascend from every heart and habitation in our land for the great mercy and goodness which He has shown unto us. He has made us promises of the most precious character, and He has fulfilled them up to the present time. We would be the most ungrateful and unworthy people that ever lived if, after receiving such wonderful manifestations of His goodness, we slackened in our diligence or failed in our obedience and devotion to Him and His great cause.12

We want to continue in these temples. We want them to be occupied by the Latter-day Saints. We want our brethren and sisters to continue to go there and redeem the dead and bless the living.13

From the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple: O Lord, we regard with intense and indescribable feelings the completion of this sacred house. Deign to accept this the fourth temple which thy covenant children have been assisted by thee in erecting in these mountains. In past ages thou didst inspire with thy Holy Spirit thy servants, the Prophets, to speak of a time in the latter days when the mountain of the Lord’s house should be established in the top of the mountains, and should be exalted above the hills [see Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:2]. We thank thee that we have had the glorious opportunity of contributing to the fulfilment of these visions of thine ancient seers, and that thou hast condescended to permit us to take part in the great work.14

Through family history work and temple ordinances, we are sealed to our families, forming a welding link between generations.

The principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ have power and efficacy after death; they will bring together men and their wives and children in the family organization and will re-unite them worlds without end. … Unto the Latter-day Saints the sealing ordinances have been revealed, and they will have effect after death, and, as I have said, will re-unite men and women eternally in the family organization. Herein is why these principles are a part of our religion, and by them husbands and wives, parents and children will be re-united until the links in the chain are re-united back to Father Adam. We could not obtain a fullness of celestial glory without this sealing ordinance.15

Brethren and sisters, the glory of the whole matter is, that when we get through we are going to have our families with us—our fathers and our mothers, our brothers and our sisters, our wives and our children—in the morning of the resurrection, in the family organization of the celestial world, to dwell forever and forever. This is worth all you or I can sacrifice the few years we have to spend here in the flesh.16

Let every man be [sealed] to his father; and then you will do exactly what God said when He declared He would send Elijah the prophet in the last days [see Malachi 4:5–6]. Elijah the prophet appeared unto Joseph Smith and told him that the day had come when this principle must be carried out [see D&C 110:13–16]. Joseph Smith did not live long enough to enter any further upon these things. His soul was wound up with this work before he was martyred for the word of God and testimony of Jesus Christ. He told us that there must be a welding link of all dispensations and of the work of God from one generation to another [see D&C 128:18]. This was upon his mind more than most any other subject that was given to him.

In my prayers the Lord revealed to me that it was my duty to say to all Israel to carry this principle out, and in fulfillment of that revelation I lay it before this people. … We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run this chain through as far as you can get it.17

From the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple: Our Father in Heaven, we present before thee the altars which we have prepared for thy servants and handmaidens to receive their sealing blessings. We dedicate them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, unto thy most holy name, and we ask thee to sanctify these altars, that those who come unto them may feel the power of the Holy Ghost resting upon them, and realize the sacredness of the covenants they enter into. And we pray that our covenants and contracts which we make with thee and with each other may be directed by thy Holy Spirit, be sacredly kept by us and accepted by thee, and that all the blessings pronounced may be realized by all the Saints who come to these altars, in the morning of the resurrection of the just. …

O thou God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whose God thou delightest to be called, we thank thee with all the fervor of overflowing gratitude that thou hast revealed the powers by which the hearts of the children are being turned to their fathers and the hearts of the fathers to the children, that the sons of men, in all their generations can be made partakers of the glories and joys of the kingdom of heaven. Confirm upon us the spirit of Elijah, we pray thee, that we may thus redeem our dead and also connect ourselves with our fathers who have passed behind the veil, and furthermore seal up our dead to come forth in the first resurrection that we who dwell on earth may be bound to those who dwell in heaven. We thank thee for their sake who have finished their work in mortality, as well for our own, that the prison doors have been opened, that deliverance has been proclaimed to the captive, and the bonds have been loosened from those who were bound. We praise thee that our fathers, from last to first, from now, back to the beginning, can be united with us in indissoluble links, welded by the Holy Priesthood, and that as one great family united in thee and cemented by thy power we shall together stand before thee, and by the power of the atoning blood of thy Son be delivered from all evil, be saved and sanctified, exalted and glorified.18

We must prepare ourselves spiritually to receive the blessings of temple service.

