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Sealing Priesthood Authority Restored to Joseph Smith

          In conjunction with the reestablishment of plural marriage was the restoration of sealing authority, allowing Joseph to “bind on earth” things that will be “bound in heaven” including marriages.[1]  In 1835, Joseph Smith instructed “that marriage was an institution of heaven, instituted in the garden of Eden; that it was necessary it should be solemnized by the authority of the everlasting Priesthood.”[2]  A few months later, during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on 3 April 1836, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery received a visitation from Jesus Christ and later Elijah (D&C 110:2, 13-15).  Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith the keys of sealing authority.  LDS theology teaches that Elijah was the last prophet of the Old Testament to hold those important priesthood keys.[3]

                As a consequence of Elijah’s visit, Joseph Smith taught that marriages solemnized by the one man holding the keys of sealing would endure beyond the grave and into the eternities.  Such unions are considered to be part of “the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.”  The Prophet wrote: “It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of – a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven.  Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord... it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah” (D&C 128:9). 

                LDS educator Danel Bachman observed: “This power to ‘seal’ meant that whatever the Prophet bound on earth would be bound in heaven, while whatever he loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven.   In other words, as God’s agent, the Prophet’s actions would be recognized in heaven.  What was not done by his authority was not of lasting significance.  The power of God’s agents thus transcended civil authority.”[4]

          Despite the 1836 date for the restoration of the keys by Elijah, it appears that Joseph Smith did not exercise those keys to “seal” a marriage until April, 1841.[5]  Two years later, on 28 May 1843, Joseph and Emma were also “sealed” for time and eternity in the “New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.” 

Authority to Seal is Strictly Controlled by the “One” 

          Joseph Smith insisted that the sealing authority is tightly controlled.  An 1843 revelation clarified: “There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred....  Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (D&C 132:7-8; italics added).  It also pointed out that even if the proper language is used and both individuals are sincere, marriages performed without proper authorization of the “one” are “not valid neither of force when they are out of the world” (D&C 132:18).

          According to these scriptures, the authority of the “one” man is absolutely necessary, in all cases, in all places throughout the world.  The “one” man may commission other men with authority to seal, but they are always subject to the keys that he holds.  “It is necessary to know who holds the keys of power, and who does not, or we may be likely to be deceived,” taught Joseph Smith.[6]   The “one” man regulates the sealing of both monogamist and polygamist marriages because both types of marriages utilize the very same keys.[7]  There are no specific keys of sealing for monogamist marriages and a separate set of sealing keys for plural marriages.  Both types of marriages involve the very same authority.  Plural marriage requires the repeated use of that authority, in each instance, sealing one woman to one man in eternal matrimony.

          In Nauvoo on 5 October 1843, Joseph Smith, “Gave instructions to try those persons who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives.”  His scribe recorded: “Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof.  No man shall have but one wife.”[8]  The Prophet also taught this principle to those who practiced polygamy saying “that the law of the Lord concerning these things was exceedingly strict.”[9] 

          On one occasion Assistant Church President Hyrum Smith proceeded to seal a couple without his brother’s consent, Joseph being absent from Nauvoo at the time.  Brigham Young later referred to this occasion saying that no one could “act on the sealing principle only as he was dictated by Joseph.  This was proven, for Hyrum did undertake to seal without counsel.”[10]  When the Prophet returned and discovered what had occurred, he strongly cautioned Hyrum saying that if he ever did it again, “he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”[11]  Joseph annulled Hyrum’s actions and later resealed the couple.  LDS scholar, Andrew Ehat observed: “This early experience with regard to the authority to perform marriage sealings... illustrates the exclusive authority that Joseph Smith held: That certain of the presiding keys of the priesthood were not to be delegated.”[12]

          Hyrum would later teach “No marriage is valid in the morn of the resurrection unless the marriage covenant be sealed on earth by one having the keys and power from Almighty God to seal on earth as it shall be bound in heaven.”[13]  In Nauvoo, the Prophet authorized several trusted men with authority to seal plural marriages under his supervision.  Included were Hyrum Smith, Joseph Noble and James Adams.[14]

          In 1845 Brigham Young would further clarify: “Joseph said that the sealing power is always vested in one man, and that there never was, nor never would be but one man on the earth at a time to hold the keys of the sealing power in the Church.  That all sealings must be performed by the man holding the keys or by his dictation, and that man is the President of the Church.”[15]

          Apostle Parley P. Pratt referred to this sealing authority in an article published that same year: 

          [Joseph Smith] proceeded to confer on elder Young, the President of the Twelve, the keys of the sealing power, as conferred in the last days by the spirit and power of Elijah, in order to seal the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth should be smitten with a curse.

