Chapter 4: The Power and Authority of the Holy Priesthood

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, (2011), 35–45


God bestows the priesthood on His people for their blessing and exaltation.

From the Life of Wilford Woodruff

In his youth, Wilford Woodruff longed to find a church with true priesthood authority—with “power before the heavens and on the earth.”1 In an address he gave in 1889, he related:

“I went to Sabbath school, in my boyhood. … In that Sabbath school I read the New Testament. I learned verse after verse and chapter after chapter. What did the Testament teach me? It taught me the Gospel of life and salvation; it taught me a Gospel of power before the heavens and on the earth. It taught me that the organization of the Church consisted of Prophets, Apostles, Pastors and Teachers, with helps and governments. What for? ‘For the perfecting of the Saints, for the work of the ministry: for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ [See 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11–13.]

“These are the things which I learned, and they made an impression upon me. I believed in them; yet I had never heard them taught by any clergyman or divine upon the earth. In my early manhood I attended the meetings of almost every denomination there was. On one occasion I attended one of those great meetings which were sometimes held in Connecticut, at which forty or fifty ministers of various denominations were gathered together. They prayed for a pentecostal season and for a good many other things. At this meeting permission was given for anybody to make remarks. I was quite young then. I arose and stepped into the aisle, and I said to that body of ministers: ‘My friends, will you tell me why you don’t contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints? Will you tell me why you don’t contend for that Gospel that Jesus Christ taught, and that His Apostles taught? Why do you not contend for that religion that gives unto you power before God, power to heal the sick, to make the blind to see, the lame to walk, and that gives you the Holy Ghost and those gifts and graces that have been manifest from the creation of the world? Why do you not teach the people those principles that the ancient Patriarchs and Prophets taught while they were clothed with the revelations of God? They had the administrations of angels; they had dreams and visions, and constant revelation to guide and direct them in the path in which they should walk.’

Apostles healing a lame man

Peter and John healing a lame man (see Acts 3). Young Wilford Woodruff sought “the faith once delivered to the Saints”—a religion with the same “power before God” as the Savior’s Church in the meridian of time.

“The presiding elder said: ‘My dear young man, you would be a very smart man, and a very useful man in the earth, if you did not believe all those foolish things. These things were given to the children of men in the dark ages of the world, and they were given for the very purpose of enlightening the children of men in that age, that they might believe in Jesus Christ. Today we live in the blaze of the glorious gospel light, and we do not need those things.’ Said I: ‘Then give me the dark ages of the world; give me those ages when men received these principles.’”2

On December 29, 1833, Wilford Woodruff finally heard the gospel from authorized servants of God. He recounted: “For the first time in my life, I saw an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That was Zera Pulsipher. He told me that he was inspired of the Lord. He was threshing grain in his barn when the voice of the Lord came to him and told him to arise and go to the north, the Lord had business for him there. He called upon Brother [Elijah] Cheney, his neighbor and a member of the Church. They traveled sixty miles on foot … in deep snow, and the first place they felt impressed to call upon was the house of my brother and myself. They went into the house and talked with my brother’s wife, and they told her who they were and what their business was. They told her that they were moved upon to go to the north, and they never felt impressed to stop anywhere until they came to that house. When they told her their principles, she said her husband and her brother-in-law both were men who believed those principles, and they had prayed for them for years. They appointed a meeting in the schoolhouse upon our farm.

Zera Pulsipher

Zera Pulsipher

“I came home in the evening, and my sister-in-law told me of this meeting. I had been drawing logs from the shores of Lake Ontario (I was in the lumber business), and I turned out my horses, did not stop to eat anything, and went to the meeting. I found the house and the dooryard filled with people. I listened for the first time in my life to a Gospel sermon as taught by the Elders of this Church. It was what I had sought for from my boyhood up. I invited the men home with me. I borrowed the Book of Mormon, and sat up all that night and read. In the morning I told Brother Pulsipher I wanted to be baptized. I had a testimony for myself that those principles were true. Myself and my brother … went forth and were baptized—the two first in that county.”3

Elder Pulsipher baptized Wilford Woodruff in a creek on December 31, 1833, and confirmed him on that same day. Three days later, Wilford Woodruff received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained to the office of teacher. This was the beginning of a lifelong ministry in the Lord’s service. Looking back on that day, he said, “My mission immediately commenced.”4

Teachings of Wilford Woodruff

God performs all His works by the power of the priesthood.

I do not know of any subject in the Church of more importance to the inhabitants of the earth and to ourselves than the Holy Priesthood.5

By the power of [the] Priesthood, God, our Eternal Father, has organized all worlds, and redeemed all worlds that have ever been redeemed. By that same Priesthood men have administered on the earth in the ordinances of the Gospel of Christ.6

Priesthood ordination

President Wilford Woodruff taught that the priesthood is the “power delegated from God to man, which authorizes him to act for God.”

