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A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. – Proverbs 25:11

A few days ago, while researching a totally unrelated topic at scriptures.byu.edu, I stumbled across a talk given jointly by President John Taylor and the apostle, Elder Erastus Snow on August 8, 1880. It is entitled The Order and Duties of the Priesthood, and was recorded by George F. Gibbs. I found myself increasingly in tears: tears of joy for having found such a beautiful and clear explanation and understanding; one that I have struggled and fought to find for years. Maybe it is because I have two sons, soon to be three, and like Abraham of old, I have witnessed – as a result of my own choices – the unintended suffering of my eldest son. Like a replay of the story of Ishmael and Isaac, I have watched him compare himself to his siblings, sometimes jealously, sometimes mournfully; agonized with him as he struggled mightily over issues of identity, paternity, birthright and the overall question of ultimate belonging; all of which I have tried for decades to convince him is an unnecessary self-harm! Since he was a small boy, I have taught him that his “real Father” is his Heavenly Father. Over and over again I have told him this truth, – though he was not satisfied; though he has not yet believed me – that if he could only be but true to his Heavenly Father, “it follows as the night the day: thou canst not then be false to any man” or even to yourself (John 6:38; Eccl 12:13, Moses 7:33, Luke 16:13, Abr 3:25, Hamlet Act 1, scene 2, 78-82).  I had no evidence to show him but the witness in my own heart that what I was telling him was true, conveyed by the Spirit and sent from the Lord to this mother of his, who begged for forgiveness and for the answers to heal her son’s questions. And now here, finally, with the discovery of this discourse, I have two more sure witnesses to stand by my side and say, “It is true! All that your mother has told you is true!” (Matthew 18:16, D&C 21:5 (4-6), Alma 56:48 ).

In addition, this discourse is probably the most beautiful and true explanation I have ever read or heard about the nature, rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood; specifically, how it can be conferred but also how and why it can be lost, was lost throughout history, and is lost by men of the covenant. Next, this talk also relegates to MYTH the assertion going around today, which I was sucked into for awhile in 2014, that LDS women were once ordained to the Priesthood. We have an eye-witness to and participant in the event of Emma’s setting apart as Relief Society president who testifies that this just wasn’t so. Then, another testimony is given, once again, to the extreme importance of how and by whom the youth of the rising generation are educated. I have been quite passionate about this issue, especially among my LDS friends; unfortunately to the offense of some of them. Finally, the beauty and simplicity and sheer logic of this talk gives me hope: hope for me, hope for my son, and hope for all of the ordained men who have touched my life, for good or for bad, that while we are yet in this life, there is still a chance to make the final, resolute choice to follow God, once and for all; and therefore reap all of the joy and blessings pertaining thereunto (D&C 82:10, 130:21; 2 Nephi 2:8, 21:23, ).

The full discourse can be found here. I have copied and pasted the section I felt relevant, which begins pretty close to page 365b.


 

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PRESIDENT JOHN TAYLOR, PROPHET:

 

“Now we are sometimes fond, that is, some of us are, of talking about our authority. It is a thing I care very little about. I tell you what I want to do if I can. I want to know the will of God so that I may do it; and I do not want to dictate or domineer or exercise arbitrary control. Then again, all men ought to be under proper control to the Presidency and Priesthood presiding over them. If I were a Bishop I should want to know what the President of my Stake desired, and I should confer with him; and if there was anything in which Bishop Hunter was interested, I should want to know his mind.

I will read a little further with regard to this subject of priesthood:
How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.”(D&C 121:33-35) 

 

Now, I wish you to take particular notice of this, you Elders, you High Priests, you Seventies, and you Priests, Teachers and Deacons, and all men holding the Priesthood; “That they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness;”(D&C 121:35-36) and not upon any other principle. And when anybody steps aside from that and acts upon a principle of unrighteousness, the result will be as is stated in the context, namely: “That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.  (D&C 121:37) That is the result of wrongdoing; that is the result of perverting the authority that God has conferred upon us to our personal ends and to gratify our own ambition.Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.” (D&C 121:38)   Can they thwart the purposes of God? No. They are as harmless as babies. He that sits in the heavens laughs at them, and all men holding the Priesthood of the Son of God, care nothing about their fulminations and the efforts they make to hinder the progress of truth in the earth, for all they can do, we know, will be overruled for our good. They are going the downward road that leads to death, and by and by they will have their reward. We would like to see it otherwise, but we cannot, that is one of the things they have to see to themselves; it belongs to us to be true to God and to our Priesthood, and all will be well with us. 