          This last key of the priesthood is the most sacred of all, and pertains exclusively to the first presidency of the church, without whose sanction and approval or authority, no sealing blessing shall be administered pertaining to things of the resurrection and the life to come.[16] 

          Months later, Parley’s brother Apostle Orson Pratt elaborated:  “All covenants and promises which may have been entered into by any of the saints in the east, in relation to the eternal union, independent of the sanction and approbation of him who holds the keys of the sealing power as conferred by Elijah are ‘null and void,’ being made in unrighteousness, and directly in opposition to the order of the kingdom of God.”[17]  In 1852, Orson Pratt further explained how order was required in conducting plural marriages: 

          But then another question will arise; how are these things to be conducted? Are they to be left at random?  Is every servant of God at liberty to run here and there, seeking out the daughters of men as wives unto themselves without any restriction, law, or condition?  No. We find these things were restricted in ancient times....  Nathan the Prophet, in relation to David, was the man that held the keys concerning this matter in ancient days; and it was governed by the strictest laws.

          So in these days; let me announce to this congregation, that there is but one man in all the world, at the same time, who can hold the keys of this matter; but one man has power to turn the key to inquire of the Lord, and to say whether I, or these my brethren, or any of the rest of this congregation, or the Saints upon the face of the whole earth, may have this blessing of Abraham conferred upon them; he holds the keys of these matters now, the same as Nathan, in his day.[18] 

          In 1857 Heber C. Kimball taught: “You Bishops, Seventies, High Priests, Elders, Priests, Teachers, Deacons, and members, where did you get the Priesthood and authority you hold?  It came from this very authority, the First Presidency that sits here in this stand.  There was an authority before us, and we got our authority from that, and you got it from us, and this authority is with the First Presidency.”  Then he warned the Saints: “Now do not go off and say that you are independent of that authority.  Where did you get your wives?  Who gave them to you?  By what authority were they given to you?”[19]

          Although plural marriage was secretly expanding in Nauvoo, the law of chastity was still vigorously enforced throughout the Church.  Men and women who were involved with fornication and adultery were called up to Church courts and disciplined.[20] 

The “One” Man is the Prophet and President of the High Priesthood 

                In LDS theology, the “one” man who holds the keys of sealing is also to “be like unto Moses” and to serve as God’s prophet and mouthpiece on earth (D&C 107:91).  The “one” man is the President of the High Priesthood[21] and presides over the “Presidency of the High Priesthood,” which is the highest “council of the Church” (D&C 107:9, 78-79) unto whom is given the “keys of the kingdom” (D&C 81:2, 90:2-6).[22]

          Besides holding the keys of sealing power, the “one” man receives additional priesthood keys, which allow him to further conduct God’s work here on earth.  Joseph Smith described in 1836: “Moses appeared before us [Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery], and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.  After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:11-12). 

                                KEYS HELD BY THE “ONE” MAN

                                  Keys of Sealing (D&C 132:7)

               Keys of the Gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)

Keys of the Dispensation of the Gospel of Abraham (D&C 110:12)

  Keys of the Powers of the Holy Priesthood (D&C 128:11)

                              Keys of the Kingdom (D&C 81:2)

                            Keys of the Mysteries (D&C 28:7) 

          Church members believe that during his lifetime, Joseph Smith held all these priesthood keys.  Regarding his role, LDS scriptures state: “Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors” (D&C 110:16).  “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).

          Accordingly, as the guardian of all of these priesthood keys, the “one” man shoulders immense responsibilities to all mankind.  Joseph Smith wrote: “For him to whom these keys are given there is no difficulty in obtaining a knowledge of facts in relation to the salvation of the children of men, both as well for the dead as for the living” (D&C 128:11; italics added).  Latter-day Saints look to his guidance in bringing salvation to all of God’s children both on earth and in the Spirit World. 

The “One” Man is Responsible for the Salvation of the Living 

          LDS teachings hold that the “one” man has personal responsibility for the salvation of all of God’s children then upon the earth.  He fulfills that responsibility as he supervises the administration of priesthood ordinances to investigators and to Church members throughout the world.  Baptisms, confirmations, the sacrament, and temple ordinances are provided to believers who worthily seek them.

