A Very Short History of the Priesthood

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There is nothing which threatens the kingdom of Satan other than the priesthood. It is not simply a feature of the restoration, it is the restoration itself. Restoring a “church” is just organizing people in a certain pattern, but restoring the priesthood gives them the power to shake the very foundations of Hell and change the world forever. For that reason the priesthood in every age has suffered persecution. The devil will never cease to stir up opposition to the priesthood, for only the power of God can overthrow all wickedness and at last bind Satan for a thousand years.

This post will give a very short history of the keys of the priesthood. I hope you will pray to know for yourself if these things are true.

Shortly after the establishment of the Church, Joseph Smith was commanded by God to move from New York to Ohio. The people gathered in Kirtland, Ohio (near Cleveland). A beautiful temple was built, extensive missionary work was instituted, and the Church made substantial gains in membership. Among the missions opened was one in Missouri, and the body of the Church later moved to Missouri.

This was a time of religious intolerance. Antagonism was soon stirred up against the Latter-day Saints Mobs dispossessed them. They were compelled to move, leaving behind their homes, well-cultivated farms, and their houses of worship.

They went to Illinois and in their distress were received kindly. At a desolate spot on the Mississippi River they purchased a large tract of swamp land. They drained this swampy area and built what was at that time the largest city in Illinois—Nauvoo, “the beautiful city.” Missionary efforts, both in America and England, greatly increased their numbers, and they prospered for a season.

The peace of Nauvoo was short-lived. Again bitter religious intolerance led to persecution. Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were imprisoned under false charges in Carthage, Illinois. While awaiting trial under the guaranteed protection of the state, they were shot and martyred June 27, 1844, by an armed mob with painted faces.

Brigham Young succeeded to the leadership of the Church. Under his direction the majority of Latter-day Saints left Illinois and made their historic trek to the Rocky Mountains, where through struggle and faith they became a mighty people. Others scattered across north America where they had varying levels of success for a season. Eventually these groups of Latter-Day Saints lost portions of the gospel such as temple ordinances. There are nearly a hundred different Mormon sects which  trace their history from this great schism.

The revelations of God given through the prophet Joseph Smith continue to enrich the lives of all those who study them. There may be many churches who claim to follow his teachings but all of them benefit from the word of the Lord given through him. However, some of these churches follow the directions given by God in these revelations more faithfully than others.

Within a few decades religious intolerance again reared its ugly head in the new Utah territory and the church was unincorporated, the leaders were forced into hiding or prison, and the properties of the church and of many members were confiscated. At this time the leadership of God’s Priesthood and the leaders of the church as elected by the members split over the issue of whether or not to compromise the commandments of God in order to end the persecution. This has led to the many different Mormon sects in the world today. 

This process began in 1886 with the setting apart of a special priesthood council consisting of seven apostles who were to preserve the ordinances and perform them, and ended in 1932 when Heber J. Grant as president of the church began to excommunicate members and even apostles and other general authorities for placing their commitment to the gospel before their deference to the church, and Pres. Grant personally, and opposed his plans of doctrinal and temple garment changes.

Lorin C. Woolley related the following:

While the brethren were at the Carlisle residence [in Murray] in May or June of 1886, letters began to come to President John Taylor from such men as John Sharp, Horace Eldredge, William Jennings, John T. Caine, Abraham Hatch, President Cluff and many other leading men from all over the Church, asking the leaders to do something, as the Gentiles were talking of confiscating their property in connection with the property of the Church.

These letters not only came from those who were living in the Plural Marriage relation, but also from prominent men who were presiding in various offices of the Church who were not living in that relation. They all urged that something be done to satisfy the Gentiles so that their property would not be confiscated. George Q. Cannon on his own initiative selected a committee comprising himself, Hyrum B. Clawson, Franklin S. Richards, John T. Caine and James Jack, to get up a statement or manifesto that would meet the objections urged by the brethren above named. They met from time to time to discuss the situation. From the White home, where President Taylor and companions stopped, after leaving the Carlisle home, they came out to father’s [i.e. John W. Woolley]. George Q. Cannon would go, and consult with the brethren of the committee, I taking him back and forth each day.

On September 26, 1886, George Q. Cannon, Hyrum B. Clawson, Franklin S. Richards and others met with President John Taylor at my father’s residence at Centerville, Davis County, Utah, and presented a document for President Taylor’s consideration.

“I had just got back from a three days trip, during most of which time I had been in the saddle, and being greatly fatigued, I retired to rest.

“Between one and two o’clock p.m., Brother [Samuel] Bateman came and woke me up and asked me to be at my father’s home, where a manifesto was to be discussed. I went there and found there were congregated Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, L. John Nuttall, Charles Birrell, George Q. Cannon, Franklin S. Richards and Hyrum B. Clawson.