 

Again, we quote, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever. (D&C 121:39-46) 

 

What a beautiful state of things God presents to us! Shall we try to live it? Or shall we take our own way and pursue our own course? These things are beautiful when we reflect upon them. We all know they are true, and they are principles which recommend themselves to our hearts. Let us try then and live them.

 

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There are other orders of the Priesthood; we have Elders, and they have their duties to perform, which I do not propose to talk about now. And we have our Priests, Teachers and Deacons, all of whom hold important positions, and all should seek to magnify their calling. And what should they do? I will tell you a circumstance that took place with me upwards of forty years ago. I was living in Canada at the time, and was a traveling Elder. I presided over a number of the churches in that district of country. A difficulty existed in a branch of the church, and steps were taken to have the matter brought before me for settlement. I thought very seriously about it, and thought it a very insignificant affair. Because we ought to soar above such things, and walk on a higher plane, for we are the children of God and should be willing to suffer wrong rather than do wrong; to yield a good deal to our brethren for the sake of peace and quietness, and to secure and promote good feelings among the Saints. At that time I did not have the experience I now have, and yet I do not know that I could do anything better than I did then. Before going to the trial I bowed before the Lord, and sought wisdom from him to conduct the affair aright, for I had the welfare of the people at heart. When we had assembled, I opened the meeting with prayer, and then called upon a number of those present to pray; they did so, and the Spirit of God rested upon us. I could perceive that a good feeling existed in the hearts of those who had come to present their grievances, and I told them to bring forward their case. But they said they had not anything to bring forward. The feelings and spirit they had been in possession of had left them, the Spirit of God had obliterated these feelings out of their hearts, and they knew it was right for them to forgive one another. 

 

You Priests, Teachers and Deacons, seek unto the Lord, and he will bless you. And you, my brethren, when the Teachers visit you, do not think that you are High Priests and that they are only Teachers hardly worthy of your attention. They are your Teachers, and you should reverence them. And if you expect to be honored in your calling, you must honor them in theirs. When the Teachers come to visit me I am pleased to see them; and I call together the members of my family that may be in the house at the time, to hear what they have to say to us. And I tell them to talk freely and plainly to us, to myself, my wives and children; in other words, to do their duty as Teachers, and then I will help them to carry out their instructions. This is how I feel towards our Teachers. The eye cannot say to the ear, we have no need of thee; neither the head to the feet, I have no need of thee, (1 Cor 12:21)  for if one of the members suffer all the other members suffer with it; and if one member rejoice, all the other members partake of the same feeling.(1 Cor 12:26)  Consequently I feel in duty bound to attend to these things.

 

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We have here our Relief Societies, and they have done a good work. And people are desirous to know something of these organizations. I was in Nauvoo at the time the Relief Society was organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and I was present on the occasion. At a late meeting of the Society held in Salt Lake City I was present, and I read from a record called the Book of the Law of the Lord, the minutes of that meeting. At that meeting the Prophet called Sister Emma to be an elect lady. (2 Jn 1:1, D&C 25:3). That means that she was called to a certain work; and that was in fulfillment of a certain revelation concerning her. She was elected to preside over the Relief Society, and she was ordained to expound the Scriptures (D&C 25:7). In compliance with Brother Joseph’s request I set her apart, and also ordained Sister Whitney, wife of Bishop Newel K. Whitney, and Sister Cleveland, wife of Judge Cleveland, to be her counselors. Some of the sisters have thought that these sisters mentioned were, in this ordination, ordained to the priesthood. And for the information of all interested in this subject I will say, it is not the calling of these sisters to hold the Priesthood, only in connection with their husbands, they being one with their husbands. Sister Emma was elected to expound the Scriptures (D&C 25:7),  and to preside over the Relief Society; then Sisters Whitney and Cleveland were ordained to the same office, and I think Sister Eliza R. Snow to be secretary. A short time ago I attended a meeting in Salt Lake City, where Sister Snow and Sister Whitney were set apart. I happened to be the only member of the Twelve in town at the time, the other members of the Quorum being unavoidably absent. I went to this meeting and set apart Sister Whitney and Sister Snow who were two of those I set apart some forty years ago, in Nauvoo. And after I had done so, they reminded me of the coincidence. At this meeting, however, Sister Snow was set apart to preside over the Relief Societies in the land of Zion, and Sister Whitney her counselor, with Sister Zina D. Young, her other counselor. I speak of this for the information of the Sisters, although I presume they may have read of it in their paper, the Exponent.

