The following are a series of notes I took after I read each chapter of Boyd K. Packer’s masterpiece The Holy Temple. (Its full name is actually You Can Claim the Blessings of the Holy Temple.) These were originally written as a synopsis of each chapter to help me remember what I had just read. Maybe they will be an aid to someone else.
Chapter 1: Come to the Temple
This first chapter tells about the eternal nature of our souls and about the need for “one way” and only “one Name” whereby one can come back to the presence of God. Preachers and adherents to other Christian religions take this in one of two ways: those not baptized or never hear the name of Christ are going to hell, or there really isn’t “one way” but many, essentially saying the scriptures are wrong. Either God is extremely unjust, or He is a lair, at least in the scriptures. As pertaining to the first reaction (that of all without baptism are going to hell—no exceptions) Boyd K. Packer quotes Joseph Smith in stating it is “worse than atheism” to think God would treat those in unfortunate circumstances where they don’t hear the gospel as lesser humans not deserving of salvation. This smacks of predestination and the absence of self-will and freedom—the very reason we are here on earth to test within ourselves.
Fortunately, the Lord has provided a way for all to have the chance through the temples to receive baptism and other ordinances vicariously for the dead. The way I see it, we must do all we can to preach the gospel to those living, even though it seems and insurmountable task, but then we must at least provide them with the ordinances they would or should have gotten while alive except we didn’t get to them in time. Therefore, when they are eventually given the choice to accept the gospel, they will be ready.
I’m sure Packer will get to it more in other chapters, but I believe the temple ordinances go beyond the simple acts for the dead but work at attaching us both literally and emotionally to our greater family and the whole of the human race or God’s children. Love and gratitude and respect and honer for all our family is what Christianity is all about. We don’t want to be forgotten when we die and the temple insures that we won’t, at least to some degree, even if we don’t hear the gospel in mortality.
Chapter 2: These Things Are Sacred
Here Packer talks about the difference between secret and sacred. My thoughts: You can’t give meat before the milk. Packer states that the temple ceremony would make dull reading for anyone not adequately versed in the teachings and doctrines of Christ and His plan of salvation and exaltation. This is true of my own experience. I was prepared for many years before going to the temple and, though I understand the basic “story line,” so to speak, I only have a rudimentary grasp of the greater meanings. I don’t know how new converts, after being members for only one year, can avoid being confused a bit by the temple ceremonies. They certainly need to take temple preparation classes and have read and studied all the scriptures—particularly the Pearl of Great Price.
Packer also defines dedication. Before the temple is dedicated it is open to all, non-member and member alike. Afterwards, it is given to the Lord and we are merely stewards and invited guests in His house. When people of like mind are gathered and shielded from worldly influence, His spirit or full personage, if needed, can more easily dwell there.
Chapter 3: Taught from on High
Temple work is symbolic. Much like letters are used to represent ideas, the temple ceremony uses images and actors to portray ideas of the spiritual realm. These insights are a level higher or beyond the letters to words to ideas symbolic system. They go from ideas, represented in the ceremony to spiritual truths.
The temple ceremony is infinite. You can go all your life and still learn many new spiritual insights, even if you have the whole ceremony memorized. Until you actually reach the exaltation in the spiritual realm, there is always more to learn.
We are all thick-headed, it’s probably our default attitude, and it may take us many, many repetitions to get certain concepts through the thickness. We get out of the temple what we bring in. If we have a challenging, “show me something” attitude when we go in we will miss the point. We need to be humble and meek, receptive to anything and everything.
The temple gives us a baseline, a concept of how mortal life fits into place in the eternities. No one is saved in ignorance. Light and truth from on high dispels error and doubt. We can open ourselves to light and truth through going through the ritual of temple instruction and humbly working to grasp and internalize the spiritual meanings contained and represented in the symbols—visual, verbal and otherwise—that are in the temple ceremony.
