The Abrahamic covenant is understandably a topic that we have taught again and again. This Gospel Doctrine lesson from 1952 is representative of such lessons; it covers the same ground as our current manual, but taking a somewhat different approach.
The Abrahamic Dispensation
John Lord says, “Abraham appears to us, after the lapse of nearly four thousand years, as the most august character in history. … He is the spiritual father equally of Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans, in their warfare with idolatry. In this sense, he is the spiritual progenitor of all those nations, tribes and peoples, who now acknowledge, or who may hereafter acknowledge, a personal God, supreme and eternal in the universe which he created.” (“Beacon lights of History,” Vol. 2, p. 27)
Abraham was called to his duties before he was born. He, the “friend of God,” the “father of the faithful,” was to be the progenitor of the chosen people. He showed great courage in calling attention to the wicked and idolatrous conditions of his time. This must have taken particular courage as his own people had turned from their righteousness and the Lord’s holy commandments to the worshiping of heathen gods.
In a brief life’s history he tells us that he sought another home and the rights of the fathers. He desired to become a rightful heir to the Priesthood, which was give him. He says concerning it, “it was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea even from the beginning or before the foundation of the earth to the present time, even the right of the first-born, or the first man, who is Adam, our first father, through the fathers unto me. I sought for mine appointment of God unto the Priesthood, according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.” (Abraham 1:3-4)
The covenant the Lord made with Abraham was of three-fold nature as a blessing to mankind to the latest generations. We do not fully comprehend its significance even now. The Priesthood and its powers were to descend through Abraham’s posterity. It was through him that Christ was to come and thus prove a blessing to all nations. Moreover, the promise was made that in addition to Abraham’s direct descendants, all who should receive the gospel from that time forth, should also become of Abraham’s seed by adoption, and his blood should be mixed among the nations to leaven them with the privileges of the gospel.
The following account is from the Inspired Translation of the Scriptures by Joseph Smith:
And God talked with him, saying, My people have gone astray from my precepts, and have not kept mine ordinances, which I gave unto their fathers.
And they have not observed mine anointing, and the burial, or baptism wherewith I commanded them;
But have turned from the commandment, and taken unto themselves the washing of the children, and the blood of sprinkling;
And have said that the blood of the righteous Abel was shed for sins; and have not known wherein they are accountable before me.
But as for thee, behold, I will make my covenant with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. …
And thou shalt observe to keep all my covenants wherein I covenanted with thy fathers; and thou shalt keep the commandments which I have given thee with mine own mouth, and I will be a God unto thee ad thy seed after thee. …
And God said unto Abraham: Therefore thou shalt keep my covenant, thou and thy seed after thee, in their generations.
And I will make thee exceedingly fruitful and will make nations of thee, and kings shall come of thee, and of thy seed. (Gen. 17:4-21)
In our attempt to understand the covenant which the Lord made with Abraham, we find more direct help in Abraham’s own writings as translated by Joseph Smith:
I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. (Abraham 2;9-11)
Much of the ordinance work now being done in the temples is in fulfilment of the covenant the Lord made with Abraham and his children.
As we study the life of Abraham by means of his teachings, we are led greatly to admire him for his noble character. His great courage in the midst of idolaters and his determination to live the Gospel, with which he was thoroughly familiar, have already been mentioned. He must have had unshakable faith. This is shown by the fact that he never doubted that the Lord’s promise to him would be fulfilled even though he had to wait until he was a very old man until Isaac was born. And also by his readiness to sacrifice the life of this son when commanded by the Lord, when it seemed that that very act would make the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises impossible.
He was possessed of great knowledge. Through his study of the “records of the fathers, even the patriarchs,” he learned to comprehend the vastness of the heavens and the creation. But his studies netted him more than worldly knowledge, for he grasped their deeper meanings. He learned that the works of the almighty are endless; that the heavenly bodies are intended for habitations of man; that glorified worlds are to become abodes of righteous celestial beings, the children of our eternal Father; and that his own seed would be as difficult to number as the sands of the sea.
Nor is the covenant through which Abraham bound his posterity as well as himself confined to mortal life. It extends into the celestial kingdom. The children of Abraham, if they will keep the covenant as they receive it in the house of the Lord, shall, as Abraham their father, continue through all eternity to increase, and there shall be no end to their posterity. In this way the blessings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are extended to them, and they become partakers to the fullest extent. For there is to be a continuation of the “seeds forever” among those who receive exaltation in the kingdom of God. This is the promise, and there shall come through Abraham kings and priests and rulers, not only on this earth but in the heavens, and so shall it be worlds without ends.