 

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With regard to those Societies, I will say, they have done a good work and are a great assistance to our Bishops, as well as being peculiarly adapted to console, bless, and encourage those of their sisters who need their care, and also to visit the sick, as well as to counsel and instruct the younger women in the things pertaining to their calling as children and Saints of the Most High. I am happy to say that we have a great many honorable and noble women engaged in these labors of love, and the Lord blesses them in their labors, and I bless them in the name of the Lord. And I say to our sisters, continue to be diligent and faithful in seeking the well-being and happiness of your sex, instruct and train your own daughters in the fear of God, and teach your sisters to do likewise, that we may be the blessed of the Lord and our offspring with us

 

Our young people’s Improvement Associations are very creditable institutions, and the fruits of the labors of those engaged in this work are already manifesting themselves. I feel in my heart to say, God bless the young men and young women of Israel; let it be the desire of your hearts to imitate the virtues of your parents and of all good men and women, keeping your bodies and spirits pure before God and man. 

 

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Then, we have our Sunday Schools; and many of our brethren and sisters in this direction are doing a good work. I would advise the superintendents of Sunday Schools to endeavor to collect the best talent they can to teach and instruct our children. What greater or more honorable work can we be engaged in than in teaching the children the principles of salvation? You that are diligent and that give your hearts to these things God will bless, and the day will come when the youth of Israel will rise up and call you blessed. (Proverbs 31:28). 

 

Then with regard to our common schools, let us try to instruct our youth as best we can, and get the best of teachers, men and women of intelligence and education who are not only moral, but good Latter-day Saints; men and women who are not only capable of imparting to our children the rudiments of education, but who are also capable of teaching them the laws of God as he has revealed them for our guidance. And when you get good teachers you should appreciate them, and you should cooperate with them  in their endeavors to teach our youth; and then see that they are properly remunerated for their services.

 

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Some people talk about the great ignorance of the “Mormons.” In regard to education we are the peers of the United States. We, it is true, do not possess such notable academies and universities as may be found in the great centers of our nation, but official figures show our educational status to be above that of the average of the United States. And I may add, that our grade of literacy is higher than that of the nation. When we take into consideration the fact that we have not received one penny from any outside source, while the leading institutions of learning have realized millions, yes scores of millions of dollars to enable them to educate their youth. This is something that we have a right to be proud of. Then let us continue to encourage education; and let our trustees be alive to supply the schoolhouses with all the necessary charts and books; let them not feel niggardly in regard to these things. And above all, let everything we do conspire to advance the interests of the Church and Kingdom of God upon the earth

 

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ELDER ERASTUS SNOW, APOSTLE

 

While President Taylor was treating upon the order of the Priesthood, the history of which has been given in the Bible through Moses, and also in certain revelations given unto this Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith, he awakened a train of reflection that carried the mind back from the time of Moses to that of Abraham, Noah, Enoch and Adam. Adam was the first man (D&C 84:16, Moses 1:34, Abraham 1:3) appointed of God as the ruler of the earth; to him it was said, thou shalt have dominion over the earth and over the things therein (Gen 1:26-28). And as he began to multiply and replenish the earth, (Gen 1:28),and as his children and their families increased in the land, there was a right of dominion given; it was called the birthright, (Gen 25:31-34) and it belongs to the firstborn of the sons. (Gen 43:33, 1 Chr 5:1) And this seems to have been an order existing in the heavens even before Adam. For it is written of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that he was the firstborn of many brethren. (Rom 8:29). Moreover, his rights of dominion as the firstborn continued with him because he loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore was he anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows (Ps 45:7, Heb 1:9). But notwithstanding his birthright, had he not loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and exercised his rights and his dominion in connection with the powers of heaven and the principles of righteousness, he would not have been chosen nor have received this anointing with the oil of gladness above his fellows (Ps 45:7, Heb 1:9) [See also this link]. But because he did exercise it rightly and pleased his Father, he was chosen, as was his right to have been, or, I will say, his privilege rather, because he honored his birthright, and, therefore, he was anointed above his fellows, (Ps 45:7, Heb 1:9) and became the Chief Apostle (Eph 2:20), the High Priest of our profession (Heb 3:1), the Son, the mediator between us and the Father (1 Tim 2:5). 