Chapter 4: Worthy to Enter
It is important to go through the process of interviews for a temple recommend. We may feel worthy, and probably are, but we need to go through the process regardless. It gives us the opportunity to reaffirm our commitments and values verbally to those in authority. This can lead to unexpected spiritual experiences and brings us closer to other Church members (our priesthood leaders) and gives us the confidence that we are accepted by the Lord.
It is important to note that the temple is not necessarily a place for perfect people, but a place where certain standards have been met by people on the path to perfection in God’s kingdom. We are perfect in a way, briefly anyway, while we are in the right attitude and attending to the duties and instruction in the temple.
Chapter 5: First and Every Time
It is important to note that when we go to the temple, we are not going to impress or make any kind of statement to the world or others about ourselves or to distract or draw attention to ourselves and thus away from the Lord. Their is really only one purpose for dressing or grooming in an irregular or attention- or statement-making way: to get a reaction out of others and to draw attention to ourselves. Nothing is more contrary to the spirit of the temple than to have a “look at me” atmosphere created by someone with blue spiked hair or a glittering nose-ring. We are all of equal worth in the Lord’s eyes and therefore no one is better or worse than another when we are all dressed in white in the temple. We are to be there in a humble and teachable spirit—not in a parade.
Respect and humility are key to an inspiring and fulfilling temple experience. We dress well when going to the temple, not for others to see, but to show the Lord our dedication and seriousness. It also puts us in the right frame of mind when we take the time to carefully prepare beforehand.
We should conduct ourselves reverently as well in the temple. We should not distract from the experience of others by behaving like we would in worldly or normal environments. Packer quotes Harold B. Lee in that a Brother Callis once told him that loud laughter was the symptom of a vacant mind. I can see how that would be so. I’ve seen enough sitcoms to attest to the banality of some humor. But I think its okay for the mind to be vacant on a few rare occasions. At the same time, though, there is rarely a time when laughing hysterically is necessary. We shouldn’t control our laughter unnecessarily just to show others we don’t have a vacant mind. If our minds are always on seeking truth “having a prayer in our hearts continually” and such, our mind is not vacant and we naturally will keep from extremes in emotion in most cases.
Packer talks about the fallacy of having the “highest” authority possible to perform ordinances for us. The most ordinary of men can perform the ordinances of the gospel as well as, and many times better than, any General Authority or even the Prophet. Think about it, the only real reason we would want a certain person to perform our wedding or other blessing is so we can have “bragging rights” to others or to ourselves about how important we are. This puts us above others and is contrary to the spirit of the temple and God’s kingdom in general. If there is a special emotional connection to a certain person who happens to be a General Authority, that is another matter, but these would only be built in a family relationship or longtime friendship with that particular General Authority. Do we really think God cares if we had President Monson seal us or some unknown “regular” guy do it? Will we get a bigger mansion in the hereafter because of who sealed us or blessed us? I feel the whole idea is somewhat childish. We revere these men for the office they hold and the trust the Lord has put in them and should listen to their counsel. That said, they are still merely men and we have the same authority they do when we have the priesthood, we just don’t exercise all of it in the same way they do. We should have just the same amount of honor for ourselves and others the Lord has trusted with keys in the priesthood. A blessing from the “head honcho” is of no more value than from that stupid-looking guy whom the Lord has entrusted to be your home teacher.
About weddings: They should be small intimate affairs where only essential and very special family and friends should be involved. My rule of thumb would be that they should only include those who are likely to have some compelling reason to remember the wedding, or at least any particular details of it, 20 years later. This is an ordinance between yourself, your spouse, and the Lord. It is not a display to all the world that you’re getting “hitched.” Does your great aunt Sally, twice removed—with whom you talk to once or twice a year—really need to witness the actual sealing? She will have many more fond memories from the reception. The sealing ordinance is really the highest and most sacred ordinance of the temple or in all of life. It is what actually gets us into the highest blessings of the Celestial realm and allows us to become like God Himself. It should not be taken lightly or in a flippant manner. It should be focused on the love and covenant being made with your eternal companion and not on the style of dress you are wearing or the number of people you can show off to crammed into the sealing room.