“We discussed the proposed manifesto at length, but we were unable to become united in the discussion.[1] Finally George Q. Cannon suggested President Taylor take the matter up with the Lord and decide the same the next day. President Taylor replied, “Do you think that I would decide on such a matter as that without taking it to the Lord and get His decision and final word on the matter?” Brothers Clawson and Richards were taken back to Salt Lake. That evening I was called to act as a guard during the first part of the night, notwithstanding the fact that I was greatly fatigued on account of the three days trip I had just completed.

“The brethren retired to bed soon after nine o’clock. The sleeping rooms were inspected by the guard as was the custom. President Taylor’s room had no outside door. The windows were heavily screened.

“Sometime after the brethren retired and while I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants, I was suddenly attracted to a light appearing under the door leading to President Taylor’s room, and was at once startled to hear the voices of men talking there. There were three distinct voices. I was bewildered because it was my duty to keep people out of that room and evidently someone had entered without my knowing it. I made a hasty examination and found the door leading to the room bolted as usual. I then examined the outside of the house and found all the window screens intact. While examining the last window, and feeling greatly agitated, a voice spoke to me, saying, “Can’t you feel the Spirit? Why should you worry?”

“At this I returned to my post and continued to hear the voices in that room. They were so audible that although I did not see the parties, I could place their positions in the room from the sound of their voices. the three continued until about midnight, when one of them left, and the other two continued. One of them I recognized as President Taylor’s voice. I called Charles Birrell, and we both sat up until eight o’clock the next morning.

“When President Taylor came out of his room about eight o’clock of the morning of September 27, 1886, we could scarcely look at him on account of the brightness of his personage.

“He stated, “Brethren, I have had a very pleasant conversation all night with Brother Joseph [Smith].” I said, “Boss, who was the man that was there until midnight?” He asked, “What do you know about it Lorin?” I told him all about my experience. He said, “Brother Lorin, that was your Lord.”

The Perpetuation of the Priesthood

“We had no breakfast, but assembled ourselves in a meeting. I forget who opened the meeting. I was called to offer the benediction. I think my father, John W. Woolley offered the opening prayer. There were present at the meeting, in addition to President Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, John W. Woolley, Samuel Bateman, Bishop Samuel Sedden, George Earl, my mother, Julie E. Woolley, my sister, Amy Woolley, and myself. The meeting was held from about nine o’clock in the morning until five in the afternoon without intermission, being eight hours in all.

“President Taylor called the meeting to order. He had the manifesto, that had been prepared under the direction of George Q. Cannon, read over again. He then put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural Marriage, and that they would consecrate their lives, liberty, and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold the principle.

“By that time we were all filled with the Holy Ghost. President Taylor and those present occupied about three hours up to this time. After placing us under covenant, he placed his finger on the document, his person rising from the floor about a foot or eight inches, and with countenance animated by the Spirit of the Lord, and raising his right hand to the square, he said, “Sign that document; – never! I would suffer my right hand to be severed from my body first. Sanction it, – never! I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots in my mouth before I would sanction it!”

“After that he talked for about an hour and then sat down and wrote the revelation which was given him by the Lord upon the question of Plural Marriage. Then he talked to us for some time, and said, “Some of you will be handled and ostracized and cast out from the Church by your brethren because of your faithfulness and integrity to this principle, and some of you may have to surrender your lives because of the same, but woe, woe, unto those who shall bring these troubles upon you.” Three of us were handled and ostracized for supporting and sustaining this principle. There are only three left who were at the meeting mentioned – Daniel R. Bateman, George Earl and myself. So far as I know those of them who have passed away all stood firm to the covenants entered into from that day to the day of their deaths.

“After the meeting referred to, President Taylor had L. John Nuttall write five copies of the revelation. He called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself. He then set apart and placed us under covenant that while we lived we would see to it that no year passed by without children being born into the New and Everlasting Covenant by the principle of Plural Marriage. We were given authority to ordain others if necessary to carry this work on, they in turn to be given authority to ordain others when necessary, under the direction of the worthy senior (by ordination), so that there should be no cessation in the work. He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation. I am the only one of the five now living, and so far as I know all five of the brethren remained true and faithful to the covenants they entered into and to the responsibilities placed upon them at that time.

“During the eight hours we were together, and while President Taylor was talking to us, he frequently arose and stood above the floor, and his countenance and being were so enveloped by light and glory that it was difficult for us to look upon him.

“He stated that the document, referring to the Manifesto, was from the lower regions. He stated that many of the things he had told us we would forget and they would be taken from us, but that they would return in due time as needed and from this fact we would know the same was from the Lord. This has been literally fulfilled. Many of the things I forgot, but they are coming to me gradually, and those things that come to me are as clear as on the day which they were given.