 

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The same principle fell upon Adam’s children; and hence Cain, being the firstborn of his father’s family (Gen 4:1), according to the Bible account, might have been the head of this Priesthood, under his father, holding the right by birth; but instead of exercising his birthright on the principles of righteousness, and in accord with the powers of heaven, he was befogged and understood not his true position; and his offering was not accepted (Gen 4:5). But Abel, his younger brother (Gen 4:2),  who was meek and lowly of heart (Matt 11:29), and who sought the inspiration of the Spirit, was led to bring as his offering the firstlings of his flock (Gen 4:4, Moses 5:5, 20) which were a true representation of the Lamb of God (Moses 5:7); and besides, the offering was made in the true spirit of his ministry and priesthood (1 Jn 3:12, Moses 5:26), therefore it pleased the Father, and he accepted it (Gen 17:7, JST Matt 23:35, Heb 11:4). Then when Cain found that his offering was not accepted (Gen 4:5), and his brother, Abel’s was accepted (Gen 4:4, Moses 6:3), Satan tempted him (Hel 6:27), and entered into him (Luke 22:3, John 13:27) and led him into the way of all apostates (Moses 5:21-41); he became possessed with the spirit of murder (John 8:44, Ether 8:15, 25). I mention it as the first apostasy of which we have record after the fall of man; through it Cain lost his privilege as firstborn, and the blessing fell on one more worthy, and the rights of the priesthood passed to the next son of Adam, which according to Bible record was Seth (Moses 6:1-10), who magnified the Priesthood, honored his birthright (D&C 138:40), and held the blessing of the Priesthood, which was sealed upon him by his father (D&C 107:42-43); and from him it descended upon the righteous of his posterity (Moses 6:13). 

 

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There are many instances, from that time forward, of which the scriptures speak of this birthright continuing among the descendants of Seth, until it came to Noah and his sons (Gen 5:1-32, Luke 3:23-38, D&C 107:40-53), of which sons Shem received the blessings pertaining to the priesthood (Moses 8:27).Abraham came through Shem (Gen 11:10-27, Luke 3:34-36, Abr 1:2-4), and the Savior came through this lineage (Matt 1:1-16, Luke 24-36); and through this blessing of Noah upon Shem, the Priesthood continued through his seed (Gen 9:26, D&C 138:41);  while the offspring of Ham inherited a curse (Gen 9:25),  and it was because, as a revelation teaches, some of the blood of Cain became mingled with that of Ham’s family, and hence they inherited that curse (Abr 1:21-27). 

 

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Now we will pass by the places in the Bible which speak of this birthright until we come to Isaac, the son of Abraham, and to Jacob, the son of Isaac, who bought the birthright of his brother Esau (Gen 25:29-34). From the story that is told of Rebekah helping her son Jacob to get the first blessing from his father Isaac, on purpose to secure the birthright from his brother Esau, many would be inclined to think that deceit, dishonesty and unrighteous means were employed to secure it, and they perhaps wonder why it should be so (Gen 27:1-46). This was really not the case; it is only made to appear so in the eyes of those who do not understand the dealings of God with man, and the workings of the Holy Spirit to bring about His purposes. There was neither unrighteousness in Rebekah nor in Jacob in this matter; but on the contrary, there was the wisdom of the Almighty, showing forth his providences in guiding them in such a manner as to bring about his purposes, in influencing Esau to transfer his birthright to Jacob, that He might ratify and confirm it upon the head of Jacob; knowing as He did that Jacob and his seed were, and would be, more deserving of the birthright, and would magnify it in its true spirit (Gen 25:23), while Esau did not sense nor appreciate his condition and birthright; he did not respect it as he should have done (Gen 25:34), neither did he hearken to the counsels of his father and mother. On the contrary, he went his own way with a stubborn will, and followed his own passions and inclinations and took to wife one of the daughters of the Canaanites whom the Lord had not blessed (Gen 24:1-3, 28:1-9); and he therefore rendered himself unacceptable to God and to his father and mother. He gave himself to wild pursuits—to hunting, and to following the ways of the Canaanites, and displeased the Lord and his parents, and was not worthy of this right of seniority. The Lord therefore saw fit to take it from him, and the mother was moved upon to help the younger son to bring about the purpose of the Lord, in securing to himself the blessing through the legitimate channel of the Priesthood. And as you know, his father was induced to bless him and confirm this blessing upon him (Gen 27:1-46). [For more on this story, and Rebekah’s matriarchal right to act as she righteously did, please read here.]

 

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Now, whilst all these instances in Scripture recognize the right called the birthright, that has descended from the beginning, the same principle is exhibited in all those instances set forth in the revelation read by President Taylor  (D&C 121:34-36) that none can hold these rights of the Priesthood except in connection with the powers of heaven, and cannot be exercised only on the principles of righteousness (D&C 12:36); and all who fail to exercise these rights on the principles of righteousness and in connection with the powers of heaven subject to its counsels and directions and laws, forfeit their birthright, and the right passes to another (D&C 121:37).