Chapter 6: Dressed in White
White clothing in the temple is symbolic of purity and cleanliness. It is important that we are personally clean in thought and body as well. Respect and understanding for why we are there at the temple should always be uppermost in our minds. We should never wish to draw attention to ourselves by being unusual or improper in dress and appearance. We are not there to impress anyone but the Lord, and He is not impressed with our childish “expressions” of individuality. He wants to see if we can become like Him and inherit Celestial glory. Even excessive jewelry is discouraged in the temple since its only real reason is to adorn and impress when it goes beyond the basic show of respect to the Lord.
The garment is a mark of office in the holy priesthood much like a minister’s collar or other vestments in another church mark his particular roll and duties. All members of the Church have the potential to lead and perform ordinances when needed, since we have no paid ministry. The garment, in addition to being a reminder of our covenants, is a mark of our priesthood authority and the trust God has put in us to act in His name when asked or needed.
Chapter 7: The Power to Seal
The sealing power is more than just the power to seal marriages. It is the power by which all ordinances, from baptism to Celestial marriage, are validated in heaven.
This sealing power is held by only one person at a time on the Earth. The prophet of the Church holds these restored keys himself. Because the prophet cannot be everywhere at once himself, he has the sanction to directly set apart temple sealers for the various temples around the world. These delegates carry only the ability to bind persons together in marriage for time and eternity but not any of the other powers connected to the sealing power of the priesthood which the prophet holds exclusively. The members of the Quorum of the Twelve collectively hold this power, but cannot use it while the prophet lives but can confer it onto the new prophet when he is ordained.
Peter held these keys in ancient times and got them from Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. These keys were restored to Joseph Smith by Elijah in our times.
Chapter 8: Temples in Ancient Israel
A fitting house for the Lord is needed whenever possible for the saving ordinances to be performed. Due to poverty or other circumstances this need can be waived for a short time. The Lord accepted baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi river until the Nauvoo Temple was finished. Christ took Peter, James and John up to a mountain top for the transfiguration and passing of priesthood keys.
But if it is in our means, we are condemned by the Lord if we do not build a proper sacred place for Him to visit us with power and perform sacred ordinances.
Chapter 9: Elijah the Prophet
There is some confusion between the names of Elijah and Elias. Elias is the Greek translation of Elijah, so they are one and the same. However, the prophet after Elijah was also called Elias. We don’t know much about him. Elias is also a title meaning “forerunner” or “one who prepares the way.”
Elijah the prophet was ordinary and human like the rest of us. He was subject to the same sufferings and temptations, fears and emotions, as the rest of us—but he was righteous to the level needed to be trusted of the Lord.
We can all be prophets in our own right, as Joseph Smith said the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Those called to lead the Church in prophecy also have the same requirement to work out their own salvation just like the rest of us, they are just given special duties in managing the work of the Church and to bear special witness.
Elijah was given power to seal the heavens to prevent rain for three years. He was given the power to bring back the rains with his word. This was the real power to act in God’s name. He demonstrated his priesthood power to the priests of Baal and through his prophecies and miracles.
Elijah was translated which means he was saved from mortal death until he could finish his mission and return the keys of the sealing power of the priesthood again while still in the flesh. He did this on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Chapter 10: Elijah to Return
There are many traditions about the return of Elijah among the Jews and Christians—the Jews in particular. They leave the door open in their homes on certain holidays while they pray to welcome Elijah back; they set a place at table for him during certain feasts; and they have a chair suspended from the ceiling above the alter of some of their synagogues to be taken down for Elijah should he suddenly return.
Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible states that Christ said Elijah would return and restore all things.
Islamic tradition also states that Elijah would not die and still lives awaiting the last days and the coming of God.