The Holy Priesthood is the channel through which God communicates and deals with man upon the earth; and the heavenly messengers that have visited the earth to communicate with man are men who held and honored the priesthood while in the flesh; and everything that God has caused to be done for the salvation of man, from the coming of man upon the earth to the redemption of the world, has been and will be by virtue of the everlasting priesthood.7

The Lord never had a church on the face of the earth, from its first organization until today, unless that church was organized by revelation, with prophets and apostles, pastors, teachers, helps and governments endowed with the Holy Priesthood—that power delegated from God to man, which authorizes him to act for God; and without this Priesthood no man, from the day the world rolled into existence, has any right to administer in any of the ordinances of his holy house, neither has any man a right to that Priesthood save he be called of God as was Aaron who, we are informed, was called by revelation [see Hebrews 5:4]. What is this Priesthood for? It is to administer the ordinances of the Gospel, even the Gospel of our Father in Heaven, the eternal God, the Eloheim of the Jews and the God of the Gentiles.8

No man has authority from God to administer to the children of men the ordinances of life and salvation [except] by the power of the Holy Priesthood. The power of that Priesthood is with the Latter-day Saints.9

Priesthood holders should use the priesthood to give service and build up the kingdom of God, not to build up themselves.

What a responsibility it is to hold this heavenly, this eternal, this everlasting Priesthood! And we shall have to give an account of it. Apostles, Seventies, High Priests, Elders, and all men who bear any portion of this Priesthood that has been given unto us, will be held responsible for it.10

We have a labor laid upon our shoulders. Joseph Smith had, Brigham Young had, the Twelve Apostles have, we all have, and we will be condemned if we do not fulfil it. We shall find it out when we get to the other side of the veil. … Many a time in my reflections I have wished I could fully comprehend the responsibility I have to God, and the responsibility every man is under who bears the priesthood in this generation. But I tell you, brethren, I think our hearts are set too much upon the things of this world. We do not appreciate, as men bearing the Holy Priesthood in this generation should, the mighty responsibility we are under to God and high heaven, as well as to the earth. I think we are too far from the Lord.11

If we … , bearing the holy priesthood, use that priesthood for any other purpose under heaven but to build up the Kingdom of God, if we do our power will fall. … A good many men have undertaken this—men high in the priesthood, even the Apostleship—to build themselves up upon the authority of the priesthood. And where have they gone? You may say amen to their power and authority. … Let us reflect on these things. I say the same to myself. I say the same to the Apostles, Seventies and High Priests. You cannot use the priesthood for any other purpose under heaven but to build up the kingdom and do the will of God; and when you attempt to do otherwise your power will be taken from you.12

I have ever read with a great deal of interest that revelation given to Joseph Smith in answer to his prayer in Liberty jail [see D&C 121:34–46]. I have ever looked upon that revelation of God to that man, considering the few sentences it includes, as containing as much principle as any revelation God ever gave to man. He gave Joseph to understand that he held the priesthood, which priesthood was after the order of God, after the order of Melchizedek, the same priesthood by which God himself performed all his works in the heavens and in the earth, and any man who bore that priesthood had the same power. That priesthood had communication with the heavens, power to move the heavens, power to perform the work of the heavens, and wherever any man magnified that calling, God gave his angels charge concerning him and his ministrations were of power and force both in this world and the world to come; but let that man use that priesthood for any other purpose than the building up of the kingdom of God, for which purpose it was given, and the heavens withdraw themselves, the power of the priesthood departs, and he is left to walk in darkness and not in light, and this is the key to apostasy of all men whether in this generation or any other.13

We have had the priesthood given to us, and if we fail to use it aright, we shall be brought under condemnation. Therefore, let us round up our shoulders and bear off the kingdom. Let us labor to obtain the Holy Spirit—and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ—which has been put into our hands, and inasmuch as we do this, the blessing of God will attend our efforts.14

The Lord sustains any man that holds a portion of the Priesthood, whether he is a Priest, an Elder, a Seventy, or an Apostle, if he magnifies his calling and does his duty.15

I was very much pleased once in seeing a number of Deacons magnify their calling. … They went through [their] city and chopped every piece of wood which every widow in that town had. Brother [George] Teasdale, the President of the Stake, had three or four cords of cedar wood in his lot, and he went home one night and found that it had disappeared. He wondered what was the matter; but when he came to look around he found it all chopped up in his wood-house. They magnified their calling splendidly there.

Today we are, in some respects, in peculiar circumstances. We should trust in the Lord and do what is right. I know the Priesthood is given for the salvation of men and for the administration of ordinances both for the living and the dead. Tens of thousands have been redeemed in the spirit world by their posterity who stand in the flesh and hold the keys of the salvation of their dead. Saviors upon Mount Zion have been raised up, while the kingdom is the Lord’s, as the Prophet Obadiah said they would be [see Obadiah 1:21]. This people are doing this work now. The Lord is with you, and your progenitors in the spirit world rejoice. Let us be faithful, therefore, while we are here. God has appointed us to bear this Priesthood. Out of the … millions of people on the earth the Lord has chosen this handful of men to bear this; to ordain, to organize, to warn the world, to preach the Gospel to them. I hope my brethren that bear this Priesthood will remember the value of it. …

… Let us be true and faithful. Do not let us lose our hold on the Priesthood, nor upon the kingdom of God. Let us go in secret prayer before the Lord and call upon His holy name. There is where our strength lies.16

If we are true to our covenants and responsibilities, we will receive the blessings of the priesthood in this life and in the life to come.

