What a wonderful thing is the priesthood of God. There is nothing to compare with it. It is received only by the laying on of hands by those in authority to bestow it. In this dispensation, that bestowal goes back to John the Baptist and the Lord’s Apostles Peter, James, and John. They came to earth and physically laid their hands on the heads of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and with audible voices spoke words of bestowal of this wondrous power. Since then every man who has received it has done so through the laying on of hands by one who received it in turn in the same manner traced back to its original bestowal (from Ensign, May 2000, 49).
Can you imagine what a wonderful experience this restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood must have been for Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery when John the Baptist spoke to them? Here was a man who had lived upon the earth more than 1,800 years earlier. Now he was speaking in English to two young men while he held his hands upon their heads (from Ensign, Oct. 1988, 69).
“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, 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; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” (D&C 13).
All of you recognize these words as section 13 of the Doctrine and Covenants. They are the words of John the Baptist to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery as he laid his hands upon their heads and conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood on 15 May 1829.
When I was a boy, 12 years of age, and was about to be ordained a deacon, my father challenged me to memorize those words. I did so, and they have remained with me throughout my life. …
I urge you to open the Doctrine and Covenants … and to read these words and memorize them. They are the charter of the priesthood you hold. They are evidence that this priesthood is valid and genuine in every respect (from Ensign, Nov. 1982, 44).
When I was 12 … I became a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. My name was presented to the entire congregation of our ward. Everyone was asked to sustain me if they felt me worthy of the office. All hands in the large congregation went up. I was honored to think that all of the members of my ward raised their hands in my behalf.
Then two men, good and true and faithful—one of them my father—placed their hands upon my head and conferred upon me the Aaronic Priesthood and ordained me to the office of deacon. …
Now, as a boy I knew from what I had learned in Sunday School that John the Baptist had been killed by a wicked ruler, that he had been beheaded to satisfy the lustful desire of an evil woman. And in 1829 it was this same John who had come and given the priesthood to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. He spoke to them. He placed his hands upon their heads. They heard his voice and they felt his hands. This meant that he had to have been resurrected. That was a wonderful thing and a very impressive thing to me. Here was living evidence of the reality of the Resurrection, which had come through the divine power of the Lord Jesus Christ—the same who earlier had been baptized by John in the river Jordan (from Ensign, May 1988, 44–45).
John told Joseph and Oliver that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the Apostles who had been ordained by the Lord and who held what we call the Melchizedek, or the higher, Priesthood, as distinguished from the Aaronic, or the lesser, Priesthood.
Joseph Smith was then 23-and-a-half years of age. Oliver Cowdery was about the same. They were young men, and I thought when I was ordained a deacon what a wonderful thing it was that John the Baptist, who was a great man in the New Testament and who lived nearly 2,000 years earlier, had come as a resurrected being and that he should address Joseph and Oliver as “my fellow servants.”
Even though he came as a servant of God and acted under the direction of Peter, James, and John, he did not place himself above Joseph and Oliver. He put them on his same level when he addressed them as “my fellow servants.” If they were his fellow servants, then perhaps I, as a 12-year-old boy, could also be his fellow servant.
He spoke in the name of Messiah, or, as we would say it, “in the name of Jesus Christ.” He set the pattern, and since then, the ordinances which we perform are administered in the name of Jesus Christ. This is something we should never forget, and never overlook, for in the exercise of our priesthood, we are acting in behalf of God our Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, His Son (from Ensign, May 1988, 45).
Now what are the elements of this priesthood which were restored to the earth by John the Baptist?
He said that this priesthood of Aaron “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.” It is a tremendous thing to have the right to the ministering of angels. … I am convinced that the Lord would not have given it to us had He not desired that we have it so that we might enjoy the wonderful gifts, guidance, and protection which come therefrom. …
John the Baptist went on to say to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery that this priesthood, which he bestowed upon them, included the keys of the gospel of repentance. What a marvelous and wonderful thing this is! It is our privilege, yours and mine, as those who hold this priesthood, to repent of evil with the expectation that we will be forgiven if we live worthy of the forgiveness of the Lord. Furthermore, it is our privilege to preach repentance, as the Lord has made clear in section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants. He there sets forth the duties of deacons, teachers, and priests. It is their responsibility to watch over the Church and see that there is no iniquity and to invite all to come unto Christ (from Ensign, May 1988, 45–46).
This Aaronic Priesthood, bestowed by John the Baptist, also includes the keys of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. It is one thing to repent. It is another to have our sins remitted or forgiven. The power to bring this about is found in the Aaronic Priesthood. …
I want to emphasize, boys, that the holding of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the exercise of its power, is not a small or unimportant thing. The bestowal of these keys in this dispensation was one of the greatest and most significant things incident to the entire Restoration. It was the first bestowal of divine authority in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the priesthood of God, with authority to act in the name of the Savior of mankind.
It is the authority under which the emblems of the Lord’s Supper are administered to the membership of the Church. …
When you, as a priest, kneel at the sacrament table and offer up the prayer, which came by revelation, you place the entire congregation under covenant with the Lord. Is this a small thing? It is a most important and remarkable thing.
Now, my dear young brethren, if we are to enjoy the ministering of angels, if we are to teach the gospel of repentance, if we are to baptize by immersion for the remission of sins, if we are to administer to the membership of the Church the emblems of the sacrifice of our Lord, then we must be worthy to do so (from Ensign, May 1988, 46).
I wish to say that I love the priesthood of this Church. It is a vital, living thing. It is the very heart and strength of this work. It is the power and authority by which God, our Eternal Father, accomplishes His work in the earth. It is the authority by which men speak in His name. It is the authority by which they govern His Church.
I love the boys who hold the Aaronic Priesthood. Every young man who does so, walking in obedience to the commandments of the Lord, may expect to have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his life. That Spirit will bless him in his studies and other pursuits and will lead him in efforts that will bless him and bless the lives of others all about him (from Ensign, Nov. 1999, 54).
May we reflect on the wonder of that which we have. May we exercise it in righteousness and faithfulness. May we never sully it through behavior unbecoming those who hold this divine power. May we fit the description given by Peter when he said: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9) (from Ensign, Oct. 1988, 72).