If thinking about the days of black-and-white TV makes you shudder, what about living when there were no antibiotics? Then, a simple sore throat could linger and perhaps even become deadly. And if that’s a much more sobering thought, what about living in a time when the gospel was not on the earth? No knowledge of the plan of salvation and the real purpose of your life. No temple sealings or knowledge of the eternal family. No priesthood blessings. No gift of the Holy Ghost for comfort and guidance.
The greatest blessings we enjoy today were made possible when the gospel was restored through Joseph Smith and the dispensation of the fulness of times began. In April, we commemorate the Restoration, but what exactly was restored, and what is a dispensation?
Dispensations are time periods “in which the Lord has at least one authorized servant on the earth who bears the holy priesthood and the keys, and who has a divine commission to dispense the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth” (Bible Dictionary, “Dispensations”).
Adam was the first to have the plan of salvation and the priesthood authority, and he shared these blessings with his entire family. But the knowledge and authority were lost through the scattering and apostasy of the people. Throughout Old Testament times there were periods when the gospel and the priesthood authority were restored, followed by times of apostasy and spiritual darkness. In addition to Adam’s dispensation, the Bible suggests dispensations identified with Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus with His Apostles. There were also dispensations of the gospel among the Jaredites and the Nephites. When more is revealed, we may very well see that there were additional dispensations. (See Bible Dictionary.)
After the deaths of the early Apostles, priesthood authority was lost because the keys to use and pass along that authority had been held by the Apostles. Also lost was the continuing revelation that was necessary to keep doctrine pure. The great general Apostasy began. And it continued until a spring day in 1820 when young Joseph Smith entered a grove of trees to pray for guidance. When the Father and the Son appeared to Joseph, the dispensation of the fulness of times—our dispensation—began.
The Apostle Paul prophesied of this dispensation as a time when God would “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Eph. 1:10). Speaking to an area conference in Tahiti in 1976, Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve said: “Every dispensation of the past is like a great river. The present dispensation is like a great ocean. All of the rivers of the past flow into the ocean of the present. We have received again every key and power and right that the ancient saints had. Once again the voice of God has been heard. Once again angels have ministered from his presence. Once again the Church and kingdom of God has been set up.”
You live in the dispensation when the Savior reestablished His church and instructed Joseph Smith “line upon line” and “precept upon precept” (D&C 128:21); when John the Baptist restored the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; when Peter, James, and John restored the keys of the kingdom of God and the Melchizedek Priesthood; when Moses restored the keys of the gathering of Israel; and when Elijah restored the keys of the sealing power.
President Hinckley said, “We live at this glorious season when the gospel of Jesus Christ, in all its purity, has been restored to the earth. His Church has come again to bless His people. The curtains of the past have been parted. New light and understanding have come through divine revelation. Somehow, among all the children of our Father who have walked the earth, we appear to be most fortunate” (New Era, Jan. 2000, 4).
“For some reason unknown to us, but in the wisdom of God, we have been privileged to come to earth in this glorious age. … May God bless us with a sense of our place in history and, having been given that sense, with our need to stand tall and walk with resolution in a manner becoming the Saints of the Most High” (Ensign, Nov. 2000, 74).—President Gordon B. Hinckley
Joseph Smith (Fulness of Times)
“The First Vision parted the curtains through which came the restoration to earth of the Church of Christ. It came out of the wilderness of darkness, out of the bleakness of ages past into the glorious dawn of a new day. The Book of Mormon followed as another witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. His holy supernal priesthood was restored under the hands of those who held it anciently. Keys and powers were bestowed upon the Prophet and his associates. The ancient Church was again upon the earth with all of the blessings, powers, doctrines, keys, and principles of previous dispensations” (First Presidency Christmas Devotional, 3 Dec. 2000).