Chapter 11: The Morning Breaks
Joseph Smith is prepared, gradually, to receive the knowledge and priesthood power from the Lord and the resurrected prophets. These would would include the Aaronic Priesthood and the Higher Priesthood.
Description is made of how the keys were restored at the meridian of time to Peter and notes of similarity with the Restoration to Joseph Smith are made. In particular, the description of the glory of Christ and the prophets is mentioned in similar ways.
Chapter 12: A Place Prepared
The Kirtland Temple was built at great sacrifice. An estimated cost of $200,000 at the time, which was an extraordinary amount of money for the times. The Lord promised it was in their capacity if they would keep His commandments, even though most members of the Church were poor. The priesthood leaders of the Church itself dug the foundation and did much of the work.
The Lord needed to test the will of the saints and also needed a place to restore all the priesthood keys pertaining to temple ordinances and the sealing power. In a way, the Kirtland Temple was a test run. It was not built like later temples because the complete Endowment and work for the dead had not been revealed yet. But it was similar in having a solum assembly room with the three rows of pulpits on either side. It was different in that it also functioned as a chapel and meeting place for the Church.
I think that only after the sacrifice was made to put saints in the right frame of mind, that the blessings of the temple and other spiritual blessings were able to be given to the Church. Powers of the Adversary were also arrayed and defeated much of the efforts for some in the Church and the Temple was lost.
Chapter 13: “We Saw the Lord…”
The day finally came when the Lord presented Moses, Elias and Elijah to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple. These men restored the keys to the gathering of Israel, including the lost ten tribes “from the north,” the keys to the dispensation of Abraham stating that through the Church and the Prophet all the children of Earth would be blessed, and all the keys of Elijah and the sealing power.
The spirit of Elijah to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers” was also restored. At about this time genealogical societies first began to form all over the world.
Interestingly, this happened on April 3, 1836, the same day the Jews had their doors open to accept the return of Elijah according to their traditions.
Moroni quoted to Joseph Smith (long before Joseph new anything about work for the dead or temple ordinances) the passage in Malachi about the turning of hearts but a little differently. He said that Elijah would plant in the hearts of the children the “promises” made to the fathers. I note that he didn’t say the fathers hearts to the children. Moroni also stated that the work would be “wasted” if this did not happen before the Lord came.
Revelation continues in the Church and more was, and is, revealed continually throughout this dispensation. Wilford Woodruff stated that the Church would not last “twenty-four hours” without revelation and that Brigham Young continued to add to and refine the sacred revelations given to Joseph Smith; and John Taylor did likewise, and more was yet to come.
Chapter 14: All Done in Order
Order, ordain and ordinance—these all have the same root: to place in proper order, the process of placing in order, and the recognized ceremony used to validate and place in order.
Example is given wherein an insurance “agent” sells you a policy that appears to be backed by a reputable insurance company but is not. The “agent” was a fake and not authorized by the company. Your insurance is invalid, though you may have got some peace of mind at the time, the day of reckoning was sure to come. Likewise things must be done in their proper order and authority must be granted from one who has that authority to give—the insurance company or God in this case.
Packer stresses that when a business delegates authority to someone to act in its behalf, it does so with formal proceedings and proper documentation and is careful to grant authority to the person in confidence that the person will fulfill his duties to the well specified limit of his granted authority. Likewise, the Lord grants limited authority to do certain ordinances within His Church according to the trust He has in individuals and the needs of His people. All offices and authority in the Church are only a means to an end, holding a specific office of “higher” authority does not grant the bearer any more blessings than the humblest follower who keeps the commandments and has received and honors the covenants of the temple.
Baptism, the sacrament, and other ordinances of the Church are important and lead in proper orderly succession to the exalting ordinances of the temple. These ordinances are only available in the temple and are open to all who are willing to live worthy and have taken the proper prior steps to receive them. These ordinances could be given elsewhere, such as on a mountain top if circumstances and the need did not allow for a temple to be built, but it is important that all diligence is made to create a proper sacred and protected place for the Lord to visit us with these specific blessings. This is not just the Lord’s needs, they are our needs—to be in the kind of environment where we can be more easily opened to the spiritual blessings promised us.