          The salvation of the living is also accomplished as the “one” man personally calls missionaries to go forth to gather the elect.  Joseph Smith taught in 1833: “The time has at last arrived when the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has set His hand again the second time to recover the remnants of his people, which have been left from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea, and with them to bring in the fullness of the Gentiles, and establish that covenant with them.”[23]  “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the Gospel.”[24]

                LDS scriptures include an account of God’s prediction that in the last days, “righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth” (Moses 7:62).  Isaiah prophesied: “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:12).  “Ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel” (Isa. 27:12).  Book of Mormon prophet Nephi recorded: 

                And after our seed is scattered the Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles, which shall be of great worth unto our seed...

                And it shall also be of worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.

                Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to make bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, in bringing about his covenants and his gospel unto those who are of the house of Israel.

                Wherefore, he will bring them again out of captivity, and they shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance; and they shall be brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.  (1 Ne. 22:8-9, 11-12.)

                Accordingly, the “one” man is accountable for the missionary efforts executed during his tenure as President of the High Priesthood.  In his day, Joseph Smith prayed that “all the scattered remnants of Israel, who have been driven to the ends of the earth, [may] come to a knowledge of the truth, believe in the Messiah, and be redeemed from oppression, and rejoice before thee...  That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners” (D&C 109: 67, 73).

                In addition, all men and women who follow the “one” man shoulder the responsibility to perform missionary work.  The Doctrine and Covenants records:  “It becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor” (D&C 88:81).  God told Joseph Smith in 1831: “But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them” (D&C 60:2-3).

                Joseph Smith explained the reason for “gathering the elect” in the latter days:  

                What was the object of gathering the Jews, or the people of God in any age of the world?...  The main object was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and the glories of His kingdom, and teach the people the way of salvation; for there are certain ordinances and principles that, when they are taught and practiced, must be done in a place or house built for that purpose.... Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles.  It is for the same purpose that God gathers together His people in the last days, to build unto the Lord a house to prepare them for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointings, etc.[25] 

          As the Prophet taught, the gathering is designed, not to instantly bring a mass migration to “one place” (D&C 29:8), although that congregating will occur at some point in the future.  But the primary focus of the final gathering is to provide temple ordinances to all of God’s children, wherever they may live.[26]  The “one” man holding the priesthood keys is responsible for this work. 

The “One” is Responsible for the Salvation of the Dead 

          For Latter-day Saints, the temple also plays an integral role in the salvation of the dead and the “one” man regulates the work performed for those who have already died.  Joseph Smith taught: “we are commanded to be baptized for our dead, thus fulfilling the words of Obadiah, when speaking of the glory of the latter-day: ‘And saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the remnant of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.’”[27] 

          “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples, erecting their baptismal fonts, and going forth and receiving all the ordinances, baptisms, confirmations, washings, anointings, ordinations and sealing powers upon their heads, in behalf of all their progenitors who are dead, and redeem them that they may come forth in the first resurrection and be exalted to thrones of glory with them; and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, which fulfills the mission of Elijah. And I would to God that this temple was now done, that we might go into it, and go to work and improve our time, and make use of the seals while they are on earth.”[28] 

          Though it was not finished before his death, Joseph Smith longed to see the Nauvoo temple completed.  In preparation, he oversaw thousands of baptisms for the dead often performed in the Mississippi River.[29]  Through their vicarious efforts, Latter-day Saints believe the righteous dead can accept ordinances administered in their behalf and receive eternal blessings.                                                                                           

[1]  Matt. 16:19.  See also 132:45-46. 

[2]  Faulring, Journals of Joseph Smith, 67 (entry for 24 November 1835); HC 2:320.

[3]  Bible Dictionary, 664.

[4]  Bachman, “Plural Marriage Before,” 97.  On several occasions the Prophet’s actions made it clear that he regarded priesthood authority as being superior to civil authority when dealing with marriages previously performed.  When contemplating a new eternal marriage, civil divorces were not always required.

[5]   See Bergera, “Earliest Eternal Sealings,” 47.

[6]   Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 336.

[7]  See comments by President John Taylor and Counselor George Q. Cannon,  Deseret Evening News, 18 October 1884.  Reproduced in Fulton, Most Holy Principle, 3:217-18 and Truth, 10 (March 1945) 254-63.  See also Hardy, Solemn Covenant, 52-53, fn. 98;.