Before you go into the Temple, … go by yourselves, in secret prayer. Offer up your prayers to the Lord, and pray that your sins may not only be forgiven, but that you may all have the Spirit of God and the testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ; that the Spirit of God may be with those who will assemble in the Temple. …

I have the desire for the Saints to do this, for I wish to see those who go into the Temple go in with pure hearts, and that the Spirit of God may be with them, that they may enjoy themselves, that they may all feel the influence of that power.19

No member of the Church who would be deemed worthy to enter that sacred house can be considered ignorant of the principles of the Gospel. It is not too much to presume that every one knows what his duty is to God and to his fellow man. None is so forgetful as to have lost sight of the admonition that we must be filled with love for and charity toward our brethren. And hence none can for a moment doubt the supreme importance of every member of the congregation being at peace with all his or her brethren and sisters, and at peace with God. How else can we hope to gain the blessings He has promised save by complying with the requirements for which those blessings are the reward!

Can men and women who are violating a law of God, or those who are derelict in yielding obedience to His commands, expect that the mere going into His holy house … will render them worthy to receive, and cause them to receive, His blessing?

Do they think that repentance and turning away from sin may be so lightly dispensed with?

Do they dare, even in thought, thus to accuse our Father of injustice and partiality, and attribute to Him carelessness in the fulfillment of His own words?

Assuredly no one claiming to belong to His people would be guilty of such a thing.

Then must those who are unworthy cease to expect a blessing from their attendance at the Temple while sin unrepented of still casts its odor about them, and while bitterness or even an unforgiving coolness exists in their hearts against their brethren and sisters.

On this latter subject we feel that much might be said. In the striving after compliance with the apparently weightier matters of the law, there is a possibility that the importance of this spirit of love and kindness and charity may be underestimated. …

… Before entering into the Temple to present ourselves before the Lord … , we shall divest ourselves of every harsh and unkind feeling against each other; that not only our bickerings shall cease, but that the cause of them shall be removed, and every sentiment that prompted and has maintained them shall be dispelled; that we shall confess our sins one to another, and ask for forgiveness one of another; that we shall plead with the Lord for the spirit of repentance, and, having obtained it, follow its promptings; so that in humbling ourselves before Him and seeking forgiveness from each other, we shall yield that charity and generosity to those who crave our forgiveness that we ask for and expect from Heaven.

Thus may we come up into the holy place with our hearts free from guile and our souls prepared for the edification that is promised! Thus shall our supplications, undisturbed by a thought of discord, unitedly mount into the ears of Jehovah and draw down the choice blessings of the God of Heaven! …

… We call upon [the individual members of the Church] to seek to have the fellowship of their brethren and their sisters, and their entire confidence and love; above all to seek to have the fellowship and union of the Holy Ghost. Let this Spirit be sought and cherished as diligently within the smallest and humblest family circle as within the membership of the highest organization and quorum. Let it permeate the hearts of the brothers and sisters, the parents and children of the household, as well as the hearts of the First Presidency and Twelve. Let it mellow and soften all differences between members of the Stake Presidencies and the High Councils, as well as between neighbors living in the same ward. Let it unite young and old, male and female, flock and shepherd, people and Priesthood in the bonds of gratitude and forgiveness and love, so that [we] may feel approved of the Lord, and that we may all come before Him with a conscience void of offense before all men. Then there will be no disappointment as to the blessings promised those who sincerely worship Him. The sweet whisperings of the Holy Spirit will be given to them and the treasures of Heaven, the communion of angels, will be added from time to time, for His promise has gone forth and it cannot fail!20

Temple recommend for dedication of Salt Lake City Temple

Recommends like this one were distributed to Church members who were worthy to attend dedication services in the Salt Lake Temple.