When the Lord bestows gifts upon the children of men in connection with the Priesthood, those who receive those gifts are responsible for the use they make of them.17

When an apostle or president, bishop or any man holding the priesthood officiates, he administers by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ; then that priesthood has effect, and all the blessings that a servant of God bestows upon the children of men, will take effect both in this life and in that which is to come. If I have a blessing given to me by the holy priesthood, or if I receive a blessing from a patriarch, those gifts and blessings will reach into the other world; and if I am true to my covenants through this life, I can claim every blessing that has been conferred upon me, because that authority by which they were conferred is ordained of God, and it is that by which the sons of the Most High administer unto the children of men the ordinances of life and salvation, and those official acts will have their effect upon those persons beyond the grave as well as in this life. These are the true riches; they are riches that will last to all eternity, and we have power through these blessings, conferred by the gospel, to receive our bodies again and to preserve our identity in eternity. Yes, we can claim this by virtue of the holy priesthood.18

I often reflect upon the promises made concerning the priesthood. The Lord, in a revelation upon this subject, says, … “Whosoever is faithful unto obtaining these two Priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. … All that my Father hath shall be given unto him. Therefore, all those who receive the Priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.” [See D&C 84:33–40.] Now, I sometimes ask myself the question, Do we comprehend these things? Do we comprehend that if we abide the laws of the Priesthood we shall become heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ? I realize that our eyes have not seen, our ears have not heard, neither hath it entered into our hearts to conceive the glory that is in store for the faithful [see 1 Corinthians 2:9].19

What manner of men and women ought we to be, who are called to take part in the great latter-day work? We should be men and women of faith, valiant for the truth as it has been revealed and committed into our hand. We should be men and women of integrity to God and to His holy Priesthood, true to Him and true to one another. We should not permit houses and lands, gold and silver, nor any of this world’s goods to draw us aside from pursuing the great object which God has sent us to perform. Our aim is high, our destiny is high and we should never disappoint our Father, nor the heavenly hosts who are watching over us. We should not disappoint the millions in the spirit world, who too are watching over us with an interest and anxiety that have hardly entered into our hearts to conceive of. These are great and mighty things which God requires of us. We would not be worthy of salvation, we would not be worthy of eternal lives in the kingdom of our God, if anything could turn us away from the truth or from the love of it.20

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.

  • What impressions led young Wilford Woodruff to search for the true Church? (See pages 35–37.) How did these impressions relate to the priesthood?

  • Review pages 38–39 and look for things the Lord accomplishes by the power of the priesthood. How do priesthood holders participate in the Lord’s work?

  • Why is it important for both men and women to learn about the priesthood?

  • How has the priesthood blessed your life?

  • As you read President Woodruff’s teachings about the responsibilities of priesthood holders, what specific principles do you find? (See pages 39–42.)

  • According to President Woodruff, what attitudes and actions cause the heavens to withdraw from a priesthood holder? Why is it impossible for a man to use the priesthood for personal gain? (See pages 39–42; see also D&C 121:34–40.) How must a priesthood holder live in order to have “power to perform the work of the heavens”? (See pages 40–42; see also D&C 121:41–46.)

  • What does it mean to magnify a calling in the priesthood? (See pages 41–42.) What examples have you seen of brethren magnifying their callings in the priesthood?

  • Review the final section in the chapter (pages 42–44). In what ways does the priesthood bring blessings both in this life and in the life to come?

Related Scriptures: John 15:16; Hebrews 5:4–6; Alma 13:1–20; D&C 84:17–48; 107:18–20; Articles of Faith 1:5

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Deseret Weekly, April 6, 1889, 450.

  2.   2.

    Deseret Weekly, April 6, 1889, 450.

  3.   3.

    Deseret Evening News, March 1, 1897, 1.

  4.   4.

    “The Rights of the Priesthood,” Deseret Weekly, March 17, 1894, 381.

  5.   5.

    Deseret Weekly, March 17, 1894, 381.

  6.   6.

    Deseret Weekly, April 6, 1889, 450.

  7.   7.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham (1946), 64.

  8.   8.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 30, 1878, 1.

  9.   9.

    Deseret Weekly, March 17, 1894, 381.

  10.   10.

    Deseret Weekly, March 2, 1889, 294.

  11.   11.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 102.

  12.   12.

    In Conference Report, April 1880, 83.

  13.   13.

    The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 67–68.

  14.   14.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, July 6, 1880, 1.

  15.   15.

    Deseret Weekly, November 7, 1896, 641.

  16.   16.

    Deseret Weekly, March 17, 1894, 381–82.

  17.   17.

    Deseret Weekly, March 17, 1894, 381.

  18.   18.

    Deseret News, February 26, 1862, 273.

  19.   19.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, January 15, 1883, 1.

  20.   20.

    Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, October 18, 1881, 1.