[8]   Faulring, Journals of Joseph Smith, 417.  Apparently, editors for the History of the Church expanded the entry for that date, quoting Joseph as stating, “for, according to the law, I hold the keys of this power in the last days; for there is never but one on earth at a time on whom the power and its keys are conferred; and I have constantly said no man shall have but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise.” (HC 6:46).

[9]   Erastus Snow, Address, 17 June 1883, St. George Stake General Meeting Minutes.  In Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 266, en 209.

[10]  Brigham Young to William Smith, 9 August 1845, Brigham Young Collection.  E. Gary Smith, “Patriarchal Crisis of 1845,” 34; Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 266, en 212.

[11]   Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 71.

[12]   Ibid., 47-48.  

[13]   Discourse given 8 April 1844 in Minutes Collection, CHD.  In Bachman, “Plural Marriage Before,” 126.

[14]   See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 326.

[15]   Letter to William Smith, 10 August 1845, Brigham Young Collection.  In E. Gary Smith, “Patriarch Crisis of 1845,” 34;  J. Max Anderson, “Mormon Fundamentalism,” section: Joseph F. Smith.

[16]   1 January 1845.  Millennial Star 5 (March 1845): 151.

[17]   Times and Seasons 6:996.

[18]   JD 1:63-64, August 29, 1852.  Elder Pratt went on to explain: “But, says one, how have you obtained this information?  By new revelation.  When was it given, and to whom?  It was given to our Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith, on the 12th day of July, 1843; only about eleven months before he was martyred for the testimony of Jesus.  He held the keys of these matters; he had the right to inquire of the Lord; and the Lord has set bounds and restrictions to these things; He has told us in that revelation, that only one man can hold these keys upon the earth at the same time; and they belong to that man who stands at the head to preside over all the affairs of the Church and kingdom of God in the last days.  They are the sealing keys of power, or in other words, of Elijah, having been committed and restored to the earth by Elijah, the Prophet, who held many keys, among which were the keys of sealing, to bind the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers; together with all the other sealing keys and powers, pertaining to the last dispensation.  They were committed by that Angel who administered in the Kirtland Temple, and spoke unto Joseph the Prophet, at the time of the endowments in that house.”

[19]   JD 4:251-52.

[20]  See HC 5:271, 6:81. 

[21]    Mormon fundamentalists leaders and writers sometimes refer to a priesthood office of “President of the Priesthood” or “President of Priesthood.”  Examples include Leroy Johnson (LSJ Sermons 4:1232, 1306, 5:26), Joseph W. Musser (A Priesthood Issue, 4, 5,  6, 7, 8, 19; Truth, 2:23, 3:38, 4:88, 5:17, 95, 132 etc.), Gilbert Fulton (Most Holy Principle, 4:166, 238), Rulon Jeffs (Deposition, 4 April 1989, 15, 51 etc.).  However, no such office or calling is mentioned in the scriptures or in the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor etc. who only discuss the office of “President of the High Priesthood.”

[22]   See also Matthew 16:19.

[23]   From a letter written by Joseph Smith early in 1833 to N. E. Seaton, editor of the paper,  American Revivalist, and Rochester Observer (Rochester, New York), 4 January 1833.  In HC 1:313.

[24]  Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 113.  “That was said by the prophet of the new dispensation in a council meeting of the priesthood in Kirtland on the 6th day of April, 1837.”  (Brigham H. Roberts, Conference Report, October, 1928, 83.)

[25]   Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 308; italics added.  In contrast, Mormon fundamentalist apologist Robert Openshaw has written: “The Gathering is actually another form of the United Order, in fact it is the basis or beginning of the United Order.”  (Openshaw, The Notes, 120.)

[26]   See HC 5:1-2.

[27]   Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 223.

[28]   Ibid., 330.

[29]  Wilford Woodruff taught 8 April 1894: “What have you to say about redeeming the dead, or the work of the Temples of our God, that is not already revealed?  I will say this:  When the Prophet Joseph had this revelation from heaven [on baptism for the dead], what did he do?  There are witnesses here of what he did.  He never stopped till he got the fullness of the word of God to him concerning the baptism for the dead.  But before doing so he went into the Mississippi River, and so did I, as well as others, and we each baptized a hundred for the dead, without a man to record a single act that we performed.  Why did we do it?  Because of the feeling of joy that we had, to think that we in the flesh could stand and redeem our dead.”  (Collected Discourses 4:71.)