From the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple: Our Father in Heaven, thou who hast created the heavens and the earth, and all things that are therein; thou most glorious One, perfect in mercy, love, and truth, we, thy children, come this day before thee and in this house which we have built to thy most holy name humbly plead the atoning blood of thine Only Begotten Son, that our sins may be remembered no more against us forever, but that our prayers may ascend unto thee and have free access to thy throne, that we may be heard in thy holy habitation. And may it graciously please thee to hearken unto our petitions, answer them according to thine infinite wisdom and love, and grant that the blessings which we seek may be bestowed upon us, even a hundredfold, inasmuch as we seek with purity of heart and fulness of purpose to do thy will and glorify thy name. …

We come before thee with joy and thanksgiving, with spirits jubilant and hearts filled with praise, that thou hast permitted us to see this day for which, during these forty years, we have hoped, and toiled, and prayed, when we can dedicate unto thee this house which we have built to thy most glorious name. One year ago we set the capstone with shouts of Hosanna to God and the Lamb. And to-day we dedicate the whole unto thee, with all that pertains unto it, that it may be holy in thy sight; that it may be a house of prayer, a house of praise and of worship; that thy glory may rest upon it; that thy holy presence may be continually in it; that it may be the abode of thy well-beloved Son, our Savior; that the angels who stand before thy face may be the hallowed messengers who shall visit it, bearing to us thy wishes and thy will, that it may be sanctified and consecrated in all its parts holy unto thee, the God of Israel, the Almighty Ruler of mankind. And we pray thee that all people who may enter upon the threshold of this, thine house, may feel thy power and be constrained to acknowledge that thou hast sanctified it, that it is thy house, a place of thy holiness.21

Suggestions for Study and Teaching

Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.

  • How did Elder Wilford Woodruff respond when he heard of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and when he saw the temple for the first time? (See page 173.) Have you had similar experiences that would be appropriate to share?

  • In what ways did the early Latter-day Saints show their interest in temples? (See pages 175–76.) Why should we be “deeply interested” in temple work?

  • Review the final paragraph on page 174. In what ways do you see temple service and family history research as “one work”? (See pages 176–78.) How has this work helped you turn your heart to your ancestors and your descendants?

  • Why do we need the sealing ordinance to “obtain the fullness of celestial glory”? (See pages 176–77; see also D&C 131:1–4.)

  • Scan the entire chapter, looking for statements about family relationships. What can we learn from these teachings? How can our understanding of the house of the Lord influence our feelings about our own homes?

  • In what ways has attending the temple blessed you and your family? How can parents teach their children to reverence the temple and prepare to receive temple ordinances?

  • pages 178–81 contain some of President Woodruff’s counsel to help the Saints prepare for the Salt Lake Temple dedication. How can this counsel help us each time we enter the temple?

  • What are some principles that are taught in the dedicatory prayer of the Salt Lake Temple? (See pages 176, 177–78, 181–82.) Ponder or discuss how the words in the prayer can help us in our efforts to do temple and family history work.

Related Scriptures: Psalm 24:3–5; Matthew 16:18–19; D&C 27:9; 97:10–17; 109; 110; 138:46–48

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Journal of Wilford Woodruff, April 19, 1836, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  2.   2.

    Journal of Wilford Woodruff, November 25, 1836.

  3.   3.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 148.

  4.   4.

    See The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 162.

  5.   5.

    See Journal of Wilford Woodruff, July 28, 1847.

  6.   6.

    Journal of Wilford Woodruff, March 12, 1887.

  7.   7.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 157.

  8.   8.

    In Conference Report, October 1994, 114; or Ensign, November 1994, 85.

  9.   9.

    In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 3:236.

  10.   10.

    Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm, June 15, 1895, 386.

  11.   11.

    Deseret Weekly, August 6, 1892, 193.

  12.   12.

    “An Epistle to the Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Millennial Star, November 14, 1887, 730–31.

  13.   13.

    Deseret Weekly, November 14, 1891, 660.

  14.   14.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 337.

  15.   15.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, December 21, 1869, 2.

  16.   16.

    Deseret Weekly, October 22, 1892, 548.

  17.   17.

    Millennial Star, May 28, 1894, 338–39.

  18.   18.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 339–41.

  19.   19.

    Millennial Star, May 7, 1893, 305. President Woodruff gave these instructions to help the Saints prepare to attend the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.

  20.   20.

    In Messages of the First Presidency, 3:242–44. President Woodruff gave these instructions to help the Saints prepare to attend the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple.

  21.   21.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 335, 337–38.