LESSON 18: “ESTABLISH … A HOUSE OF GOD”
Doctrine and Covenants 95; 109; 110
Purpose: To help class members understand the significance of temples and encourage them to seek the blessings of the temple in their own lives.
[1. The Lord commanded the Saints to build the Kirtland Temple.
2. The Saints were blessed for their great sacrifices in building the temple.
3. Joseph Smith dedicated the Kirtland Temple.
4. The Lord accepted the Kirtland Temple, and ancient prophets restored priesthood keys.
5. Temple building and temple work accelerate in our day.]
I love the history of the Saints. Our history is a record of God’s dealings with us, his children, in our own day, and is the story of our trying to reach up to God. The Doctrine and Covenants is a sort of rough draft of our history: Unlike most of the Book of Mormon and parts of the Bible, which tell a connected story of the people of God, the Doctrine and Covenants is more like the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, or the prophetic books of the Old Testament and the epistles of the New Testament: the story part of the history – an understanding of who was speaking to whom, and where and when and why – isn’t always clear. Learning that background story, which is seldom present in the revelations themselves, helps us enormously in understanding the scripture. That background seems especially helpful due to the way the Sunday School curriculum is designed: The sections of scripture we study in Sunday School are often presented out of chronological order. For those reasons, I will usually open the classes I teach with a short historical summary, reminding you of what was going on in the lives of the 19th century Saints at the time the revelations were given.
We will be discussing today the building of the first temple in this dispensation, the Kirtland Temple, with construction begun in 1833 and completed in 1836. During all of that time, the Church is located in two main centers: Kirtland, Ohio, and counties on the western frontier of Missouri. Far more members live in Missouri than in Kirtland – when construction begins, there are about 800 members in Missouri, and a few hundred less than that in Ohio. Joseph Smith lives in Kirtland, trying to administer both church groups from that place. During the winter before construction begins, Joseph and his brethren have been meeting in the School of the Prophets, where they have been studying both religious and secular subjects to prepare themselves to be missionaries. Several of the key revelations that we will be studying in the next few Sunday School classes – the Word of Wisdom, the great Vision of the organization of the afterlife – have already been given.
In December 1832, in the midst of the School of the Prophets, the Lord gave the first hint of the future building of the temple:
119 Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
120 That your incomings may be in the name of the Lord; that your outgoings may be in the name of the Lord; that all your salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with uplifted hands unto the most high.
Try to put yourselves in the place of the Saints in Kirtland – a few hundred people, in a rural area, that early in the development of the Church. If you had heard Joseph give those words from the Lord, what kind of a house might you have thought the Lord meant? (Briefly discuss that the word “temple” is not used, and would have been unfamiliar to the Saints had it been used. In that day, “temple” was applied “to buildings and churches of every kind [which] emptied the word of any distinctive architectural significance. James Fenimore Cooper spoke of the Hudson River mansions as temples sitting on their mountaintops. Greek temples, epitomizing high architectural beauty for this generation, were widely imitated in American banks and churches.” [Rough Stone Rolling, 216.] Nor had the Saints then received any hint of the ordinance work for living or dead that was the purpose of later temples.)
The Saints did not at that time do anything toward building the house of God. The following June, another revelation chastised them for their neglect and gave additional explanation of the importance of that house:
2 Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face;
3 For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house;
4 For the preparation wherewith I design to prepare mine apostles to prune my vineyard for the last time, that I may bring to pass my strange act, that I may pour out my Spirit upon all flesh –
What do those statements tell us about the purpose of the temple to be built in Kirtland?
8 Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;
9 For this is the promise of the Father unto you; therefore I command you to tarry, even as mine apostles at Jerusalem.
Realizing that this is the first temple to be built in this dispensation, and that the Saints had not yet been instructed in temple ordinances or even in what we now understand about the priesthood, how might they have understood those verses? Where might the Saints at Kirtland have turned to understand those words? Surely they would have searched the scriptures to know what promise was made to the apostles who tarried at Jerusalem.
(Read the New Testament verses suggested in the footnote to D&C 95:9, and discuss what the apostles did when they “tarried.”)
49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:
3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
So the apostles are being instructed by Jesus Christ (after his resurrection) and told to remain there to “wait for the promise of the Father.” What, briefly, were they waiting for, and what did they receive at that time? (The Pentecost; the promised gift of the Holy Ghost.)
In the next verses of D&C 95, the Lord gives a few physical details of the house he has commanded the Saints to build – not such a large building by our standards, but a huge building for that time and place, and the number of Saints there were to occupy it. There are to be two main meeting chambers on two floors – which this revelation refers to as “inner courts,” an allusion to the Old Testament-era temple of Solomon. The two floors, or courts, are to have different purposes:
16 And let the lower part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for your sacrament offering, and for your preaching, and your fasting, and your praying, and the offering up of your most holy desires unto me, saith your Lord.
17 And let the higher part of the inner court be dedicated unto me for the school of mine apostles, saith Son Ahman; or, in other words, Alphus; or, in other words, Omegus; even Jesus Christ your Lord. Amen.
Although the Saints in 1833 would not have understood this yet – the higher ordinances of the priesthood not yet having been revealed – what can we understand about the two different purposes of the two different floors? (The lower floor seems related to our chapels today, where we meet for sacrament, teaching, fasting and prayer; the upper floor is reserved for something else, something more exclusive, something that, perhaps, given the titles used here, is related to the Son of God, the first and the last, the entire purpose of creation.)