I found it interesting that some of the ordinances and priesthood power exercised in the temples today have never been practiced on the Earth before. They were reserved for the dispensation of the fullness of times. They were ordained before the world was created but reserved for our times and are to be used retroactively, through work for the dead, to bless and order all previous dispensations and eras. I suspect we only have a fraction of the ordinances and rites pertaining to the fulness of the gospel, but we have enough to “make our calling and election sure,” or to be exalted and reenter the presence of the Lord. The rest may come during the Millennium when the vast majority of the work will be performed for all of mankind, both past and present.
Chapter 15: Sacred Covenants
Joseph Fielding Smith stated that the New and Everlasting Covenant is the sum total of all the restored covenants and new covenants on the Earth today in this last dispensation. Temple marriage in itself is not the new and everlasting covenant, neither is baptism—it is all of them. All are of equal importance pertaining to our progression to exaltation.
Example is given of the importance of keeping and honoring our covenants made in the temple. One of the later day prophets spoke at the funeral of a close relative who did not live as to keep his covenants. Though the deceased did many good things in his life, for which he deserves full honer and credit, he did not stay true to his sacred covenants and for that he may be condemned, the prophet said. A pretty gutsy thing to say about someone at his own funeral, but he is the prophet, and of anyone, he has the authority to do so, and he was right.
Often many Church members are called at great sacrifice to serve in far away places as missionaries and mission presidents and in other capacities. These are opportunities to show the Lord our faithfulness to our sacred covenants to give all for the building of His kingdom. We should work to be willing to do so without question and with gladness.
A parable of how the covenant relationship we have with the Lord works is given by the example of a rich man giving you an “investment” of a million dollars to do with as you see fit in your business ventures. The money is not so important to the rich man as it is that you succeed. If you succeed or if you fail the responsibility is on you, the rich man has more money, he does not particularly need you to succeed, but he expects it—otherwise he would not have entrusted the money to you. By accepting the money, you are under obligation to do your best with it; it is the covenant you have made with the rich man. This is the nature of the covenant we have with the Lord. He is the rich man and brings far more to the table in the covenant relationship. Think of what you could accomplish if you had a million dollars. Think of the unlimited possibilities you have under the covenant you have with the Lord.
Chapter 16: Not Without Opposition
The saints in Salt Lake City were wary of starting to build a temple because each time they did it in the past they were not able to finish it or lost it right away because persecution would immediately escalate when they did. This happened in Kirtland, Independence, Far West, and Nauvoo. The Lord not only required the saints to give of their surplus but of their substance to build these temples. Because persecution was great, sacrifice needed to be great in the early Church. The same does and will apply today when persecution rages.
Brigham Young said that hell releases all its devils to stop or slow down the work of the temple. Temple work brings so much resistance because it is the source of so much power to the saints.
One way Satan works on us individually is through apathy towards the work. Our temple service is selfless in that we are doing for others (the deceased) what they can’t do for themselves. This requires that we become a little more unselfish and that is exactly what Satan does not want.
Ultimately though, we are blessed, both spiritually and temporally when we serve in the temple.
Chapter 17: Turning the Hearts
President Wilford Woodruff was a spiritual man specially chosen to codify and receive clarifying revelation on the temple ordinances and how they should be administered.
He was written of and named by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his dairy when he was baptized before the Prophet ever met him.
Woodruff was traveling back from St. George, Utah when the spirits of the signers of the Declaration of Independence called on him to not forget them. They had done their part and remained true to their calling in mortality and wanted to receive the full blessings in the hereafter, but needed the ordinances done for them.