“President Taylor said that in the time of the seventh President of this Church, [Heber J. Grant] the Church would go into bondage both temporally and spiritually and in the day of bondage the One Mighty and Strong spoken of in the 85th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants would come.

“Among other things stated by President Taylor on this occasion was this, “I would be surprised if ten percent of those who claim to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood will remain true and faithful to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, at that time of the seventh President, and there would be thousands that think they hold the Priesthood at that time, but would not have it properly conferred upon them.” John Taylor set the five mentioned apart and gave them authority to perform marriage ceremonies, and also to set others apart to do the same thing as long as they remained upon the Earth; and while doing so, the Prophet Joseph stood by directing the proceedings. Two of us had not met the Prophet Joseph in his mortal lifetime and we – Charles H. Wilkins and myself – were introduced to him and shook hands with him.”

[Signed] Lorin C. Woolley

Daniel R. Bateman, having been present during the same events testified as follows:

“I was privileged to be at the meeting of September 27, 1886, spoken of by Brother Woolley, I myself acting as one of the guards for the brethren during these exciting times.

“The proceedings of the meeting, as related by Brother Woolley are correct in every detail. I was not present when the five spoken of by Brother Woolley were set apart for special work, but have on different occasions heard the details of the same related by both Lorin C. Woolley and John W. Woolley, and from all of the circumstances with which I am familiar, I firmly believe the testimony of these two brethren to be true.”

[Signed] Daniel R. Bateman

The following is the revelation John Taylor received, as referred to in Lorin Woolley’s statement:

__________________________________________________

A REVELATION ON CELESTIAL MARRIAGE
__________________________________________________

Given Through President John Taylor,  at Centerville, Utah, on September 27th, 1886 -John Taylor Papers, Church Historians Office

My son John: You have asked me concerning the New and Everlasting Covenant and how far it is binding upon my people.

Thus saith the Lord: All commandments that I give must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are revoked by me or by my authority.  And how can I revoke an everlasting covenant? For I the Lord am everlasting and my everlasting covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with, but they stand forever.

Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject? Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance of my law and the keeping of my commandment? And yet I have borne with them these many years because of the perilous times. And further it is more pleasing unto me that men should use their free agency in these matters.

Nevertheless I the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not. And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph: All those who would enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. Have I not commanded men that if they were Abraham’s seed and would enter into my glory they must do the works of Abraham?

I have not revoked this law nor will I for it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the conditions thereof, even so, Amen. [2]

This revelation, and the events surrounding it gave rise to a time when the church and the priesthood were no longer synonymous. There were priesthood holders both recognized by the church, and outside it, and there were many who were thought to hold the priesthood who did not. Still the times of the Gentiles were not yet fulfilled, and the world received a grace period during which the gospel was to spread to every corner of the earth. Today every literate person on earth can read the Book of Mormon, and there are Mormons in every country, every clime.

This period is remarkable for the fact that all the gentile nations received the opportunity to hear about the restoration. Of course not many embraced it, and there are millions who have never heard about it, and will not until after the Lord comes, but the gentiles were given the space to fulfill the prophecies and obtain the fullness of the gospel. This relates to the times of the gentiles as spoken of in Luke 21:24.

As shown in an earlier post titled “The First Shall be Last

Today there is one church in Mormonism that continues to receive the same heavenly manifestations and revelations that were experienced in Joseph Smith’s day. It is Christ’s Church, and Jesus is personally leading it’s work. There is a prophet alive right now who has also seen the Lord, and testifies that he lives. Additional scriptures have been revealed, and temples built.

Christ’s Church has its origin in the revelations Joseph Smith received, the sacred truths he taught, and the authority of the priesthood restored by God through him. The trials and travails of the church and the priesthood of God since his day are a saga of steadfastness by a few and of compromise my many, but we testify that the priesthood and the revelations of God to man have not ceased. Persecution has also continued, but with God as our friend we fear not what man can do. God is today gathering all the pure in heart, and all the house of Israel, and calling them still to obey all his commandments and come into his presence.


[1] It is important to note that this manifesto was not the same one as that signed by Wilford Woodruff a few years later. It was however similar in the fact that it proposed to change the policy of the church toward the doctrines and practices of Celestial marriage

[2] This original handwritten revelation can be found in the John Taylor Papers in the Church archives, Salt Lake City Utah. One of the copies in L. John Nuttal’s handwriting is held by the Apostolic United Brethren In Bluffdale Utah. This revelation has been published in “Unpublished Revelations Vol. 1” Compiled by Fred C. Collier, and it can also be found in many other sources including as a scripture insert along with other revelations in “Addendum to the D&C” available from the missionaries listed on the back of this booklet.

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