So, the Saints built the house of God as commanded, at a great sacrifice in labor and material, incurring great debt. It seems a shame to pass over those years of labor in a sentence or two; you should review those events by reading a few pages in any of the standard histories of the Church that we have available.
The temple was ready to be dedicated in March, 1836. The prayer Joseph used in dedicating the temple – a prayer that was received through revelation – is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 109. Let’s read a few key verses from that prayer.
14 And do thou grant, Holy Father, that all those who shall worship in this house may be taught words of wisdom out of the best books, and that they may seek learning even by study, and also by faith, as thou hast said:
Why are “teaching” and “learning” both so relevant to the House of the Lord, both in the pre-endowment days of Kirtland and in our temples today?
The Lord speaks of two sources of wisdom – what are they? Does he designate one form of learning – either study, or faith – as superior to the other, here?
We have so many sources for wisdom, both study and faith, that we may take them for granted. What are some of the best sources for study, to achieve the purposes of the temple?
17 That all the incomings of thy people, into this house, may be in the name of the Lord;
18 That all their outgoings from this house may be in the name of the Lord:
19 And that all their salutations may be in the name of the Lord, with holy hands, uplifted to the Most High;
What is meant here? Why is it important to go to and come from the temple “in the name of the Lord”? How is that accomplished?
22 And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;
23 And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets, concerning the last days;
While any of the people of the Lord might properly be called the “servants [of the] Holy Father,” who specifically was meant by these verses in 1836? (The apostles, who would soon open missions.)
If we take these verses seriously, what obligation are we under when we “go forth from” the temples of God today?
D&C 109: 24-26
24 We ask thee, Holy Father, to establish the people that shall worship, and honorably hold a name and standing in this thy house, to all generations and for eternity;
25 That no weapon formed against them shall prosper; that he who diggeth a pit for them shall fall into the same himself;
26 That no combination of wickedness shall have power to rise up and prevail over thy people upon whom thy name shall be put in this house;
I wish we had time to discuss all that was happening in Kirtland in these years, to have a context for these verses. From what you remember of Kirtland history, though, were these words merely fanciful, theoretical ones?
How do these words of this prayer have application to us today?
How do you understand this petition in reference to the term “thy people”? Does it pertain to the individual people who serve in temples, or to “the people” as a whole – the church?
31 For thou knowest, O Lord, that thy servants have been innocent before thee in bearing record of thy name, for which they have suffered these things.
32 Therefore we plead before thee for a full and complete deliverance from under this yoke;
33 Break it off, O Lord; break it off from the necks of thy servants, by thy power, that we may rise up in the midst of this generation and do thy work.
Again, this is a point where it would be helpful to know the background, the story of what was going on in Kirtland. Remember that the people – and especially Joseph and other leaders – were heavily in debt to finance the building of the temple and the operations of the Church. While the great apostasy that would soon sweep through Kirtland had not yet brought all the legal and moral charges that would soon be laid against Joseph, the stage for those accusations was already being set.
The images in several of the verses we have just read are harsh – yokes, and falling into pits, and weapons raised against the servants of God. But this prayer also asks for mercy:
54 Have mercy, O Lord, upon all the nations of the earth; have mercy upon the rulers of our land; may those principles, which were so honorably and nobly defended, namely, the Constitution of our land, by our fathers, be established forever.
55 Remember the kings, the princes, the nobles, and the great ones of the earth, and all people, and the churches, all the poor, the needy, and afflicted ones of the earth;
56 That their hearts may be softened when thy servants shall go out from thy house, O Jehovah, to bear testimony of thy name; that their prejudices may give way before the truth, and thy people may obtain favor in the sight of all;
I had a difficult mission; one of my chief sources of strength was remembering that in all the sessions of all the temples in the world, every day, good Saints were praying that the hearts of the people of the earth would be softened, and that our testimony would be received.
Do the “kings, the princes, the nobles, and the great ones of the earth” still need our prayers? How often do we pray that their hearts may be softened, in contrast to how often we shake our fists at the latest news?
The Kirtland Temple would soon be the setting for visits from ancient prophets – Moses, Elias, and Elijah – restoring the keys of priesthood blessings unknown on the day of the temple’s dedication: the keys to gather Israel, to receive the responsibilities and rewards of the Abrahamic covenant, and the sealing power that we associate so clearly with the temples today. On the day the temple was dedicated Joseph may have understood those blessings only dimly, if at all, but he looked forward to a day that is still in our future, associating the temple with the ultimate blessings of salvation:
72 Remember all thy church, O Lord, with all their families, and all their immediate connections, with all their sick and afflicted ones, with all the poor and meek of the earth; that the kingdom, which thou hast set up without hands, may become a great mountain and fill the whole earth;
73 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;
74 And be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens, and cause the mountains to flow down at thy presence, and the valleys to be exalted, the rough places made smooth; that thy glory may fill the earth;
75 That when the trump shall sound for the dead, we shall be caught up in the cloud to meet thee, that we may ever be with the Lord;
76 That our garments may be pure, that we may be clothed upon with robes of righteousness, with palms in our hands, and crowns of glory upon our heads, and reap eternal joy for all our sufferings.