There was the habit in the Church at that time of “adopting” in the temple ordinances. This was where persons were sealed directly to prophets like Joseph Smith or Abraham. Wilford Woodruff was troubled with this and asked the Lord for direction. He was told, “Was not your own father a good man? Why not honor him and be sealed to him and his father sealed to his as far back as you can go?” This was the proper way intended by the Lord. Eventually we will all link up to Abraham and the other prophets.
Joseph Smith was killed before he could finish the clarifying and systematizing of this work, though it was the one thing that occupied his mind the most during his final days. In the saints’ enthusiasm to do the work, they misinterpreted the doctrine and did not do things in an orderly fashion. Further revelation was needed from Brigham Young and John Taylor and especially Wilford Woodruff. Men were being baptized for women, and women for men, records were not being kept, and people were sealing each other to prophets and other great men without proper relationships being established.
This was all clarified in a lengthy revelation given to the Church in General Conference in 1894. Since this revelation was mostly procedural and not written in the same style as the Doctrine and Covenants, it was not included in the standard works, though it is of the same validity as scripture.
Chapter 18: The Spirit of Elijah
We are commanded to offer everyone living and dead the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have no reasonable hope of accomplishing that in our own lifetimes and we don’t really see right now how it could ever be done. It doesn’t matter. We just have to do it.
We have no way of knowing if those we do temple work for will accept it or if they are even eligible (a murderer or worse), but we are required, and it will be to our blessing, to do it for them—for everyone.
We were chosen to be saviors in a way to the whole human race. In no other dispensation have we ever been so blessed with the fulness of the gospel ordinances and it is our duty to accomplish the work and save all those who came before who need these temple ordinances. God is no respecter of persons, all are equal in His sight and all need the ordinances only we can offer.
Chapter 19: Claiming Your Own
Genealogy is first and foremost an individual responsibility. We should continually do all we can to seek out our kindred dead. Pick up from what has been done before and link up with other’s work to establish the generations. Second, we need to do the work for them and the others found by the Church and other researchers.
This all ties in with the great work of the Church to spread the gospel to the living and the dead. There are responsibilities of the Church and those of the individual—both are needed and are of equal importance. We cannot be made perfect without our dead, neither they without us.
Other important duties relating to this: Book of Remembrances for all our important documents and events, name extraction programs for the Church, get names to the temple and do the work for as many of our progenitors as we can, and hold family meetings and reunions.
Paths will open once we start, but we have to start. Examples are given how doors open when we show a willingness to do the work. Things that seemed impossible are possible. The Lord will help us with direct revelation if needed.
Chapter 20: Help from Beyond
We can have revelation or “pure intelligence” inter our minds if we are living right and learn to recognize it. Many spiritual experiences are sacred and meant only for the one receiving them. Many times they would only be understood by that person. Help from beyond the veil in temple work has enormous potential for spiritual guidance and manifestations of God’s power and desire to help.
Examples are given where answers to unresolved questions in geneological work were found or presented to those seeking them in the most unexpected or unusual circumstances. A name plate from a coffin with information needed, a magazine article with critical dates, records found in out-of-the-way bookstores, and meeting persons with the needed information are all examples of divine guidance or help from beyond the veil.
Those who really seek the blessings will sometimes make contact with us if we are worthy and spiritually attuned. An old Indian friend appeared to a Church member after his death as a sign for him to do his temple work. But many times these influences are sublime and soft in nature and we need to be living and doing right to notice them or to be inspired to act upon promptings.
Chapter 21: Towards the Veil
Temple work fosters a respect for the very old and very young in families. It gives us a perspective beyond our mortal years. We can see this when we care for elderly parents and such. They are full of wisdom and close to the veil and can offer insights and spiritual understanding to their children. Temple work is an act of selflessness and caring for others that brings us closer to an understanding of the Lord and genuine eternal love.
Understanding the temple experience comes though obedience and long years of effort. It is infinite in knowledge because it all deals with the eternities. Even the prophet David O. McKay was learning and gaining understanding right up to the end of his mortal life.
The temple is full of sacred blessings for all facets of our life. We only need to go and partake of them.