 

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We have another instance of this kind in Reuben, the eldest of the twelve sons of Jacob. We find that the birthright passed from him. He committed a transgression which offended the Lord and offended his father (Gen 35:22), and it was of such a character that it could not be passed over with impunity; and the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph. We find it explained in Chronicles, that because Reuben defiled his father’s bed, the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph; and the Priesthood was reckoned after that lineage (1 Chr 5:1), though Judah prevailed above his brethren to this extent, that through him came the Chief Ruler of Israel, while unto Ephraim, the son of Joseph, was given the keys of the Priesthood—or those rights that apply to the birthright (1 Chr 5:2). Of the two sons of Joseph—Ephraim and Manasseh, the Lord said, Manasseh shall be great, but Ephraim shall be greater than he; and he shall become a multitude in the earth (Gen 48:19). And when the patriarch was blessing Joseph’s two sons, though he was blind, he was careful to cross his hands in blessing the boys (Gen 48:13-20). Joseph observing what his father was doing, informed him that he was putting his right hand on the head of the younger boy, but the old man replied, I know it, my son (Gen 48:19). The Spirit of the Lord prompted him to do as he did—to confer the greater blessing upon Ephraim, the younger brother (D&C 133:34).  It  was for this reason that God spake through the mouth of Jeremiah concerning the gathering of Israel: “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn”(Jer 31:9).  That is according to his purposes. He acknowledged and reconfirmed this birthright upon Ephraim the younger of the two sons of Joseph, when he referred to the dispensation of the fullness of times and the ushering in of its great work—when the Lord should set his hand to gather His people (Jer 30:1-24, 31:1-40), and be a father to Israel, even to Ephraim His firstborn (Jer 31:9). 

 

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 Now, the Levitical Priesthood referred to was not a new Priesthood. We do not understand it to be an order of the Priesthood instituted at the time Israel was in the wilderness of Sinai, but that it had been from the beginning a part of the Holy Priesthood, an appendage, or a subdivision, or branch of the same Priesthood (D&C 107:1,6). The rights of this descended from father to son (D&C 107:40),among the firstborn, unless the firstborn failed to appreciate it and exercise it in righteousness. In that event it passed to one of the others.

 

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 We see the same principle set forth when the Lord commanded Moses to take the tribe of Levi and set them apart to be Priests (Num 3:5-10). He told them the reason. Now, said He, I have claimed the firstborn of all the families of Israel as my own. When I sent forth my angel to smite the firstborn of the sons of Egypt, I caused mine angel to pass by the families of Israel, that he smite not their firstborn. In remembrance of this He instituted the ordinance called the Passover, to preserve in the minds of the Israelites, the occasion when the Lord passed over their firstborn, while the firstborn of the sons of Egypt He caused to be slain. For this reason, He said, I have consecrated the firstborn as mine own; and now, said He to Moses, I will take from the tribes of Israel the house of Levi, and you shall consecrate them to officiate, etc (Num 3:11-13). This principle has continued from the beginning. We see it exemplified in the calling of the Lamb of God, who was the firstborn among many brethren (Rom 8:29), and was in all things obedient to his Father; who loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and was therefore chosen and anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows (Ps 45:7, Heb 1:9). So in after years, those who in like manner exercised their birthright in connection with the powers of heaven, and on the principles of virtue, integrity and righteousness had these rights confirmed upon him. But in no case, when acting unrighteously, were they chosen to receive the confirmation of the ordinances of the PriesthoodIn the days of Eli, who permitted his sons, who were heirs of the Priesthood, to set bad examples and work iniquities in Israel, God held the father responsible for their course, and He destroyed both Eli and his sons, and raised up another in his place (1 Sam 3:1-21, 4:1-22). 

 

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The article read in your hearing from the Doctrine and Covenants, shows most clearly that the rights and blessings and keys of this Priesthood can only be held and exercised in connection with the powers of heaven and on the principles of righteousness (D&C 121:36). It is most beautiful to contemplate. It is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Prov 25:11).

 

And that God may enable us to preserve these things in our hearts, and that we may attain to all that He has prepared for us, is my earnest prayer, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

And He will heal those who trust him and make their hearts as gold.” – Roger Hoffmann,
lyric from Consider the Lilies ( Luke 12:13-34, Proverbs 17:3 )

 

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